The Scientific American on Detecting Conspiracy Theories

The Scientific American had an article back in 2010 on how to detect conspiracy theories. With some of what I am seeing in the internet I wanted to quickly run this article and encourage all people to read it. This blog wants to be certain that facts are promoted. 

“If you tell the truth, you don’t have to remember anything.”

Mark Twain

World Trade Center Memorial in New York City 

In 2010 the Scientific American did an article on the problems with conspiracy theories. It notes that yes sometimes conspiracies happen. For example Richard Nixon’s Watergate is a good historical example. In other cases conspiracies are inferred when it ca be a mistake or isolated case of criminal misconduct. Michael Shermer wrote a good article about how to determine between a true and false conspiracy theory. You can read the article in, “The Conspiracy Theory Detector.” 

Below are some indicators that a conspiracy is false. 


Nevertheless, we cannot just dismiss all such theories out of hand, because real conspiracies do sometimes happen. Instead we should look for signs that indicate a conspiracy theory is likely to be untrue. The more that it manifests the following characteristics, the less probable that the theory is grounded in reality:

  1. Proof of the conspiracy supposedly emerges from a pattern of “connecting the dots” between events that need not be causally connected. When no evidence supports these connections except the allegation of the conspiracy or when the evidence fits equally well to other causal connections—or to randomness—the conspiracy theory is likely to be false.
  2. The agents behind the pattern of the conspiracy would need nearly superhuman power to pull it off. People are usually not nearly so powerful as we think they are.
  3. The conspiracy is complex, and its successful completion demands a large number of elements.
  4. Similarly, the conspiracy involves large numbers of people who would all need to keep silent about their secrets. The more people involved, the less realistic it becomes.
  5. The conspiracy encompasses a grand ambition for control over a nation, economy or political system. If it suggests world domination, the theory is even less likely to be true.
  6. The conspiracy theory ratchets up from small events that might be true to much larger, much less probable events.
  7. The conspiracy theory assigns portentous, sinister meanings to what are most likely innocuous, insignificant events.
  8. The theory tends to commingle facts and speculations without distinguishing between the two and without assigning degrees of probability or of factuality.
  9. The theorist is indiscriminately suspicious of all government agencies or private groups, which suggests an inability to nuance differences between true and false conspiracies.
  10. The conspiracy theorist refuses to consider alternative explanations, rejecting all disconfirming evidence and blatantly seeking only confirmatory evidence to support what he or she has a priori determined to be the truth.

4 thoughts on “The Scientific American on Detecting Conspiracy Theories

  1. It is fun to see conspiracy’s unravel as we have seen this past week. The truth surrounding the Russia probe of Trump and others has come to light. Participants in the conspiracy told the truth under oath in private, while at the same time lying to the public trying to undermine a legitimate election. Those who perpetuated this conspiracy (including some of the media and most of a political party) have no credibility left. So when said media and political party stand for anything, the public should be extraordinarily skeptical.

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  2. Another thing:
    A GRAND UNIFIED CONSPIRACY THEORY IS LITERALLY IMPOSSIBLE TO SHAKE.

    * Any evidence against the conspiracy theory is Disinformation (“Fake News”) planted by The Conspiracy.
    * Lack of evidence for the conspiracy theory is PROOF The Conspiracy is so vast They can silence anybody.
    * And any who doubt the existence of The Conspiracy have PROVEN themselves to be part of The Conspiracy.

    “THE DWARFS ARE FOR THE DWARFS! WE WON’T BE TAKEN IN!”
    Chronicles of Narnia: The Last Battle

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  3. Pingback: Evangelical “Intellectual” Eric Metaxas Continues His Decline as he Hosts Anti-Vaccine Conspiracy Theorist Kent Heckenlively on his Radio Show | Wondering Eagle

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