Conspiracy Theory

Conspiracy theories have been around forever and are believed in by large numbers of people for a variety of reasons. In the age of social media however they can take off and gain a life of their own, spreading rapidly and gathering new “facts” and “evidence” as they go. It is best to assume that they are all false or at least to insist on the kind of evidence that would hold up in a courtroom before putting any stock in them.

The reality is that nearly all conspiracy theories are false. It is not that there aren't conspiracies in the world, there are. However, most real conspiracies are minor ones shared between a few people or involve secrets which are not of a great deal of public interest. Otherwise, these secrets evolve from conspiracies into scandals fairly quickly.

Humans are not good at keeping secrets. The desire to gossip, the desire to gain fame or notoriety, the desire to make money and sometimes the desire to 'do the right thing' all grind against the ability to keep big, important secrets.

Many conspiracy theories such as those surrounding the 9-11 attacks, the “fake” moon landing, “chemtrails”, vaccines, genetically modified organisms (GMOs) or aliens would require the compliance of hundreds, thousands, even tens of thousands of people over years or decades. In some cases the secrets would have to keep kept by multiple generations, all without someone deciding that they wanted their name in the paper, or a book deal or simply feeling they owed it to society to tell the truth, even on their death bed. The whistleblowing of people like Edward Snowden and Chelsea Manning are clear demonstrations that government conspiracies simply don't remain secret for long.

In 2016, Dr. David Grimes of Oxford University created a mathematical formula to determine the probability of an important secret, shared among many people, remaining secret. According to Grimes, the “hoax moon landings would have been revealed in 3 years 8 months, a climate change fraud in 3 years 9 months, a vaccination conspiracy in 3 years 2 months, and a suppressed Cancer cure in 3 years 3 months. In simple terms, any one of the four conspiracies would have been exposed long before now.” You can read more about the story at phys.org.

The folks at Kurzgesag (In a Nutshell) came up with a much simpler test:


Generally, conspiracy theories are so unlikely to be true that there is little point in spending time on them unless there is hard evidence, an official government investigation or at least stories about it are being published by large media organizations with a reputation for investigative journalism, reliable sources and fact checking (New York Times, Washington Post or BBC for example).

For the purpose of this site, media outlets known for unsubstantiated conspiracy theory have not been included at all.