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Thread: Conspiracy theory logical fallacies

  1. #1
    Most conspiracy theories don't make sense nor withstand any scrutiny. They usually involve operations so immense that it's basically impossible for them to be kept secret, and all the proof given by conspiracy theorists usually have a very simple explanation (usually much simpler than the explanation given by the theorists).

    Yet conspiracy theories are very popular and appealing. Even when they don't make sense and there's just no proof, many people still believe them. Why?

    One big reason for this is that some conspiracy theorists are clever. They use psychology to make their theories sound more plausible. They appeal to certain psychological phenomena which make people to tend to believe them. However, these psychological tricks are nothing more than logical fallacies. They are simply so well disguised that many people can't see them for what they are.

    Here are some typical logical fallacies used by conspiracy theorists:
    Appeal to the "bandwagon effect"

    The so-called "bandwagon effect" is a psychological phenomenon where people are eager to believe things if most of the people around them believe that too. Sometimes that thing is true and there's no harm, but sometimes it's a misconception, urban legend or, in this case, an unfounded conspiracy theory, in which case the "bandwagon effect" bypasses logical thinking for the worse.

    The most typical form of appealing to the bandwagon effect is to say something along the lines of "30% of Americans doubt that..." or "30% of Americans don't believe the official story". This is also called an argumentum ad populum, which is a logical fallacy.

    Of course that kind of sentence in the beginning of a conspiracy theory doesn't make any sense. It doesn't prove anything relevant. It's not like the theory becomes more true if more people believe in it.

    Also the percentage itself is always very dubious. It may be completely fabricated or exaggerated by interpreting the poll results conveniently (eg. one easy way for ***ping up the percentage is to interpret all people who didn't answer or who didn't know what to say as "doubting the official story"). Even if it was a completely genuine number, it would still not be proof of anything else than that there's a certain amount of gullible people in the world.

    That kind of sentence is not proof of anything, yet it's one of the most used sentences in conspiracy theories. It tries to appeal to the bandwagon effect. It's effectively saying: "Already this many people doubt the official story, and the numbers are increasing. Are you going to be left alone believing the official story?"
    Appeal to rebellion

    Conspiracy theories in general, and the "n% of people doubt the story" claims in particular, also appeal to a sense of rebellion in people.

    As Wikipedia puts it, "a rebellion is, in the most general sense, a refusal to accept authority."

    People don't want to be sheeps who are patronized by authority and told what they have to do and how they have to think. People usually distrust authorities and many believe that authorities are selfish and abuse people for their own benefit. This is an extremely fertile ground for conspiracy theories.

    This is so ingrained in people that a sentence like "the official story" has basically become a synonym for "a coverup/lie". Whenever "the official story" is mentioned, it immediately makes people think that it's some kind of coverup, something not true.

    Conspiracy theorists are masters at abusing this psyhcological phenomenon for their advantage. They basically insinuate that "if you believe the official story then you are gullible because you are being lied to". They want to make it feel that doubting the original story is a sign of intelligence and logical thinking. However, believing a conspiracy theory usually shows, quite ironically, a great lack of logical thinking.
    Shotgun argumentation

    "Shotgun argumentation" is a methaphor from real life: It's much easier to hunt a rabbit with a shotgun than with a rifle. This is because a rifle only fires one bullet and there's a high probability of a miss. A shotgun, however, fires tens or even hundreds of small pellets, and the probability of at least one of them hitting the rabbit is quite high.

    Shotgun argumentation has the same basic idea: The more small arguments or "evidence" you present in favor of some claim, the higher the probability that someone will believe you regarldess of how ridiculous those arguments are. There are two reasons for this:

    Firstly, just the sheer amount of arguments or "evidence" may be enough to convince someone that something strange is going on. The idea is basically: "There is this much evidence against the official story, there must be something wrong with it." One or two pieces of "evidence" may not be enough to convince anyone, but collect a set of a couple of hundreds of pieces of "evidence" and it immediately starts being more believable.

    Of course the fallacy here is that the amount of "evidence" is in no way proof of anything. The vast majority, and usually all of this "evidence" is easily explainable and just patently false. There may be a few points which may be more difficult to explain, but they alone wouldn't be so convincing.

    Secondly, and more closely related to the shotgun methapor: The more arguments or individual pieces of "evidence" you have, the higher the probability that at least some of them will convince someone. Someone might not get convinced by most of the arguments, but among them there may be one or a few which sounds so plausible to him that he is then convinced. Thus one or a few of the "pellets" hit the "rabbit" and killed it: Mission accomplished.

    I have a concrete example of this: I had a friend who is academically educated, a MSc, and doing research work (relating to computer science) at a university. He is rational, intelligent and well-educated.

    Yet still this person, at least some years ago, completely believed the Moon hoax theory. Why? He said to me quite explicitly that there was one thing that convinced him: The flag moving after it had been planted on the ground.

    One of the pellets had hit the rabbit and killed it. The shotgun argumentation had been successful.

    If even highly-educated academic people can fall for such "evidence" (which is easily explained), how more easily are more "regular" people going to believe the sheer amount of them? Sadly, quite a lot more easily.

    Most conspiracy theorists continue to present the same old tired arguments which are very easy to prove wrong. They need all those arguments, no matter how ridiculous, for their shotgun argumentation tactics to work.
    Straw man argumentation

    A "straw man argument" is the process of taking an argument of the opponent, distorting it or taking it out of context so that it basically changes meaning, and then ridiculing it in order to make the opponent look bad.

    For example, a conspiracy theorist may say something like: "Sceptics argue that stars are too faint to see in space (which is why there are no stars in photographs), yet astronauts said that they could see stars."

    This is a perfect example of a straw man argument. That's taking an argument completely out of context and changing its meaning.

    It's actually a bit unfortunate that many debunking sites use the sentence "the stars are too faint to be seen" when explaining the lack of stars in photographs. That sentence, while in its context not false, is confusing and misleading. It's trying to put in simple words a more technical explanation (which usually follows). Unfortunately, it's too simplistic and good material for straw man arguments. I wish debunkers stopped using simplistic sentences like that one.

    (The real explanation for the lacking stars is, of course, related to the exposure time and shutter aperture of the cameras, which were set to photograph the Moon surface illuminated by direct sunlight. The stars are not bright enough for such short exposure times. If the cameras had been set up to photograph the stars, the lunar surface would have been completely overexposed. This is basic photography.)

    Another straw man, still related to stars, which I have seen is simply "they claim that you can't see stars in space". This is simply a lie. I don't think any debunker has ever said that a person cannot see stars in space. (Even if someone has, he is obviously wrong. However, that's irrelevant to whether the explanation for the lack of stars is wrong or not.)
    Citing inexistent sources

    There's a very common bad habit among the majority of people: They believe that credible sources have said/written whatever someone claims they have said or written. Even worse, most people believe that a source is credible or even exists just because someone claims that it is credible and exists. People almost never check that the source exists, that it's a credible source and that it has indeed said what was claimed.

    Conspiracy theorists know this and thus abuse it to the maximum. Sometimes they fabricate sources or stories, and sometimes they just cite nameless sources (using expressions like "experts in the field", "most astronomers", etc).
    Citing sources which are wrong

    A common tactic of conspiracy theorists is to take statements by credible persons or newspaper articles which confirm the conspiracy theory and present these statements or articles as if they were the truth. If a later article in the same newspaper corrects the mistake in the earlier article or if the person who made the statement later says that he was wrong or quoted out of context (ie. he didn't mean what people thought he was meaning), conspiracy theorists happily ignore them.

    Since people seldom check the sources, they will believe that the statement or newspaper article is the only thing that person or newspaper has said about the subject.
    "Facts are stubborn things; and whatever may be our wishes, our inclinations, or the dictates of our passion, they cannot alter the state of facts and evidence." John Adams on Defense of the boston Massacre

  2. #2
    Most conspiracy theories don't make sense nor withstand any scrutiny. They usually involve operations so immense that it's basically impossible for them to be kept secret, and all the proof given by conspiracy theorists usually have a very simple explanation (usually much simpler than the explanation given by the theorists).

    Yet conspiracy theories are very popular and appealing. Even when they don't make sense and there's just no proof, many people still believe them. Why?

    One big reason for this is that some conspiracy theorists are clever. They use psychology to make their theories sound more plausible. They appeal to certain psychological phenomena which make people to tend to believe them. However, these psychological tricks are nothing more than logical fallacies. They are simply so well disguised that many people can't see them for what they are.

    Here are some typical logical fallacies used by conspiracy theorists:
    Appeal to the "bandwagon effect"

    The so-called "bandwagon effect" is a psychological phenomenon where people are eager to believe things if most of the people around them believe that too. Sometimes that thing is true and there's no harm, but sometimes it's a misconception, urban legend or, in this case, an unfounded conspiracy theory, in which case the "bandwagon effect" bypasses logical thinking for the worse.

    The most typical form of appealing to the bandwagon effect is to say something along the lines of "30% of Americans doubt that..." or "30% of Americans don't believe the official story". This is also called an argumentum ad populum, which is a logical fallacy.

    Of course that kind of sentence in the beginning of a conspiracy theory doesn't make any sense. It doesn't prove anything relevant. It's not like the theory becomes more true if more people believe in it.

    Also the percentage itself is always very dubious. It may be completely fabricated or exaggerated by interpreting the poll results conveniently (eg. one easy way for ***ping up the percentage is to interpret all people who didn't answer or who didn't know what to say as "doubting the official story"). Even if it was a completely genuine number, it would still not be proof of anything else than that there's a certain amount of gullible people in the world.

    That kind of sentence is not proof of anything, yet it's one of the most used sentences in conspiracy theories. It tries to appeal to the bandwagon effect. It's effectively saying: "Already this many people doubt the official story, and the numbers are increasing. Are you going to be left alone believing the official story?"
    Appeal to rebellion

    Conspiracy theories in general, and the "n% of people doubt the story" claims in particular, also appeal to a sense of rebellion in people.

    As Wikipedia puts it, "a rebellion is, in the most general sense, a refusal to accept authority."

    People don't want to be sheeps who are patronized by authority and told what they have to do and how they have to think. People usually distrust authorities and many believe that authorities are selfish and abuse people for their own benefit. This is an extremely fertile ground for conspiracy theories.

    This is so ingrained in people that a sentence like "the official story" has basically become a synonym for "a coverup/lie". Whenever "the official story" is mentioned, it immediately makes people think that it's some kind of coverup, something not true.

    Conspiracy theorists are masters at abusing this psyhcological phenomenon for their advantage. They basically insinuate that "if you believe the official story then you are gullible because you are being lied to". They want to make it feel that doubting the original story is a sign of intelligence and logical thinking. However, believing a conspiracy theory usually shows, quite ironically, a great lack of logical thinking.
    Shotgun argumentation

    "Shotgun argumentation" is a methaphor from real life: It's much easier to hunt a rabbit with a shotgun than with a rifle. This is because a rifle only fires one bullet and there's a high probability of a miss. A shotgun, however, fires tens or even hundreds of small pellets, and the probability of at least one of them hitting the rabbit is quite high.

    Shotgun argumentation has the same basic idea: The more small arguments or "evidence" you present in favor of some claim, the higher the probability that someone will believe you regarldess of how ridiculous those arguments are. There are two reasons for this:

    Firstly, just the sheer amount of arguments or "evidence" may be enough to convince someone that something strange is going on. The idea is basically: "There is this much evidence against the official story, there must be something wrong with it." One or two pieces of "evidence" may not be enough to convince anyone, but collect a set of a couple of hundreds of pieces of "evidence" and it immediately starts being more believable.

    Of course the fallacy here is that the amount of "evidence" is in no way proof of anything. The vast majority, and usually all of this "evidence" is easily explainable and just patently false. There may be a few points which may be more difficult to explain, but they alone wouldn't be so convincing.

    Secondly, and more closely related to the shotgun methapor: The more arguments or individual pieces of "evidence" you have, the higher the probability that at least some of them will convince someone. Someone might not get convinced by most of the arguments, but among them there may be one or a few which sounds so plausible to him that he is then convinced. Thus one or a few of the "pellets" hit the "rabbit" and killed it: Mission accomplished.

    I have a concrete example of this: I had a friend who is academically educated, a MSc, and doing research work (relating to computer science) at a university. He is rational, intelligent and well-educated.

    Yet still this person, at least some years ago, completely believed the Moon hoax theory. Why? He said to me quite explicitly that there was one thing that convinced him: The flag moving after it had been planted on the ground.

    One of the pellets had hit the rabbit and killed it. The shotgun argumentation had been successful.

    If even highly-educated academic people can fall for such "evidence" (which is easily explained), how more easily are more "regular" people going to believe the sheer amount of them? Sadly, quite a lot more easily.

    Most conspiracy theorists continue to present the same old tired arguments which are very easy to prove wrong. They need all those arguments, no matter how ridiculous, for their shotgun argumentation tactics to work.
    Straw man argumentation

    A "straw man argument" is the process of taking an argument of the opponent, distorting it or taking it out of context so that it basically changes meaning, and then ridiculing it in order to make the opponent look bad.

    For example, a conspiracy theorist may say something like: "Sceptics argue that stars are too faint to see in space (which is why there are no stars in photographs), yet astronauts said that they could see stars."

    This is a perfect example of a straw man argument. That's taking an argument completely out of context and changing its meaning.

    It's actually a bit unfortunate that many debunking sites use the sentence "the stars are too faint to be seen" when explaining the lack of stars in photographs. That sentence, while in its context not false, is confusing and misleading. It's trying to put in simple words a more technical explanation (which usually follows). Unfortunately, it's too simplistic and good material for straw man arguments. I wish debunkers stopped using simplistic sentences like that one.

    (The real explanation for the lacking stars is, of course, related to the exposure time and shutter aperture of the cameras, which were set to photograph the Moon surface illuminated by direct sunlight. The stars are not bright enough for such short exposure times. If the cameras had been set up to photograph the stars, the lunar surface would have been completely overexposed. This is basic photography.)

    Another straw man, still related to stars, which I have seen is simply "they claim that you can't see stars in space". This is simply a lie. I don't think any debunker has ever said that a person cannot see stars in space. (Even if someone has, he is obviously wrong. However, that's irrelevant to whether the explanation for the lack of stars is wrong or not.)
    Citing inexistent sources

    There's a very common bad habit among the majority of people: They believe that credible sources have said/written whatever someone claims they have said or written. Even worse, most people believe that a source is credible or even exists just because someone claims that it is credible and exists. People almost never check that the source exists, that it's a credible source and that it has indeed said what was claimed.

    Conspiracy theorists know this and thus abuse it to the maximum. Sometimes they fabricate sources or stories, and sometimes they just cite nameless sources (using expressions like "experts in the field", "most astronomers", etc).
    Citing sources which are wrong

    A common tactic of conspiracy theorists is to take statements by credible persons or newspaper articles which confirm the conspiracy theory and present these statements or articles as if they were the truth. If a later article in the same newspaper corrects the mistake in the earlier article or if the person who made the statement later says that he was wrong or quoted out of context (ie. he didn't mean what people thought he was meaning), conspiracy theorists happily ignore them.

    Since people seldom check the sources, they will believe that the statement or newspaper article is the only thing that person or newspaper has said about the subject.
    "Facts are stubborn things; and whatever may be our wishes, our inclinations, or the dictates of our passion, they cannot alter the state of facts and evidence." John Adams on Defense of the boston Massacre

  3. #3
    Why people believe conspiracy theories

    The idea for this post started as a reply to a post by Adam which speculated that drug companies are withholding the discovery of cures for diseases--in effect conspiring to keep patients dependent on their treatments. And it would have to be a huge conspiracy, indeed, to keep even one such breakthrough a secret. Today's medical treatments are developed by teams of dozens or even hundreds of researchers. And since a great deal of basic research is done at universities and published in open literature, companies are often racing each other to be the first to discover a treatment.

    It would take only one whistleblower out of hundreds of scientists and the secret would be out. The ethical impetus to disclose the cure would be tremendous, and the discloser would be hailed as a savior. But my aim here is not to assail Adam's speculation. Instead, I want to examine why people tend to believe such conspiracy theories.

    In many cases, conspiracy theories form when realities do not match people's deeply-held
    assumptions. A recent example is the crashing of American Airlines Flight 77 into the Pentagon on September 11, 2001. A conspiracy theory that something other than an airliner caused the damage quickly arose (abetted by a book by a French author), based mostly on the fact that no large sections of an airplane could be seen in photos of the site. Even the theorizing about the assassination of JFK can be traced to the fact that people found it hard to believe that a lone gunman could kill the leader of the free world.

    In this day and age, people have come to place great faith and confidence in modern technology. Stunning successes have led laypeople to expect more successes as a matter of course. I remember when I was young, a popular conspiracy theory was that a secret automobile had been developed that would get 100+ miles per gallon, but the oil companies were conspiring with the auto companies to keep it off the market. After all, if we could land a man on the moon and return him safely to Earth, surely an efficient car would be a walk in the park, right?

    A similar thing has happened with modern medical technology. We eliminated polio and smallpox. Measles and mumps are virtually unknown in modernized nations (soon to be followed by chicken pox, which was a rite of passage for me and my peers). So, naturally, people come to expect more and more cures. But a vaccine for HIV has proven elusive (for technical reasons beyond the scope of this post), and curing a non-pathogenic disease is harder than developing a vaccine.

    To put it simply, when one of the body's own systems gets off track, it is hard to set it back on track permanently. Usually the reason it got off track is genetic. Take diabetes, for instance. There are many drug treatments that help fill in where the pancreas is no longer doing its job, but none of them to date have been effective in regenerating insulin-producing cells. Gene therapy or stem cells/cloning may eventually provide a real cure, but those technologies are only coming into the picture today, after generations of conventional (i.e. "small-molecule") treatments.

    Stories about breakthroughs kept secret for the profit of evil corporations make good fodder for sci-fi or action movies, but in reality technology is simply not as omnipotent as people expect.
    "Facts are stubborn things; and whatever may be our wishes, our inclinations, or the dictates of our passion, they cannot alter the state of facts and evidence." John Adams on Defense of the boston Massacre

  4. #4
    When Skeptics Go Bad: From Climate Skeptics to 9/11 Truthers

    By Martin - Posted on 17 December 2008, 13:17 (GMT)

    Skepticism is generally considered to be a Good Thing, especially in the science blogosphere, but taking it too far can be detrimental, and lead to a position indistinguishable from denialism. So just for a change, I thought I'd turn the spotlight on skeptics. For those of you for whom every numbered list needs to have a cute and catchy name, here are the "Eight Signs of Bad Skepticism". Just for laughs, I'll relate these to so-called "Climate Skeptics" and "9/11 Truthers" because... well just because... and it's good for the hit counts.

    Excessive/Narrow Pedantry:
    Being picky can be useful, but like anything you can take it much too far. A lot of inaccuracies simply don't matter. Much of the science that children are taught at school for example is technically inaccurate, but in order to put a scientific theory across it has to be simplified, and simplification results in a loss of information. Most reports are simplified, and often there are minor mistakes. The problem with people who are too pedantic is that they can't see the forest for the trees.

    A classic example of this are the flight manifests from 9/11 as reported on CNN, on which the names of the hijackers were not included. Now, the response of most people to this would naturally be "meh", because there are a dozen different sensible reasons why this might be so - why would CNN include the terrorists names on a list of victims anyway? But to obsessively picky Truthers looking for any possible loose end to pick at, this became a Big Deal. In reality, it's simply irrelevent - a minor point that has no real bearing either way on the end argument.

    True skepticism isn't about being incredibly picky about single points. It's about understanding the totality of the case being made. Getting hung up on minor points that aren't part of the logical sequence of arguments that make up the case is just a waste of time at best.

    The Perfection Fallacy:
    Closely related to the problem of excessive pedantry is perfectionism. This is exibited by a skeptic who will, for example, refuse to accept a theory that does not explain 100% of the facts 100% of the time, or a prediction that is made with 95% certainty.

    Science is generally about finding the best explanation for the available empirical evidence. Sometimes this explanation is perfect, somethings slightly less so, but a model or theory doesn't suddenly become useless because it's a bit rough around the edges.

    A classic example of bad skepticism here is the Creationist view of the fossil record. "It's incomplete, therefore it's garbage" is the gist of it, but of course the fact that it's incomplete doesn't negate the evidence it provides, and neither is there some better theory to explain that evidence.

    Oversensitivity:
    A few months ago I was involved in a forum discussion about magnetic cows. This stemmed from a paper in which researchers had used Google Earth to map out cattle and deer herds around the world, and concluded that they overwhelmingly aligned with the Magnetic North Pole.

    Skeptics immediately leapt on this paper as being obviously ridiculous, but this is hardly a scientific position to take. The authors' conclusions were far from impossible, and any evidence deserves to be taken on its merits. As it happens, the data on cattle they produced were slightly flawed, but that still left some interesting data on deer that couldn't be explained away so easily.

    The issue here is that there is a point where skepticism becomes simple close-mindedness, and at that point it ceases to be meaningful skepticism.

    Appeals to Idiocy
    Or in other words, ad hominem arguments. This is essentially the evil ******* twin of appealing to authority - appealing to the nature of someone known to talk nonsense in order to criticize their ideas. "The man is a moron, therefore he must be wrong."

    Of course, it's important to understand your resources, and knowing the motivations of people can be a useful hint for research - you know that if Richard Littlejohn says something about immigration, it's probably worthy of more scrutiny than an independent study. Nonetheless, saying that a person is wrong because of who they are is a logical fallacy that skeptics often flirt with.

    "Iím just asking questions"
    One of the most common get out clauses of the pseudoskeptic is the refrain "Iím just asking questions", typically delivered in response to some piercing rebuttal that the plaintiff either canít or wonít deal with.

    The problem with this is two-fold. First of all, these people are almost never "just asking questions", but rather making various assumptions and assertions. In a sense this is just the classic "fallacy of many questions".

    Secondly, it absolves them of any responsibility to explain the logical basis for their belief. If you believe that 9/11 or climate science are massive conspiracies, then you have got one hell of a lot of things to explain, but of course this virtually never happens. It's all innuendo and gossip. Refusing to come up with your own theory while attacking everybody else's is a classic way of avoiding ever losing an argument. Nobody can prove you wrong, because you're "just asking questions." It's a cowardly attitude, and makes you wonder if at some level these people know that they don't have a leg to stand on.

    Ignorance is Bliss
    A good skeptic needs to be a good researcher. If you don't know the subject, then you're not really in a position to argue against it. This is particularly true in the 21st century, where explaining every single part of the science that builds up to theories like evolution or climate change is simply not practical.

    Rather than accept their ignorance though, some faux-sceptiques seem to wear it with pride, and even try to turn it into a kind of advantage. This happens a lot with climate "skeptics" and truthers. A typical tactic is that they avoid saying which specific parts of the theory it is that they have a problem with, relying on innuendo to imply that something is wrong the whole "I'm not convinced" approach.

    Of course there is no simple "proof" that can be summed up in a neat blog entry or forum post, so a stalemate is reached, and they can walk away having effectively prevented you from being able to convince them. In reality, they've simply refused to ask for the answers that they are supposedly seeking.

    Selectivity
    Many skeptics Ė notably climate skeptics and 9/11 truthers Ė arenít really being skeptical at all - they just pretend to be. We can see this quite clearly by tracking particular memes through these communities over time.

    Let's take a few examples: in climate science we have the idea that volcanoes produce far more emissions than mankind, and the now infamous David Bellamy myth suggesting that most glaciers were growing. From 9/11 let's pick out the idea that thermite can be used to demolish buildings, and the myth that an untouched passport was found on top of the debris of the twin towers. These four claims are examples of falsehoods that can easily be debunked within about five minutes in front of a computer. Yet when these "facts" were presented to conspiracy theorists in both communities they were simply accepted as being true. That is not skepticism.

    Indeed, what conspiracy theorists from climate skeptics to 9/11 truthers have in common is their gullibility: their willingness to accept the most ludicrous facts, theories and explanations from random people on the internet as gospel, while simply refusing to accept any conflicting evidence presented from the media, official sources, or scientists. It's closer to religion than rationality.

    Unappealing Authority
    Somebody else has made this point recently on another blog, and I cannot for the life of me remember where I saw it or I would link to their excellent article on this, the last of my points. If anyone knows, please leave me a comment so I can send some link love. Edit: I've found it!

    It's well know that appealing to authority is a logical fallacy in a formal debate. The problem is that once you move away from the university debating team and into the real world, simply rejecting authority is equally irrational.

    Take the World Trade Center collapse. Skyscrapers are massively complex structures with millions of parts. A building like the WTC is unique, and so understanding how it would behave in a fire isn't simply a matter of looking at a few photographs and Youtube videos - it takes many months or even years of meticulously working through the evidence to establish a sequence of events. In a similar way, you can't really say much about climate change with all those cute little graphs that climate skeptics love to draw. You have to have a detailed understanding of many interrelated fields of science to really appreciate the scale of the evidence available.

    The problem is, short of spending years building up the necessary experience, there's really no way for most people to ever be able to get to grips with the sheer scale of science. Luckily, civilization depends on division of labour, and we employ scientists to do that work for us. The problem is that this implicitly involves a certain degree of trust, and that's where rationality comes into it.

    Let's go back to climate change. The national science bodies of every developed nation on Earth accept the current scientific consensus. There is simply no scientific opposition to this consensus because the debate has already been carried out in the last forty years of science. Faced with that, climate scientists have two choices. One is to believe that tens of thousands of people who have dedicated their lives to this science are probably in the right ball-park. The alternative is to believe that all either wrong, deluded, or engaged in some kind of vast conspiracy. One of these approaches is rational, the other is deeply irrational, and the total lack of skeptics publishing papers debunking the climate "myth" suggests that deep down even they realize it at some level.

    So there you have it. Skepticism is good, but like potatoes if you eat too many it can kill you. I think the take-home message is this - be skeptical of the claims of others, but don't lose your basic trust in human beings, and always remember the big picture.

    Edit: Martin @ SoftestPawn has a similar list for evangelists here. While I don't entirely agree with his chosen domains, it's a pretty good list.

    source
    "Facts are stubborn things; and whatever may be our wishes, our inclinations, or the dictates of our passion, they cannot alter the state of facts and evidence." John Adams on Defense of the boston Massacre

  5. #5
    Enough With the Jewish Conspiracy Theories

    by Bill Barnwell
    by Bill Barnwell

    Save a link to this article and return to it at www.savethis.comSave a link to this article and return to it at www.savethis.com Email a link to this articleEmail a link to this article Printer-friendly version of this articlePrinter-friendly version of this article View a list of the most popular articles on our siteView a list of the most popular articles on our site
    DIGG THIS

    Every so often, I have the privilege of being bombarded with emails from people who believe that Jews are responsible for everything from 9/11 to slow restaurant service. In the strange little world of these guys, Jews are to blame for every evil under the sun. Also if you donít have the "courage" to admit it, then you are a "coward," "fool," "Jew-lover," or worse. Well count me among the dissenters who believe that this group is full of it.

    Yes, thatís right. Iím a fool for not believing that 9/11 was a staged event planned by the U.S. and Israel. Iím also a fool for not believing that these characters are heroic truth seekers for buying into all sorts of paranoid delusional nonsense with no real evidence to back it up. I hardly see how such people are either heroic or a help in the cause for liberty.

    Letís take 9/11 and events that followed for an example. There is a difference in saying that the U.S. government spun the aftermath of 9/11 to win public support for its war on Iraq and that the government caused 9/11 just so it could attack various Middle Eastern countries to do Israelís bidding. There is a difference between saying Israel was happy about, or supported our invasion of Iraq, and saying that Israel forced or caused these events to happen through their omnipotent influence. The problem with conspiracy theorists of all stripes, especially from the racist branch, is that they wildly blow things out of proportion and read events into the past and present without much support for their positions. Thereís no nuance of thought. Itís always the worst-case scenario and "the Jews" are always cast in the worst possible light.

    This most recent wave of attacks from those who believe that Jews are hiding under their beds each night came as a result from my most recent column on the Bush/McCain policy of escalation in Iraq. This particular column didnít attract a ton of attention until one particular nutty talk show host Ė who believes in paranormal activity and takes seriously every conspiracy theory involving Jews Ė linked to the piece on his site. As a result, I received many emails from his readers informing me that the real problem wasnít Bush or McCain. The real problem is Ė you got it Ė the Jews!

    Iíve noticed that people who suffer from paranoid hatred of any particular racial or ethnic group are able to work their targets into any conversation and blame them for any problem. If you were to actually read the above-cited column, it had nothing to do with Jews or Israel. But these people sincerely believe, however, that when you get down to it, the root of the problem is really the Jews. Thatís whether we are talking about an Iraq escalation or anything else they donít like. While this group claims to be lovers of liberty and further claims to oppose the War Party, I have a feeling that they would have no problem with the idea of waging war on Israel and/or imposing anti-freedom measures upon Jews in America and around the world.

    The problem with plenty of such racists (and yes, the term "racist" Ė while one of the most misused and overused words in political and cultural debate Ė perfectly fits this crowd) is that they are only selective in their views of liberty and freedom. Because they are sincerely convinced that "the Jews" really do "cause all the wars in the world" (my email box indicates that the drunken Mel Gibson is not the only person who believes this) many of them feel justified in urging the most anti-freedom attitudes and beliefs towards Israel and Jewish folks. These guys rightfully deplore racist statements towards whites, Arabs, and others, but they have no problem changing their tune when it comes to Jews. As such, it makes little sense for libertarians to take these people seriously.

    Another problem is that some of the wilder conspiracy theories, particularly those that are obsessed with Jews, is that they completely dumb down the wider debate. Conspiracy theorists on a whole are not real keen on nuance. They canít distinguish between "the government might not be telling us everything about 9/11" and "the government caused 9/11." For those who are obsessed with Jews, they would qualify that last statement with "the government caused 9/11 by colluding with Jews and their Zionist supporters." Or better yet, "Jews caused 9/11." For the conspiracy crowd, if there are some inconsistencies they immediately jump to the worst and most wild conclusions, regardless of whether or not the evidence supports their cause.

    Now I know my audience, and I know that last sentence has just ticked off a lot of people who might be reading this. Youíre now going to be tempted to fire off an angry email denouncing my ignorance of the governmentís almighty strength and/or the all-powerful influence of the Jews. Youíre going to send me links to websites proving "the truth" about 9/11 or links showing "the truth" about "the Zionist agenda." Well, Iíll do you guys a favor. I call on every LRC reader who is actually interested to do a web search and read the garbage out there "proving" the government blew up the Pentagon and/or that Jews have their hands in everything. Then make up your own minds. If you were able to recognize the reference to the paranormal talk show host who blames most things on Israel, go read his stuff too. Then you can decide for yourself if the whole rest of the world has it wrong and some guy who believes in space aliens and his gullible followers has it right.

    There is, of course, an opposite end to this silliness. Plenty believe that one cannot legitimately critique the Israeli government in any way, shape, or form, without being "anti-Semitic." Millions of Christians support a variant of "Christian Zionism" (a term they themselves use) because they believe that the "end-times" will focus around the modern nation of Israel. They further believe in tearing down the Al-Aqsa mosque at the Temple Mount and rebuilding an Old Testament style Jewish temple for renewed Mosaic sacrifices. Thus, many in the dispensational crowd of Christianity condemn Arabs outright and believe that Israelis can do little wrong. These points of view are dangerous in many respects, but at the very least these types of folks are infinitely more pleasant than those who sincerely believe that Jews are the root of all evil.

    Unfortunately, I have to hear it from both sides. As an Arab, I constantly have to listen to bizarre claptrap from some family members about how bad the Jews are. As I writer, I hear it all the time from the conspiracy crowd. In such cases, I am proud to defend the Jewish people against these kinds of nutty attacks. However, as a Christian, I am always hearing from fellow Christians how I donít support Israel enough. I also hear from this group that I donít really know or believe the Bible since I do not teach or adhere to the very bad theology of pretribulationalism and dispensationalism.

    Are we really that simple of thinkers? Is the choice really between being a politically correct (and/or dispensational) cheerleader of modern Israel or the even worse choice of being a conspiracy theory believing nut who blames Jews for all problems in the world?

    As for the second group of Jew-haters, I really donít want much to do with them. Taking them or their baseless ideas seriously does absolutely nothing for the cause of freedom. In fact, it detracts from it. I also have no problem with this group wanting nothing more to do with me. I highly welcome such an outcome. As for the rest of you, go ahead and read their stuff if you want, use your brain, and ask yourself who really has a hold on truth and reality.

    Man, those mind controls from the Jews really must have their hold on me. YeahÖright.

    source
    "Facts are stubborn things; and whatever may be our wishes, our inclinations, or the dictates of our passion, they cannot alter the state of facts and evidence." John Adams on Defense of the boston Massacre

  6. #6
    Hudson, I think you need to write a book.

  7. #7

  8. #8
    Someone has too much time on their hands, probably because they don't have a job and are on welfare.

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