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Conspiracy Thinking

by Steven Novella, Aug 13 2012

I remain fascinated with the mindset of the conspiracy theorist. Partly this is because I think we all have a little conspiracy theorist inside us – deep within our evolved psyche. There is something very compelling and satisfying about believing that you have peeked behind the curtain and seen the true machinations at work in the world. Hardcore conspiracy theorists are mostly regular people who have fallen into a psychological trap, or perhaps they simply have a greater tendency towards the kinds of thinking that leads to belief in conspiracies. Theirs, however, is a difference in magnitude, not kind.

I recently received an e-mail with an innocent question from someone who appears to fall into the former group – a regular guy whose conspiracy sense has been tickled. The e-mailer’s brother, who is a conspiracy theorist by his account, pointed him to this Youtube video – a short clip from an interview with John McCain and Barack Obama during the 2008 election. Take a look at the interview before reading further.

McCain is apparently posturing about the debate schedule between him and Obama (typical political fare for a US election), and refers back to the debate planning between Barry Goldwater and JFK before the “Intervention and the tragedy at Dallas.”  The video would probably pass most people by without a thought, or perhaps just the slightest notice of the word choice by McCain. Calling the assassination of JFK an “intervention” at first seems like an odd word choice. Did he say “the intervention and the tragedy at Dallas,” or “the intervention of the tragedy at Dallas,” – meaning that the tragedy intervened in the course of events? It’s probably the latter. It’s also possible that the wrong word came out, or the intended word did not come to mind (although there does not appear to be any delay or stuttering). Either way, this is a non-event.

Yet conspiracy theorists have taken this one odd word and made it into evidence for a JFK assassination conspiracy., for example, describes the moment this way:

“the intervention…” (eyes open wide, eyebrows high, grabs nose) “…err tragedy in Dallas…

The insertion of “err” makes it seem like McCain accidentally let slip the big secret, which for some reason he is privy to, and then rapidly corrected himself. I don’t hear an “err” and the flow of the sentence does not suggest a corrected mistake.

A great deal has also been made of the fact that McCain quickly itches his nose during the famous sentence. Many commenters point out that this is a supposed sign of deception, or that it is very telling. Some speculate that the comment was a message to Obama that if he steps out of line he will suffer the same fate as JFK (so of course this threat was delivered on national tv).

It’s also possible, of course, that McCain simply had an itch and was absentmindedly scratching it.

The entire to-do about this video is, of course, absurd. Like most pieces of supposed evidence for such grand conspiracies, it generates more questions than answers. If there were a plot to assassinate JFK, why would McCain know about it? And if he did, why would he keep the secret. He was nobody back in 1963 – an average naval pilot with no inkling of his later political career. The conspiracy theory, therefore, must assume that once a politician gets into the upper reaches of power they are made privy to all the secrets that have been kept over the years. The conspiracy always has to expand and grow in order to make sense of apparent contradictions. Before long you get into the world-wide multi-generational shadow government that controls everything.

The primary mental malfunction of the “intervention” video conspiracy-mongering, however, is the massive anomaly hunting that it represents. Conspiracy theorists don’t have real evidence (because the conspirators hide all the evidence, or course), instead they have anomalies. Anything that seems a bit odd, out of place, coincidental, or all-too-convenient is cast in a sinister light and made to seem as if it is evidence for a conspiracy. Media conspiracy theorists often hide this thinking as “I’m just asking questions” – which is code for, “I’m just anomaly hunting and conspiracy-mongering.”

Imagine all the video of all the politicians and leaders out there that could possibly produce something that can be twisted into vague evidence of something sinister. It doesn’t have to be anything specific – and that’s the point. A scratch of the nose, a certain facial expression or word choice is all it takes. The amount of data out there for conspiracy theorists to mine is vast. The fact that this sort of thing is the best they can come up with is very telling in itself.

The world is a complex and chaotic place, and our ability to make sense of it all is limited by comparison. We like, however, to have a sense of control, so we look for patterns and ways to predict what will happen in this chaotic world. Superstitions are one way to deal with the chaos, and conspiracy theories are another. They are both forms of pattern seeking behavior. The illusion of pattern that leads to the illusion of understanding and therefore control is psychologically appealing. But it is all a neuropsychological illusion.

Rigorous logic and empirical methods need to be applied to let us distinguish real patterns from fake or coincidental ones. Conspiracy thinking is the opposite of rigorous logic. It employs conspiracy logic, which can turn any evidence against a conspiracy or lack of evidence for a conspiracy into evidence for the conspiracy. Conspiracy thinking is a closed  mental feedback loop. There is no way out from within the conspiracy mindset itself.

To a conspiracy theorist, McCain scratched his nose, therefore he is in on a 45 year old plot to assassinate JFK, and the world is run by a shadow government of incredible reach, power, and just enough stupidity (or hubris) so that the conspiracy theorists themselves can see through it all.

65 Responses to “Conspiracy Thinking”

  1. Scott Hamilton says:

    If you want to see every kind of conspiracy thinking/logical fallacy in one guy, check out the Binnall of America podcast interview with William Zabel. They guy’s amazing. His big issue is the Columbine Massacre, and he claims it really took place over two days, and included shootouts between various parties and hostage situations. It was choreographed by the NWO as a Satanic sacrifice, as an excuse for tougher gun laws, and about three other contradictory reasons, because Zabel is willing to incorporate anything into his theory so long as someone claims to be a witness. And the strangest thing is Zabel doesn’t sound crazy in any obvious way, even though he’s clearly got problems dealing with reality.

  2. Trimegistus says:

    Excellent post, Mr. Novella!

    Conspiracy thinking is the anti-Occam’s Razor. For every trivial detail there is always a massively complex explanation. And for every flaw in the massively complex explanation there’s an even more massively complex justification.

    Which is more plausible: a misstatement by John McCain while speaking off-the-cuff, or a vast conspiracy incorporating both political parties, the entire apparatus of government, the entire media, and the Kennedy family themselves? The conspiracy theorist unquestioningly chooses option B.

    The sad thing is that all conspiracy theories ultimately lead to the same conclusion, a kind of latter-day secular Gnosticism in which the entire visible world is a monstrous lie by forces of titanic evil. Why does anyone _want_ to live in that reality?

    • Jim Shaver says:

      Trimegistus, I don’t think McCain’s statement was a misstatement at all. To me, his statement was clear.

      “…the way Barry Goldwater and Jack Kennedy agreed to do before the intervention of the tragedy at Dallas.”

      McCain is referring to debates that Goldwater and Kennedy agreed to have before Kennedy’s assassination “intervened” to end any such possibility. Sure, he could have phrased it better, but I think he did mean to say “intervention” in the context of the thing that prevented the debates from happening.

      • starskeptic says:

        “…the way Barry Goldwater and Jack Kennedy agreed to do before the intervention of A tragedy at Dallas.”
        but yeah, I agree…

    • Chris Howard says:

      “…latter day secular Gnosticism…” that’s brilliant. May I use it? Also, does anyone know of studies in which fMRI’s, or some other brain scanning devices were used involving conspiracy minded persons?

    • Gavin says:

      As an occasional linguistic and historical pedant, I must protest the continued abuse of Gnosticism begun by the ancient Catholic-Orthodox church, which itself considered the physical world to be dominated by Satan and his minions. “Gnosticism” was just a catch-all term for sects which recognised the malign character of the Old Testament deity, or espoused a higher one.

      • Ryan says:

        As a full time pedant on the subject of comparative religion, I should point out that you’re vastly mis-characterizing the term as it is used now, and as it was first applied. You also seem to be making some assumption about gnostic groups as a whole that don’t really work. The original Greek (gnostikos, “learned”) term was used similar to “mystic” or “esoteric” and simply referred to religious groups or cermonies(Christian or not) built around mysteries or secretive teachings. The term was not used by the early church per se, but broadly by Greek (or Greek writing) scholars to describe such groups and practices.

        The modern English term gnosticism is effectively a catch all term to describe early Christian mysticism. Some of them accepted the divinity of Jesus, others didn’t. Some of them had peculiar ideas about God, other were in line with the early church. There are major trends and frequent commonalities sure, but you’re vastly simplifying things in a way that sounds good to you.

      • Gavin says:

        I was simplifying things to make a short post on a minor point, which your exposition only reinforces. I said nothing about how the term was first used, just how the church abused it. As “Gnosticism” means, essentially, “the veneration of knowledge”, I contend that “latter-day secular Gnosticism” would apply better to modern rational skepticism than to conspiratorialism. Capiche?

      • Ryan says:

        Sure. But again that’s not what Gnosticism means or what such groups practiced. There was no worship or veneration of knowledge in itself. At its simplest Christian sects that built their worship around certain bits of secretive religious teaching. Dogma that couldn’t preached openly and was only given to certain members for certain reasons. They weren’t concerned with knowledge and learning in general, but very specific doctrines they held to be divine.

        Direct divine inspiration of the individual, and the with holding of that information from the general public and sect members not yet initiated is central.

  3. CountryGirl says:

    A conspiracy is a plan formulated in secret by two or more persons. Simple as that. Most conspiracies we think of when the subject come up are politically devisive and thus prone to misinformation by both sides. So it is easy, using any of this misinformation, to denigrate anyone with a valid point and bury their theory with a mountain of counter-conspiracy theory. None of this proves there is not a conspiracy of some kind. Take the JFK incident; clearly there was a conspiracy or more accurately many conspiracies. Just the Warren commission alone was a conspiracy to prevent specific information from coming out. Additionally the known records of the event are still sealed and that is also a conspiracy. Two simple points: 1. Experts under the FBI tried to re-enact the shooting and were unable to. Two of the shots were too close together to be taken by a bolt action rifle and then back on target, and shooting at a sharp down angle changes the aim of the bullet making a clean hit difficult. 2. The kill shot was obviously taken from the front not the back where the supposed shooter was. Clearly what actually happened on the November day in Dallas is still not clear and people did conspire to prevent the truth from getting out.

    • Daniel says:

      Your factual assertions are objectively false. JFK’s friend, and Nobel prize winning physicist, showed how a bullet to the back of the head can cause the head to jerk back. You can also do a simple reenactment to show that someone could easily get three shots off in the amount of time even conspiracy theorists propound. (Not to mention the fact that Oswald was an ex-Marine).

      This is why JFK conspiracy theories have great staying power, especially to a younger generation. You see movies like JFK, that blatantly make stuff up, or falsify evidence. Best example is the magic bullet theory. Most conspiracy theorists reposition Connolly and Kennedy in their reenactments, so that they’re sitting level with one another, which was not the case. Most of us weren’t alive at the time, and it takes some effort to wade through all of the evidence, so it’s a lot easier, and more entertaining, to watch an Oliver Stone movie.

      I would suggest that you watch the Congressional testimony of Dr. Michael Baden (available on Youtube), which addresses most of the “evidence” cited by conspiracy theorists. However, you’ll probably just say he was in on the conspiracy also, which proves Novella’s point.

      • Canman says:

        Ya forgot to mention the Nobel prize winning physicist and JFK friend’s name. Luis Alvarez. He has an excellent chapter on this in his autobiography.

      • Daniel says:

        Forgot the name at the time I was writing my comment. Thanks for reminding me.

      • CountryGirl says:

        Objectively false??? Not really, even if that theory were true (and there is no objective evidence it it true) it does not automatically apply to every bullet hit. Do you really believe everyone shot with a gun will by the physics of the bullet move towards the direction the bullet came from??? But a more important factor in the kill shot was that the exit wound was to the back of the head. Now that’s gonna convince a doctor that the shot was from the front! But wait! But wait! It DID convince the doctor that the shot was from the front. The attending physician wrote that in his notes. And later the FBI and the Warren commission browbeat him until he agreed to disavow what he wrote. I wonder what Luis Alverez thinks about that…

        Not “get three shots off”! You aren’t listening. The time between two of the shots was not enough time to work the bolt action and get back on target. Experts, not just Marines, tried multiple times and could not do it. They couldn’t even hit the moving target at that angle consistently with any accuracy.

        Then there is the magic bullet: This bullet managed to change direction by as much as 90 degrees three times. It did this because it was the only way the Warren commission could justify the appearent extra bullet wounds. But it gets better: a bullet was found on the stretcher in the hospital. This bullet was fired by the rifle found in the book repository but it was virtually pristine as though it was fired into something intending to catch the bullet and keep it identifiable. This bullet had lost noe of it’s lead (the lead within the jacket) and was claimed to have been the magic bullet which by the way left lead within the body of Gov Connally. So it was a double magic bullet able to leave lead behind but not lose any lead. But it gets better. The bullet found just laying on the stretcher was found some time after Connally was removed from the stretcher and the stretcher was madhandled out of the room. But the magic bullet managed to stay on top as the stretcher as flipped over and removed from the room. What does Dr Baden say about that?

        The list of counter indications, frauds, mistakes, and coerced reversals of testimony around the JFK shooting is very very long and almost none of them were ever effectively explained but were rather simply covered up. To ignore ALL the strange events and still insist it all happened as the Warren commission claimed it did EVEN though we know without doubt that most of what the Warren commission published was bogus and has been proven to be bogus seems so very strange. Why would you be so convinced and so easily mislead?

        Did I mention that the famous picture of Oswald holding the rifle was proven to be a fake?

      • Daniel says:

        I don’t have time to go into everything (and addressing the arguments of conspiracy theorists is an unfruitful exercise anyway) but your magic bullet theory is based on ignoring a key peace of evidence, which notably you don’t address. In all conspiracy theory reenactments, Connolly and the President are sitting at the same height. If that were true, then one bullet could not account for both wounds. However, that is NOT true. The back seat of the car positioned above the front seat. When you account for this difference, a straight shot from the book depository is the only thing that makes sense.

        Another interesting thing you do is to assert, in the passive tense, that the Oswald photo “was proven to be a fake.” Please tell us WHO proved it was a fake and how they determined that.

        As I noted, this is probably a useless exercise on my part. A conspiracy theorist just wants to believe. To your credit though (or maybe not, since I don’t know your views on the matter) arguing with a 9/11 conspiracy theorist is an order of magnitude more frustrating. The JFK conspiracy can be made to sound plausible given the limited film evidence and little news coverage by today’s standards. So it’s easy for someone to make up facts that sound plausible. A 9/11 conspiracy theorist has to explain away video evidence of two giant planes crashing into the WTC. You almost have to admire that kind of dedication.

      • GoneWithTheWind says:

        Your comment/excuses about the magic bullet shows ignorance on your part. This was not a simple case of the two men sitting in different positions. The bullet itself took three sharp turns to wound Connally in different parts of his body. I suspect you have not done the research and are in knee jerk mode.

        The photo of Oswald holing the rifle looks remarkably like the skit in America’s funniest home videos where they paste host Tom Bergeron’s face on the photo of a funny scene. Oswalds face clearly looks all wrong, too bad they didn’t have photo shop back then they could have done a better job. But the best evidence that the picture was altered is that it was printed on the cover of Life Magazine with a scope but the same picture printed by the Detroit Free Press on the same day shows the rifle without a scope. Hmmmmmmm!

        But you neglect to try to debunk the known and acknowledged “discrepancies”/lies of the Warren commission. Like so many coverups it requires lies to prop up falsehoods and many of those lies came directly from the Warren Commission.

        Or the doctor who treated JFK after the shooting; Dr. Charles Crenshaw who has said:
        The back of Kennedy’s head was blown out, clearly implying a shot from the Grassy Knoll in front of Kennedy.
        A small wound in Kennedy’s throat was an entrance wound, proving a shot from the front, and not from the Sniper’s Nest behind Kennedy.
        Parkland doctors, knowing there was a conspiracy, have feared to speak out.
        The President’s body was altered between Parkland Hospital and the autopsy at Bethesda.
        And the most sensational: Lyndon Johnson called the operating room were Oswald was being treated and demanded a confession be extracted from the accused assassin.
        But lets dismiss Dr. Crenshaw as a crazy conspiracy theorist and we all know there is no sense in arguing with a crazy conspiracy theorist.

      • Old Rockin' Dave says:

        CountryGirl, you are entirely wrong about the rifle tests. I know of four such tests conducted independently of each other. One, conducted by the Italian Army, failed to replicate the shooting. Three done in the US showed it was entirely possible. These tests were done by the FBI and US Marine Corps together, the D.C. Police Department, and CBS News. You can find the written report of the DC test and video of the CBS test online very easily, and I am sure you can find the others too. In the three US tests, several shooters, none of whom had much familiarity with that model of rifle, were able to get off three shots in under five seconds with sufficient accuracy. Oswald, a Marine sharpshooter, could have had plenty of practice with his rifle. It seems likely that he had premeasured the distances. He was also shooting with the windowsill as a rest. All of this would have boosted his accuracy and his timing. Your claim doesn’t survive a collision with the facts, especially the facts boosted with likelihood.

      • tmac57 says:

        And everyone also tends to forget,that Oswald had probably obsessively practiced the mechanics of the shots for who knows how long,and with his skill level aside,he might just have gotten off a lucky shot as well.
        I once hit a dead on bullseye at 40 feet with a target pistol on my first shot,having never shot a hand gun in my life.

      • GoneWithTheWind says:

        Different reenactments of the shooting ignore the difficult/impossible shot and instead attempt to prove something not in dispute. Two point:
        1. The FBI marksmen, who test-fired the rifle for the Warren Commission, concluded that the “minimum time for getting off two successive well-aimed shots on the rifle is approximately 2 and a quarter seconds”
        2. The time lapsed between the first shot hitting JFK and the second shot hitting Gov Connally was 1 second.

        None of the reenactments even attempt to duplicate this shot. Why? Because the Warren commission gave them an “out”. The commission concluded that this “magic” bullet hit JFK and then 1 second later hit Gov Connally (seated 2 feet away). But wait, but wait! It gets better. This magic bullet hit connally in the chest (which we all know is in the upper body) then swerved sharply left and hit Connally in the left wrist, then swerved sharply down and hit him in his left thigh. But the magic isn’t over yet, This magic bullet left lead in Connally’s body but later when the bullet was evaluated it still contained all it’s lead, in fact the bullet is described as “pristine”. And lastly the magic isn’t gone yet this bullet “appears” out of nowhere in the hospital on a stretcher in the hallway. A hallway where there were no guards, no witnesses, no chain of custody of the “evidence”. Truely magic.

    • Bill Nada says:

      Nice equivocation fallacy.

  4. Joshua Hunt says:

    “Three can keep a secret, if two of them are dead.” -Benjamin Franklin

    • tmac57 says:

      I love that quote. I always like to say that a secret is something that one person knows (kind of the same sentiment).

    • Max says:

      Or if they all know they’ll be dead if they don’t keep the secret.

      The fact is that many secrets were kept for decades, and we only know of the ones that were revealed.

      For example, who killed Stalin?

  5. Chris Howard says:

    Gotta love the “I know something you don’t know, and if you don’t believe it too you’re a sheeple!” attitude of a lot of conspiracy theorist.

  6. Max says:

    For debates, politicians memorize a lot of talking points, and sometimes the wrong ones are triggered. McCain may have been thinking about intervention in Pakistan.

  7. Max says:

    Tim McVeigh, who was a conspiracy theorist himself, responded to conspiracy theories that he had help from anyone other than Terry Nichols. He said, “You can’t handle the truth. Because the truth is, I blew up the Murrah Building, and isn’t it kind of scary that one man could wreak this kind of hell?”

    • Daniel says:

      You fool. McVeigh was part of a much bigger conspiracy that he was merely covering up by making such an assertion. You and other sheeple. ;)

  8. The Midwesterner says:

    Military personnel tend to like to use words that convey a point in a very sanitized fashion so “intervention” may be that type of word to McCain…or he could be the second shooter. I am old enough to vividly remember that day and now that I think about it, I’m not sure that John McCain’s whereabouts have been adequately accounted for.

  9. WScott says:

    @ Trimegistus: You win the Internet for “latter-day secular Gnosticism!” You’re also spot on that all conspiracy theories are essentially the same, use same the fallacies & tortured “logic,” and eventually wind up in the same place. What mystifies me is how conspiracy theorists can so easily spot the flaws in someone else’s crazy theory, yet remain completely blind to the IDENTICAL flaws in their own pet theory.

    @ CountryGirl: Your definition of conspiracy is correct, but you also know perfectly well that’s not what we’re talking about here. There’s a huge difference between small-c conspiracies between a handful of people, and elaborate Capital-C Conspiracy Theories about who REALLY (sic) runs the world.

  10. Max says:

    Anomaly hunting is not a problem per se. As Isaac Asimov said, “The most exciting phrase to hear in science, the one that heralds new discoveries, is not ‘Eureka’ but ‘That’s funny…'”

    The problem is jumping to conclusions and failing to consider multiple explanations for the anomalies, including bad reporting, hoaxing, and your own intuition being wrong.

  11. kraut says:

    That stuff is just trivial nonsense.

    You want real conspiracy:

    “A significant fraction of global private financial wealth -­‐-­‐ by our estimates, at least $21 to
    $32 trillion as of 2010 -­‐-­‐ has been invested virtually tax-­‐free through the world

  12. Gavin says:

    I remain frustrated by the modern mindset that equates “conspiracy theory” with “crackpot theory”. While Stephen’s points are all pretty much spot-on, this kind of terminological muddle makes for a dangerously complacent attitude in today’s world of quasi-legal wire-taps, indefinite detentions, remote assasinations, and the continual, often covert, erosion of human rights and freedoms by governmental and corporate interests. I think the proliferation of conspiracism can be understood partly as a reaction to this popular complacency – which, ironically, has reigned since the revelations of the Watergate conspiracy. Things as diverse and rationally undeniable as wars-for-profit, global warming, and even evolution are commonly dismissed as “conspiracy theories”, along with every new revelation of governmental misconduct.

    Let’s try to be more specific with our terminology: when we mean, “a purveyer of theories born of paranoia”, both “conspiracist” and “conspiratorialist” fit the bill nicely (I try to use the latter for more extreme cases). But, technically, “conspiracy theorist” describes pretty much everyone.

    • Gavin says:

      Sorry – “SteVen’s points”.

    • Max says:

      Global Warming and Evolution are usually attacked as conspiracies, not dismissed as conspiracy theories.

      • Gavin says:

        Okay – attacked more than dismissed; but the substance of such attacks is that they SHOULD be dismissed as conspiratorial.

      • Max says:

        I’m talking about conspiracy theories that Global Warming is a Communist conspiracy to control the world, and Evolution is an atheist conspiracy to undermine religion and morality. These attacks are the opposite of dismissing Global Warming and Evolution as just some nutty conspiracy theories. The attacks themselves are conspiracy theories.

    • Student says:

      “Things as diverse and rationally undeniable as wars-for-profit, global warming, and even evolution are commonly dismissed as “conspiracy theories”, along with every new revelation of governmental misconduct. ”

      Of course. But the difference between an actual conspiracy and knowing of it and forming a conspiracy theory is that for one, questions or evidence lead to more evidence you would expect, which lead to good conclusions, rather than trying to string together anomalies. Understanding what a conspiracy theorist is and what’s wrong with their attempts at reasoning says nothing negative about actual inquiry. Quite the opposite.

      Conspiracy theorists are playing the Texas Sharpshooter, rather than doing actual inquiry, which is to find evidence for their hypothesis and make conclusions, rather than tying together disparate bits of nonsense.

      And, as Max pointed out, the innacuracy of language seems to be based around your misunderstanding and application of the word.

      • Gavin says:

        I have no argument with your characterisation of the difference between what you insist on calling “conspiracy theorists” and knowers of actual conspiracies, but what do you call reasonable speculation about possible conspiracies? Dissing all conspiracy theorists discorages valid – and ever more needed – investigations.

        And, insults aside, I don’t think that’s what Max said.

      • Daniel says:


        Distinguishing the two is like how one identifies pornography. “I know it when I see it.” Not the ideal approach when trying to assess objective claims, but sometimes that’s the best you can expect.

      • Gavin says:

        I respectfully disagree: this article and several of its commentators have described well how to distinguish rational inquiry from paranoid obsession. And on the other side of the analogy, pornography is hard to define because its an arbitrary concept. As Picasso said, “art is not chaste”; the difference between high art and low smut is a matter of degree.

      • tmac57 says:

        Pornography is also about social norms of tolerance for sexually explicit material,(a matter of sensibilities).
        In contrast, a conspiracy either happened or didn’t happen.It shouldn’t merely rest on the opinion of the believer or disbeliever.

  13. Max says:

    I love it when conspiracy theories backfire.
    On July 18, birther Jerome Corsi said, “In the 1961 code book, which we worked for months to get ahold of — we finally found it — ’9′ means not reported or not stated.”

    Skeptics discovered that this code is from a 1968 document, not the 1961 book, and they called for Corsi to prove that he has the 1961 book. Corsi responded, “You’re gonna find Sheriff Arpaio’s group is gonna get increasingly closed-mouthed about the evidence that’s been created. It’s not gonna be released.”
    Anyone see the irony or a birther refusing to release documentation?

  14. Daniel says:


    I think one of your assertions in another post proves my point:

    “Things as diverse and rationally undeniable as wars-for-profit”

    I am unaware of any hard evidence of any “war-for-profit” by the US at least. Arguably, the best evidence, Iraq/Haliburton, is pretty thin when you look closely enough at it. For one, Haliburton (or more specifically, it’s subsidiary KBR) profited handsomely from the US involvement in the Balkans, primarily by supplying US forces stationed in Kosovo and Bosnia. Yet, only the Ramsey Clarks of the world would call that a “war-for-profit”. Regarding Iraq, I don’t believe that anyone in the decision-making process within the Bush administration actually profited at all from Iraq. Dick Cheney had sold, as he was required to, all of his Haliburton stock before he became vice-president. As evil as he might be, it seems a little strange that he would instigate the whole thing as a favor to his buddies. Unfortunately, by focusing on things like Haliburton, we tend to miss what the whole endeavor was all about and what kind of lessons we can learn in the future. To put it succinctly, the best evidence leads to the conclusion that the US went to war with Iraq because the Bush administration, or certain elements within the Bush administration, seriously believed in transforming the middle-east. It’s a mundane explanation that is unsatisfying to some at a gut level, same as the idea that a lone nut could dramatically alter the course of by assassinating the President all by himself.

    Regarding the global warming “debate” (I have my unscientific views on the matter, which is why I never comment on the science of it), the folks on the “alarmist” side see giant conspiracies by meany oil-men that are designed to destroy them. The truth, again, is more mundane. The funding by business interests of the skeptic side is very, very small (as evidenced by the supposedly smoking-gun documents from Heartland). What it really is, for the most part, are people who, at a gut level, tend to be skeptical of alarmist (but largely true) claims that serious consequences are imminent. Richard Lindzen tends to take skeptical views of all such claims, from global warming to the health risks for smoking. Whether he’s wrong or not, it’s not the product of the monopoly man funding his research, it’s just that he’s got his own biases.

    My point in all this is that someone who is trying to arrive at some objective criteria in determining who are the actual conspiracy nuts, can come to shaky conclusions based on that criteria. Your obviously not a conspiracy nut, but I make that conclusion because “I know one, when I see one”. It’s unsatisfying to people who attempt to look at everything objectively (which is a noble aim), but sometimes that’s what it comes down to.

    • Daniel says:

      Whoa, that’s embarassing. I notice someone else made the war-for-profit comment. Geez I need coffee.

      • Daniel says:

        Allright, I’m really going nuts here. For future reference, just chalk up some of my mistatements to being honest mistakes.

  15. Daniel says:


    My point is not how one determines whether the existence of a conspiracy (loosely stated) is objectively true or not. You are right, that can be determined objectively (so please don’t accuse me of being one of those post-modernism types that claims that physics is just a social construct). Rather, as I see it, the issue is trying to determine who is a conspiracy nut. However you try to parse it, it really comes down to, in my opinion, knowing one when you see one.

    As I say, people on both sides of the global warming issue see a conspiracy on the other side. Both Anthony Watt (whatever you think of his views on the science of the matter) or Prothero (who I can’t stand for other reasons) point to conspiracies by business interests on the other side. I think they’re both wrong in that regard, but they’re not conspiracy nuts.

    • tmac57 says:

      If a large international corporation or perhaps a couple of billionaires with massive holdings in fossil fuel interests were to take an amoral position of “protect our interests and profits at all costs,no matter what the science says”,and then deliberately sets out to fund think tanks and climate contrarians
      to counter a massive body of climate science with a few cherry picked studies and bogus scandals,and enlists the help of a media mogul with extensive world wide out reach and little regard for the truth to help push their message out to unsuspecting readers and viewers…
      is that a conspiracy,or is it just doing business?

  16. Loren Petrich says:

    I have a theory that a taste for conspiracy theories is a result of agency detection, something that Pascal Boyer and others have proposed to be involved in various forms of religion. It would be a result of sociality, since one has to determine the intentions of other members of one’s social group.

    Instead of no decisions or lots of small-scale decisions, something is a result of a few large decisions, those of the conspiracy masterminds.

    The JFK conspiracy theories also remind me of Lord Raglan’s Mythic-Hero profile, in which a hero dies a mysterious or unusual death, often on a hilltop. It seems that being killed by a lone lunatic is not a big enough death for JFK, that some big conspiracy has to be out to get him.

    BTW, I’m completely skeptical of JFK conspiracy theories, since numerous other killers and would-be killers of presidents have been lone lunatics. I’m also perplexed at JFK conspiracy theorists’ hate-on for the Warren Commission. Was it really as horrible as they think?

  17. d brown says:

    The Warren Commission was in a hurry and I think they missed some small things. But they were right. BR>I have been in more that one conspiracy. Started one too. Its whether they are real or not. Mine were, they were just the small kind that happen when you try and do anything. Come to think of it people see patterns. I have seen patterns that looked like conspiracies and a few years later it looks like I was right more than once. If you think to much you see things that are not there. But sometimes they are there. You know if I was to say that rich and powerful people had been spending big money to turn the country back to a imagany golden age that never was and they they would control, I would seem to be a conspiracy nut. And that’s I was called. But that’s what the people funding and doing it say they are doing now.

  18. d brown says:

    The Warren Commission was in a hurry and I think they missed some small things. But they were right. BR>I have been in more that one conspiracy. Started one too. Its whether they are real or not. Mine were, they were just the small kind that happen when you try and do anything. Come to think of it people see patterns. I have seen patterns that looked like conspiracies and a few years later it looks like I was right more than once. If you think to much you see things that are not there. But sometimes they are there. You know if I was to say that rich and powerful people had been spending big money to turn the country back to a golden age that never was and they they would control, I would seem to be a conspiracy nut. And that’s I was called. But that’s what the people funding and doing it say they are doing now.

    • Loren Petrich says:

      Thanx for a non-conspiracy-theorist perspective on the Warren Commission. JFK-assassination conspiracy theorists sometimes demonize the Warren Commission as part of that conspiracy.

      • GoneWithTheWind says:

        “demonize”! The Warren Commission report stands on it’s own and it is full of blatant “mistakes” most of which some members of the commission disagreed with putting in writing. The Warren commission was a coverup, it was created to coverup and it did a terrible job at it and gave conspiracy theorists reason to wonder.

        When you look at rationalization in the dictionary the example they use is “The Warren Commission was in a hurry and I think they missed some small things.”

      • Loren Petrich says:

        Citation needed. Link to dictionary definitions of “rationalization”. That should be easy to do.

        Making unsupported accusations of doing Bad Things is a common part of demonizing.

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  20. Tim Fleming says:


    Your ignorance of these events and your own history apparently knows no bounds. It may gratify your smug sense of condescension to demean those who suggest that the assassination of an American president may have involved conspiratorial activity among his enemies–of which JFK had many (most prominently Allen Dulles who hated him with a particular zeal, yet was appointed to investigate his murder). Forgive me if I don’t accept Dulles’s proclamations at face value. (Steven, are you aware that Dulles’s mistress Mary Bancroft was best friends with Ruth Paine, Lee Harvey Oswald’s landlady in Novemeber 1963? Just a wild coincidence, right? You wacky coincidence theorists must mindlessly dismiss a thousand such happenstances in this case.) Okay, I’ll be brief now since you are not worth more than five more minutes of my time. Expain one thing to me, Steven, since you know all the ins and outs of the complex case of JFK’s murder. Why did the wounds on his body change in between the time he was seen at Parkland in Dallas and the time he arrived at Bethesda Hospital for the autopsy. The Dallas doctors saw frontal-entry wounds; the Bethesda doctors saw rear-entry wounds. How, why and where did the wounds change in five hours’ time? Answer that question for me, Steven, then I’ll take you seriously as an expert on the JFK assassination.

  21. MajorityofOne says:

    I think that Lee Oswald went to kill the president Nov 22, 1963. That same day, Bob woke up and went to kill the president. Lee shot, Bob shot. Both hit the president. Lee was caught. Bob was not. When all the talk started about it being the mob, Castro, the CIA, people had to take sides. People had to have it make sense. Bob went on back to his job doing whatever, probably something ex-military, like Oswald. Two people knew what happened. One of them is dead. A big conspiracy with hundreds in on it? No. Even a few people in on it? No. Lee and Bob. End of story, except we’re still talking about Bob in 2012.

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