Awhile back, I had come up with a set of heuristics, or general rules of thumb to judge the relative plausibility of conspiracy theories, first only one, then two, and just recently completing them as a full set of three, in the spirit of Clarke’s three laws, as well as Isaac Asimov’s laws of Robotics and his semi-humorously intended laws of Humanics.
But these are postulates, not laws, though they have shown themselves remarkably consistent and useful predictive guides indeed.
The postulates are general observations on the characteristics of conspiracy theories ranging from the seemingly sound to the completely kooktastic ones, and of what things to look out for and sound the shenanigans alarm when dealing with the claims of those chaps wearing tinfoil hats.
- The likelihood of any given conspiracy theory being true is inversely proportional to the amount of bat-shit insane rationalization that goes into it.
The next involves what’s known as “cascade logic,” fallacious reasoning in which the conspiracy must be ever-widened with increasingly enormous numbers of people “in” on it to support its attendant theory.
Never mind that it’s extremely illogical to claim that a conspiracy can involve thousands or millions of people, all of them comically evil and as obedient to their masters as Daleks, with not one of them ever blowing its cover even once for personal gain or ethical qualms, or any of the other reasons people often have for blowing big secrets wide open.
If the United States government can’t even keep the secret of the atomic bomb, or more recently, the scandals of even the secretive political administration of president Bush II, though conspiracies do happen, and secrets are often successfully kept, as well they sometimes should be, it’s the successful conspiracies that no one, and I mean no one uninvolved, ever hears about until said conspiracies become unsuccessful and thus no longer pose a threat.
- The plausibility of any given conspiracy theory is inversely proportional to the number of people allegedly involved in it.
This last one is a variant of Godwin’s Law, dealing with the invective that flies when unsupported claims of conspiracy are challenged by those of us less inclined to be taken in by or promote them.
- The probability of being accused of implication as a craven shill, stooge, or dupe in a conspiracy is directly proportional to the degree of implausibility a critic attributes to the alleged conspiracy’s attendant body of theory and to the level of self-righteous hostility of the theorist.
I find these useful for separating the absurd theories from the more likely ones, and best used together in looking for fallacious and baroque chains of argument, including cascade reasoning, special pleading and ad hominem arguments of motive and knowing or naive involvement in the conspiracy by proponents.
I hope you find these amusing if nothing else…but never forget that the most important thing is the evidence for a claim — these postulates are only intended to raise the proverbial red flags, to note when something sounds fishy, but are a good indicator of nonsense if evidence is not forthcoming from the claimant.