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Scientific American

The Conspiracy Theory Detector

published December 2010 | comments (63)
How to tell the difference between true and false conspiracy theories
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This past September 23 a Canadian 9/11 “truther” confronted me after a talk I gave at the University of Lethbridge. He turned out to be a professor there who had one of his students filming the “confrontation.” By early the next morning the video was online, complete with music, graphics, cutaways and edits apparently intended to make me appear deceptive (search YouTube for “Michael Shermer, Anthony J. Hall”). “You, sir, are not skeptical on that subject — you are gullible,” Hall raged. “We can see that the official conspiracy theory is discredited…. It is very clear that the official story is a disgrace, and people who go along with it like you and who mix it in with this whole Martian/alien thing is discrediting and a shame and a disgrace to the economy and to the university” [sic]. Hall teaches globalization studies and believes that 9/11 is just one in a long line of conspiratorial actions by those in power to suppress liberties and control the world.

Conspiracy theories are a dollar a dozen. While in Calgary on that same trip, I met a politician who told me that he believes the fluoridation of water is the greatest scam ever perpetrated on the public. Others have regaled me for hours with their breathless tales of who really killed JFK, RFK, MLK, Jr., Jimmy Hoffa and Princess Diana, along with the nefarious goings on of the Federal Reserve, the New World Order, the Trilateral Commission, the Council on Foreign Relations, Yale University’s secret society Skull and Bones, the Knights Templar, the Freemasons, the Illuminati, the Bilderberg Group, the Rothschilds, the Rockefellers and the Learned Elders of Zion. It would take Madison Square Garden to hold them all for a world-domination meeting.

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.

The fact that politicians sometimes lie or that corporations occasionally cheat does not mean that every event is the result of a tortuous conspiracy. Most of the time stuff just happens, and our brains connect the dots into meaningful patterns.

topics in this column:

63 Comments to “The Conspiracy Theory Detector”

  1. Jeremy Babcock Says:

    As usual, well said, Dr. Shermer. It’s always a pleasure to read your columns.

  2. Mark Gailmor Says:

    Dr. Shermer I agree with you that not a lot of stuff holds water. However, we should not ignore stuff that is in plain site.

    There are FEMA camps popping up all over the U.S. Yes, they are there and I’ve actually seen one or two hidden in plain site myself.

    How about all of the Executive Council Orders. that are in complete violation of our Constitution. which give Congress and The President complete authority and control over everything, including our money, our cars, our farms and homes and us? Yes, these do exist.

    What about the recent meeting of a secret World Assemblage in Pittsburgh, PA last year with Cindy Sheehan in attendance where they used military deafening devices for crowd control who were peacefully demonstrating against this meeting? Or what about the folks, specifically the press, who were at this demo to photograph who are now on a terrorist watch list?

    Yes, I understand there’s a lot of stuff that’s not true. I also understand we need to read between the lines.

    Fluoride is a toxic poison and I distill my water daily to protect my family. The long term damage that fluoridated water and mercury amalgram fillings do to a person is frightening to say the least. Do I feel this was a conspiracy? Hmm. The jury is still out. However, Adolph Hitler did add fluoride to the water in the concentration camps. This is on record. Also, we, the US, provided Hitler with the ability to sterilize. In fact, he awarded two doctors from Virginia with Honorary Doctorates for providing him with this technology.

    Personally, I believe that adding fluoride to the water was simply a way for the industrial farming community to clean up their waste. Frightening but true. Fluoride can’t be directly dumped into the oceans. So, what do we do? Tell the public it’s good for us and it will prevent dental cavities and put it into the water system.

    Finally, I just want to say again, I’m not a conspiracy theorist but I am a concerned American who is not willing to sit by and have my liberties taken away from me by the very people I’ve empowered to speak on my behalf.

  3. Don Says:

    So Mike, you think we should stand by you concerning the preposterousness of the religious fundamentalist’s intelligent design theories, but we should ignore the testimony of 1000s of licensed architects concerning Building 7 of the 9/11 WTC? And we should all believe everything the government tells us without question, just like we did for years with Vietnam, eh?

    Who are you working for Mike?

  4. iThinkknot Says:

    A great article Mr Schermer. In response to Don, I seriously doubt that there are thousands of architects on the ‘thruthers’ side… but even so, they would still be in in the minority … just as a minority of well educated scientists support intelligent design. Both groups should know better.

  5. Bill George Says:

    Conspiracy theorists are of wont to reside in a black and white world, causing a delinquency in how to construe facts. We need not to be sheep, however Shermer’s ten characteristics are excellent points to adhere before leaping into “conspiracy” conclusions.

    Professor Hall needs to swollow his own words “…you are gullible”, or perhaps some anti-psychotics.

  6. Chris Says:

    Don: “And we should all believe everything the government tells us without question…”

    I’ll quote you, but can you quote Shermer? A clear sign of the inadequacy of a position can be found in the misrepresentation or irrational exaggeration of the other side’s arguments.

    Credulity is all that is being talked about here, as well as the desire for humans to seek patterns and overarching meanings in everything. This is why Shermer rightly compares grand, overarching conspiracy theories to religion – they are both manifestations of the same kind of bad thinking.

  7. Ryan Says:

    I think this column is plain old common sense. Sadly though, it’s still needed.

    Thanks for the read.

  8. Don Says:

    To ithinkknot[sic]: http://www.ae911truth.org/ – 1387 professionals – that’s more than a thousand. Just for someone who knows better…

    Chris: So you believe I was trying to quote Shermer? Are you so feeble-minded as to be able unable to tell the difference between hyperbole and quotation?

    I get the feeling that attempting to discuss anything here is like debating Christians on their websites; you’ve all had the kool-aid and accepted Shermer as lord and savior.

    “Hail Michael, full of hubris, the force is with thee; blessed art thou amongst publishers, and blessed is the fruit of thy mind, skepticism. Holy Michael, father of reason, pray for us sheeple, now and at the hour of our death. Amen”

  9. Chris Says:

    Don:

    Well, I’m happy to find out that you know what hyperbole is, especially since you seem to be such a master of it (“Hail Michael, full of hubris…”).

    Do you believe, Don, because Michael Shermer doesn’t buy into whatever 9/11 theory you believe in, that that makes him “full of hubris?” It’s good hyperbole, but it’s not exactly an argument for your position that anyone is going to listen to. If a Hindu accused you of being “full of hubris” for not also being a Hindu, would you listen to anything he or she had to say after that?

    Limit yourself to facts we can discuss and disagree about if you want to have an adult, rational conversation, or stick with hyperbole and personal insults if you just want to rant. The choice is yours.

    As for the 1300 professionals, I can find a lot more than that who believe in reincarnation, virgin birth and ESP. According to your own “feeble-minded” logic, that would make those things truer than whatever 9/11 theory you and the 1300 subscribe to.

    By the way, I’d really like to know, which of the many 9/11 truth theories do you subscribe to? Do you believe that the hijacked planes were actually holographic projections? Do you think the real masterminds were the Freemasons, the Jews, the Bilderberg Group, the CIA or the Vatican? Do tell.

  10. Rob Says:

    Don, I’m an Architect in the UK, seeing as the towers coming down looked nothing like controlled demolition to me I decided to check what proportion of professionals had signed that petition. 1000s is an exaggeration by the way as there are currently 1,387 ‘verified’ professionals.

    I used registry data for the US (NCARB 1999) to estimate the number of practising Architects and Engineers (disregarding irrelevant fields such as chemical, agricultural, marine, biomedical, nuclear, health & safety, computer, environmental and electrical engineers). Based on the figures:

    Industrial engineers – 214,800
    Civil Engineers – 278,400
    Aerospace Engineers – 71,600
    Materials engineers – 24,900
    Architects – 96,966

    Total – 686,666
    So after 9 years of campaigning, the 1000 signatories represented just over 0.1% of professionals in the US.

    I’d say every field probably has that proportion of idiots within it, and I think the silent majority here of 99.9% tells you something.

    I was assuming it was only professionals within the US that had signed, but I see there are some from Pakistan and Canada etc.. padding out the numbers.
    There are also Landscape Architects, who have no structural training at all. Plus many people are only at degree level, and not fully qualified (3 years as opposed to 7 years to qualify over here). Can I also point out that Architecture is a Bachelor of ‘Arts’, not science, so we aren’t much more qualified than you to say what we ‘think’ it looked like.
    So in reality it’s far less than 0.1% qualified professionals in the US.

    OVE ARUP, an international engineering firm which is independant and trusted, did a report on the fires within the towers. They concluded that the fires alone would have led to the collapse, even without the plane damage:

    http://www.csemag.com/index.php?id=1398&cHash=081010&tx_ttnewstt_news=24940

    Take a step back and be objective, as you are too entrenched in your position to see that you are wasting your effort.

  11. Shua Says:

    11. The theorists claim people with dissenting views are either working for or have been paid by the agency allegedly involved in the conspiracy.

  12. iThinkknot Says:

    Don, will you at least concede that 1387 is considerably less than thousands. It is a small point but it does exaggerate your claim somewhat. iThinkknot (not sic … intentional)

  13. marshall bell Says:

    i agree with you. you are my hero , and i know and love some of these people but when they start to list things…woopsy!!!!!!!!

  14. Kristian Says:

    I live in Calgary and am dying to know what politician said that fluoridation is a scam. Since I help elect these people I need to know which ones to avoid!

  15. Bill Morgan Says:

    Michael’s views on conspiracies dove tail beautifully with someone who would be a deep cover CIA/Mossad asset. Some of us see Michael for who he really works for, and it’s not the American people.

  16. Simon Naylor Says:

    There is so much information on 9/ll that we do not fully understand including the King Street Mural Van which was stopped by NYPD which had a mural of a plane diving into NY City and exploding painted on the side.(http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=SQS3fPeAmEI)

    This van was driven by foreign nationals who ran from the van, which exploded, but they were caught by NYPD. This alone shows there was more going on than the official story tells us.

    There is also the wargame drills that were happening on 9/ll, The E-4B Doomsday plane over NY and washington (http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=5gHOx5_rBM0), the call in threat to airforce l “Angel is next” and revelation of nuclear launch codes by the caller, unprecidented power outages in the Trade Center on the weekend before 9/ll (http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=rbhZCqNZP2U)and so much more.

    It should also be pointed out that only a majority of architects and engineers question 9/ll as only a small majority have looked at the information being presented, not because the majority have looked at the information and didn’t feel it was worth looking into further.

    Assuming we know the full story does not help us. More research and understanding might lead to holding people responsible. I don’t claim to understand what happened or know the answers. Even the members of the 9/ll Comission admit they were set up to fail, stone walled, don’t believe they got all the information or the story correct and that it should be further investigated with a more permanent comittee.

  17. Jerome Olson Says:

    Mr. Shermer points out the logical fallacies behind conspiracy theories, a subjecy my freshman composition students seems to readily grasp. Why can’t the rest of America?

  18. Illu Menati Says:

    Absolutely hilarious that already by the 2nd post there was some moron rambling madly about grand conspiracies! Also hiding behind would could be another point: “I’m not a conspiracy theorist, I’m just a concerned citizen asking questions”.

    well. Dear concerned; you crack me up, please never stop. Even though I don’t consider myself particularly smart, I know there are always idiots like you to make me feel better.

    Great article, thanks!

  19. Sean Says:

    Michael,
    I follow you columns, and enjoy reading them again and again.
    I agree with those who see this particular column as simply stating a straight forward common sense. Much needed though.

    One argument that was heard was about your bio – those on the YouTube site presented a correspondence with regards to you being falsely presenting yourself as an Adjunct Professor at Claremont Graduate University. Your bio states that too, but the university denies any relationship with you. That’s a pretty simple fact to confirm/deny.
    Could you please comment on that?

    Thanks,
    Sean

  20. Charlie Says:

    Great column as usual. Unfortunately, probably pointless, as conspiracy nuts will continue getting cracked by the latest trend.

    The petulance of Don up here, followed by the indoctrination of Simon Naylor is testament. In the face of sober reason, they still trumpet their hysteria.

    Humans without imagination or inspiration get bored by reality and have to create alternatives to feel mentally satisfied with the world. As religion fades away we might see conspiracy theorists on the rise to cater for this weakness.

  21. KGuru Says:

    Illu: Just becuase they’re espoused by crackpots doesn’t mean they’re not conspiracies. ;)

  22. AnonOrange Says:

    Hey Michael,

    Have you ever examined the political leanings of people who are likely conspiracy theorists? Seems to me that conservatives appear to be much more into conspiracies.

    Alberta is a much more conservative province than the rest of Canada and it appears that you were running into conspirasists quite a bit there. Belief in Creationism is also much higher in Alberta than Quebec, a much more liberal province, which has the lowest religiosity in all of North America.

  23. 3:16 Says:

    I enjoyed the comments more than the article itself. The truth shall one day be revealed.

  24. Glenn Powers Says:

    “Never try to teach a pig to sing….it wastes your time and annoys the pig…….AND

    “Never mud wrestle with a pig…eventually you will realize that the pig is enjoying himself and you are getting covered with mud.”

  25. Jeff Says:

    Sean,

    Re: “Those on the YouTube site presented a correspondence with regards to you being falsely presenting yourself as an Adjunct Professor at Claremont Graduate University. Your bio states that too, but the university denies any relationship with you. That’s a pretty simple fact to confirm/deny. Could you please comment on that?”

    Easily confirmed: http://www.cgu.edu/pages/4546.asp?item=1683

  26. Matt Says:

    @Sean

    re Michael’s association with Claremont:

    http://tinyurl.com/2c9feep

  27. Ryan Says:

    Just real quick here, on behalf of the rest of Alberta, those that can think, I appologise. It makes me sad that these folks have positions here in ALberta. It looked like a very interesting lecture, I wish that I could have gone to see it.

  28. Tim Says:

    Mr Shermer,

    I will attempt to dissect the “Osama Bin Laden is totally responsible for 9/11″ conspiracy theory using the points on your list.

    1. ‘allegation of the conspiracy or when the the evidence fits equally well to other

    casual connections…’
    It is alleged that a mad arab living in a cave is totally responsibility for the

    events of 9/11. There is a casual connection that most Americans have

    Islamophobia. That is to say, it is ‘connecting the dots’ that all Muslims are scary,

    all Muslims are trying to destroy America, most Muslims are in cohoots with that

    conspiracy.
    2. “The agents…would need nearly superhuman power to pull it off.”
    The Osama Bin Laden conspiracy suggests that this angry man in a cave and his

    suicidal followers were able to perfectly plan and execute 9/11. Osama Bin Laden

    continues to evade detection, even though the majority of the world security forces

    have been looking for him. Definitely super-human.
    3. The conspiracy is complex,… a large number of elements.
    The O.B.L. con has several dozen fundamentalists maintaining deep cover in

    America, being controlled by a puppet master living in a cave, far far away, funded

    through elaborate channels, former CIA trained mujahideen… not at all complex,

    simple really.
    4. ‘…the conspiracy involves large numbers of people who would all need to keep

    silent…’
    As you say, this is similiar, almost identical to the previous point. Thus, a non-

    point.
    5. ‘a grand ambition for control over a nation, economy or political system…If it

    suggests world domination, the theory is even less likely…”
    It seems that many who believe the current O.B.L. conspiracy would suggest that

    radical Islam is engaged in exactly that action. The O.B.L. conspiracy would have

    you believe that Islam is trying to start a massive war with ‘us’, and their goal is

    world domination. Not at all similiar to the ‘New World Order’ that the secret sheik

    of America declared a few years previous. How is one to interpret N.W.O. ?

    According to your logic here, Bush senior never said that.
    6. “ratchets up from small events…to much larger, much less probable events.”
    Although the collapse of some buildings seems far from a small event, achieving

    the very large event of two, multi-trillion dollar, multi-nation wars that have no end

    in sight fits exactly into your denial criteria. It seems so unlikely that the current

    conflict in that region of the world is the result of a man hunt. Yeah, I know, we had

    to get rid of the Taliban, we had to get rid of Saddam, we had to be in position to

    destroy Iran…
    7. “…what are most likely innocuous, insignificant events.”
    My first reaction when I read this was one word; ‘Haliburton!’. Apparently

    insignificant that previous to his role as vice president, Dick Cheney was the boss at

    Haliburton, the same business that became a lead contractor in Iraq. No big deal,

    no conflict of interest possible.
    8. “The theory tends to commingle facts and speculations… without assigning

    degrees of probability or of factuality.”
    The official Osama Bin Laden conspiracy would have one believe that because those

    airplanes were hijacked, we thus need to invade Afghanistan; apparently it was very

    probable that we would find the one guy responsible. In fact, Osama Bin Laden has

    evaded capture. (see point 2).
    As for speculations; ‘Cheney continued to allege links between Saddam Hussein and

    al-Queda, even though President Bush received a classified President’s Daily Brief

    on September 21, 2001 indicating the U.S. intelligence community had no evidence

    linking Saddam Hussein to the September 11th attacks and that “there was scant

    credible evidence that Iraq had any significant collaborative ties with Al Qaeda.”

    Furthermore, in 2004, the 9/11 Commission concluded that there was no

    “collaborative relationship” between Iraq and al Qaeda.’ (from wikipedia, Dick

    Cheney)
    Does this sound like the hawks started a war with low probability or perhaps

    speculations? Yes it does, indeed it does…
    9. ‘…suspicious of all government agencies… an inability to nuance differences between true and false conspiracies.’
    Michael, it is your nation that has been running around the world, invading nations in the name of freedom and democracy, et al, for years. Although it may be difficult to understand this, many people in the world Hate You for it. It is only the people of the U.S.A. that believe they have a manifest destiny to rule the world based on some insane interpretations of Christianity. ‘Manifest Destiny’ and ‘In God We Trust’ is not some wack-job conspiracy. The U.S.A. is scaring the literal crap out of people around the world. This is ‘true’.
    Nuance the following statement -why does America have the right to be the world policeman?
    Here is another conspiracy theory – Michael Shermer has been duped. You are indiscriminately non-suspicious, which allows one to question your status as a skeptic.

    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.’
    The 9/11 conspiracy theorist will typically allege that not all is what it seems. Certainly there are kooks out there who have gone off the deep end, and have unsustainable claims. What is so troublesome, is not necessarily the details of the events of 9/11, is how those events achieved exactly the alleged terrorists agenda. Now there is a holy war, the world economy is volatile, and people are turning in even greater numbers toward superstition and bigotry.

    Accepting the official story about 9/11 has resulted in a world that is much more frightening than ever. The basic paradigms of power and force have retarded the populaces ability to think properly.
    It may be irrelevant who is responsible for 9/11. How have we responded? The military build-up, the continued environmental devastation, the dominance of christianity and related insanity, the literal attacks on science and rational thought.

    By using your own criteria for analysing the official 9/11 story, it would be parsimonious to conclude that the people of the U.S.A. are being manipulated.
    Why you let it happen is beyond me. Or are you letting it happen at all?

    By the way, happy annivesary of the Florida decision.

  29. Tim Says:

    How curious, the multi-space formatting in my post above does not exist in the original document….Appears I am now a troll. Hahahaha, you win Shermer, this is you blog after all.

  30. Ally Says:

    Ryan – Thanks! I’m another Albertan that is capable of independent thought – we exist! I also wish I could have made it to Calgary for the lecture. As for “accepting Shermer as our lord and Savior” get a grip! We are not Sheep – Shermer and everyone else who stands up to the “question not” mindset knows that their “audience” – skeptics – are those most likely to provide them with real criticism – fact based criticism, not name calling hyperbole. Herd mentality is not rewarded among skeptics, it is mocked – as it should be.

  31. Tim Says:

    Hi Ryan,

    As one Albertan to another, how do you feel about the recent comments by Tom Flanagan?

  32. randy bessinger Says:

    Reading through these comments blew me away. I had no idea people are so “conspiracty minded”. Sure there was a conspiracy. Osama has confessed to it and continues to try and take down the Western world. As far as a cave dweller, this cave dweller is quite wealthy and established a network of jihadists. I happen to believe him when he and his co-conspirators confessed (not just confessed but regaled) in the fact that they brought down the towers. Why go to such lengths to establish alternate theories when we already know the truth. We saw it happen in real time.

  33. Tim Says:

    Hi Randy,

    I believe that you saw it happen in real time. Really, I do. I really really believe you. I really believe Osama as well. Really, I believe that he thinks he got away with it.

    So, moving ahead to the present day, in real time may I ask you to explain why the wars go on? Why has it taken nine years for the great USA to exact some kind of revenge on Osama and his gang for what they done to ‘us’?

    Or maybe just describe how are you responding to Michael Shermer? This is his blog, ya know. On his blog, he posted a list of ‘conspiracy bullshit detection’. In my reply that you are apparently commenting on (irrelevant however), I suggest that one could use Shermer’s same criteria to analyse the contemporary version of who is responsible for the events of 9/11.

    Using the ten points that Shermer has described, I suggest that a true skeptic would find the official story highly dubious.

    It was my assumption that I was posting on a skeptics blog, not a Michael Shermer fan page, or to the hive mind of libertarianism. I have seen this here already, and it continues to be the case. If this is a skeptics page, then let’s see some.

    You say ‘we already know the truth’, then how do you explain the uproar over wikileaks? Whose version of the truth do you prefer? That government needs to keep secrets? If you believe that, then answer the obvious question, why?

    Lesson of Wikileaks: Government needs to keep secrets.
    Government decides what secrets to keep.
    There have been many secrets regarding the wars in asia.
    However, we know the absolute truth regarding what happened on 9/11.
    We believe that regarding the events of 9/11, the government of the time was totally truthful, and we believe Osama Bin Laden is totally responsible, because he said so.

    Peace, Inshallah.

  34. Saniteer Says:

    Re Osama bin Laden. Indeed, the world’s been looking for this 6-foot tall man on dialysis for a long time now. There is one place he can hide and be untouchable — Saudi Arabia. My “conspiracy” theory holds that he’s there, and we (i.e., the Gov) know he is but we can go in an snag him because of the potential fall-out.

    And for what it’s worth — a friend of mine died on the plane that slammed into the Pentagon. She was in DC on business and took the earlier flight to be home sooner. She’s not in hiding (as some people suggest), was not part of any secret government agency, and was not a hologram.

    People who think at 9/11 was anything but an Al Qaeda plot give great offense to the memories of those who died that day, as well as to the thousands who grieve over the loss of their loved-ones.

    I know I won’t change anyone’s mind with my appeal to empathy. Perhaps another appeal: try reading 9/11: A Firefighter’s Story by Justin A. Klabin (Paperback – Jun 2003).

  35. Tim Says:

    You have my sympathy.

    How do you feel about the tens of thousands of civilians that have been killed in Afghanistan and Iraq since this all started?

  36. Lorraine Kaimal Says:

    Man’s most valuable trait is a judicious sense of what not to believe.–Euripdes

  37. Bitsy Freeman Says:

    I find it very heartening to know that truth exists independently from belief. No matter what people believe, the truth does not need anyone to have any faith or conviction in it for it to still be true. If a thousand thousand sign a piece of paper it will not change the truth.
    A million people wishing and praying for their beliefs to be true will not change them into truth.

    That said, the skeptic’s search for truth can be very daunting. People get very upset when what they believe is challenged and can engage in very unpleasant behaviors, usually various forms of attack and ridicule.

    If someone who is overly emotionally invested believes they know the truth, they can make life miserable for anyone who challenges their version of truth. But the nice thing is that eventually they fade into the obscurity that always comes to their type. Their screaming, cursing, ridiculing, libeling, slandering and other nasty tricks like sneaky editing and personal attacks eventually just serve to get them recognized for what they really are… loons!

  38. Deric Says:

    Bitsy; Very nicely put. I’m just glad DON is not arguing my side of any argument. Here is a great conspiracy thought: this DON guy is actually Micheal Shermer writing in under a “False Flag” to discredit the Truther movement by exaggerating the loony thought process of a typical truther. No real person could be that irrational. But then again I could be wrong. ;)

  39. Ryan Says:

    Hey There tim,

    Yes….Tom Flanagan?

    Well I have to admit at first I thought that there must have been some kind of mistake, you know there is no way a Canadian would have said something like that and then it was confirmed by different media. No disraspect intended to any individuals here, but why do so many of our conservative MPs want to join the republican paty?

    His remarks bothered me greatly! I expected someone to call him uncanadian, I know that is how I felt.

  40. Henry Says:

    Another data point to consider is how easy and common it is for those with political and/or economic power to commit acts of corruption or excessive greed right out in the open. The axiom in the media is that it’s not the underlying crime but the attempt at a cover up that brings people down. Why in the world would anyone participate in a secret conspiracy when open conspiracy is so much safer and more profitable? Case in point — the Congressman who gave out checks from tobacco companies to fellow Congressmen on the House floor is about to become Speaker, while the Congressman who hid the money in his freezer went to prison.

  41. Greg Amann Says:

    One thing I’ve never been able to figure out: how do the “truthers”, or anyone else for that matter, know how a very large office building falls down after a big-assed airplane slams into it? I mean, we can create as many models as we want, but anyone with scientific training knows models are not the same as experimental results.

    We now have two data points on what happens when you slam a big-assed airplane into a very large office building. (And no one needs any more, thank you very much). Well unless you think the same government who couldn’t hide a presidential blow-job could mastermind a “false flag” plan of the scale of 9/11.

    Mikey’s 10 points are right on the money IMO.

  42. Tim Says:

    Hi Ryan,
    Thanks for the reply and the candor. I was curious because Shermer has been coming across a little bit like one of these hard right guys lately. Here in Alberta, I assume you know, we are dominated by a certain agenda. For the benefit of our lurkers and the trolls out there, Alberta is where you get most of your imported hydrocarbons from, not the middle east. Our economy has been driven by foreign investment, largely from the US, however others as well.
    Do not be fooled by your talking heads in America; as far as free markets and such go, in this part of Canada we are to the right of you. To prove the point, we are far from the protectionism of the US economy. Another way to put it, we are ‘open’ for business.
    What’s my point you should be asking right now. Well, I am a critic of Michael Shermer, and he is talking skepticism here in Alberta, and being challenged by some who may be considered on the left of things, however he has been sponsored by those who are extremely far right in their politics. As skeptics, it is our responsibility to be wary of these positions. Skeptic is not a right or left leaning position. There is no direction to skepticism.

    Talking about Tom Flanagan illustrates a few points IMAO:
    1. Canada is full of right wing-nuts; Tom Flanagan is an example.
    2. Canada is full of left wing-nuts; I am an example.
    3. Michael Shermer is likely a right leaning wing-nut.
    4. Satan is a right wing-nut extremist, like Hitler,
    5. Therefore…

    Blame Canada.

    lolz

    Conspiracy theory anyone?

  43. Tim Says:

    Hi Greg,
    As a ‘truther’, what I want to reinforce is a scientific analysis of the 9/11 story. From a rational perspective, (or for sake of argument, using Shermers checklist above) it seems the OBL story is inadequate to explain the events during, and after the planes colliding with buildings in New York city.

    I do not believe that I know the whole story. That is why I would consider myself a ‘truther’. I still feel that I need to be told the truth of what has been going on; leading up to, during, and after the events of September 11, 2001.

    Here is one of my personal truths, and forgive me if I am wrong here; I do not recall hearing an official statement from the executive of the USA claiming that they regret not having been able to prevent or protect those people from what happened. Correct me if I am wrong, but it seems like they went instantly into war mode, instantly into a state of attack. Not a moment to say, ‘oops, it kinda was our job to prevent this sorta thing, eh? Sorry, we really fucked up here?” If I am wrong, please let me know.

    That is one of my left-leaning wack-job talking points. Agreeing that the executive of the USA did not cause the events of 9/11, was there not an assumed responsibility to the people that elected them, to prevent that sort of thing? How does that work for you guys?

    If your seleceted/elected leaders screw up, how do you reprimand them?
    Was throwing a couple wars the right thing to do?
    Are you sure that they made the right choice?

    In my opinion, and since Shermer brought it up, I feel that the truth has been concealed, that individuals have been directing events unknown to us, and that there is no mandate for that secrecy.

    That is called conspiracy.

  44. Kenneth Polit Says:

    Thanks Mike, for injecting a little common sense into the conspiracy craze(and I do mean CRAZE). The trouble is conspiracy advocates are True Believers, no evidence will ever change their views. Keeping the conspiracy theory alive is more important than the truth.
    Just one question: why is it called “common” sense when so few people actually have and use it?

  45. gary Says:

    This guy Mike really has no clue what he is talking about. His logic regarding 9/11 and that nobody saw hundreds of people planting bombs so it couldn’t have happened theory is just not an argument. He needs to take a review lesson in Logical & Critical Thinking Philosophy 101. This is just some guy spewing his opinion, which we know everyone has one right? And if he got publicity then good for him. freedom of speech, etc. but look at him on national tv. he really makes himself look foolish and he discredits his whole marketing effort by denouncing god on national tv.. good job mikey.

  46. gary Says:

    oh and only an a hole like stossel would put him on t.v. Stossel is the biggest dip s h i t i’ve ever seen. did you see stossel discounting organic food a few weeks ago. man. the brain damaged government sponsors are prevalent aren’t they?

  47. Lee F. Says:

    Thanks for the list.

    For me the thing that is indicative of a conspiracy surrounding the 911 thing is how the Loose Change people so easily patched together “evidence” to fit the conspiracy (Points 1, 6 & 7 of Michael’s 10 points).

    I remember, specifically, the interview with the firefighters and how they thought “it looked like one of those controlled demolitions…” Of course there was no follow-up as to whether they ACTUALLY thought there was a “controlled demolition.” Hey, who cares? It’s REALLY all about fabricating a reaction from people. At the time, when the 911 Truther movement was just starting out, I checked one of the sites that hosted a lot of the 911 stuff and it turns out that it was hosted on the same server as the UFO stuff. Of course they became more “sophisticated” and knew it didn’t look good so the stuff was put on their own sites.

    When I was a kid, I remember going to to the Hollywood theater here in E.C. Wisconsin to watch matinees. One of the films was “Chariots of the Gods.” In the movie, they gathered little points of “evidence” in order to prove that aliens once visited us and built all of our “wonders.” The image on the cover of the movie is my favorite. It shows an image of a Mayan character in the same position as an astronaut from the modern era.

    Once again, it’s people looking for little patterns to describe their reality. Conspiracy Theorists and Religious believers don’t seem to be all that honest in their ability to collect and distribute their “proof.”

    It’s a good thing we have sites like this to shine a little light on this stuff.

  48. greydentity Says:

    Rob, great rebuttal to Don.

    I though I might mention one more important proffesion that received no mention from either of you.

    DON, are you listening?

    That is, DEMOLITION CONTRACTORS. To my knowledge they are largely family run businesses a generation or so old that are the original innovators of the trade. Anyone seeking to demolish a building even remotely approaching the scale of WTC would have to consult them. It is a highly precise science Don, that has taken decades of trial and error to arrive at where we are now. No throwing a stick of dynamite through the window like grandpa did.

    DON, HAVE YOU SEEN WHAT KIND OF PREPERATION GOES INTO THESE DEMOLITIONS?! THE WTC BEING PREPPED ON THAT SCALE BY A FEW “SUSPICIOUS LOOKING MEN IN COVERALLS”!!!! wHILE THE TENNANTS, STAFF, AND PUBLIC DID’NT NOTICE A THING,WHILE BEING AT THEIR DESKS DAY AFTER DAY, THOUSANDS OF THEM, FOR MONTHS?!!!!!

    Oh yeah, and I’ve never heard anyone address an important point about the “appearance” of a demolition, when was the last time anyone saw a controlled demolition take place from the top down?

    Experts? I would love to hear your opinions.

  49. Robert Morrow Says:

    The LBJ-CIA Assassination of JFK

    Lyndon Johnson made a dirty deal with CIA Republicans to murder John Kennedy in the 1963 Coup d’Etat. (People like Clint Murchison Sr., H.L. Hunt, Nelson Rockefeller, David Rockefeller, top Nelson Rockefeller aide Henry Kissinger, George Herbert Walker Bush and Gen. Edward Lansdale all are excellent candidates for elite sponsorship.) Lyndon Johnson and Allen Dulles may very well have been co-CEOs of the JFK assassination; with the CIA in charge of the killing of JFK, and Lyndon Johnson and (his close friend and neighbor of 19 years in Washington, DC) FBI director J. Edgar Hoover in charge of the cover up.

    Clint Murchison, Sr – more so than even H.L. Hunt – was a key player in the JFK assassination because of his close ties to the inner core of US intelligence (Allen Dulles, Nelson Rockefeller, John J. McCloy), close ties to Lyndon Johnson and J. Edgar Hoover of the FBI, bankers Rockefellers; Murchison was even friends with key Kennedy-hater mafia godfather Carlos Marcellos of New Orleans. Not only that, Murchison, Sr. was a patient and partner of Dr. Alton Oschner, the former president of the American Cancer Society and who ran covert cancer research for the CIA. Oschner, likewise was a Kennedy-hater. John Simkin: “One of Ochsner’s friends described him as being ‘like a fundamentalist preacher in the sense that the fight against communism was the only subject that he would talk about, or even allow you to talk about, in his presence.”
    When JFK was slaughtered, Russia’s Khrushchev was literally crying, fearing nuclear war. Cuba’s Castro worried and feared an US invasion and gave an impressive speech the next day deconstructing the CIA’s deception provocation for war. Meanwhile at Clint Murchison’s home, their family maid May Newman describes the scene: “The mood in the Murchison family home was very joyous and happy. For a whole week after like champagne and caviar flowed, every day of the week. But I was the only one in that household at that time that felt any grief for his assassination.”

    1) http://www.lewrockwell.com/orig11/morrow-r1.1.1.html
    2) http://www.infowars.com/the-lbj-cia-assassination-of-jfk/

  50. Robert L Hamilton, Engineer Says:

    WOW, Robert!!! Back to JFK and LBJ; that’s great.

  51. Istvan Says:

    Great article! I’ve appreciated your work ever since reading “Why People Believe Weird Things” back in the day.

    It’s funny that the 9/11 truthers simply adapted the JFK assassination conspiracy for the new millennium. The notion that this evil plot had to take place in public, in full view of crowds and cameras, is a given for nefarious conspirators. In reality, malefactors would probably prefer to do their work with as few people as possible watching.

    Also, the vast, labor-intensive cover-up is the same. In 1963, it involved killing witnesses, icing the fall guy, falsifying an autopsy, and having the high-profile Warren Commission whitewash the truth. In the case of 9/11, the cover-up involved faked cell phone calls, the destruction of evidence and the export of the buildings’ wreckage, and the kangaroo-court investigations by official bodies like FEMA, NIST, and the 9/11 Commission. Would any shady conspirators have gone to this incredible amount of effort, and involved so many operatives in different sectors of society, if they had any interest at all in getting away with their plot?

    Keep up the good work, Michael!

    Istvan

  52. Blair Gadsby Says:

    I’m I afraid I detect a certainly ideology of skepticism coming from Mr. Schermer when addressing the question of 9/11. Because the controlled demolition of the three WTC buildings is beyond refute, it leaves me to question, if not Schermer’s critical judgment, then his investment into this “ideology of skepticism”. I hope he would not let it blind him to the facts. The cost, especially in the case of 9/11 is far too great.

  53. jaimehk Says:

    Corollary to point 2.: conspirators are able to exactly predict the turns of events as a result of the conspiracy. This alleged 100% perfect predictive capability clearly discredits many CT’s. For example, the Roosevelt-knew-about-Pearl-Harbour theory. To accept that theory you may assume that the conspirators (Roosevelt, Marshall and some other top government and military officials)already knew that battleships were worthless in modern naval warfare, that the japanese would go after then instead of Pacific Fleet’s fuel depots and maintenance stations, that Nagumo was going to refrain a third attack aimed precisely at those targets and that Yamamoto would spend so hideously Japan’s naval advantage by his disastrous planning at Midway. You can apply this kind of analysis to some other CT’s.
    Congratulations Ms Shermer, great writing and reasoning!

  54. Dr. Paddy Says:

    One of the most “unscientific” categorization systems I have ever seen. Your argumentation actually follows the same unscientific and generalizing pattern than most conspiracy theories, you are making yourself look like a fool which shows the low level of your essentially populist magazine!
    Good example that social sciences in the US tends simplify complex structures

  55. Dr. Paddy Says:

    ok, giving credit to the fact that your writing is just meant to be an article and no scientific evaluation I have to admit that some points seem to be plausible for me.
    Interesting article anyway, but still populist in a certain way

  56. inflicttruth Says:

    I’d like to see someone explain away building 7…

  57. David Paget Says:

    Attention Michael Shermer

    You sir, are uninformed.

    Read “Tragedy and Hope” by Professor Carroll Quigley, which is considered the most important book of the last century by hundreds of professors. It explains it clearly.

  58. Patrick Says:

    This is absolute horse manure. I do not agree with Dr. Shermer at all. He uses too much conjecture. Number one, is patently false. There is direct evidence, and circumstantial evidences, and all else is conjecture. For instance, flouride IS in our water, and it IS toxic according to the CDC. AND, even toothpaste containers have a warning: DO NOT INGEST. IF YOU DO, IMMEDIATLY CONTACT POISON CONTROL. That is DIRECT evidence. Number two is also conjecture. History shows us that conspiracies do occur, and that they are performed by ordinary, yet intelligent, people. Take for instance the Manhattan Project, or the Gulf of Tonkin. 3 is wrong also. Define “complex”. Building a car is complex, yet people do it all the time. 4, people need to be silent; again, Manhattan Project wasn’t talked about for years. I was in the Air Force and the main force in intelligence is the “Need To Know Basis”. 5, a group of banksters ripped us off to the tune of 27.4 trillion in the bailouts. I could go on and on. I wish people would take critical thinking classes. This last line takes the proverbial cake: “The fact that politicians sometimes lie or that corporations occasionally cheat does not mean that every event is the result of a tortuous conspiracy.” Sometimes lie? hahahaha… what world do you live in sir?? Oh brother.

  59. Patrick Says:

    and really… number 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. ” I’m sorry, but every country ever in the history of man has tried to do this.

  60. Danny Says:

    let’s see…. you work for Fox now ABC and your last name is Schermer.

    Your writing and opinion make sense now. Thanks for sharing.

  61. Peter Says:

    ..another “one bullet” theorist hey Michael? I am so tired of people like you Michael, detractors and deceivers trying to present to us the cnn version of history!!!

  62. Arno Klein Says:

    How amazing to have an insightful and lucid article on conspiracy theory detection and then have some many conspiracy fanatics pop out of the woodwork to illustrate the point! What people don’t realize, however, is that Michael Shermer is part of an advanced wave of aliens from another dimension sent here to spread confusion so they can steal all of our pizza and pave the way for Jesus to land his spaceship at the 2013 Super Bowl. Ask Shermer and he will deny it, which proves that it is true!

  63. Anthony J. Hall Says:

    Here is a new cartoon on Shermer the fraud and his misrepresentation of the episode at the University of Lethbridge in 2010.

    http://www.veteranstoday.com/2013/07/29/the-puppet-conspracy-theory-detector-michael-shermer/