Tin Foil Hats

Hey, Travis, when everybody is out to get you, paranoid is just good thinking!

– Dr. Johnny Fever

 

If there is one group of people that I despise arguing with, it is conspiracy theorists.  I find it even more frustrating than debating someone with strong religious convictions.  Maybe it’s just because I can sympathize better with people with strong religious beliefs because I have been exposed to religion and have had family who have strong religious beliefs.  Now both types of people are belief driven and in many ways there is no difference at least in terms of how neural pathways are formed and how the impact of reinforcing those neural pathways impacts the brain, but there is something about conspiracy theorists that seems more concerning.  Maybe this is true only for religious fundamentalists in the west.  In other areas of the world I would fear religious fundamentalists much more, but maybe it’s because with religion the crux of the debate falls to the supernatural and with the supernatural there is no way to disprove it.  For those who have faith it’s tangible and real and this is what governs their thinking.  A lot of times if you bring into the realm of the real world you can often find common ground and agree on things, even if you disagree on the mechanism.  In fact I’m pretty sure I’d be less surprised if someone found actual evidence of the existence of God than some of the conspiracy theories that some people believe in as being real.

When it comes to conspiracy theorists, the troubling part to me is that all of what they believe is easily disprovable.  There are no supernatural forces at work; it’s a conspiracy that involves this plane of existence.  It’s physical and tangible in a very real sense.  We can actually settle the debate.  With God, you’re never going to settle it, because God cannot be disproven in a strictly logical sense (of course that’s because for something to exist the onus for proof is on those that would assert its existence).

I was talking to a colleague recently who is a geologist.  He had told me before that his father was very conservative and does not think evolution is real.  More than not accepting the scientific evidence he has invented a conspiracy theory in which all fossils are fabricated and made in a factory somewhere and then scientists plant them around the world so that they pretend they have evidence.  It just blew my mind when he told me.  The amount of fossils we have is enormous and the time and energy to make all of those, plant them all over the world, all so that we could tell a false narrative about the origins of life are astronomical for me to even wrap my head around it.  Of course I’ve heard the general theme before that evolution is just a conspiracy to try and disprove the Bible and I literally don’t understand.

As an atmospheric scientist of course the one I deal with the most is the conspiracy associated with global warming.   Thousands and thousands of scientists all banding together trying to get greedy off that alternative energy money and trying to destroy the poor fossil fuel companies who apparently are struggling to make ends meet.  Debates usually go something like this:

Me. “As somebody who studies this and understands how the atmosphere works…” I list a lot of hard evidence, and explain how the greenhouse effect works.

CT (Conspiracy Theorist)  Evidence ignored and the grand retort is “But other people are experts too and they disagree”.

Me. Thinking, ohh they want to try to take that right now  “Actually not really, few people who deny climate change are actually atmospheric scientists, and none of them have been able to publish any scientifically sound papers in peer-reviewed journals on the subject.  Such scientist’s research is always funded by oil companies.”

CT:  “That’s because the journals are controlled by the IPCC and they prevent any contrary evidence from getting published.”

Me: *bangs head*

The back and forths are usually longer, but this was just a glimpse. One thing I have noticed that is common with all these debates is that they never address any scientific evidence you present directly.  So in retrospect, debate is a bad word.  They have no defense on the workings of antigens, the physics behind the greenhouse effect, or the random mutations of genes.  There is always some larger organization involved pulling the strings, shadow networks, cover-ups, secret e-mails, vast sums of money involved.  They post links to sites that reference other articles written by someone with equally little knowledge of what they are talking about.  There are vague references to events that never happen, or if they did happen there is no way to prove that they happened.   And why do these conspiracy theories always involve the government or scientists?

Governments are for the most part, simply incompetent.  The level of organization they need to have to pull some of the shit off that people give them credit for is truly astounding.   The really corrupt ones are so obviously corrupt and drunk on power there is no need of secrecy they do it right in front of your face.  And of course I know many scientists.  They are some of the finest people I know: curious, intelligent, and for the most part noble and compassionate.   Corrupt scientists are few and far between and are easily exposed because scientists believe that what they are doing is valuable and important and have zero tolerance for those that would make a mockery of the scientific process and allow bad science to flourish.

Now certainly you might say at this point, while we have never proven the existence of a supernatural deity, there have been conspiracies.  To that, I say most definitely and in fact that’s what makes conspiracies relatively short-lived and small.  Because people are generally good and if there is some conspiracy that is causing harm to people, and lying to people it’s not long before somebody’s conscience gets the better of them and they get the message out.  In fact, this would seem to put a natural limit into how large a conspiracy can grow.  Once it gets too big or too harmful, whistleblowers will come out of the woodwork.  And there will be tangible evidence of this conspiracy and unsubstantiated hypotheses are no longer necessary.

I have decided that I need to stop engaging such people.  But it’s hard, because there some of the conspiracy theories, if allowed to spread, can cause real harm.  Like ones related to climate change or vaccinations and then I find it hard to keep quiet because lives are literally at stake.  Ultimately it feels like people who purport conspiracy theories enjoy the attention, the feeling of importance that they are part of the minority and they get it and everybody else has been duped.  Perhaps it’s just ego.  Perhaps it’s just pure and utter fear of a world they don’t understand. Perhaps it’s just people wanting to believe in something do badly that they will invent anything to rationalize that belief.  I don’t know.  I’d be curious to learn how some of my other readers deal with conspiracy theorists.

 

Note:  A study was conducted to determine whether Tin Foil Hats really protect your thoughts being read.  Turns out it makes it worse.  At least that’s what “physics” tells us. (That’s the punch line if you don’t want to read the article).

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11 thoughts on “Tin Foil Hats

  1. Conspiracy Theorists = those believing in a Devil, Satan, who was put here to deceive all mankind and falsify all things that oppose Theism and someone’s Divine Savior. 😉

    Conspiracy Theorists = I have faith the Alpha egg was placed here by an alien space-chicken, Marvin the Martian, not the Hen… or did I switch ’em up? Was it the Alpha-Hen then the egg? 😮

    How do I manage other CT’s? There is rarely enough time for sound plausible examination; CT’s typically oversimplify to the max, which annoys me to no end. Being a teacher I expect students (and adult CT’s) to show me their hardwork, their homework, research, bibliography, thorough & fair opposing viewpoints, etc, etc. Honestly, these days who is willing to spend that sort of time & energy? Laziness, or oversimplification, reigns true 95% of the time.

    Hence, if the discussions (more like proclaimations & accusations than dialogue) do occur, I usually turn them humorous and comical — I love to laugh. 😉 😀

    Liked by 1 person

    1. I think I need to try that Professor! And I think you hit the nail on the head…they oversimplify to the max. A lot of times I don’t even know how to argue, because they make such grand statements in which there are tons of reasons why they are wrong such that you don’t even know where to begin. You feel like you’d have a better chance that jumping off a bridge is a good idea then having them consider anything real.

      And I guess you are right, while there isn’t anything explicitly supernatural about their beliefs in conspiracy theories, at its root it is the belief in “forces unseen and unknowable”.

      Liked by 1 person

  2. Swarn, thought you might find this article interesting. There’s really not much difference (neurologically speaking) between the religious, the new agers and the conspiracy theorists. Heck, even Michael Sherman has had his head messed with relatively recently. 😉

    http://www.scientificamerican.com/article/skeptic-agenticity/?page=1

    I should also note studies show that when a society and/or individual is under a lot of stress, the phenomena of patternicity and agent­icity increases.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Thank you for the article Victoria that was a good read, even though it is essentially the thesis of what he had in his book called the Believing Brain. So I do understand that at a fundamental level why belief in conspiracy theories is not really any different than religion, but it somehow feels more frustrating to argue with such people. Maybe it’s because they seem more secular. Maybe it’s because it seems like an adult problem, because while I knew kids, even through grade school who were religious, went to church, carried their bibles around etc, I never met a kid who spouted off crap about conspiracies. I’ve seen some former students of mine who seemed intelligent and sensible start going down this path and become completely lost in a sea of conspiracy theories. It’s very odd.

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  3. I see this a lot with vaccines, too. “They’re not safe.” Yes, they are, just look at all this evidence. “The evidence is industry funded, so you can’t trust it.” No, just look at all these independent groups who have studied it. “The pharmaceutical companies would never let the truth come out because they want all the money.” But you can’t judge the merit of a scientific theory by the practices of private businesses. “The medical community is just trying to save face and downplay all these harmful things vaccines cause.” But there’s no evidence they cause those things. “That’s because the research is all industry funded and they don’t want to lose money.”

    And so forth, ad nauseum. And then my head usually explodes.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Yeah, my post was partly inspired by a gigantic anti-vaccine rant on a facebook friend’s wall. Unable to retort any actual argument I was making he went off on some half-baked big pharma conspiracy theory and going on about how the rest of us were sheep who get made when people think for themselves. Ugh. Ugh…and double ugh. Ugh.

      Liked by 1 person

      1. I think your mistake is using reason. Throw in some fallacies. They won’t know.

        “Don’t you know that rubella was invented by De Beers to drive up diamond prices..and you’re playing right into their hands.”

        “So autism is worse than diphtheria, tetanus, pertussis, polio, hepatitis, meningitis, measles, and mumps. Why do you hate autistic people?” (Actually, that one’s real. Autistics are getting ticked.)

        “If the human body is so good at healing itself, it can heal itself from the vaccine.”

        “There is a giant conspiracy between the pharmaceutical companies and the medical community. They are extremely powerful and ruthless and have the ability censor scientific journals, write high school and university curriculum, and change internet websites. Anything you think you know about vaccines has been fabricated by them. You can’t believe anything you’ve read.”

        That should get you started. (But, of course, it still won’t work.)

        Liked by 1 person

        1. Haha that’s true. In a mind where logic has no place any argument has an equal chance of working, but since nothing works you might as well just use reason if you’re going to make the effort. Lol

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