Saturday, January 22, 2005


Tinfoil Stocks up Ten Points

One of the tendencies of conspiracy theorists is to use their own form of scientific method to try and prove their points beyond reasonable doubt.

The normal scientific method is essentially, observe some trait of the universe, form a hypothesis consistent with your observation, test evidence to support the hypothesis or modify the hypothesis accordingly. Finally these last steps are repeated until there is no difference between the hypothesis and the observations. At that point, the hypothesis should be able to withstand scrutiny.
There is a very important characteristic of a scientific theory or hypothesis which differentiates it from, for example, an act of faith: a theory must be "falsifiable''. This means that there must be some experiment or possible discovery that could prove the theory untrue. For example, Einstein's theory of Relativity made predictions about the results of experiments. These experiments could have produced results that contradicted Einstein, so the theory was (and still is) falsifiable.

In contrast, the theory that "the moon is populated by little green men who can read our minds and will hide whenever anyone on Earth looks for them, and will flee into deep space whenever a spacecraft comes near'' is not falsifiable: these green men are designed so that no one can ever see them. On the other hand, the theory that there are no little green men on the moon is scientific: you can disprove it by catching one. Similar arguments apply to abominable snow-persons, UFOs and the Loch Ness Monster(s?)
(Source: Jose Wudka, What is the Scientific Method?)

Conspiracy theorists on the other hand use a different approach. Theirs is to state a point, and then leave it up to others to disprove it. Any failure to do so further proves the point.

Now I hear you say "but what does any of this have to do with Nazis?" I wondered the same thing until I found this paper discussing Pseudoscience.
I once worked with a man who bought into some pretty bizarre conspiracy theories. Now, I've met my fair share of conspiracy theorists, but this guy took the CIA-bugged cake.

For starters, he sincerely believed that the Nazis did not lose World War II, but instead fabricated the appearance of defeat. According to him, they relocated to the US along with their rocket scientists and ventured to the dark side of the moon, from where they control events on Earth.

Upon hearing this, I couldn't turn the other cheek. But like a master hockey goalie, my ex-colleague deftly deflected each argument I shot his way. He had an answer for everything: The state of Nazi technology was far more advanced than previously thought; the US government is a Nazi puppet regime; the media is awash in subterfuge and misinformation.

Eventually I gave up. Like all good conspiracy theories, his was impossible to disprove.

And then I realized: Where we differed wasn't only in our beliefs, but also in our methodologies.

Being a history major, I have a stricter idea of what constitutes an effective methodology for devising and verifying hypotheses, including the ability to discern credible evidence in a vast sea of misinformation. In other words, my ex-colleague isn't very scientific about his belief in our supposed Nazi overlords.

And the sad truth is, he's hardly alone. Far too many people today have an unacceptably low threshold for proof. Science and skepticism remain neglected disciplines.
I know Indymedia has an unacceptably low threshold for proof (exactly zero at last check). I also know that it is a marshalling ground for all manner of conspiracy theorists and lunatic fringe. However, that alone is pretty obvious and most people would tend to throw as big a pinch of salt on it as any other conspiracy theorist site. That is, it's all very interesting but that's about it.

What upsets me however is when this same perverted proof-of-logic is applied to history and modern politics. That is, a statement is made and it is then up to you to disprove it. If you can't, therefore it must be true, QED.

Here's an example courtesy of Sydney Indymedia:

I won't bother reprinting it in full as I don't want you to have to disinfect your screen afterward. In summary however, it questions the fuss over Prince Harry's choice of Nazi uniform. It then makes the point that it is obiously all a big Jewish distraction from "the fact that Israel treats the the Palestinians the same way as the nazis treated the holocaust victims albeit in slow motion".

Notice the use of that word "fact".

A subsequent comment pointed out:
In just over four years of the 2nd Intifada, the total of Palestinian dead numbers just over 3,023 (BBC Numbers), including suicide bombers -- or an average of 2.26/day. If this is a genocide, then it has to be the most pathetic and lethargic genocide in history.

In fact -- the Palestinian Authority acknowledges a birth rate among PA territory Palestinians at 157 / day

So the Israelis would have to increase their alleged genocide by just under 7,000 per cent -- just to break even.
The discussion then degenerates into arguments over why Jews can spell and anti-Semites cannot. It represents a significant problem however, that information is presented on Indymedia as "fact", with neither basis nor supporting evidence. The onus is then on the accused to disprove their guilt. Why must this fail? Try the following:

Please disprove the following facts:

1) You sleep with little children
2) You like to have strange men tickle you
3) You have a drinking problem
4) You have bad breath
5) You are a murderer
6) You are a rapist.

There is little question that you could disprove all of the above quite convincingly and provide ample evidence to do so. So too, could inane arguments like those earlier above be disproved.

However, I bet I can write more accusations faster than you can disprove them. So too, can provocateurs cut, paste and reprint articles far more quickly than you can disprove them and expose what they are. More likely however, just like the History Major above, you'll give up and probably never return to the site as it is such a complete and utter waste of time.

Therefore you have now clearly admitted defeat, must therefore be totally wrong and are obviously ashamed of yourself. Let us rejoice that we have defeated you.

And so the Indymedia logic goes time and time again...

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