1. Mick West

    Mick West Administrator Staff Member

    History of the Term "Conspiracy Theory"

    The term "conspiracy theory" is used to describe any theory that attempts to characterize observed events as the result of some secret conspiracy. The term is often used dismissively, implying that the theory is implausible.

    Although conspiracy theories (particularly aimed at Jews and Bankers) date back hundreds of years, the earliest usage of "conspiracy theory" do not always have this connotation, although the theories are quite often dismissed in other ways. Usually it's simply a way of identifying the theory from other theories - as in "the theory that happens to have a conspiracy"

    The first usage I could find was from 1870, The Journal of mental science: Volume 16 - Page 141

    1890 - Some kind of political conspiracy, mostly ridiculed
    http://books.google.com/books?id=ziIgAQAAMAAJ&dq="conspiracy theory"&pg=PA608-IA7#v=onepage&q="conspiracy theory"&f=false

    Here from a review of theories about the causes of the secession of the South, 1895.

    http://books.google.com/books?id=f9ghAQAAMAAJ&dq="conspiracy theory"&pg=PA394#v=onepage&q="conspiracy theory"&f=false

    Also on the same topic 1895
    http://books.google.com/books?id=GkIxAQAAMAAJ&dq="conspiracy theory"&pg=RA16-PA27#v=onepage&q="conspiracy theory"&f=false

    Given the multiple usages on the subject of succession, it seems plausible that this is a key point in the evolution of the phrase. It shifts from simple incidental use in language to referring to a specific thing. From "that theory which has a conspiracy" to "the theory that we call conspiracy theory"

    1899, this is more like it, from an article discussing various conspiracy theories regarding South Africa. And an early debunking:

    http://books.google.com/books?id=cHdNAAAAYAAJ&dq="conspiracy theory"&pg=PA227#v=onepage&q="conspiracy theory"&f=false
    Here it's seeming to move towards its current use with an implied "far-fetched" prepended.

    Some people get a bit upset when you use the term "conspiracy theory", so I think it's good to be clear on what you mean. One might say "I know it when I see it", like say 9/11 no-plane theories, or fake moon-landing theories. I think Aaronovitch has something right here:

    Aaronovitch, David (2010-01-19). Voodoo Histories: The Role of the Conspiracy Theory in Shaping Modern History (pp. 5-6). Penguin Group. Kindle Edition.
    Last edited: Aug 26, 2017
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  2. Mick West

    Mick West Administrator Staff Member

    I also like this from Thomas Paine, who Aaronovitch quotes in support of the above

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  3. Oxymoron

    Oxymoron Banned Banned

    There is much confusion about what a conspiracy theory is. It can range from 'the Queen is a reptilian shapeshifter' to 'JFK wasn't assassinated by a lone gunman'.

    Some Conspiracy Theories, (CT's), have greater traction and more support than others.

    The term Conspiracy Theory was allegedly first used by the CIA but that is disputed.

    A conspiracy theory is defined as:

    An example of a conspiracy theory that becomes validated as fact is:

    Conspiracy Theorists are not loony as portrayed and there are many examples of Conspiracy Theories that became Conspiracy Fact
  4. Mick West

    Mick West Administrator Staff Member

    "Conspiracy theory" has become a derogatory term because people believe that their theory actually IS conspiracy fact. There would be no problem if they said "it's just a theory", but they don't - they say things like "it's obvious that WTC2 was brought down with explosives".

    They are not really conspiracy theorists, they are conspiracy assertionists.

    Hmm, conspiracy assertionists. I might start using that.
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  5. Mick West

    Mick West Administrator Staff Member

    Drat, someone beat me to it:

  6. Pete Tar

    Pete Tar Moderator Staff Member

    This seems a clear debunking that the CIA originated the term as a discrediting psyop.
  7. Mick West

    Mick West Administrator Staff Member

    The claim is more that they "popularized" it, as a dismissive term.
  8. Mick West

    Mick West Administrator Staff Member

    If you read CIA Document 1035-960, Concerning Criticism of the Warren Report, you'll see that there is nothing in there about using the term "Conspiracy Theory" to discredit people. Instead it focuses on addressing the claims directly, and suggesting those making the claims are communists.

    I'm including it in full here, as it's fascinating to compare something 50 years ago with what's happening now. The same old stuff coming up again and again:

  9. Bill

    Bill Senior Member

    For me the most defining aspect of a conspiracy theory is the inability of its advocates to admit the theory is in error in spite of overwhelming evidence disproving the theory. This is usually accompanied by the constant redefinition of term to restate the same idea and the assertion that "they" are withholding or suppressing the truth.
    Last edited: Oct 11, 2013
  10. Mick West

    Mick West Administrator Staff Member

    Regarding the theory that the term was invented by the CIA in 1967, it might be useful to gather examples of usage from the decades before, and the decades after. Also an inflection point might be the JFK assassination itself on NOv 22, 1963.

    One 1962 reference is:
    Walter Wilcox. "The Press of the Radical Right: An Exploratory AnalysisJournalism & Mass Communication Quarterly - Walter Wilcox, 1962." Journals.sagepub.com, http://journals.sagepub.com/doi/pdf/10.1177/107769906203900202. Accessed 26 Aug. 2017.

    The referenced 1960 work by Baum seems to only exist in a few libraries.
    It is however referenced by many books on conspiracy theories.

    Looking at this list of dissertation theses:
    http://crws.berkeley.edu/sites/default/files/shared/docs/ACADEMIC Theses & Dissertations Biblio 10-10-13.pdf
    there's lots of entries like:
    Common phrases are "The Conspiracy theory of History" and "The Conspiracy Theory of Politics". Both of these terms seem to most commonly refer to a world-wide Jewish conspiracy (theory) They mostly come after 1963 and 1967, but there's:
    This usage of "The conspiracy theory of..." may well date back to Karl Popper in "The Open Society and Its Enemies", 1950. In which he writes:
    It's worth noting the highly influential 1964 essay "The Paranoid Style in American Politics" which, while it does not use the term "conspiracy theory" still uses the word "conspiracy" in the context of this "paranoid style".
    Last edited: Aug 26, 2017
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  11. Mick West

    Mick West Administrator Staff Member

    Interesting that text is not in the 1950 edition, but is in the fifth edition from 1966. I wonder when it was added:

    Link to 1st edition

    Link to 5th edition:
    Last edited: Aug 26, 2017
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