Applications of Game Theory to Assessing the Plausibility of Conspiracy Theories

Greg Simay

New Member
A general question about conspiracy claims: Can game theory offer any insights as to which conspiracies are plausible and which can be ruled out of court? Physical principles can allow us to rule out perpetual motion machines without having to know how details of the machines' construction and operation. Are there any general, empirically-based principles from game theory (or the social sciences) that can render a similar service concerning conspiracy claims?

Perhaps it may be helpful to recast conspiracy claims in terms of games where secrecy is a significant factor. For example, a football team attempts to keep secret its various play strategies until it's presumably too late for the opposing team to profit from the knowledge. However, the opposing team's coach may infer the hidden strategy after observing a number of plays. Note that in this example, the coach knows that the opposing team is "conspiring" against his team, but such knowledge is of limited value unless the coach can pierce the team's veil of secrecy. A country's leaders may have good reason to suspect that various foreign intelligence services are conspiring to undermine them, but they're nevertheless at a disadvantage without a knowledge of the services' sources and methods.
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Mick West

Staff member
Grimes, 2016, analyzed the plausibility of some conspiracy theories based on secrecy, but not really using game theory:

The analysis here predicts that even with parameter estimates favourable to conspiratorial leanings that the conspiracies analysed tend rapidly towards collapse. Even if there was a concerted effort, the sheer number of people required for the sheer scale of hypothetical scientific deceptions would inextricably undermine these nascent conspiracies. For a conspiracy of even only a few thousand actors, intrinsic failure would arise within decades. For hundreds of thousands, such failure would be assured within less than half a decade. It’s also important to note that this analysis deals solely with intrinsic failure, or the odds of a conspiracy being exposed intentionally or accidentally by actors involved—extrinsic analysis by non-participants would also increase the odds of detection, rendering such Byzantine cover-ups far more likely to fail. Moreover, the number of actors in this analysis as outlined in Table 2represent an incredibly conservative estimate. A more comprehensive quantification would undoubtedly drive failure rate up for all considered conspiracy narratives.
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So he conservatively gives things like 9/11 and chemtrails five years to be exposed. But far less if people are actively looking into it.