Debunked: The CIA invented the term "Conspiracy Theory" in 1967 with memo 1035-960

Mick West

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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

The theory of Dr. Sankey as to the manner in which these injuries to the chest occurred in asylums deserved our careful attention. It was at least more plausible that the conspiracy theory of Mr. Charles Beade, and the precautionary measure suggested by Dr. Sankey of using a padded waistcoat in recent cases of mania with general paralysis—in which mental condition nearly all these cases under discussion were—seemed to him of practical value.
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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

The conspiracy theory may be well founded, but then again it may not. And rather than be dependent upon the evidence of it which may be furnished through the self-sacrificing efforts of the gentlemen who are so ardently engaged in that behalf, we should rather see the party stand on its own foundation, and Mr. Quay on his record, whatever it may be. Then the plot might be proved or disproved, and still the party could live for the further service of the country.
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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

Mr. Rhodes discards the theory prevalent at the North, that secession was the outcome of a conspiracy of Southern Senators and Representatives at Washington, and adopts the view expressed by all Southern writers except Pollard, that secession was a popular movement. As a matter of fact, the Southern leaders in Congress were pressed onward by their constituents. Davis and Toombs are classed among the conspirators. Yet Davis was in favor of delay, and Toombs, in spite of his vehement language at Washington, could not keep pace with the secession movement in his State; while the South Carolina radicals murmured that the people were hampered by the politicians. The conspiracy theory is based on a misconception
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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

NORTHERN writers generally hold that secession was the work of a. conspiracy of Southern Senators and Representatives at Washington, who “dictated the inception and course of the revolution." On the other hand, all Southern writers, except Pollard, maintain that secession was a distinctly popular movement. Northern writers instance the meeting held at Washington january 5, 1861, by the Senators from Georiga, Alabama, Louisiana, Texas, Mississippi, and Florida, which, with South Carolina. formed the seven original States of the Confederacy. " In effect,” says Blaine, in his “Twenty Years of Congress" (Vol. I., p. 220) , these Senators “sent out commands to the governing authority and to the active political leaders, that South Carolina [which had already seceded] must be sustained: that the Cotton States must stand by her; and that the secession of each and every one of them must be accomplished . . . before the inauguration of Mr. Lincoln." If from this the conclusion be drawn that the Southern leaders, after having dragooiied the Southern people into secession, maintained the ensuing war by arbitrary suppression of public sentiment and by forcible appropriation of men and supplies, it will be difficult to reconcile such a conclusion with what the same writers say of the conduct of the Southern troops during the war and of the devotion of the non-combatants, especially of the women, to the cause of secession. The contention, on the other hand, that secession was a popular movement supposes that practically the whole of the Southern people, “mean whites" as well as slave-owners, believed that slavery was sanctioned by the Scriptures, that their material prosperity depended on slavery, that this institution was threatened by the election of a Republican President, and that a constitutional remedy was afforded by secession. It is interesting, in view of this conflict of opinion, to note that Mr. james Ford Rhodes, in his “ History of the United States” from the Compromise of r850, the complete and scholarly work on this period which has just appeared, discards the conspiracy theory, and adopts the view that secession was a purely popular movement.
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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

Mr. Balfour proceeded to discuss one theory of conspiracy and to dismiss another. He tells us that he was a late convert to the doctrine of Dutch megalomania, and that he only accepted it because no other hypothesis could explain the ultimatum. That act made it clear that the Boers were not making a struggle for their independence, but were making a " bold bid for empire." A conspiracy, we are told, is ex hypothesi secret, and you must not expect proofs. Its existence is discovered by a process of elimination. But it may at least be required of a theory of conspiracy that it should be consistent with what is known. Mr. Balf our connects his theory with the armaments of the Boers and the alliance with the Orange Free State. Does that explain the readiness of the Orange Free State to co-operate with the Transvaal in 1881, when the latter had no armaments?
[...]
The other conspiracy theory Mr. Balfour, with an attractive and ingenuous innocence, elaborately misunderstands. Nobody has pretended that either England or Mr. Balfour will make money out of this war. When it is said that avarice is at the bottom of the difficulties in South Africa, we mean the avarice of those financiers who call each other empire-builders, and the growth of their own fortunes the advance of British civilization.
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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.
S

I think a better definition of a conspiracy theory might be “the attribution of deliberate agency to something that is more likely to be accidental or unintended.” And, as a sophistication of this definition, one might add “the attribution of secret action to one party that might far more reasonably be explained as the less covert and less complicated action of another.” So, a conspiracy theory is the unnecessary assumption of conspiracy where other explanations are more probable. It is, for example, far more likely that men did actually land on the moon in 1969 than that thousands of people were enlisted to fabricate a deception that they did.
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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.
20170826-135632-6t8k0.jpg

In developing a technique with which to analyze the sample, the study drew heavily upon two works, The Conspiracy Theory of Politics of the Radical Right in the United States by William C. Baum,
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The referenced 1960 work by Baum seems to only exist in a few libraries.
http://www.worldcat.org/title/consp...ical-right-in-the-united-states/oclc/18821548

The conspiracy theory of politics of the radical right in the United States
Author: William Chandler Baum
Publisher: 1960.
Dissertation: Ph. D. State University of Iowa 1960
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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:
MT Boynorski, Marie Aspects of Populism:' 'The Conspiracy Theory of History— Heroes and Villains of Populism, Anti-semitism in Populism. Queens College—New York 1970, 75pp
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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:

Knox, J. Wendell Conspiracy in American Politics 1787-1815 Univ of North Carolina —Chapel Hill 1965, 329pp

Remington, Rodger A. The Function of the Conspiracy Theory in American Intellectual History St. Louis University 1965, 285pp

Mahoney, Michael M. John Stewart Service:''A Chapter in the Diplomacy and Conspiracy Theory of American Policy in China 1943-1951 University of Wyoming 1967, 126pp
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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:

In order to make my point clear, I shall briefly describe a theory which is widely held but which assumes what I consider the very opposite of the true aim of the social sciences; I call it the ''conspiracy theory of society'. It is the view that an explanation of a social phenomenon consists in the discovery of the men or groups who are interested in the occurrence of this phenomenon (sometimes it is a hidden interest which has first to be revealed), and who have planned and conspired to bring it about. This view of the aims of the social sciences arises, of course from the mistaken theory that, whatever happens in society—especially happenings such as war, unemployment, poverty, shortages, which people as a rule dislike—is the result of direct design by some powerful individuals and groups. This theory is widely held; it is older even than historicism (which, as shown by its primitive theistic form, is a derivative of the conspiracy theory). In its modem forms it is, like modem historicism, and a certain modem attitude towards 'natural laws', a typical result of the secularization of a religious superstition. The belief in the Homeric gods whose conspiracies explain the history of the Trojan War is gone. The gods are abandoned. But their place is filled by powerful men or groups—sinister pressure groups whose wickedness is responsible for all the evils we suffer from—such as the Learned Elders of Zion, or the monopolists, or the capitalists, or the imperialists.

I do not wish to imply that conspiracies never happen. On the contrary, they are typical social phenomena. They become important, for example, whenever people who believe in the conspiracy theory get into power. And people who sincerely believe that they know how to make heaven on earth are most likely to adopt the conspiracy theory, and to get involved in a counter-conspiracy against non-existing conspirators. For the only explanation of their failure to produce their heaven is the evil intention of the Devil, who has a vested interest in hell.

Conspiracies occur, it must be admitted. But the striking fact which, in spite of their occurrence, disproves the conspiracy theory is that few of these conspiracies are ultimately successful. Conspirators rarely consummate their conspiracy.
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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".
http://archive.harpers.org/1964/11/pdf/HarpersMagazine-1964-11-0014706.pdf?

The basic elements of contemporary right-wing thought can be reduced to three: First, there has been the now-familiar sustained conspiracy, running over more than a generation, and reaching its climax in Roosevelt’s New Deal, to undermine free capitalism, to bring the economy under the direction of the federal government, and to pave the way for socialism or communism. A great many right-wingers would agree with Frank Chodorov, the author of The Income Tax: The Root of All Evil, that this campaign began with the passage of the income-tax amendment to the Constitution in 1913.

The second contention is that top government officialdom has been so infiltrated by Communists that American policy, at least since the days leading up to Pearl Harbor, has been dominated by men who were shrewdly and consistently selling out American national interests.

Finally, the country is infused with a network of Communist agents, just as in the old days it was infiltrated by Jesuit agents, so that the whole apparatus of education, religion, the press, and the mass media is engaged in a common effort to paralyze the resistance of loyal Americans.
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CIA Memo: http://www.jfklancer.com/CIA.html
 
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Mick West

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

If we are to suppose a miracle to be something so entirely out of the course of what is called nature, that she must go out of that course to accomplish it, and we see an account given of such miracle by the person who said he saw it, it raises a question in the mind very easily decided, which is, is it more probable that nature should go out of her course, or that a man should tell a lie?
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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.

http://www.csicop.org/specialarticles/show/nope_it_was_always_already_wrong
Recently, the claim that the phrase “conspiracy theory” was popularized in the 1960s by the CIA to discredit those who dared to question the Warren Commission has been popping up in the conspiracy-o-sphere. From the original PsyOp, so the story goes, the application of the phrase spread to encompass all sorts of nefarious doings, and now people reflexively think that all conspiracy theorists are crazy. The first version that I heard, in fact, was the claim that the term was actually invented in the 1960s, and that grabbed my attention. Really? Never appeared before the 1960s?
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A conspiracy theory is defined as:

A conspiracy theory is an explanatory proposition that accuses two or more people, a group, or an organization of having caused or covered up, through deliberate collusion, an event or phenomenon of great social, political, or economic impact. In recent decades the term has acquired a derogatory meaning, and a careful distinction must be made between the derisive use of the term and reference to actual, proven conspiracies. Numerous explanations have been proposed to explain why people today believe in conspiracy theories. Further, different types of conspiracy theories have been proposed. Conspiracism, a world view marked by conspiracy theories, has been elaborated, as well as its effect on society. In addition, scholars have identified some psychological origins of conspiracy theories. Finally, the socio-political origins of conspiracy theories have been analyzed, along with their deliberate use by despotic political regimes.
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An example of a conspiracy theory that becomes validated as fact is:

http://www.theatlantic.com/politics...aul-conspiracy-theories-and-the-right/250638/
There are, too, evil conspiracy theorists, like Timothy McVeigh, for whom no condemnation is too strong, but I'm inclined to think that such conspiracy theories are more the exception than the rule in the United States. Far more common is an American who believes that there's more to the assassination of JFK than we know. Or that the federal government is covertly listening in on our phone calls and reading our email via a secret NSA program known to the nation's biggest telecommunications companies and its newspaper of record, but kept secret from the public.
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Conspiracy Theorists are not loony as portrayed and there are many examples of Conspiracy Theories that became Conspiracy Fact
 

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.
 

Mick West

Administrator
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Drat, someone beat me to it:
https://groups.google.com/forum/#!msg/alt.assassination.jfk/vzexegf9zMk/tVELyMhrOTkJ


If you want to argue the jacket was not bunched at the time of the
shot to JFK's back, go right ahead, but you have no evidence of that,
since photos indicate it was - including being bunched on Elm Street.
And therefore, 47 years after the fact, you still can't establish the
shot to the back was too low to exit the throat, which is the *only*
reason the jacket bunching / not bunching agrument would be pertinent.
Without photographic evidence the jacket was not bunched, the
conspiracy assertion that the jacket hole is too low remains an
assertion without evidence -- what I call AWE.

The ones without evidence - only speculation and vacuous assertions -
is and remains the conspiracy theorists.

They would be more accurately called conspiracy assertionists because
they have yet to advance a coherent theory of the assassination (but
it's only been 47 years and counting) and all they have - like you -
is assertions without evidence.
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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:

http://www.jfklancer.com/CIA.html

CIA Document 1035-960
Concerning Criticism of the Warren Report

CIA Document #1035-960

RE: Concerning Criticism of the Warren Report

1. Our Concern. From the day of President Kennedy's assassination on, there has been speculation about the responsibility for his murder. Although this was stemmed for a time by the Warren Commission report, (which appeared at the end of September 1964), various writers have now had time to scan the Commission's published report and documents for new pretexts for questioning, and there has been a new wave of books and articles criticizing the Commission's findings. In most cases the critics have speculated as to the existence of some kind of conspiracy, and often they have implied that the Commission itself was involved. Presumably as a result of the increasing challenge to the Warren Commission's report, a public opinion poll recently indicated that 46% of the American public did not think that Oswald acted alone, while more than half of those polled thought that the Commission had left some questions unresolved. Doubtless polls abroad would show similar, or possibly more adverse results.

2. This trend of opinion is a matter of concern to the U.S. government, including our organization. The members of the Warren Commission were naturally chosen for their integrity, experience and prominence. They represented both major parties, and they and their staff were deliberately drawn from all sections of the country. Just because of the standing of the Commissioners, efforts to impugn their rectitude and wisdom tend to cast doubt on the whole leadership of American society. Moreover, there seems to be an increasing tendency to hint that President Johnson himself, as the one person who might be said to have benefited, was in some way responsible for the assassination.

Innuendo of such seriousness affects not only the individual concerned, but also the whole reputation of the American government. Our organization itself is directly involved: among other facts, we contributed information to the investigation. Conspiracy theories have frequently thrown suspicion on our organization, for example by falsely alleging that Lee Harvey Oswald worked for us. The aim of this dispatch is to provide material countering and discrediting the claims of the conspiracy theorists, so as to inhibit the circulation of such claims in other countries. Background information is supplied in a classified section and in a number of unclassified attachments.

3. Action. We do not recommend that discussion of the assassination question be initiated where it is not already taking place. Where discussion is active [business] addresses are requested:

a. To discuss the publicity problem with [?] and friendly elite contacts (especially politicians and editors), pointing out that the Warren Commission made as thorough an investigation as humanly possible, that the charges of the critics are without serious foundation, and that further speculative discussion only plays into the hands of the opposition. Point out also that parts of the conspiracy talk appear to be deliberately generated by Communist propagandists. Urge them to use their influence to discourage unfounded and irresponsible speculation.

b. To employ propaganda assets to [negate] and refute the attacks of the critics. Book reviews and feature articles are particularly appropriate for this purpose. The unclassified attachments to this guidance should provide useful background material for passing to assets. Our ploy should point out, as applicable, that the critics are (I) wedded to theories adopted before the evidence was in, (I) politically interested, (III) financially interested, (IV) hasty and inaccurate in their research, or (V) infatuated with their own theories. In the course of discussions of the whole phenomenon of criticism, a useful strategy may be to single out Epstein's theory for attack, using the attached Fletcher [?] article and Spectator piece for background. (Although Mark Lane's book is much less convincing that Epstein's and comes off badly where confronted by knowledgeable critics, it is also much more difficult to answer as a whole, as one becomes lost in a morass of unrelated details.)

4. In private to media discussions not directed at any particular writer, or in attacking publications which may be yet forthcoming, the following arguments should be useful:

a. No significant new evidence has emerged which the Commission did not consider. The assassination is sometimes compared (e.g., by Joachim Joesten and Bertrand Russell) with the Dreyfus case; however, unlike that case, the attack on the Warren Commission have produced no new evidence, no new culprits have been convincingly identified, and there is no agreement among the critics. (A better parallel, though an imperfect one, might be with the Reichstag fire of 1933, which some competent historians (Fritz Tobias, AJ.P. Taylor, D.C. Watt) now believe was set by Vander Lubbe on his own initiative, without acting for either Nazis or Communists; the Nazis tried to pin the blame on the Communists, but the latter have been more successful in convincing the world that the Nazis were to blame.)

b. Critics usually overvalue particular items and ignore others. They tend to place more emphasis on the recollections of individual witnesses (which are less reliable and more divergent--and hence offer more hand-holds for criticism) and less on ballistics, autopsy, and photographic evidence. A close examination of the Commission's records will usually show that the conflicting eyewitness accounts are quoted out of context, or were discarded by the Commission for good and sufficient reason.

c. Conspiracy on the large scale often suggested would be impossible to conceal in the United States, esp. since informants could expect to receive large royalties, etc. Note that Robert Kennedy, Attorney General at the time and John F. Kennedy's brother, would be the last man to overlook or conceal any conspiracy. And as one reviewer pointed out, Congressman Gerald R. Ford would hardly have held his tongue for the sake of the Democratic administration, and Senator Russell would have had every political interest in exposing any misdeeds on the part of Chief Justice Warren. A conspirator moreover would hardly choose a location for a shooting where so much depended on conditions beyond his control: the route, the speed of the cars, the moving target, the risk that the assassin would be discovered. A group of wealthy conspirators could have arranged much more secure conditions.

d. Critics have often been enticed by a form of intellectual pride: they light on some theory and fall in love with it; they also scoff at the Commission because it did not always answer every question with a flat decision one way or the other. Actually, the make-up of the Commission and its staff was an excellent safeguard against over-commitment to any one theory, or against the illicit transformation of probabilities into certainties.

e. Oswald would not have been any sensible person's choice for a co-conspirator. He was a "loner," mixed up, of questionable reliability and an unknown quantity to any professional intelligence service.

f. As to charges that the Commission's report was a rush job, it emerged three months after the deadline originally set. But to the degree that the Commission tried to speed up its reporting, this was largely due to the pressure of irresponsible speculation already appearing, in some cases coming from the same critics who, refusing to admit their errors, are now putting out new criticisms.

g. Such vague accusations as that "more than ten people have died mysteriously" can always be explained in some natural way e.g.: the individuals concerned have for the most part died of natural causes; the Commission staff questioned 418 witnesses (the FBI interviewed far more people, conduction 25,000 interviews and re interviews), and in such a large group, a certain number of deaths are to be expected. (When Penn Jones, one of the originators of the "ten mysterious deaths" line, appeared on television, it emerged that two of the deaths on his list were from heart attacks, one from cancer, one was from a head-on collision on a bridge, and one occurred when a driver drifted into a bridge abutment.)

5. Where possible, counter speculation by encouraging reference to the Commission's Report itself. Open-minded foreign readers should still be impressed by the care, thoroughness, objectivity and speed with which the Commission worked. Reviewers of other books might be encouraged to add to their account the idea that, checking back with the report itself, they found it far superior to the work of its critics.​
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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.
 
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Mick West

Administrator
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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:

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
https://monoskop.org/images/6/6d/Po...es_The_High_Tide_of_Prophecy_Vol_2_1st_ed.pdf

Link to 5th edition:
https://monoskop.org/images/5/5f/Popper_Karl_The_Open_Society_and_Its_Enemies_Vols_1-2_5th_ed.pdf
 
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Cyber

New 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".
Funny thing is, most people who insist that the Bin Laden conspiracy theory is real have done no research besides watching the news and can offer no evidence besides the word of authorities like politicians. So I guess this makes the Bin Laden conspiracy theory a good example of what you would call "conspiracy assertion".
 

Bob1990

New Member
While it may be reasonably concluded the phrases 'conspiracy theory' and 'conspiracy theorist' were not invented by the CIA, this does not dismiss the fact that in 1967 the CIA issued a Psychological Operations document on how to discredit those questioning the veracity of the Warren Commission Report. Whether they invented the phrases 'conspiracy theory / conspiracy theorist' or not is a diversion.

They have been entirely successful, as fifty years later it is commonplace for people to dismiss concerns of a conspiracy by attacking the messenger by labelling them 'a conspiracy theorist'. It muddies the waters by 'debunking' that the CIA created these phrase(s), when the real issue is whether they mounted a Psychological Operation to discredit critics they label 'conspiracy theorists', which they did.

Especially when approaching a complex, significant issue, the choice of exactly what to investigate/debunk is critical to the pursuit of truth.
 
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Mick West

Administrator
Staff member
Whether they invented the phrases 'conspiracy theory / conspiracy theorist' or simply weaponized them, is a diversion.
They did neither. The CIA document, quoted in full above, barely uses the term, and there was no increase in the years directly after the document.
 

cianlang

New Member
Just a note regarding the term "conspiracy theory". This is a misnomer, resulting from the common confusion between the words "theory" and "hypothesis".

A hypothesis can be defined as a supposition or proposed explanation made on the basis of limited evidence as a starting point for further investigation. A theory, on the other hand, is actually a supposition or a system of ideas intended to explain something, especially one based on general principles independent of the thing to be explained.

As you can see, there is a slight overlap between these concepts when it comes to the area of supposition. A hypothesis is always unproven, while a theory may or may not be considered proven. Theories are often developed from confirmation of a hypothesis or multiple hypotheses by repeated experimentation and observations. They can also be fluid in that future observations could partially or completely disprove the theory, or require that the theory be modified. A good example is Newton's gravitational theory, which was accurate according to the limits of observation in his time but was supplanted by Einstein's General Theory of Relativity. No serious physicist disputes the General Theory of Relativity, but there are aspects of gravitational theory that are less secure than others and could potentially be disproved or modified at a future time.

In popular usage, the distinction between the terms hypothesis and theory has become blurred and the words are often used interchangeably. Why is this important? An excellent example is the argument often used by creationists against the Theory of Evolution. A favorite tactic is to claim that evolution is just a theory, hence unproven. They are exploiting the drift in meaning of the word "theory" over time. However, the Theory of Evolution is no less proven than the General Theory of Relativity.

Therefore, there's really no such concept as a conspiracy theory. One could claim a field of knowledge called conspiracy theory, based on experiments and observations of various conspiracies. However, a claim of a conspiracy behind a specific event such as JFK's assassination could only be accurately called a "conspiracy hypothesis", and its proponents "conspiracy hypothesists".
 

Mick West

Administrator
Staff member
Therefore, there's really no such concept as a conspiracy theory. One could claim a field of knowledge called conspiracy theory, based on experiments and observations of various conspiracies. However, a claim of a conspiracy behind a specific event such as JFK's assassination could only be accurately called a "conspiracy hypothesis", and its proponents "conspiracy hypothesists"
Dictionaries and actual usage disagree with you.

Word meanings come from usage. In common use “theory” is used as “hypothesis”, so that’s what it means to most people.

Ignoring common usage is a failure of communication. You can’t force a meaning on people. If anything science communicators need to adapt.
 

Latifa

New Member
They did neither. The CIA document, quoted in full above, barely uses the term, and there was no increase in the years directly after the document.

You appear to be factually incorrect in your assertion without source that there was no increase after the document. Although I'm sure you would like to employ semantics such as: "barely uses" the term, and "directly" after the document.

ngram.PNG
Source: https://books.google.com/ngrams/graph?content=Conspiracy+theory,conspiracy+theorist&year_start=1900&year_end=1980&corpus=17&smoothing=3&share=&direct_url=t1;,Conspiracy theory;,c0;.t1;,conspiracy theorist;,c0
 
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Latifa

New Member
if you use a 6 smoothing it actually decreases after 1967
ii.PNG

But perhaps the raw data would be best:
ngram0.PNG
Fair point, the default appears to be a smoothing of 3 and I didn't change it. How about the separate graphs without worrying about them both being represented relative to each other.

(I failed at embeding the charts)

https://books.google.com/ngrams/graph?content=conspiracy+theory&year_start=1950&year_end=1990&corpus=17&smoothing=0&share=&direct_url=t1;,conspiracy theory;,c0

https://books.google.com/ngrams/graph?content=conspiracy+theorist&year_start=1950&year_end=1990&corpus=17&smoothing=0&share=&direct_url=t1;,conspiracy theorist;,c0
 

Mick West

Administrator
Staff member
It would also appear there has been a peer-reviewed book published by Professor Lance deHaven Smith and the UT Press that directly conflicts with the assertion the CIA did not develop the term and weaponize it.

https://books.google.com/books/abou...ver&source=kp_read_button#v=onepage&q&f=false

Would be interested to see an attempt to refute his conclusions.

I discuss this in Chapter 1 of Escaping The Rabbit Hole. In which I note:

DeHaven-Smith admits that the document itself does not actually explicitly encourage usage of the term, and to get around this he embarks on a series of interpretive mental gymnastics, attempting to determine the hidden meaning in the CIA document. He analyzes it sentence by sentence, and sometimes word by word, projecting his interpretation upon it.

West, Mick. Escaping the Rabbit Hole: How to Debunk Conspiracy Theories Using Facts, Logic, and Respect (Kindle Locations 407-410). Skyhorse Publishing. Kindle Edition.
Content from External Source
Basically his claim is debunked by actually reading the CIA document. He offers no real evidence beyond this.

I also did a more detailed analysis of the usage of the term in newspapers
01 Usage of the Term Conspricy Theory, Newspapers.jpg
 

Latifa

New Member
I discuss this in Chapter 1 of Escaping The Rabbit Hole. In which I note:

DeHaven-Smith admits that the document itself does not actually explicitly encourage usage of the term, and to get around this he embarks on a series of interpretive mental gymnastics, attempting to determine the hidden meaning in the CIA document. He analyzes it sentence by sentence, and sometimes word by word, projecting his interpretation upon it.

West, Mick. Escaping the Rabbit Hole: How to Debunk Conspiracy Theories Using Facts, Logic, and Respect (Kindle Locations 407-410). Skyhorse Publishing. Kindle Edition.
Content from External Source
Basically his claim is debunked by actually reading the CIA document. He offers no real evidence beyond this.

I also did a more detailed analysis of the usage of the term in newspapers
01 Usage of the Term Conspricy Theory, Newspapers.jpg

Oh I need to review your Escaping the Rabbit Hole exposition it would seem.

We can both agree usage of the term as far as quantifiable documentation reflects, increased after the memo then.
 

Mick West

Administrator
Staff member
We can both agree usage of the term as far as quantifiable documentation reflects, increased after the memo then.

Well so did the number of televisions per household. But like the use of the term "conspiracy theory" it was something that was already on the rise, and did not detectably change its trajectory at that point in time.

There's no measurable effect from that memo, and why on Earth would there be? The memo does not encourage the use of the term, it does not discuss the term, it just briefly uses the term in a way that perfectly natural in context.

The memo suggests a bunch of things. It does not suggest using the term conspiracy theory as a pejorative.
 

HitD

New Member
None of the analysis provided thus far confronts the original claim, which says: "The CIA invented the term "Conspiracy Theory" in 1967 with memo 1035-960". The confused discussion which has so far transpired did so because of the incoherent manner in which the discussion was initially framed.

Discussion began with the OP, which initially framed itself as a "History of the Term "Conspiracy Theory"" but then immediately provided a definition of the term which has no attribution or context, historical or otherwise. The next sentence in the post is highly ambiguous and difficult to parse, but it seems to be an immediate contradiction of the prior statement. It seems to be saying that the term 'conspiracy theory' didn't necessarily imply that the theory was implausible, depending on where and when it was used.

After moving past these contradictory and incoherent statements, the post begins to analyse historical documents, which is welcome considering it intially framed itself as a history. However, I found this analysis to be flawed and misleading.

According to the examples in the OP, usage of the phrase "conspiracy theory" before the 20th century seems to mean merely "a theory which explains something in terms of a conspiracy". Given that the authors of these examples see fit to analyze and criticize the "conspiracy theories" to which they refer, its clear that the term 'conspiracy theory' is not sufficient to illustrate that the theory is implausible in their mind.

Mick West comes to a different conclusion regarding the 1899 example, an article about conspiracies regarding the Second Boer War. He states: "Here it's seeming to move towards its current use with an implied "far-fetched" prepended."

There is no such implied "far-fetched" connotation as far as I can tell. To see why this is true, read the article. The first thing you will see is the article's title: "Conspiracies -- True and False". This seems to imply that a [theory of] conspiracy can be either true or false, just like any other proposition -- nothing about that implies "far-fetched".

Analyzing the article's content, we see the author is drawing a distinction between two conspiracy theories, one which the author claims is inconsistent with what was currently understood about the situation, the other which he claims is consistent with available knowledge, but was misunderstood by its critics. If there were an implied "far-fetchedness" associated with the term "conspiracy" or "conspiracy theory" for this author, why would they use such terms to describe a theory which they are arguing is true? No explanation is provided by Mick which describes how he came to think that the terms imply an inherent "far-fetchedness". Can you elaborate? Its surprising to me that we arrived at such different interpretations.

The examples provided which date to the decade or so before the release of the memo seem to ascribe varied meanings to the terms "conspiracy" and "conspiracy theory", one even using the word 'conspiracy' and then asking 'if this is the correct term'. Several of the examples are taken from a body of academic literature which is studying the ideology of the american extreme right, a highly specialized context with no clear relation to the context we are interested in. Another example given is Popper's "The Open Society and Its Enemies", the context of that text regards methodological considerations in the social sciences. The context of this piece is also highly specialized and doesn't reveal much about the meaning of the term 'conspiracy theory' in popular understanding or in the context of political conspiracies like the JFK assassination.

However, even if the analysis of these texts had been done correctly, it wouldn't matter, because demonstrating that the phrase "conspiracy theory" was in use (and arguably was used pejoratively) before 1967 does not demonstrate that the modern term "conspiracy theory" could not have been invented by the CIA in 1967, because it does not demonstrate that the meaning of the modern term and the meaning of the previously existing term are identical.

Terms are words or groups of words which have a specific meaning that depends on context. The two words "conspiracy theory" are nothing more than a symbol. On the other hand, the TERM "conspiracy theory" also includes the meaning which the symbol points toward.

In other words, if a new meaning (distinct from the other prevailing meanings) of the term did take root in the popular understanding as a result of the 1967 memo, and that meaning was identical to contemporary understanding of the term, then it could be said that the CIA invented the term "conspiracy theory" as we understand it today.

Thus far Mick West seems to be arguing against the idea that the symbols which read as, "conspiracy theory" had never been written before the CIA memo. That is not the statement the OP claimed to debunk.
 

Mick West

Administrator
Staff member
However, even if the analysis of these texts had been done correctly, it wouldn't matter, because demonstrating that the phrase "conspiracy theory" was in use (and arguably was used pejoratively) before 1967 does not demonstrate that the modern term "conspiracy theory" could not have been invented by the CIA in 1967, because it does not demonstrate that the meaning of the modern term and the meaning of the previously existing term are identical.

Terms are words or groups of words which have a specific meaning that depends on context. The two words "conspiracy theory" are nothing more than a symbol. On the other hand, the TERM "conspiracy theory" also includes the meaning which the symbol points toward.

In other words, if a new meaning (distinct from the other prevailing meanings) of the term did take root in the popular understanding as a result of the 1967 memo, and that meaning was identical to contemporary understanding of the term, then it could be said that the CIA invented the term "conspiracy theory" as we understand it today.

Thus far Mick West seems to be arguing against the idea that the symbols which read as, "conspiracy theory" had never been written before the CIA memo. That is not the statement the OP claimed to debunk.

You seem to be focussing too much on the much older usages, which were simply precursors. A better thing to look at is Wilcox, ""The Press of the Radical Right: An Exploratory Analysis", 1962, and the prior 1960 work "The Conspiracy Theory of Politics of the Radical Right in the United States by William C. Baum".

I cover this a lot more in my book, Escaping the Rabbit Hole.

Baum’s work was quite influential and was repeated in several papers and books. In 1962, the year before the assassination of President Kennedy, Walter Wilcox wrote “The Press of the Radical Right,”6 which includes an attempt to quantify the various types of conspiracy theories. In it he gave several examples:
• NAACP is operated by a New York Jew through Negro Fronts
• Fluoridation [of drinking water] brings people under control as a narcotic, not good for teeth • Unemployment is increasing in US because trade is in the hands of an international cult
• Organized Jewry tried to sabotage the gospel message in the film Ben Hur
• California intelligence tests give a choice of two evils, making one seem right

These theories do not seem too dissimilar to those seen today. The water fluoridation theory is still in existence, and is generally a foundational belief of people who hold to the more esoteric theories, like Chemtrails. Wilcox went on to propose what was probably the first conspiracy theorist spectrum, a zero through seven scale of “commitment to conspiracy” which was a measure of the extent to which a given article in a press publication of the radical right was devoted to a conspiracy theory:

Commitment to Conspiracy Scale
7 Preoccupied with conspiracy
5 Conspiracy conspicuous
3 Conspiracy present
1 Hints at conspiracy
0 No clear evidence of conspiracy

Wilcox also included a non-rationality scale, which contains descriptions you might still apply to many writings on the internet today:

Non-rational Scale

7 Paranoiac overtones, confused, few or no credible facts
5 Polemic, shrill, credible facts few and heavily stacked
3 Heavily one-sided, credible facts present
1 Mildly one-sided, credible facts lightly stacked
0 No clear evidence of non-rationality

Wilcox draws a connection between the degree of non-rationality in a conspiracy theory and how committed the person is to that theory. For instance, it is logical to assume that non-rationality correlates to a marked degree with the theory of conspiracy …

West, Mick. Escaping the Rabbit Hole: How to Debunk Conspiracy Theories Using Facts, Logic, and Respect (Kindle Locations 444-456). Skyhorse Publishing. Kindle Edition.
piracy Theories Using Facts, Logic, and Respect (Kindle Locations 430-444). Skyhorse Publishing. Kindle Edition.

Content from External Source
I think it's quite clear that it's being used in pretty much the same sense as today.

The more popular usage of the term seems to have been given a bit of a boost, not in 1967 (when it simply rose as much as it had the previous year, and then went down), but in 1963-64, directly after the JFK assassination.



If you search the newspaper archives from 1963 to 1966, you see numerous articles fueled in part by several books alleging a conspiracy, for example:
Metabunk 2018-11-12 10-37-22.jpg


Metabunk 2018-11-12 10-39-24.jpg
Metabunk 2018-11-12 10-39-48.jpg



This one is from April 21 1965:
Metabunk 2018-11-12 10-43-14.jpg
Metabunk 2018-11-12 10-42-32.jpg

That last one in particular, from 1965, seems to be very similar to the modern usage. Especially the discussion the section titled "Holds Water"
 

Mick West

Administrator
Staff member
And while JFK certainly boosted the usage (for obvious reasons), it was not limited to it. Goldwater was often mentioned as someone who spread conspiracy theories (in much the same way that Trump is discussed now).

Of particular interest here, not the term "Devil Theory", which is used largely synonymously with "conspiracy theory", and used to be the more common way for referring to these things (theories that ascribe events to the secret conspiring of powerful people)

Bennington Banner, June 20, 1964
Metabunk 2018-11-12 10-49-46.jpg
Metabunk 2018-11-12 10-50-10.jpg
 

Paradigm_shift

New 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:

3. Action. We do not recommend that discussion of the assassination question be initiated where it is not already taking place. Where discussion is active [business] addresses are requested:

a. To discuss the publicity problem with [?] and friendly elite contacts (especially politicians and editors), pointing out that the Warren Commission made as thorough an investigation as humanly possible, that the charges of the critics are without serious foundation, and that further speculative discussion only plays into the hands of the opposition. Point out also that parts of the conspiracy talk appear to be deliberately generated by Communist propagandists. Urge them to use their influence to discourage unfounded and irresponsible speculation.

b. To employ propaganda assets to [negate] and refute the attacks of the critics. Book reviews and feature articles are particularly appropriate for this purpose. The unclassified attachments to this guidance should provide useful background material for passing to assets. Our ploy should point out, as applicable, that the critics are (I) wedded to theories adopted before the evidence was in, (I) politically interested, (III) financially interested, (IV) hasty and inaccurate in their research, or (V) infatuated with their own theories. In the course of discussions of the whole phenomenon of criticism, a useful strategy may be to single out Epstein's theory for attack, using the attached Fletcher [?] article and Spectator piece for background. (Although Mark Lane's book is much less convincing that Epstein's and comes off badly where confronted by knowledgeable critics, it is also much more difficult to answer as a whole, as one becomes lost in a morass of unrelated details.)

4. In private to media discussions not directed at any particular writer, or in attacking publications which may be yet forthcoming, the following arguments should be useful:

a. No significant new evidence has emerged which the Commission did not consider. The assassination is sometimes compared (e.g., by Joachim Joesten and Bertrand Russell) with the Dreyfus case; however, unlike that case, the attack on the Warren Commission have produced no new evidence, no new culprits have been convincingly identified, and there is no agreement among the critics. (A better parallel, though an imperfect one, might be with the Reichstag fire of 1933, which some competent historians (Fritz Tobias, AJ.P. Taylor, D.C. Watt) now believe was set by Vander Lubbe on his own initiative, without acting for either Nazis or Communists; the Nazis tried to pin the blame on the Communists, but the latter have been more successful in convincing the world that the Nazis were to blame.)

b. Critics usually overvalue particular items and ignore others. They tend to place more emphasis on the recollections of individual witnesses (which are less reliable and more divergent--and hence offer more hand-holds for criticism) and less on ballistics, autopsy, and photographic evidence. A close examination of the Commission's records will usually show that the conflicting eyewitness accounts are quoted out of context, or were discarded by the Commission for good and sufficient reason.

c. Conspiracy on the large scale often suggested would be impossible to conceal in the United States, esp. since informants could expect to receive large royalties, etc. Note that Robert Kennedy, Attorney General at the time and John F. Kennedy's brother, would be the last man to overlook or conceal any conspiracy. And as one reviewer pointed out, Congressman Gerald R. Ford would hardly have held his tongue for the sake of the Democratic administration, and Senator Russell would have had every political interest in exposing any misdeeds on the part of Chief Justice Warren. A conspirator moreover would hardly choose a location for a shooting where so much depended on conditions beyond his control: the route, the speed of the cars, the moving target, the risk that the assassin would be discovered. A group of wealthy conspirators could have arranged much more secure conditions.

d. Critics have often been enticed by a form of intellectual pride: they light on some theory and fall in love with it; they also scoff at the Commission because it did not always answer every question with a flat decision one way or the other. Actually, the make-up of the Commission and its staff was an excellent safeguard against over-commitment to any one theory, or against the illicit transformation of probabilities into certainties.

e. Oswald would not have been any sensible person's choice for a co-conspirator. He was a "loner," mixed up, of questionable reliability and an unknown quantity to any professional intelligence service.

f. As to charges that the Commission's report was a rush job, it emerged three months after the deadline originally set. But to the degree that the Commission tried to speed up its reporting, this was largely due to the pressure of irresponsible speculation already appearing, in some cases coming from the same critics who, refusing to admit their errors, are now putting out new criticisms.
[/ex]

I cut out a lot of the text to highlight key features of this document for a shorter read and to address the point you've made, it's interesting that you claim "there is nothing in there about using the term "Conspiracy Theory" to discredit people." despite the document clearly advocating propaganda as a means of influence, "To employ propaganda assets to [negate] and refute the attacks of the critics." even providing a guideline of counter-arguments, such as the ones many 'skeptics' use to 'debunk' criticism of the Warren Report, "In private to media discussions not directed at any particular writer, or in attacking publications which may be yet forthcoming, the following arguments should be useful: ". The talking points mentioned to be used dictate the importance of maintaining the authority of the Warren Commission and using circular logic to assert it as fact. The term 'conspiracy theory' itself pops up a number of times in the document so your point is unclear and not supported by the evidence that you yourself have linked here.
 

Landru

Moderator
Staff member
I cut out a lot of the text to highlight key features of this document for a shorter read and to address the point you've made, it's interesting that you claim "there is nothing in there about using the term "Conspiracy Theory" to discredit people." despite the document clearly advocating propaganda as a means of influence, "To employ propaganda assets to [negate] and refute the attacks of the critics." even providing a guideline of counter-arguments, such as the ones many 'skeptics' use to 'debunk' criticism of the Warren Report, "In private to media discussions not directed at any particular writer, or in attacking publications which may be yet forthcoming, the following arguments should be useful: ". The talking points mentioned to be used dictate the importance of maintaining the authority of the Warren Commission and using circular logic to assert it as fact. The term 'conspiracy theory' itself pops up a number of times in the document so your point is unclear and not supported by the evidence that you yourself have linked here.
Really? Pick your best example that makes your point and quote it.
 

deirdre

Senior Member.
it's interesting that you claim "there is nothing in there about using the term "Conspiracy Theory" to discredit people."

it's interesting you cherry picked part of his statement which was
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.
 
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