On Skeptoid's definition of Conspiracy Theory

qed

Senior Member
Skeptoid proposes two criterion for judging whether a conspiratorial proposition deserves the name "conspiracy theory", with the aim of rejecting certain significant true conspiracies as not qualifying as examples of "conspiracy theories that turned out to be true".
https://skeptoid.com/episodes/4416
Certainly 2. must be satisfied if one is to claim an example of a "conspiracy theory that turned out to be true".
  • But is 1. really valid?
Take the 9-11 conspiracy theory. Certainly 2. is satisfied. I also agree that scientifically this theory is not falsifiable. Now suppose evidence emerges, in 2071, that the US government indeed engineered the entire event. The 60 year release date for CIA documents expires, and all is revealed.
  • Can Skeptiod REALLY then claim that 9-11 is not a true conspiracy theory, because back in the early 2000's it could not be falsified?
 
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deirdre

Senior Member.
Take the 9-11 conspiracy theory. Certainly 2. is satisfied. I also agree that scientifically this theory is not falsifiable. Now suppose evidence emerges, in 2071, that the US government indeed engineered the entire event. The 60 year release date for CIA documents expires, and all is revealed.
  • Can Skeptiod REALLY then claim that 9-11 is not a true conspiracy theory, because back in the early 2000's it could not be falsified?
huh? the claims are pretty specific.
*Gov used electronic weapons to destroy the twin towers
*Gov used demolition explosives to blow up the twin towers.

so if in 2017 it turns out the gov did blow up the twin towers, then the CT would be one that came true.
 

qed

Senior Member
if in 2017 it turns out the gov did blow up the twin towers, then the CT would be one that came true.
While I agree with you, Skeptiod would disagree. He would say "how could you ever have falsified those claims", and discount it as a "true conspiracy" but not "a conspiracy that turned out to be true".
 

MikeG

Senior Member.
I listen to Skeptoid every week.

I may be off base here, but I'm not sure where Brian Dunning claims 9/11 was not a true conspiracy theory in the years after it happened. He has covered parts of it on the podcast.

https://skeptoid.com/episodes/4085

Could you give me a link to what you are talking about?
 

deirdre

Senior Member.
I listen to Skeptoid every week.

I may be off base here, but I'm not sure where Brian Dunning claims 9/11 was not a true conspiracy theory in the years after it happened. He has covered parts of it on the podcast.

https://skeptoid.com/episodes/4085

Could you give me a link to what you are talking about?
sorry i thought his skeptoid link was the link. i've added the real link to the OP.

The topic of the piece is specifically "Conspiracy Theories that were proven true" and the fact that HE has never come across one. Then he gives his criteria:
To me i think he is talking about conspiracies claimed to be proven true after the fact. and he gives his examples. In @qed hypothetical example, it's never going to become true, so it's kinda hard to wrap my head around the hypothetical example.
 

qed

Senior Member
In @qed hypothetical example, it's never going to become true, so it's kinda hard to wrap my head around the hypothetical example.
I have to agree. True conspiracies rapidly expose themselves, typically before anyone even claims them as such, while false conspiracy theories, well ...
 

Mick West

Administrator
Staff member
Take the 9-11 conspiracy theory. Certainly 2. is satisfied. I also agree that scientifically this theory is not falsifiable. Now suppose evidence emerges, in 2071, that the US government indeed engineered the entire event. The 60 year release date for CIA documents expires, and all is revealed.
  • Can Skeptiod REALLY then claim that 9-11 is not a true conspiracy theory, because back in the early 2000's it could not be falsified?
I think Brian is being a bit unreasonable in his insistence on "specific enough to be falsifiable" as a criteria for "conspiracy theories that were proved right". It does not really make any sense. JFK conspiracy theories are generally not falsifiable, and yet if it were later discovered that Oswald had powerful backers, then I think that would certainly count as a conspiracy theory that turned out to be true.

There's a wide variety of specificity in conspiracy theories though, and certainly being specific would be helpful if we wanted to point to something we could definitely say was a CT proven true. I don't think it's important though.

But really the most important criteria is the second one - that it was known as a conspiracy theory before it was proven true. Find some of those, and then you can argue about how specific the theory was.
 

deirdre

Senior Member.
JFK conspiracy theories are generally not falsifiable, and yet if it were later discovered that Oswald had powerful backers
yea but doesnt that skirt around what like psychics and 'mediums' do? if you throw enough wild guesses out there about every event and ONE just happens to come true..does that count as something significant or is it just a wild guess.
 

Mick West

Administrator
Staff member
yea but doesnt that skirt around what like psychics and 'mediums' do? if you throw enough wild guesses out there about every event and ONE just happens to come true..does that count as something significant or is it just a wild guess.
Sure it's not specific in the sense you don't know who did it. But it's very specific in the claim that "Oswald did not act alone". And more so in "Oswald had powerful backers". There are lots of very specific JFK theories. But I see nothing wrong with describing the broader theory as a conspiracy theory.

If the government admits moon landings were faked and we never went to the moon, then who cares if someone predicted exactly how they were faked. It's still a conspiracy theory that turned out to be true, even if nobody got the theory exactly right.
 

deirdre

Senior Member.
If the government admits moon landings were faked and we never went to the moon, then who cares if someone predicted exactly how they were faked. It's still a conspiracy theory that turned out to be true, even if nobody got the theory exactly right.
i hear what youre saying, but still... if the moon landings were faked in a way that NOBODY guessed previously, it still sounds to me like just "random wishful thinking" that happened to come true.

If a psychic tells me "You will marry a tall man" and i marry a tall man, is that a legitimate prediction that came true? Or just a lucky guess. Conspiracy Theorists say EVERYTHING is fake. They say the governemtn is behind EVERYTHING.

I would certainly call it a conspiracy that came true, just as i would call the psychics reading a prediction that came true. But i would still call them both lucky guesses.

i guess what i'm saying is, if you cant guess the moon landing fake with any specifics that turn out to be true, then you are really just making stuff up hoping your overall theory will come true.

But as you said we'd have to look at individual CTs that came true to see if they were actually CTs before they came true.
 

Mick West

Administrator
Staff member
I would certainly call it a conspiracy that came true, just as i would call the psychics reading a prediction that came true. But i would still call them both lucky guesses.

i guess what i'm saying is, if you cant guess the moon landing fake with any specifics that turn out to be true, then you are really just making stuff up hoping your overall theory will come true.
I have to disagree. I think "we did not go to the moon" is quite a specific theory, and not a "lucky guess". It's even scientifically falsifiable (in that someone could go to the moon and find the remains of earlier landings). It's just not very specific in explaining what actually happened to make people think we went to the moon.

This is veering into subjective epistemology though. My point is that I personally would accept it as "a conspiracy theory that came true", even if they got the details mostly wrong. Dunning, it would seem from his chemtrail example (lots of details, like plane numbers) above, would not. However based simply on his first definition (specific enough to be falsifiable) then he would.

All a bit of a moot point though.
 
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Mick West

Administrator
Staff member
A bit of an epistemology aside:

"Knowledge" is a often defined as "justified true beliefs", i.e. it's things that you believe, that you have justification (like evidence) for believing, that are also objectively true.

This definition is a little problematic, and the cause of much fruitless argument. Is it knowledge if you believe something that is true, but for the wrong reasons? Is there even such a thing as truth for most things we call knowledge? If belief can vary by degree, does that apply to knowledge - if you are not 100% sure you are awake, do you currently know anything? All amusing pastime questions, but not particularly useful.

So that all reminds me of the discussion in this thread, and many other discussions that dissolve into arguing over the meaning of words. The precise meaning of words is frequently subjective. Even supposedly firm logical concepts like "falsifiable" are the subject of much debate.

In creating a practical definition of things it is probably more useful to be less exacting. Instead of "it must be specific enough to be falsifiable" he could have sidestepped the arguments by saying "it must be specific", with examples that establish the sides of the grey area without attempting to draw an impossible line.

Specific: The moon landings were faked and we never went to the moon.
Not specific: The government is hurting us.

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/I_know_it_when_I_see_it
 

vooke

Active Member
I think the two are so closely related and as important.
The first criteria is essentially an attempt at definining conspiracy theories to minimize vagueness while the second one demands that the theory must precede full facts.

If one admits vague statements such as the examples he gave,it would be very easy to meet the second criteria.

What I disagree with him is on the definition of a CT which as Mick has pointed out misses out on CTs which are not falsifiable.

I understand his caution about definitions when it comes to 'CTs that were proven right'; these greatly encourage believers to cling to them regardless of evidence since they too may be proven right in future. A 'believer' could always remind you that like in other past instances, time may prove them right, and you the skeptic can respond by pointing out to them that those instances are nothing like their current beliefs.

But I'm not sure such narrow definition of 'CTs that were proven right' help with anything. Take Iran-Contra Affair. Whether there were theories or mere suspicions before facts came out, it is clear the US government deliberately peddled falsehoods. This among others is a reasonable basis for skepticism over official statements. A 9/11 truther may therefore have ocassion to reject the official position. In short, seldom is it a question of , 'did such and such theory prove true?' but rather, 'since they did such and such, ain't they capable of this?'
 
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qed

Senior Member
In short, seldom is it a question of , 'did such and such theory prove true?' but rather, 'since they did such and such, ain't they capable of this?'
I have made that mistake. It is of course fallacious reasoning.
 

vooke

Active Member
I have made that mistake. It is of course fallacious reasoning.
Agreed. It is fallacious is one is pushing a particular theory but it is perfectly natural when shaping one's opinion or just suspicions. A 9/11 truther has no basis of citing COINTELPRO in claiming that the government deliberately misled the public on the subject matter. But a skeptic would ponder if all government statements were truthful
 
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