The interesting thing about conspiracy theories is that some of them are actually true. This gives all conspiracy theories a hint of legitimacy in that no matter how ridiculous a theory might sound; there is a chance that it could be true. But as I have said before, reason is not about possibility; it is about probability. It is not about the outcome; it is about the process. One can be right for all the wrong reasons, but it is far more important in the long run to be wrong for all the right reasons. With this in mind, let's look deeper at the fallacy known as "Conspiracy Theory."
When I think of the conspiracy theory, I think of another fallacy called the Galileo Fallacy. This is the claim that because an idea is forbidden, prosecuted, detested, or otherwise mocked, it must be true, or should be given more credibility. It comes from the idea that Galileo was mocked and he turned out to be right. Therefore, all crazy-ass claims should be taken seriously. Of course, when we think statistically and not emotionally, we know that for every Galileo there are perhaps hundreds of thousands of Alex Jones'. So when we hear someone going off about how lizard people are running the world, we can safely play the odds and reasonably dismiss the claim offhand, assuming no new empirical evidence is presented. This last part is very important, and I will explain why.
As a scientist, I am intimately familiar with the scientific process and I trust in the process to help us arrive at the most probable conclusions. As an academic, I trust in the peer-review process and its ability to separate legitimate work from the work of those who are incapable of synthesizing data to come to reasonable conclusions. Scientific and academic consensus, although not perfect, is extremely reliable. Like Galileo, it is certainly possible that some non-scientist and non-academic with a fringe idea can be right. But you need to explain why your fringe idea is right, why the majority of experts are wrong, and what information you have that they don't. While it is reasonable to dismiss fringe ideas without a thorough investigation of such ideas (there are literally millions of them and would take several lifetimes), we should always be open to reconsidering our positions based on new evidence. Evidence. Not philosophical musings (e.g., "If there is no God, who created the universe?"). Not stupid questions that come from a position of ignorance (e.g., "If we evolved from monkeys, why is there still monkeys?"). And certainly not opinions coming from a highly emotional position of distrust or hatred of authority (e.g., "Vaccines are dangerous and are only used to make big corporations rich"). Evidence.
One of the biggest mistakes in reason people make is in assuming that they are more qualified to come to a conclusion in a highly specialized area than experts in that area. Or, they are so emotionally interested in an outcome that all they need is one "expert" to confirm their conclusion, even if 97% of other experts disagree with the conclusion. For example, Billy-Bob, with a high-school education was convinced by information on "ClimateChangeIsAConspiracy.ru" that climate change is a hoax, yet for some odd reason, the thousands of climatologists around the world are not convinced. If you have "evidence" that only a few thousand Jews died in the Holocaust instead of the well-accepted figure of 6 million, convince the historians that you're right and that they are wrong. If you think the atomic bomb is a hoax, share your evidence with experts in relevant academic and scientific fields, not strangers on the Internet whose pastimes include searching for Bigfoot. If you do have evidence that drastically changes what we know about history or science, you have a Nobel Prize waiting for you. Present your evidence to experts who are qualified to evaluate it, not to people who just blogged about seeing Elvis eating meatloaf at the local Cracker Barrel.
Life is short and my time is valuable. I will continue to accept the scientific and scholarly consensus' as well as withhold belief in gods, ghosts, spirits, psychic powers, Bigfoot, the Loch Ness Monster, 9/11 conspiracy, alien abductions, the idea of the moon landings being faked, and the countless other stories and conspiracies that permeate our culture. I readily admit that I can be wrong about one or even all of the above, but I can sleep well knowing that if I am wrong, it is because I am wrong for all the right reasons.
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