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Conspiracy Theory

(also known as: canceling hypothesis, canceling hypotheses, cover-ups)

Description: Explaining that your claim cannot be proven or verified because the truth is being hidden and/or evidence destroyed by a group of two or more people.  When that reason is challenged as not being true or accurate, the challenge is often presented as just another attempt to cover up the truth and presented as further evidence that the original claim is true.

Logical Form:

A is true.

B is why the truth cannot be proven.

Therefore, A is true.

Example #1:

Noah’s ark has been found by the Russian government a long time ago, but because of their hate for religion, they have been covering it up ever since.

Example #2:

Geologists and scientists all over the world are discovering strong evidence for a 6000-year-old earth, yet because of the threat of ruining their reputation, they are suppressing the evidence and keeping quiet.

Explanation: The psychology behind conspiracy theories is quite complex and involves many different cognitive biases and fallacies discussed in this book.  In general, people tend to overlook the incredible improbabilities involved in a large-scale conspiracy, as well as the potential risks for all involved in the alleged cover-up.  In the above examples, those who stick with a literal interpretation of the Bible often experience cognitive dissonance, or the mental struggle involved when one’s beliefs contradict factual claims.  This cognitive dissidence causes people to create conspiracy theories, like the ones above, to change facts to match their beliefs, rather than changing their beliefs to match facts.

Exception: Sometimes, there really are conspiracies and cover-ups.  The more evidence one can present for a cover-up, the better, but we must remember that possibility does not equal probability.

Tip: Take time to question any conspiracy theories in which you believe are true.  Do the research with an open mind.


Barkun, M. (2006). A Culture of Conspiracy: Apocalyptic Visions in Contemporary America. University of California Press.

Registered User Comments

JD Harness
Monday, September 24, 2018 - 11:26:42 AM
Perhaps one counter-argument is that there is a weaker form of this argument which may not be a logical fallacy:

1.A is true
2.B is why A cannot be disproved
3.Therefore, A is not a scientific theory

If so, then isn’t the real issue whether reducing the strength of conspiracy theories’ claims is fatal to conspiracy theories? Perhaps one way of showing it is not fatal is by showing that other credible propositions take a similar form. I think there are many claims that do not rise to the level of scientific theories, yet are reasonably endorsed by many credible people. For example, it seems like many if not most interpretations of history take this form, and yet the discipline of history is not universally discredited. And many legal claims – specifically, those propositions put to a court or jury as decider of fact – seem to take this form, as well, yet are nonetheless given the weight of law, up to and including capital punishment. More generally, how many of a given person’s beliefs about the world do not rise to the level of a scientific theory, yet are reasonably believed nonetheless? It seems that the proportion may be high.

If the counter-counter argument were to be that the counter argument is irrelevant to the initial claim, then perhaps a useful response to that counter-counter argument is that the initial argument is a red herring. Dismissing “conspiracy theories” in general is a not a good idea simply because they are misconstrued or misapplied by illogical people.

Clearly, the terms "conspiracy" and "theory" should not be co-applied, but I do believe there is historical evidence supporting the claim that the misleading term “conspiracy theory” was put forward and promoted by the CIA.

All this is to say nothing of another potential counter-argument, to the effect that a claim of conspiracy does not necessarily have to imply that the claim cannot be disproved.

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David Blomstrom
Thursday, August 17, 2017 - 08:45:29 PM
This is confusing, because there are genuine conspiracies (e.g. Watergate, 9/11). Imagine if you wrote a book and some organization really was trying to discredit it or limit its distribution. You tell your readers that there's a conspiracy to discredit your book, and someone then accuses you of exploiting the conspiracy theory fallacy?

How would you defend yourself? Would you just say, "I'm aware that some people exploit conspiracy theory, but this is the real thing - it's a genuine conspiracy"?

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Bo Bennett, PhD
Friday, August 18, 2017 - 06:08:56 AM
In the exception, I wrote, "The more evidence one can present for a cover-up, the better, but we must remember that possibility does not equal probability." Watergate is a genuine conspiracy because it has been objectively demonstrated as such (i.e., evidence has come out and been made public). 9/11 is far from a "genuine conspiracy" (unless you are referring to the Islam extremists conspiring against the US). One may end up being right and evidence may one day demonstrate one being right, but reason is a process, not a result. People can be right for all the wrong reasons—this makes them lucky; not reasonable. To demonstrate you are not involved in fallacious thinking, you have to demonstrate WHY you hold the views you do, why you accept the "evidence" you do, and as objectively as possible, see if your acceptance of weak evidence is motivated by your mistrust for authority/media rather than the facts speaking for themselves. And as with all alleged conspiracies, critically think about everything that had to take place for this to be kept a "secret" and how probable that is compared to it not being a conspiracy.

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David Blomstrom
Friday, August 18, 2017 - 06:32:07 PM
@Bo Bennett, PhD: Well said. Thanks.

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