People today spend a lot of time talking about conspiracy theories. These theories often do harm because they divert attention away from the facts and thereby allow real crimes and other harmful effects to continue. Such conspiracy theories can be spotted based on three basic characteristics.
- They lack evidence.
- They spread widely before the facts are examined.
- Much simpler alternatives are not considered.
For example, take the most popular conspiracy theory of recent times—the official account for the crimes of 9/11.
- This theory was produced by mythologist Philip Zelikow, who, before the investigation began, created an outline that was kept secret from his own Commission staff. Zelikow’s outline determined the outcome of the investigation before any facts were examined. Moreover, the 9/11 Commission claimed sixty-three times in its report that it could find “no evidence” related to important aspects of the crimes. Evidence that the Commission did rely on, as a basis for its report, was later found to be false. Similarly, the evidence collected and held secret by World Trade Center investigating agency NIST was later found to contradict the agency’s conclusions. Much of that evidence is still being held secret including the computer model data that NIST was forced to substitute for physical testing that contradicted its conclusions.
- The conspiracy theory reports provided by the 9/11 Commission and NIST spread quickly before anyone could examine them. Getting government representatives to commit to any explanation for what had happened on 9/11 took years but, once ready, news media sources were prepped in advance to allow rapid parroting of the official line. The timing of NIST’s reports coincided with political events, like each anniversary of the 9/11 crimes, so that media could quickly present the official story while public interest was high but critical review was not possible.
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