# What about JFK or Roswell or the Illuminati? The truth is out thereJanuary 27, 2016 12:24 AM   Subscribe

Some of the time scales are pretty broad, aren't they?
Specifically, the Moon landing "hoax" would have been revealed in 3.7 years, the climate change "fraud" in 3.7 to 26.8 years, the vaccine-autism "conspiracy" in 3.2 to 34.8 years, and the cancer "conspiracy" in 3.2 years.
I'll bet you 50p that my climate-change-sceptic friends will seize upon this as evidence that they're not wrong and that it really is all a conspiracy.
posted by gmb at 1:31 AM on January 27, 2016 [1 favorite]

Ah, tin-foil-hattery. Credulity and paranoia multiplied by the internet.
posted by GallonOfAlan at 3:17 AM on January 27, 2016

why didn't they test the model against conspiracies that have been validated? seems like an obvious first step given a new model.

(are there none?)
posted by andrewcooke at 3:31 AM on January 27, 2016 [8 favorites]

Ah, the application of rigorous statistics against a mathematical model pulled out of one's ass....
posted by MikeWarot at 3:45 AM on January 27, 2016 [8 favorites]

why didn't they test the model against conspiracies that have been validated?...(are there none?)

Some conspiracies are quite real. For example, every military coup to overthrow a government is a conspiracy. If the plot is discovered before the conspiring generals have tanks outside the Parliament buildings then the generals will be arrested, and one loyal officer would be enough to give them away. A successful coup needs to get a high percentage of the officer corps onside before the civilian government is aware of what is happening. This requires a) keeping the number of officers involved as small as possible during the planning stage and b) moving as quickly as possible to bring down the state once the conspirators do start gathering strength.

The intuition behind this article is plausible (the bigger the conspiracy the higher the probability that some random person will talk, and a Poisson distribution might model that). However...

To determine this, Dr Grimes analysed data from three genuine collusions.

I wouldn't put much stock in numbers based on a sample size of three.
posted by justsomebodythatyouusedtoknow at 3:54 AM on January 27, 2016 [14 favorites]

This is just a smoke screen to hide the Conspiracy for another 6.8 years!
posted by GenjiandProust at 3:54 AM on January 27, 2016 [3 favorites]

Isn't this a classic case of selection bias? The genuine collusions are all conspiracies we know to have failed. Maybe there are millions of successful conspiracies with thousands of conspirators each that have never been revealed.
posted by Prunesquallor at 4:02 AM on January 27, 2016 [15 favorites]

three genuine collusions.

oh, sorry. yes - this is section 1.2 of the paper (i only skimmed it, and nothing there is in bold....)
posted by andrewcooke at 4:17 AM on January 27, 2016

This modeling is less substantial than Rumsfield's koans.
posted by lazycomputerkids at 4:55 AM on January 27, 2016

Don't you sheeple see that this paper is part of the moon-landing-climate-change-vaccine-autism conspiracy?!
posted by vorpal bunny at 5:43 AM on January 27, 2016 [1 favorite]

I'm going to withhold judgment until I hear what B.o.B. thinks.
posted by box at 5:57 AM on January 27, 2016 [2 favorites]

Isn't this a classic case of selection bias? The genuine collusions are all conspiracies we know to have failed. Maybe there are millions of successful conspiracies with thousands of conspirators each that have never been revealed.

Yeah, this is like claims that no one has ever been able to make an undetectable counterfeit \$50 bill. I mean, how could you know that?
posted by TwoToneRow at 6:01 AM on January 27, 2016 [1 favorite]

When will we find out that Al Gore won the election?
posted by Obscure Reference at 6:05 AM on January 27, 2016 [2 favorites]

Ha Ha: Hillary Clinton’s Top Financial Supporter Now Controls “The Onion”

(By the way that headline is not the best. I infer Haim Saban is the single person who is responsible for funding Hillary Clinton above all others and although that may well be true, I am skeptical the writer has the resources to establish that claim.)
posted by bukvich at 6:06 AM on January 27, 2016

The first IPCC report was 25.6 years ago, and the climate change conspiracy must have gotten going before then to have influenced it. So, we should expect the truth to be revealed very soon. I'm looking forward to finally finding out how they've been controlling the weather to make it appear as if global warming is real.
posted by sfenders at 6:38 AM on January 27, 2016 [3 favorites]

What about the conspiracies required to convince sizable portions of the American population to believe obviously absurd statements like "Iraq possesses weapons of mass destruction," "Donald Trump is a viable presidential candidate," or "Trickle-down economics benefits anyone other than the super-wealthy?"
posted by Faint of Butt at 6:53 AM on January 27, 2016 [1 favorite]

Those were exposed very quickly, but to no effect.
posted by justsomebodythatyouusedtoknow at 7:03 AM on January 27, 2016 [9 favorites]

Slightly more context on that "three genuine collusions" line:

Specifically, he was missing a good estimate for the intrinsic probability of a conspiracy failing. To determine this, Dr Grimes analysed data from three genuine collusions.

Where the equation itself is described thus:

The equation developed by Dr Grimes, a post-doctoral physicist at Oxford, relied upon three factors: the number of conspirators involved, the amount of time that has passed, and the intrinsic probability of a conspiracy failing.

(Both quotes from the BBC summary.)

So I think this is sort of a Drake Equation scenario, where the assumptions and the resulting shape of the solution are basically correct but the details of the model need to be refined over time with more data.
posted by tobascodagama at 7:33 AM on January 27, 2016 [2 favorites]

So by the time climate change fraud is revealed my house will be under water?
posted by Splunge at 7:35 AM on January 27, 2016

Very interesting paper, and parallel to some informal (much less well-worked-out) scribblings of mine.

In particular, I identify a subset of conspiracy theories, which I call "arduous conspiracies" - conspiracies that require a great deal of time and manpower.

For example, the idea that Bush and Chaney knew that there were no WMD in Iraq is NOT an arduous conspiracy - because it wouldn't have required very many people to participate in it, and it wouldn't have to go on for very long.

But the idea (sorry, this next one is offensive, and I think it's completely unbelievable) that Sandy Hill never happened and it's all a false flag is an arduous conspiracy - because thousands of people would have to conspire at various levels over years.

Well, arduous conspiracies are statistically impossible. Even if you allow a tiny chance for any individual breaking, if you have a lot of people and a long time, you're statistically sure it'll fail.

Now, we have seen some successful conspiracies in the past of course. Take 9/11 - which seems to have been the result of a conspiracy of about two dozen members of a terrorist group called Al Qaeda.

This fits nicely into their work, and mine. Very few people, fairly short time-frame for most of the action, geographically isolated (I didn't figure out a way to account for that in my model) - I estimate that there were significantly fewer than 50 man-years of "people knowing about 9/11 before 9/11".

I should add that there's another sort of conspiracy that this article doesn't take into account - which is conspiracies where "they" don't care if they get revealed once they get past a certain point.

Look for example at the "birther" movement. I have friends who believe that was all orchestrated - which I don't find impossible. The interesting thing there is once it gets going, it's irrelevant if there's a reveal... which means that the work discussed in this paper is just not relevant.
posted by lupus_yonderboy at 8:06 AM on January 27, 2016 [13 favorites]

This is precisely my counter-argument to most conspiracy theories; you don't even need math to prove it, all you need is an understanding of human nature.

Meaning: the more people you have involved in covering something up, the more likely it is that one low-level flunky somewhere is gonna want to impress someone in a bar one night and say "oh yeah? Well, you know what REALLY happened with the moon landing? Because I do know," and the secret's out.
posted by EmpressCallipygos at 10:07 AM on January 27, 2016 [3 favorites]

Conspiracies aren't automatically tin-foil hat territory, either.

There are quite a few government secrets that are publicly known now about, but the biggest secret that comes to mind is the Manhattan Project. From when it was officially named in August 1942, to the first public usage in August 1945, over 130,000 people were directly working for the project, and an inflation-adjusted \$26 billion was spent, which is quite the project to keep under wraps. Plenty of other military projects to choose from though, like the work at Betchley Park using newly invented machines, considered to be some of the first computers.

Room 641A, was revealed at around 3 years before anyone had heard or Edward Snowden. Theres a timeline for quite a few projects revealed by Edward Snowden.

How about the FBI spying on public figures, such as Martin Luther King. The Tuskegee experiments. Iran-Contra Affair. Watergate.

There are actual conspiracies with data to use, and it avoids tilting at windmills, no tin foil hat-ery required.
posted by fragmede at 10:14 AM on January 27, 2016 [5 favorites]

This is an interesting idea because it supplies a little mathematical rigor to what we'd normally think of as common sense assumptions. I don't think Dr. Grimes is trying to break new ground here. As he says in the article, he's just attempting to reach some of the people "in the middle ground" (that is, those who are not ideologically entrenched) with an argument from logic that conspiracies of scientists are implausible. It's just math, and so should be easier to argue and harder to refute than an argument based upon personal convictions.

The assumptions in the argument make sense (increase the number of conspirators and/or the amount of time the conspiracy has to stay under wraps, and you'll increase the chance of it being discovered), but there's a second kind of conspiracy that the model doesn't explain: big "open secret" conspiracies that many people are aware of, but don't seem to care about. For example, many people knew that smoking caused cancer, but it didn't become an issue of popular concern for decades until the number of smokers began to decline. I think this kind of conspiracy is on the rise as society becomes increasingly ideologically fractured.
posted by Kevin Street at 10:17 AM on January 27, 2016 [1 favorite]

So this is what they want us to think!
posted by chavenet at 10:36 AM on January 27, 2016

Based on this equation, when will the real MetaFilter Cabal be revealed?
posted by AugustWest at 11:01 AM on January 27, 2016 [1 favorite]

The secret of what was going on at Bletchley Park during World War 2 lasted a very long time. The site was established in 1938, and the truth was revealed in 1974, so 36 years.
posted by Urtylug at 11:17 AM on January 27, 2016 [2 favorites]

I'm going to withhold judgment until I hear what B.o.B. thinks.

What does an adorable rolling robot have to do with anything?
posted by Atom Eyes at 11:48 AM on January 27, 2016 [1 favorite]

No, no, it's this Bob.

The secret of what was going on at Bletchley Park during World War 2 lasted a very long time. The site was established in 1938, and the truth was revealed in 1974, so 36 years.

Yeah, the source article does seem to draw a strange line between "conspiracies" and "secret projects".
posted by tobascodagama at 12:09 PM on January 27, 2016

The actual conspiracy in 1963 (the US and USSR colluding avoid a drumbeat for war, by covering up the extent to which Harvey Lee Oswald and the USSR communicated) lasted long enough to accomplish its purpose: avoiding war.
posted by ocschwar at 12:39 PM on January 27, 2016 [1 favorite]

Specifically, the Moon landing "hoax" would have been revealed in 3.7 years, the climate change "fraud" in 3.7 to 26.8 years, the vaccine-autism "conspiracy" in 3.2 to 34.8 years, and the cancer "conspiracy" in 3.2 years.

I think the wide range comes from different estimates of the number of people involved. With climate change, the 3.7 years is if all the scientists who could be in on the conspiracy are in on it. It would have taken 26.8 years to be uncovered if only the bare minimum of people who could be involved actually are.
posted by VTX at 7:26 AM on January 28, 2016 [1 favorite]

Mother: But the key meeting took place July 3rd, 1958, when the Air Force brought the space visitor to the White House for an interview with President Eisenhower. And Ike said, "hey look, give us your technology, we'll give you all the cow lips you want."

- Sneakers
posted by Nanukthedog at 5:53 PM on January 28, 2016 [1 favorite]

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