A categorization of conspiracy theories
September 28, 2020 2:30 AM   Subscribe

Climate science student Abbie Richards has created a chart to categorize conspiracy theories in an inverted pyramid structure from most to least reality-based (and made it available as a PDF on google drive), with videos on tiktok and twitter breaking it down: Part 1 and Part 2 with more to follow.
posted by bitteschoen (113 comments total) 48 users marked this as a favorite
 
Thanks for posting this. I especially love how it makes you think about it a little more when your first reaction is that something is miscategorized.
posted by inexorably_forward at 2:57 AM on September 28


Sounds about right, but I'm somewhat surprised that stuff like "ancient astronauts" or "young earth creationism" are no longer enough of a presence in the collective consciousness to figure in the chart.
posted by sukeban at 3:19 AM on September 28 [7 favorites]


Bit jarring to see "Deep state" at the very top there when it's certainly very well established in its original context in Turkey and the idea that the institutions of government act to preserve their own power / the status quo is also pretty mainstream, isn't it? Certainly in the context of a number of NATO states, not just Turkey but also certainly Greece and Italy (and for that matter the Soviet Union and now Russia) absolutely have or have had institutions that have power regardless of who is notionally in charge of those countries.

Obviously a lot of people who are obsessed with the power of some notional "deep state" in the US in 2020 also believe a lot of outright crazy things and many of these people believe in a "deep state" which bears no resemblance to the reality that sometimes people in the CIA aren't entirely apolitical civil servants when it comes to domestic politics but I'm pretty sure that one should go more in "we have some questions" than next to "reptilian overlords" and "hollow earth".
posted by atrazine at 3:31 AM on September 28 [18 favorites]


Thanks for sharing. For me, the corresponding chart to link this one up with would be one drawn up by mental health workers looking at belief in conspiracy theories. There are outright psychotic delusions, of the type caused by schizophrenia or delusional disorder - but conspiracy theory belief seems to be most strongly correlated not to that so much as to anxious people who feel belief in the theories helps them exert control . Also those who feel they are on the margins of society and of course narcissists.

Abbie's chart does acknowledge that all humans share a tendency towards making illusory correlations and showing confirmation or hindsight biases. Traits that allow us to live with (and often rather enjoy) a world where we believe all kinds of dubious but benign stuff.
posted by rongorongo at 3:42 AM on September 28 [5 favorites]


The only problem with this chart is that it's too well thought out and rational. The QANON chart is must more batshit crazy and therefore convincing to the "that's what they want you to think" crowd. [Content warning, Q]
posted by chavenet at 3:47 AM on September 28 [6 favorites]


Avril Lavigne replaced

oh wow I had forgotten about this
posted by thelonius at 4:26 AM on September 28 [1 favorite]


I must find out about the Mattress Firm one. It has occurred to me that there are rather a lot of them with rather a lot of space and nary a car in the car park. Doesn’t strike me as how I would launder my illicit gains but ymmv, so it is casually mysterious to me.
posted by aesop at 4:30 AM on September 28 [1 favorite]


No "actual things that happened" for governments other than the US?
posted by Nancy Lebovitz at 4:40 AM on September 28 [3 favorites]


My first criticism would be that this chart implicitly conflates truth value with moral value (e.g. harmful vs innocuous), so at least two axes are needed. Second, neither valuation can be a valid taxonomy anyways because phenomenona shouldn't be understood in terms of their phenotypes or consequences, but rather their internal structure. In this case, two conspiracy theories are related because they share commonality in how they were socially and psychologically produced, not their impact on humans or their scientific validity. That requires a sociological analysis. Third, this whole exercise is somewhat stigmatizing and reminds me of the scientism of 20th century psychology.
posted by polymodus at 4:40 AM on September 28 [16 favorites]


birds aren't real?
posted by 20 year lurk at 4:50 AM on September 28 [13 favorites]


polymodus, you're right that it needs two axies. One for truth and one for harm (which always maxes out at anti-Semitism). I appreciate the "We Have Questions" section, in which phenomena like UFOs--something I do indeed have questions about--aren't lumped in with more ridiculous things.

The more I've read about Bigfoot, the more fascinating a topic it is. Loch Ness? It's seals.
posted by zardoz at 4:51 AM on September 28 [1 favorite]


I must find out about the Mattress Firm one.

Good writeup here. Spoiler, there is actually funny business going on - it's just more pedestrian than you think.
posted by each day we work at 4:58 AM on September 28 [13 favorites]


20 year lurk, here's an article explaining the theory. Basically, t's a parody of conspiracy theories (which has been used to sell shirts, hats, etc.) Of course, the article is from Audubon Magazine, and we all know they're in the pocket of Big Nature. NOTE:THE PRECEDING SENTENCE WAS SATIRE. IT WAS NOT NOT MEANT TO BE TAKEN SERIOUSLY.
posted by dannyboybell at 5:02 AM on September 28 [7 favorites]


birds aren't real

They’re real alright but who do they work for? Bill Gates, obviously.
posted by waving at 5:10 AM on September 28 [5 favorites]


Nothing more 'conspiracy theory ' than crazy charts. in this case, It seems like a side effect of grad school.

t o get your phD, you would have to calculate an N-dimensional matrix and plot it in primer.
posted by eustatic at 5:14 AM on September 28 [2 favorites]


I'm reminded about the book Friendly Fascism, realizing once again that a pyramid is the very best dataviz approach we have for categorizing conspiracies and their conspirators.
posted by They sucked his brains out! at 5:25 AM on September 28


Of course, the article is from Audubon Magazine, and we all know they're in the pocket of Big Nature

Or perhaps... Big Bird?
posted by panama joe at 5:30 AM on September 28 [61 favorites]


Bit jarring to see "Deep state" at the very top

The problem is that "Deep State" has picked up so many different meanings as it has been used more and more out of its original context, kind of like "fake news" or "emotional labor" with the later meanings all but supplanting the original meaning as wider and wider circles of people are exposed to the term only at half a dozen removes from the original source.

So saying that the deep state is real can mean any of the following, depending on who's saying it:

"Throughout the 20th century the high command of the Turkish military saw themselves as the guarantors of the Kemalist state and ideology and frequently intervened in democratic politics to protect that vision" (Which is simply historical fact)

"Elements of the American national security apparatus, out of a combination of self-interest and ideology without necessarily requiring any active conspiracy, have consistently acted in ways that protect their own institutional power, sometimes even when that meant thwarting the policy goals of or oversight by democratically-elected leaders." (Basically true, though also open to interpretation and argument)

"A large number of individuals within the American bureaucratic state are engaged in an active conspiracy to thwart the policies of the Trump administration" (Highly unlikely, but not completely crazy)

"A large number of individuals within the American bureaucratic state are engaged in an active conspiracy to thwart Donald Trump personally, because he threatens to expose the satanic child abuse ring that controls the government and which they all participate in." (Batshit crazy)
posted by firechicago at 5:34 AM on September 28 [37 favorites]


I think there's a need for more taxonomy and some parsing, so that we can better understand how people get roped into the conspiratorial net. For instance - I think beliefs like "Cultural Marxism" or the right-wing demonization of George Soros are used as radicalizers, while bigger conspiracy frameworks like QAnon, PizzaGate, or 5G push people deeper into the net. I do agree with its idea that there's an anti-Semitic event horizon beyond which all conspiracy theory is irredeemable, but we should understand that there are also deeper beliefs like Holocaust denial that are unthinkable for decent people but become open when caught within the conspiratorial webs.

The presence of theories like antivax and chemtrails and 9/11 truthers also is a reminder that this brain rot isn't solely a right-wing phenomenon and has to be confronted generally.
posted by graymouser at 5:39 AM on September 28 [2 favorites]


I am too frightened to google "soy boys". Can anyone help me out?
posted by saturday_morning at 5:56 AM on September 28


>I am too frightened to google "soy boys". Can anyone help me out?

Iirc, the theory is that the evil left is sneaking soy products into our food supply to emasculate men and make them compliant and less aggressive. (Because soy has a form of estrogen.) It goes hand in hand with the rise of insults like simp, cuck, beta, etc. The same people who spread the soy boy conspiracy theory also think that higher education and being decent to women emasculates men.
posted by Stoof at 6:31 AM on September 28 [11 favorites]


I'm always hesitant to put antivax in a single grouping. There's US antivax which seems strangely obsessed with thiomersal even when it isn't present, along with a few other wrong ideas. There's UK antivax stemming from MMR (which got exported and blended with the US brand - sorry everyone). There's failures to get polio vaccine uptake as high as needed thanks to an actual CIA plot involving fake vaccines to find Osama bin Laden. And there's other brands of conspiracy theories around vaccines in Nigeria without such a basis in reality.

There's a range of different motivations for it, attracting different sorts of people of different political views, with a range of different justifications for them (ultimately all wrong, but some with a bit of basis in fact, or basis in once published but now retracted science).
posted by edd at 6:32 AM on September 28 [1 favorite]


Two Beatles-related entries but no mention of Paul McCartney dying in 1966? Reeks of a cover-up to me..
posted by anagrama at 6:34 AM on September 28 [8 favorites]


Two Beatles-related entries but no mention of Paul McCartney dying in 1966? Reeks of a cover-up to me..

That’s because that is an established fact. 28IF, man!
posted by TedW at 6:42 AM on September 28 [7 favorites]


Ah.
posted by saturday_morning at 6:42 AM on September 28


Rational Wiki contains a page on the soy-related pseudoscience and its origins. Stoof summarized it quite well already.
posted by primal at 6:42 AM on September 28


I suspect that this chart highlights just American conspiracy theories, which is valuable but also not that useful as a framework outside the US. I imagine the structure probably doesn't even work outside of the US other than the anti-semitic point of no return - sociologically, the US is an outlier.

Two Beatles-related entries but no mention of Paul McCartney dying in 1966?

Paul Is Dead might be the conspiracy theory I most enjoy - the world it proposes is one where the Beatles were so important that it was worth finding a Paul McCartney impersonator to keep the band going, but not so important that they'd make sure the rest of the band didn't have a better idea that would be less psychologically jarring, and that the Beatles wouldn't say anything about it after they had very publicly feuded with each other and split.

The Moon Landing Was Faked is up there, because it's so flimsy and so enduring because Nixon was a creep and it's emotionally satisfying to say that everything he accomplished was a lie, but the people who really truly believe it aren't that funny which takes the shine off a little bit.
posted by Merus at 6:46 AM on September 28 [4 favorites]


(after even the slightest bit of pushing on a moon landing conspiracy theorist, you can basically get them to admit that for the theory to work, everyone who the moon landing would be trying to fool had to be in on it)
posted by Merus at 6:52 AM on September 28 [2 favorites]


NASA hired Stanley Kubrick to fake the moon landing, but he was so obsessed with verisimilitude that he built the soundstage on the moon and flew the cast and crew there in a rocket ship.
posted by Faint of Butt at 6:55 AM on September 28 [47 favorites]


Does it bother anyone else that the chart shows "moon landing" as "unequivocally false but mostly harmless" rather than say, "NASA faked the moon landing".
posted by smcameron at 6:56 AM on September 28 [2 favorites]


I mean I just referred to it as the moon landing conspiracy, which strictly speaking implies that the conspiracy is that there was a moon landing
posted by Merus at 6:58 AM on September 28 [2 favorites]


in an inverted pyramid structure

Needs more eye
posted by flabdablet at 7:01 AM on September 28 [17 favorites]




The trouble with writing about conspiracy theory is it is hard to do without setting out what you mean with the term. As I have written on the blue before, the connotations and denotations of the phrase "conspiracy theory" have drifted so far apart that they don't even write to each other much any more. "Conspiracy theory" first entered common usage when people disputed the Warren Commission's conclusion of a lone assassin. Some of the criticisms and alternate explanations were so extravagantly farfetched that the phrase quickly diverged from its literal meaning of "a speculative or conjectural explanation of events that requires several people to have worked together in secret" to being shorthand for "harebrained idea."

In the most infamous modern example, believing that nineteen people acting together to bring down four airliners is, of course, literally a conspiracy theory. If you refer to it as a conspiracy theory, listeners are likely to take you as not-so-subtly aligning yourselves with the people who believe the events were best explained by shaped charges, holograms, cruise missiles, and so forth.
posted by ricochet biscuit at 7:12 AM on September 28 [3 favorites]


Is there a reason why "anti-semitism" is highlighted, not "racism" in general? (and in fact racism is not mentioned?)
posted by MiraK at 7:14 AM on September 28


The first link has some crazy stuff on the "We Have Questions" side of the speculation line, including the idea that there is a cure for cancer only it's hidden. That, Roswell and Area 51 seem to have been removed from the second link; hopefully because she re-assessed but if not at least to wisely avoid arguing with people about it.
posted by mark k at 7:15 AM on September 28


If only I could live in a world where the Beatles really didn't exist...
posted by medusa at 7:22 AM on September 28 [1 favorite]


And there's other brands of conspiracy theories around vaccines in Nigeria without such a basis in reality.

I would not at all be surprised if West African antivax conspiracies owe their genesis to American missionaries. File that under “we have questions”.
posted by simra at 7:28 AM on September 28 [1 favorite]


MiraK: "Is there a reason why "anti-semitism" is highlighted, not "racism" in general? (and in fact racism is not mentioned"

Most forms of racism aren't related to conspiracy theories. People who don't like Korean people, for example, don't make up stories about a secret cabal of Korean elders who rule the world.
posted by signal at 7:28 AM on September 28 [16 favorites]


Is there a reason why "anti-semitism" is highlighted, not "racism" in general?

Because when you get to that level of paranoid crankery it's just about always antisemitism specifically, whatever thin layer of plausible-deniability veneer - "global financier elites", that kind of euphemism - it's wrapped in. "George Soros", as an invocation, is basically the "time-to-first-crate" of modern conspiracy theories; the moment his name comes up you can be sure that this person's out of ideas, and that if you scratch the paint on this argument from here forward you're going to find regular old virulent antisemitism underneath it.
posted by mhoye at 7:33 AM on September 28 [21 favorites]


The author also has some lengthy, well-researched, hilarious videos about why golf sucks. The History of Golf (for people who hate golf) and Is golf bad for the environment?

Golf is the worst. No conspiracy there!
posted by fifteen schnitzengruben is my limit at 7:57 AM on September 28 [15 favorites]


Golf isn't real.
posted by mhoye at 7:59 AM on September 28 [2 favorites]




The problem is that "Deep State" has picked up so many different meanings as it has been used more and more out of its original context, kind of like "fake news" or "emotional labor" with the later meanings all but supplanting the original meaning as wider and wider circles of people are exposed to the term only at half a dozen removes from the original source.

True, it was just odd to see it in a category with things which have no sane equivalent version at all.

Most forms of racism aren't related to conspiracy theories. People who don't like Korean people, for example, don't make up stories about a secret cabal of Korean elders who rule the world.

While this is basically true in the American context, worth noting that in other parts of the world similar racist conspiracy theories exist about other groups. Specifically I can think of conspiracy theories about the role about Chinese minorities in many SEA countries as a particular example. Certainly in the specifically Malaysian and Indonesian contexts the people who hold those beliefs also often believe in Anti-Semitic conspiracies if prompted about them. I imagine that there are other racist conspiracy theories out there as well.
posted by atrazine at 8:18 AM on September 28 [1 favorite]


Paul Is Dead might be the conspiracy theory I most enjoy - the world it proposes is one where the Beatles were so important that it was worth finding a Paul McCartney impersonator to keep the band going, but not so important that they'd make sure the rest of the band didn't have a better idea that would be less psychologically jarring, and that the Beatles wouldn't say anything about it after they had very publicly feuded with each other and split.

It's my favourite because it led to a truly spectacular linguistic crossing of wires where a label for "meatballs" on a buffet in Dubai led to the transliteration into Arabic followed by a translation back into English of "Paul is dead".
posted by atrazine at 8:20 AM on September 28 [4 favorites]


A little unkind to essential oils...
posted by not_that_epiphanius at 8:24 AM on September 28


I know that the label alludes to a broader QAnon-adjacent conspiracy, but I'm nonetheless amused that one of the upper funnel conspiracy theory labels just says "Wayfair"

I mean for a long time their stock price certainly wasn't based on reality, amirite?
posted by bl1nk at 8:39 AM on September 28


in an inverted pyramid structure

Needs more eye


the eye only works when it's at the top. If the pyramid's inverted, a sphincter is more appropriate.
posted by philip-random at 8:42 AM on September 28 [5 favorites]


sociologically, the US is an outlier.

I agree, but contrary to the majority of complaints upthread I think our outlier status means we need a chart like this specific to the US - which is this one - and another chart or charts for places that are not outliers...which people should go and make rather than fussing that the US subset isn’t everything to everyone?

If the actual objection is that this is labeled as a categorization of conspiracy theories, period, rather than conspiracy theories of the US then yeah that is totally a problem and even problematic in a cultural imperialism way. It should’ve been labeled more specifically from the outset because the US is not the world.

Labeling specificity aside I would’ve enjoyed seeing NSA mass surveillance on the bottom of the chart because that was considered highly fringe in a “technically possible but nobody would actually do it” way among techie types until Snowden blew the lid off and proved that a vast swath of assertions long disregarded as raving paranoia were in fact completely true.
posted by Ryvar at 9:01 AM on September 28 [2 favorites]


-Everything Is Under Control: Conspiracies, Cults, and Cover-ups

a copy of which I just happen to have at hand, found on the reference shelf between the Trouser Press Record Guide and McLuhan's War and Peace in the Global Village. I open it randomly to pg. 148 and get:

DEROS
... evil dwarfs who live inside the Earth and use super-scientific mind machines to torture and torment the humans on the surface, according to the revelations of Richard Shaver, who claimed that everything awful that has happened to people, especially the things that appear "supernatural" or "paranormal" -- poltergeist disturbances, "demonic" possession, spontaneous human combustion, hauntings, and spooks in general -- are due to the devilish science of the dero-monsters.


Richard Shaver link is to the Rational Wiki.
posted by philip-random at 9:02 AM on September 28


I also had many complaints about the chart and its lack of precision. The problem is after everyone's complaints are addressed, it's probably no longer possible to embed the chart in 2 or even 3 dimensions. After representing each conspiracy as a point in a high-dimensional vector space and projecting down to 2 dimensions, you'd end up with something indistinguishable from the QAnon diagram. Which would be very funny tbh.
posted by vogon_poet at 9:03 AM on September 28 [4 favorites]


If the pyramid's inverted, a sphincter is more appropriate

A browneye would be perfectly acceptable.
posted by flabdablet at 9:13 AM on September 28 [1 favorite]


Fwiw I’m not in the US and not American and I still recognized most of these conspiracy theories. Obviously, each part of the world has their own localized conspiracy theories on top of these common ones, but it’s not that unsurprising to me that conspiracies especially at the top level beyond the antisemitic point of no return seem to travel quite easily at global level. Especially the theories about global networks of conspirators, of course. Who almost inevitably always turn out to be yay who’d have thought, Jews. Antisemitism travels so easily.

Anyway, as a non-US person I don’t get the complaints about this being specifically US-based. Sure the author is American and this was implicit that these are English-language conspiracies that are widespread in the US, not some global universal world chart of ALL THE CONSPIRACIES in the whole world... But don’t you all find it fascinating (and/or depressing/enraging etc.) how much conspiracies have in common beyond borders? I do. See how QAnon spread easily beyond the US. IF there’s any imperialism to talk about here it’s that the US is imperialist even in spreading conspiracy theories on top of the ones that we all already have to deal with, thank you very fucking much America, number one always ;)
posted by bitteschoen at 9:32 AM on September 28 [6 favorites]


Can't believe no one has linked to Milhouse explaining the elimination of dinner.
posted by neuron at 9:34 AM on September 28 [2 favorites]


Richard Shaver previously.
posted by Ashwagandha at 9:34 AM on September 28 [1 favorite]


-Illuminati (game)

Wow! I just bought this for the third time in my life, had it shipped here to China, finally my boy is old enough to play. This game is a tonne of fun, highly recommend it!
posted by Meatbomb at 9:36 AM on September 28 [1 favorite]


Bigfoot unequivocally false? ....And you know this how?
posted by Liquidwolf at 9:44 AM on September 28 [1 favorite]


...including the idea that there is a cure for cancer only it's hidden.

I've met people who've worked in experimental cancer research. Any promising therapy that doesn't funnel into new patents for sponsors just ain't getting funding.
posted by ovvl at 9:49 AM on September 28


birds aren't real?

Birds are just as real as you or me, which is to say, no they are not real.
posted by aubilenon at 9:49 AM on September 28 [15 favorites]


I thought the birds thing was just a random non sequitur inclusion, so colour me surprised to discover there's actually a conspiracy theory saying birds aren't real. Or is the conspiracy theory that "birds aren't real" is actually a crafty fake designed to bilk people out of their money with dumb merch? *quiet screaming*
posted by chrominance at 9:50 AM on September 28 [1 favorite]


thank you very fucking much America, number one always ;)

Any exceptions are clear proof of Big Filter’s anti-American Ascending/Descending Sorting bias.
posted by Ryvar at 9:52 AM on September 28


Conspiracy Theory is basically a long form improv session. You build up your own theory by attaching it to a previous one and you bolster it by accommodating others when they seek to attach their own theory on to yours. It's Yes, And... all the way down.

So if you believe, say, that there's a Secret Space Program, it's easy to attach that theory on to the UFO coverup conspiracy - "They're using Roswell technology!" If someone else then comes along and says there's a Super Soldier Program, they might seek to attach it to your Secret Space Program by saying, "They need these super soldiers to pilot the secret spacecraft made with alien technology!" You will likely welcome this as their theory citing yours bolsters it.

Problem is, it doesn't take much for the darker conspiratorial elements to bolt on to your theory due to all this back and forth. So if someone who says the Archangel Michael is the leader of a Cosmic Federation Fleet who seeks to raise the vibrations of planet Earth and the Secret Space Program is how we get our ambassadors up there to talk with them, you are only one "yes, and..." away from someone else building a theory about the foes of Archangel Michael's Vibration Fleet, aka the Reptilians, whose minions are ___insert minority here___ and they are now out to get you.
posted by robocop is bleeding at 9:57 AM on September 28 [2 favorites]


I have not studied conspiracy theories with any appetite but only a few years ago when a nephew was earnestly describing why flat earth theories were not completely lunatic it finally dawned on me that something strange really must be happening.. for a high school graduate to come across this sort of nonsense and find something of value in it. Many have touched on why conspiracy theories are appealing and I am not impervious to wild fancy myself.

Have you studied the topic in any detail (anyone)? Because a conspiracy theory, to me, appears to be rank superstition dressed up in slightly more contemporary clothes.
posted by elkevelvet at 10:03 AM on September 28 [1 favorite]


^The classic "rationalist" conspiracy theory is of course the assassination of JFK.
posted by No Robots at 10:17 AM on September 28 [1 favorite]


Have you studied the topic in any detail (anyone)? Because a conspiracy theory, to me, appears to be rank superstition dressed up in slightly more contemporary clothes.


It's been posted on Metafilter already, but Dan Olson's video "In Search of a Flat Earth is very good (and not just on flat earth). And it makes it clear - it's not just about believing something weird. It's about what the weird belief justifies.

Which is why, although it seems weird that the TikTok video conflates truth and harmfulness, it also makes a kind of sense. There are some weird things you can believe just for fun, but there are some weird things that you only believe because it's part of a larger superstructure of fear and hatred.
posted by Jeanne at 10:35 AM on September 28 [8 favorites]


Sadly, it's probably becoming increasingly important for people in countries outside the U.S. to be familiar with the conspiracy landscape of the U.S., as it seems to be exporting them to other countries. I live in the U.S., but I've started to see acquaintances in Romania, where my family is from, sharing specifically American conspiracy tropes, often published by incredibly dubious Romanian-language online "media" outlets. And it has serious implications; I feel certain, for instance, that conspiracies about the BLM protests being funded by Soros are only helping to feed xenophobic sentiment in Romania.
posted by adso at 10:40 AM on September 28 [2 favorites]


- it's not just about believing something weird. It's about what the weird belief justifies.

If they can make you believe nonsense, they can persuade you to commit atrocities— I can’t remember the exact quote or who said it.
posted by clew at 10:49 AM on September 28


Or is the conspiracy theory that "birds aren't real" is actually a crafty fake designed to bilk people out of their money with dumb merch? *quiet screaming*

Birds Aren't Real is patently a spoof of things like Flat Earthers, rolling around in a pool filled with Poe's Law and firing a t-shirt cannon into the crowd of confused onlookers.
posted by FatherDagon at 10:52 AM on September 28 [6 favorites]


To give analogy to my previous critique, on Amazon the axes of Price and Popularity which the user can sort by are analogous to Truth and Harm, but it is obvious that they would not be acceptable as a typology revealing relationships between different things you can buy. It's the menu bar on the left that provides a theoretical taxonomy, e.g. Kitchenware > Utensils > Spatulas and Books > Nonfiction > Science > Biology and so on. So a chart that deems things harmful or speculative is really a projection of a particular meta category of values--consumable ones such as Price and Popularity--informing whether you ought to buy something, rather than relational or ontological abstractions that explain according to a theory what things are.
posted by polymodus at 10:54 AM on September 28


I guess it's probably a good thing that I have no idea what most of these refer to.

I admit I'm curious why "dinosaurs didn't exist" is in the "dangerous to yourself and others" category. To be fair dinosaurs are pretty awesome so it would be very sad to think they never existed.
posted by randomnity at 10:56 AM on September 28


I can’t remember the exact quote or who said it.

Voltaire. "Those who can make you believe absurdities can make you commit atrocities."
posted by mhoye at 10:58 AM on September 28 [15 favorites]


Rejection of dinosaurs is used by creationists. My mother has some Church friends and a Church that literally repeats anti-evolutiom b.s. on Sunday mornings.
posted by polymodus at 10:59 AM on September 28 [2 favorites]


I feel certain, for instance, that conspiracies about the BLM protests being funded by Soros are only helping to feed xenophobic sentiment in Romania.

It's interesting that, while the right in the US has long hated George Soros, this goes both ways -- they have started to import Soros-related conspiracy theories from Eastern Europe. From time to time you run into American conservatives muttering about "color revolutions" funded by Soros.
posted by vogon_poet at 11:03 AM on September 28 [3 favorites]


At Disneyland when the kids were little I offhandedly commented that the birds in the trees almost looked real. I had them for a second or two then they looked at me like, ohhhh dad!
posted by sjswitzer at 11:18 AM on September 28 [8 favorites]


Rejection of dinosaurs is used by creationists

Ahh yes that makes sense. My family's flavour of young-earth creationism holds that dinosaurs were too fat to fit on the ark so it didn't really occur to me that there are other schools of thought, but of course there must be.
posted by randomnity at 11:24 AM on September 28 [3 favorites]


Labeling specificity aside I would’ve enjoyed seeing NSA mass surveillance on the bottom of the chart because that was considered highly fringe in a “technically possible but nobody would actually do it” way among techie types until Snowden blew the lid off and proved that a vast swath of assertions long disregarded as raving paranoia were in fact completely true.
Ryvar

This is just factually untrue, but it's something I see repeated often, usually by younger people.

It's true that people saying the government was surveilling us electronically were considered nuts (despite the revelations in the 70s of COINTELPRO surveillance operations). But I believe you're talking about the Bush-era surveillance programs, and that's where this narrative is just wrong.

The Bush programs were confirmed to the public as true by the New York Times in 2004. They were a major issue in the Bush era, widely discussed and analyzed. Snowden didn't "blow the lid" on them, he just provided a great amount of detail on how they operated. That was a valuable service, but it's weird that people forget what happened before him.
posted by star gentle uterus at 11:27 AM on September 28 [6 favorites]


But I believe you're talking about the Bush-era surveillance programs, and that's where this narrative is just wrong.

That’s a very reasonable thing to suspect, you just happen to be wrong in this case. I started out as a script kiddie in the mid-90s before moving on to OpenBSD and bits of freelance network penetration work after the dot-com collapse (there are archived posts from Snowden in his awkward teen years before the CIA in some of the same communities I was in, though I’m certain we never spoke). I was specifically thinking about the attitude towards mass surveillance claims pre-Patriot Act.

I’m still pretty bitter about how thoroughly dismissed we were by the more corporate security types (a particularly nasty pair of Microsoft coders working on the initial Windows IPSEC/Kerberos implementation come to mind), and for me the whole Snowden reveal was profoundly validating. YMMV.
posted by Ryvar at 11:43 AM on September 28 [2 favorites]


But again, you're skipping from the 90s to Snowden. In that intervening time, the government's mass electronic surveillance programs had been exposed to the public. Snowden provided a lot of detail, but by the time he disclosed his information in 2013, the programs had long been established public fact.
posted by star gentle uterus at 12:05 PM on September 28 [2 favorites]


The NSA-ATT links and Bush programs were, sure. But the scale of the thousands of vulnerabilities the NSA was sitting on - something that was routinely disclaimed as hogwash by the more respectable half of the security community - the NSA’s active involvement in strong-arming companies into deliberately engineered weaknesses...that was something that wasn’t fully acknowledged beforehand.
posted by Ryvar at 12:09 PM on September 28


Maybe there should be two axes, one for plausibility and one for harm? though I wonder what if anything would be in the "high plausibility, high harm" quadrant - if you don't believe that's a thing then maybe they aren't independent variables, but still I feel like there is "low plausibility, low harm."

There are tons of specific categorizations one could argue about. "Cure for cancer hidden" and "anti-vax" are IMO both sort of based in the reality of the essential inhumanity of the for-profit health and pharmaceutical industry, while also doing some significant harm. The cancer one probably does a bit less harm, because it tends mostly to harm the specific individuals who get scammed by people offering cancer cures.
posted by atoxyl at 12:14 PM on September 28 [1 favorite]


that was something that wasn’t fully acknowledged beforehand

I dunno, my impression was that this was out there. See the controversy over the DES standard - even though the changes turned out mostly to have been made to strengthen the cipher based on things only the NSA knew at the time. On the other hand Snowden showed all of this to be more extensive than I think most people would have guessed even if they knew a little.
posted by atoxyl at 12:17 PM on September 28


As an example of what I’m talking about I’m pretty sure the NSA went and put this in my posting history. [/s]
posted by Ryvar at 12:52 PM on September 28


Birds are real. There's enough documented evidence of that. But what are they? We just don't know.
posted by Lonnrot at 12:54 PM on September 28 [3 favorites]


> A little unkind to essential oils...

If you haven't run into any "essential oils cure diseases" saleswomen, you're a lucky person.
posted by The corpse in the library at 1:00 PM on September 28 [8 favorites]




"Golf rumors" isn't on there. It's not a very good conspiracy chart.
posted by coolxcool=rad at 2:56 PM on September 28


"most based in reality to least based in reality"

Reality[1] is the sum or aggregate of several conspiracy theories.

[1]One day one of the reality conspiracy-theories may 'evolve' to displace all of the others. Then, those theories will conspire to murder it (like they did before).
posted by Twang at 5:52 PM on September 28 [1 favorite]


The trouble with writing about conspiracy theory is it is hard to do without setting out what you mean with the term. As I have written on the blue before, the connotations and denotations of the phrase "conspiracy theory" have drifted so far apart that they don't even write to each other much any more.

The linguistic drift doesn't surprise me, because it's rarely useful to talk about a conspiracy theory in the sense that you have a theory that there was a conspiracy involved, but you're not like those nutters. (Or that any kind of organisation is a "conspiracy".) Conspiracies, in the sense of a secret, organised effort (as opposed to a secret, incompetent or lucky effort, or an organised but not widely publicised effort) tend to be pretty hard to maintain. Given how easy it is to invent conspiracy theories, it's reasonable to expect a higher standard of proof if you're going to claim that a conspiracy is involved.
posted by Merus at 6:59 PM on September 28


it would be a great leap forward if we could switch to thinking of most of these as not conspiracy theories but conspiracy hypotheses, because that's what most of them are ... at best.

"What if" statements.

For instance, something that happened some months ago. In fact, it was just a few days after Covid-19 was officially declared a pandemic by the W.H.O. Most of us normal folk here in Canada weren't taking it that seriously, maybe paying a little more attention to the news than usual and thinking about maybe picking up a little extra toilet paper next time we did a grocery run. Then word hit that Sophie Gregoire Trudeau (the Prime Minister's wife) was being tested for Covid-19 after an event in London. And less than twenty-four hours later, it was official, she had it and was resting comfortably in the hospital. And her husband, Justin, would be staying in place at his home ... just in case.

Suddenly it was all very real. There was no toilet paper to be had anywhere and everybody was TAKING IT VERY SERIOUSLY (most of us anyway).

As it turns out, her infection wasn't bad at all and he was virus free, which leads to my conspiracy hypothesis -- that she never had it, that it was all a ruse (and a darned successful one) to get us to take the f***ing thing seriously. Call it a benign conspiracy ... if that is in fact what happened. I have no idea if it was. I certainly didn't do any research. Nah, I just wondered "What if?"
posted by philip-random at 8:02 PM on September 28 [2 favorites]


There are tons of things in the "high probability, high harm" category unproven about the current US administration. It's true that some of them have gone from Internet comment rumor to front page news, but a lot of things are still unproven. (Not mentioning specifics to avoid derailing this thread.)

Speaking of "highly probable", the FDA put out a statement about reverse-vampires - that the efficacy of using blood from youths as a fountain of youth is unproven.

In the "low probability, low harm" category, there are tons of theories about, eg, Banksy's real identity that fit, without a shred of evidence, and by the nature of their identity, requires a conspiracy to maintain the mystery.

In what way does believing in flat-Earth harm others in a way that chemtrails don't? Or rather, they seem equally bad to me.
posted by fragmede at 8:28 PM on September 28


Part 3 video is up (reposted to Twitter if you prefer viewing videos there), about the theories in the category between "leaving reality" and "science denial". Crop circles: "you’ve gotta stop giving aliens credit for human labor, it’s rude"

"Part 4 is coming but I’m figuring out the best way to break it up. It will probably take more than one TikTok to address science denial"
posted by bitteschoen at 12:32 AM on September 29 [1 favorite]


I can’t remember the exact quote or who said it.

Voltaire. "Those who can make you believe absurdities can make you commit atrocities."


That sounds like it would have been said by Rage Against The Machine
posted by BinaryApe at 12:39 AM on September 29 [7 favorites]


I've met people who've worked in experimental cancer research. Any promising therapy that doesn't funnel into new patents for sponsors just ain't getting funding.

Thinking that funding decisions of for-profit research organizations are influenced by the potential profitability of research isn't a conspiracy theory. Thinking there's a known "cure for cancer" and people are keeping it hidden is.
posted by mark k at 7:11 AM on September 29 [3 favorites]


I've met people who've worked in experimental cancer research. Any promising therapy that doesn't funnel into new patents for sponsors just ain't getting funding.

Hey I've worked in experimental cancer research. This is just not true. It might be true for research funded by pharmaceutical companies, but that's by no means all of the cancer research going on in the world!

In my lab we did a few studies funded by pharma companies looking to develop new drugs, but most of our funding came from charities, nonprofits and government organizations. As someone who has personally applied for this funding I can tell you there is no requirement at all for the research to lead to new patents. In fact, many studies are something like trying a new combination of already-approved drugs, meaning no new patent would even be possible.

The funding competitions are usually highly competitive, meaning that to get funding the scientific rationale has to be very solid and there needs to be a clear path to a potential therapy which could be a meaningful improvement over current treatments, but that isn't the same thing at all as "funneling into new patents for sponsors".
posted by randomnity at 7:37 AM on September 29 [11 favorites]


(I'm trying really, really hard to avoid making a joke about being paid off by Big Pharma for the above comment since I know some people - hopefully not here - would actually believe it. Sadly I am currently not receiving any money from any size of pharma, and that's not likely to change anytime soon)
posted by randomnity at 7:44 AM on September 29 [4 favorites]


It's true that people saying the government was surveilling us electronically were considered nuts (despite the revelations in the 70s of COINTELPRO surveillance operations).

While COINTELPRO did sometime include wiretaps, a lot of it was breaking and entering (by the FBI), opening mail, and dirty tricks, e.g., anonymous letters, planting news stories with friendly reporters, etc.

The stuff conspiracy-minded people (like my neighbor) believed back then was "the government can watch you through your TV."
posted by CheeseDigestsAll at 7:48 AM on September 29 [1 favorite]


It might be true for research funded by pharmaceutical companies, but that's by no means all of the cancer research going on in the world!

It doesn't even make sense. Money is fungible, and less that is spent on bummer diseases like cancer means that more can be spent on lifestyle medicine, which is ripe for patents and less tied to insurance. Stuff like baldness, weight loss, wrinkles - people will gladly pay for this stuff.
posted by The_Vegetables at 7:52 AM on September 29


more importantly, rich white people will pay for this stuff

it's insane to me that there's a big conspiracy around "vaccines causing autism" when the overriding concern of the vaccine pushers is to get it into the bloodstreams of as many people as possible, including the extremely poor, which is exactly the opposite of what Big Pharma wants
posted by Merus at 7:58 AM on September 29


I'm pretty sure that Big Pharma will find a way to turn a significant buck on a covid vaccine. It's what they do. From the perspective of a hopeful future for the human race, that's just going to be a cost of "doing business".

It's the kind of thing that really makes me wish there is a hell and one's chances of ending up there are very much increased by how often they personally profit from not just human misery but also increasing the cost of resolving it.
posted by philip-random at 8:37 AM on September 29


PBS Frontline recently did an episode titled “United States of Conspiracy” about the intersection of Roger Stone’s dirty tricks and Alex Jone’s snake-oil hucksterism. Stone weaponized Jones’ act in favor of Trump, which is how we get someone showing up with an military-grade weapon looking for the secret Satanic child-abuse basement in the pizza joint.
posted by Pirate-Bartender-Zombie-Monkey at 8:58 AM on September 29 [2 favorites]


Where is the section for the Little Men That Steal My Socks and Keys? I DEMAND ANSWERS.
posted by thivaia at 9:16 AM on September 29 [1 favorite]


My sister recently had a dispiriting conversation with a friend which started out with the friend offhandedly mentioning that she believed that Covid death totals were being exaggerated and, after my sister asked her to clarify her thoughts, ended in a morass of full-on QAnon/Pizzagate horseshit. It sounds like it was like pulling a loose thread on a sweater and having the whole thing come apart in five seconds.
posted by The Card Cheat at 9:16 AM on September 29 [2 favorites]


This is one reason I try to not idly speculate on social media. If I can't fact-check it, I'm not saying it out loud and definitely not forwarding it. I'm on "the left" probably but when my friends pull the 9-11 truther thing or send a pic of a Dem primary whiteboard with some math error that "proves" Bernie is the victim of a VAHST CONSPIRACY, I push back just like I would with antivax or qAnon. What proof do you have? Is it corroborated? If the answer is "I can't prove it because *they* don't want us to know", it goes in the bullshit pile.

Every detective has hunches and follows them. But if they don't pan out, they abandon them because that's called being rational, and also because you can't prevail in a court of law (usually) without facts on your side. Here's a good test:

- Did you just discover some incredible secret knowledge on the internet that defies convention and explains why everything is so bad, but that no one will listen to, maybe because of a huge cover-up?
- Is it global capitalism, tribalism, or just human nature?
-- If yes: We know about those already.
-- If no: No you didn't.
posted by freecellwizard at 10:29 AM on September 29 [6 favorites]


and of course narcissists (re: correlation of conspiracy theory belief)

Ok, I didn't know about this, and it just made a LOT of things from my past click into place, so thank you. (Eternally grateful to not ever have to sit thru another 9/11 truther rant.)
posted by epersonae at 4:43 PM on September 29


Two Beatles-related entries but no mention of Paul McCartney dying in 1966? Reeks of a cover-up to me..

My brother made the weird discovery that Google Street View blurs out all of the Beatles' faces except Ringo. I confirmed that this is not a one-time thing. Further research revealed that it even applies to the Beatles in cartoon form.

Now, I don't want to jump from those simple facts to any kind of crazy conspiracy theory. But what kind of beings do you think would be invisible to image processing algorithms? How about... I dunno... VAMPIRES??!!?!???
posted by yankeefog at 3:37 AM on September 30 [2 favorites]


The Ringo thing clearly relates to this short story which has been linked on Metafilter previously
posted by rmd1023 at 6:39 AM on September 30 [1 favorite]


I'm pretty sure that Big Pharma will find a way to turn a significant buck on a covid vaccine. It's what they do. From the perspective of a hopeful future for the human race, that's just going to be a cost of "doing business".

It's the kind of thing that really makes me wish there is a hell and one's chances of ending up there are very much increased by how often they personally profit from not just human misery but also increasing the cost of resolving it.


It isn't really what they do in the sense that nobody is making big bucks from their vaccine programmes.

Why is it better to do something that doesn't cure any diseases, which is what I do (don't know about you), than to do it but charge too much money for it? In one case we're curing cancer (or whatever) for some people who can pay and in another we're not curing cancer at all for anybody. Obviously it is morally superior to do the curing and to charge less for it (more people get cured!) but I'm not really that clear on the moral logic where doing it but making money is actually morally worse than not doing it at all.
posted by atrazine at 7:39 AM on October 1 [1 favorite]


it seems really strongly like extortion -- "pay up or you die". i think this is mostly what trips people's moral intuition.

you can think of a lot of equivalent thought experiments: like refusing to save a drowning man unless he first verbally contracts to give you everything he owns, or whatever.

there are arguments one can make about inequality too but I think this is why people really get pissed off at big pharma.
posted by vogon_poet at 8:18 AM on October 1 [2 favorites]


yeah, we want to cure disease and not have a bunch of already filthy rich shareholders get even richer. I suppose it's a bit of a pipe dream. The rich always get richer. It's the way things work. Any kid who's ever played Monopoly already knows that. But if we could just scale it back -- do something/anything to stop feeding the cynicism so many feel when it comes to this particular issue.

I'm Canadian by the way. Our health care system (though riddled with imperfection) is already at a remove from the sheer blind-idiot profit motive that drives so much of what goes on in the US of A.
posted by philip-random at 8:27 AM on October 1


Yeah, I get it. I'm not comfortable with it either but I can't seem to articulate why in any coherent way. (I also benefit from a fully national health system which makes its purchasing decisions based on £ per Quality Adjusted Life Year which is probably why I don't have quite such strong emotional reactions to drug pricing as Americans do)
posted by atrazine at 9:12 AM on October 1 [1 favorite]


that nineteen people acting together to bring down four airliners is, of course, literally a conspiracy theory

I'd probably just call this a theory about a conspiracy, not a conspiracy theory. Like the difference between having a girlfriend vs a friend who is a girl.
posted by harriet vane at 5:09 AM on October 2


If there's nothing theoretical about it, I think that just makes it a conspiracy. Or maybe a conspiracy fact?
posted by rmd1023 at 11:24 AM on October 2 [1 favorite]




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