Talk:Conspiracy theory

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Watergate[edit]

Watergate is an example of a conspiracy, not an example of a 'conspiracy theory'. The article as it stands elides the two. If there is a better example of a 'conspiracy theory' that later proved to be closer to the truth than mainstream understanding, we should have that here. If there is no better example, we should remove the paragraph. Adhib (talk) 15:57, 28 January 2016 (UTC) Adhib (talk) 15:57, 28 January 2016 (UTC)

This is interesting. Was there a point in time when it was not known for a fact who did it? According to Watergate scandal, there seems to be an intervening time in which it would have been a conspiracy theory that then was proven to be correct. If that is the case, then perhaps it's quite useful in this article, and it illustrates the aspect of cover-up that is mentioned in the lede. SageRad (talk) 16:17, 28 January 2016 (UTC)
A 'conspiracy theory' that later proved to be closer to the truth than mainstream understanding? Well, some conspiracy theory about the JFK assassination was true. Look here: United States House Select Committee on Assassinations: The committee believes, on the basis of the evidence available to it, that Kennedy was probably assassinated as a result of a conspiracy. The committee was unable to identify the other gunmen or the extent of the conspiracy. Fer48 (talk) 17:26, 28 January 2016 (UTC)
We have some pretty good analysis in high quality sources [1], [2] of Watergate as an example of a proven conspiracy, but the sources make it clear that Watergate doesn't necessarily define the epistemic threshold between real and bogus conspiracy theories or lend credibility to conspiracy theories in general. @Sagerad: IIRC, there was never a question of "who did it". The question was more like "how far up the command chain in the Nixon White House did the planning and authorization go?" It was a different world in 1972 with a different news cycle, a limited number of print and TV outlets, and no social media. Although the White House did respond on one occasion by calling Woodward and Bernstein's allegations a 'conspiracy theory', the term got zero traction at the time, with the most commonly used term for the affair being "scandal". - LuckyLouie (talk) 18:23, 28 January 2016 (UTC)
Hmm, very interesting. Thank you, LuckyLouie. SageRad (talk) 13:53, 29 January 2016 (UTC)
Conversely, the suffix -gate is now mostly attached to events that are better characterized as scandals than conspiracy theories.—Odysseus1479 20:36, 30 January 2016 (UTC)
Yes, indeed. That's a neologism from Watergate.
Coincidentally, i just came across mention of Watergate in Keeley (1999) as follows:

Conspiracy theories, as a general theory, are not necessarily wrong. In fact, as the cases of Watergate and the Iran-Contra affair illustrate, small groups of powerful individuals do occasionally seek to affect the course of history, and with no trivial degree of success.

I'm not saying this is the best example of a "warranted conspiracy theory" but it's sourced there. SageRad (talk) 01:17, 1 February 2016 (UTC)
The point here is to distinguish between items of the type 'conspiracy' (which, as above, are real phenomena that actually happen) and items of the type 'conspiracy theory' (a narrative form that may be more or less connected to real phenomena). In the case of Watergate, I see no evidence of the latter item existing. Woodward & Bernstein were applying a systematic investigative approach to a possible scandal, based on direct sources and professional standards of evidence, and said little to anyone until they had well demonstrated proofs to share. That they were testing a hypothesis that a conspiracy had taken place is far from being the same thing as their having held to a 'conspiracy theory' that was then proven. To suggest they're equivalent is to grant credence to 'conspiracy theory' by association with a type of narrative that deservedly carries more authority, because of the professional standards and accountabilities it comes with. Adhib (talk) 11:43, 11 March 2016 (UTC)
In the 5th Century BC, Anaxagoras proposed that the moon's light was merely reflected light from the sun -- but the proof for his theory did not come for thousands of years. In the same way, many people observe and hypothesize the causes and machinations of society without being able to prove them. Hypothesis is a part of the scientific method, and the mechanics of human society and history are no less appropriate to the Method than any other realm. Thus, the distinction above is without merit. There is no shame in proposing a "conspiracy theory" -- proved and unproved conspiracy theories of human society are the path of human knowledge, no less than proved and unproved hypotheses of science. Grammar'sLittleHelper (talk) 18:32, 11 March 2016 (UTC)
In fact, hypothesis only becomes part of the scientific method when it is sufficiently well-crafted as to be testable. That's what separates hypothesis from folklore and fantasy. While it's interesting to me that we keep seeing these partisan attempts to elide two distinct categories of narrative - one deserving of respect, the other not - I am certain such elisions do not belong in any encyclopedia. Adhib (talk) 13:06, 5 April 2016 (UTC)

Barkun and the Lead, still[edit]

As i see has been discussed before, here, the lead is really biased and speaks through one source, and one "side" of things. That's not good. There seem to be "sides" here unfortunately -- a class of sources whose general nature seems to be to destroy the validity of the concept of conspiracy theory as one element of explaining how the world works. There's a sort of polemic or slantedness in the article and it comes out in the current lead by the overly heavy reliance on Michael Barkun. It's also a very inept definition of the article's subject in the second para of the lead, sourced to Barkun. Seriously, "conspiracy theories rely on the view that the universe is governed by design and embody three principles: nothing happens by accident, nothing is as it seems, and everything is connected" is simply false and absurd. These tropes are not the definition nor requirements for a conspiracy theory. That's a strange thing to have in the lead. It's an incorrect definition. We need to use a basic and accurate definition of the term and leave out editorializing from the lead. SageRad (talk)

And on a similar topic, in the section about history of the term, Blaskiewicz' piece is pretty weak and polemic in regard to the weaponization (or not) of the term "conspiracy theory" and yet it's highly privileged in that section, whereas Lance deHaven-Smith’s book is mentioned but not cited, and is misrepresented as claiming that "the phrase conspiracy theory was invented in the 1960s by the CIA" whereas it does not say the CIA "invented" the term at all. SageRad (talk) 09:50, 19 May 2016 (UTC)

Please propose specific changes.Jytdog (talk) 09:59, 19 May 2016 (UTC)
I would eliminate the second para of the lead or totally rewrite it to present the panoply of views on the subject and not just Barkun's and not to have the implicit conclusion that conspiracy theory is inherently tin foil hat territory, as it currently does. I would actually cite Lance deHaven-Smith’s book and deprecate the prominence of Blaskiewicz' polemic in Skeptic. The article currently contains a strong slant of messaging that it's insane to think that conspiracies are part of how the world works. SageRad (talk) 10:07, 19 May 2016 (UTC)
I would not recommend going down this road - we've covered these issues (many times) before. "Conspiracy theory" refers to a different phenomenon in the world to the term "Conspiracy". We can all agree that conspiracies happen, while also noting the existence of a category of story telling, "conspiracy theory", whose relationship to real life is arbitrary. This article is about the latter. Adhib (talk) 15:23, 19 May 2016 (UTC)
The reason this issue comes up so many times is the lede is improperly and ambivalently written. A single line in the lede could clarify the whole matter: "This article refers not to the theory of conspiracy, legal or otherwise, but to the human error of seeking conspiratorial explanations for human events when there are none -- or when the government insists there are none." That would solve it all. In German during the Third Reich, the idea the Nazis burned the Reichstag would be a mere 'conspiracy theory'. When the Germans were defeated in 1945, that insane conspiracy theory became historical fact. Conspiracy theory is thereby seen to be a relativistic statement of the ideas a person is permitted to hold, given the viewpoint of the author and the milieu of the times. Grammar's Li'l Helper Talk 16:16, 19 May 2016 (UTC)
I must disagree. The angle you are proposing has been argued a hundred times here, previously, and has failed the test each time. Your point (and those of your predecessors) is that the term "conspiracy theory" ought to mean something that it does not currently mean. That is a legitimate political position, but not a legitimate editorial one. Adhib (talk) 16:25, 19 May 2016 (UTC)
No, that is not my point. As you state, many people disagree with the way this article is set up. That should be a clue that the word usage here is out of agreement with the general populace. My suggestion above, and reiterated here, is as follows: Since a special definition of the phrase is intended, let us announce that fact in the lede -- or even the article title. Then we will stop confusing the general readers and the editors who would like to contribute. This is called disambiguation, and it is used in the Wiki all the time. Camel (cigarette brand) is not an animal for touring the pyramids. Mustang is not a car or a motorcycle. In the same way, "Conspiracy theory" is about a derogatory phrase used to discount and dismiss ideas. It is not the same as the "conspiracy theory" the Justice Department uses to prosecute racketeers, gangs, and terrorists. Grammar's Li'l Helper Talk 17:08, 19 May 2016 (UTC)
I provide a link in my post above to an instructive debate I had on this page with someone upholding your argument, over ten years ago. If you have something new to add that we didn't consider back then, please do so. If you want to repeat those arguments in ignorance of the history of this article, you're welcome, but please bear in mind it's not our responsibility to get you up to speed - it's yours. 149.254.58.82 (talk) 16:49, 20 May 2016 (UTC)
Yes lots of people who believe conspiracy theories are TrueTM are active online and come to this article all offended. The Infowars show is thataway. WP is reality based. Jytdog (talk) 18:21, 19 May 2016 (UTC)
Adhib, thanks for that trip down memory lane. I had forgotten about zen-master and his obsessive quest. If I recall correctly, his ultimate goal was to bolster 9/11 conspiracy theories, and he felt that if he could just rehabilitate the term "conspiracy theory", then that would somehow make the conspiracy theories themselves more plausible. Jayjg (talk) 23:04, 22 May 2016 (UTC)

This article must be about what the world refers to as "conspiracy theory" and if there is a range to that, then the article must explain that range. Therefore, i continue to maintain that there is a serious problem with this article if it defines the term in a single way from a single point of view about the term. That is the very definition of bias. There is an issue with this article and the fact that there has been past discussion on this topic does not negate that. In fact, it highlights that others see the issue as well. Please refrain from insinuations and scornful accusations and keep comments to the content and not stereotypes about people who argue one way or the other. SageRad (talk) 14:21, 22 May 2016 (UTC)

SageRad for the love of God, a "conspiracy theory" is stuff like the US government caused 9/11, and a "conspiracy" is an actual conspiracy, like iran-contra, watergate, or things that get prosecuted under RICO laws. This is not rocket science. Jytdog (talk) 18:12, 22 May 2016 (UTC)
I am breaking my self imposed one-way interaction ban between us Sage, to say, come on, get real. JD above is correct. -Roxy the dog™ woof 18:51, 22 May 2016 (UTC)
I third the motion. This is nuts. Dbrodbeck (talk) 21:19, 22 May 2016 (UTC)
Jytdog is indeed correct. It would be wonderful if English were so lexically precise that there was never any overlap in the words used in its terms. Unfortunately that is not the case, and as the reliable sources in the article itself point out, a "conspiracy theory" is something quite specific and limited in scope. Jayjg (talk) 23:04, 22 May 2016 (UTC)
I have to agree with Jytdog, article titles should reflect common usage whenever possible. Over time, there have been numerous attempts to have the article lead argue that "conspiracy theory" is a prejudicial term that unfairly denigrates possibly real conspiracies...because RICO, Iran-Contra and Watergate. - LuckyLouie (talk) 14:58, 23 May 2016 (UTC)
Language matters: A belief that some covert but influential organization is responsible for a circumstance or event. SageRad (talk) 00:48, 28 May 2016 (UTC)

Voodoo histories[edit]

Anyone else here had a read of David Aaronovitch's Voodoo Histories? He offers a useful review of the links between conspiracy theorization and loss of control. I think there is a deeper layer of sociological analysis here that perhaps the article as it stands is lacking. Adhib (talk) 16:45, 19 May 2016 (UTC)

Possibility and probability of conspiracy theories being true[edit]

I want to mention here, that I find it problematic, that the possibility of big "Conspiracy theories" sometimes being true is hardly visible in this Wikipedia-entry. Instead, this article seems heavily focused on explanations through paranoia and other psychological phenomena and biases. Since big conspiracies are not impossible, one may want to consider e.g. mathematical or game-theory related models that attempt to analyze these possibilities or impossibilities, as well as consider true and false historical examples, and how the advancement of civilisation and technology (social-/media, transparency, surveillance, ...) could influence the probabilities for better or worse. — Preceding unsigned comment added by 84.113.196.15 (talk) 15:19, 7 July 2016 (UTC)

This article is heavily slanted in that direction. Orthodoxy is still a human obsession, and the accusation of "paranoia" is the modern version of the "heresy" accusation from earlier times. Grammar's Li'l Helper Talk 17:03, 7 July 2016 (UTC)