In an article appearing the in the Wall Street Journal's Life and Style section, David Aaronovitch, a columnist for The Times of London, purports to tell us how to fend off the people who insist they know the real story behind everything. As commenters point out, he never actually gives us the 'how to' but he does go to great length expounding first on the reason that such theories emerge and then different tactics used by the tin foil hat crowd to circumvent the obvious logic of the mainstream "truth" in order to appear convincing.
He tells us that the current fashion of the CT crowd is the conspiracy between Big Pharma and Big Government.
"Swine flu? The disease was created in a lab by a shadowy company, which had associations with ultra-baddies Donald Rumsfeld, Dick Cheney and Israel, and released to sell the company's top product. HIV? According to a documentary called "House of Numbers," now doing the rounds of the highbrow film festivals, the link between HIV and AIDS is a fiction developed by pharmaceutical companies and AIDS activists to boost the profits of the former and the jobs of the latter."
Commenter Liam Scheff rips Mr. Aaronovitch a new one for his characterization of "House of Numbers" as baseless conspiracy theory.
"Let me own my position here - I am in the movie "House of Numbers," because I have written about the scandalous company you call the AIDS industry. I, in fact, broke a story about orphans in New York City who were being used and who were dying in clinical trials with immensely toxic AIDS drugs. The story was picked up widely, and was verified again and again. Nevertheless, those with something to lose did their best to indicate that somehow, the whole thing was a "conspiracy theory," even though the NIH listed the trials in their publicly accessible clinical trials database. In doing this work, I did due diligence and researched the phenomena known as HIV and AIDS, and found just about everything wanting.
In the film, "House of Numbers," I am seen quoting the longest study on the supposed transmission of HIV. The study was conducted in Northern California and published in the American Journal of Epidemiology by Dr. Nancy Padian et al.
Dr. Padian enrolled 175 couples, one partner HIV-positive, one HIV-negative. These individuals had sex – vaginal and anal – with and without condoms over the study period. They were continuously tested. Drug abusers were kept out of the study, to emphasize the role of sex in transmission.
The results: At the end of the study, how many people who tested negative became positive, after repeated sexual intercourse with their HIV-positive partners?
Was it 50? 25? 20?
No. The answer is – Zero. Zero people who tested negative became positive."
None of the commenters defended the swine flu conspiracy, but I was immediately reminded of the Rolling Stone article by Bobby Kennedy, Jr. where he talks about the connection between Thimerosal in vaccines and autism and a joint cover-up by Big Government and Big Pharma.
"According to a CDC epidemiologist named Tom Verstraeten, who had analyzed the agency's massive database containing the medical records of 100,000 children, a mercury-based preservative in the vaccines -- thimerosal -- appeared to be responsible for a dramatic increase in autism and a host of other neurological disorders among children."
"But instead of taking immediate steps to alert the public and rid the vaccine supply of thimerosal, the officials and executives at Simpsonwood spent most of the next two days discussing how to cover up the damaging data."
Until Big Government and Big Pharma let Big Media report on their coverup, it will continue to only be a theory of a conspiracy, even if it is espoused by someone with as much credibility as Bobby Kennedy, Jr. And according to Mr. Aaronovitch, when your brother-in-law comes over during Christmas and starts telling you about this, you should fall back on your "instinct for nonsense" and comfort yourself by remembering that "one aspect of conspiracy theories is that it is history for losers."
Mr. Aaronovitch goes on to talk about the phenomenon of conspiracy theories, how they are spread by the internet, and a little of the history of the phenomenon. Next he talks about the mindset and the motives of the conspiracy theorist and the dishonest tactics and trickery that conspiracy theorists use to make their "nonsense" seem convincing, like circular or oblique referencing, and "exaggerating the status of their experts."
Then he suggests that even questioning itself makes you a tin-foil hat man, even if you don't espouse any theory at all:
"And then there is the violent innocence of much conspiracism, in which the theorist is "only asking questions" about the official version of the truth, and doesn't go so far as to have a theory himself—other than it is impossible that JFK was shot by Lee Harvey Oswald alone, that the moon landing happened in the way the world imagined..."
I especially like the way he lumps JFK and the moon landing together, as if to believe that JFK was not killed by Oswald alone is equivalent to believing the moon landing was a hoax.
After many more paragraphs of expert blovation, he finally sums it up with this startling insight that essentially proves that all conspiracy theories are just so much hokum, and that is that even though the conspiracy theorists know so much damaging information about so many powerful people...
"they are never seriously harmed. A fact which, readers must surely agree that, though welcome, is very suspicious."
I don't disagree with a lot of Mr. Aaronovitch's criticism of the conspiracy theory phenomenon. It is true that a lot of the conspiracy theory stuff on the internet is poorly researched and badly documented, and certainly some of it is downright dishonest. Very many of the people who run these CT websites seem to care little for documentation, and if an accusation furthers their agenda, its as good as truth to them.
However, even if I can agree with Mr. Aaronovitch that there is a lot of BS out there, I have to strongly disagree with the overall tone of this essay and with the arrogance with which he mocks those who refuse to believe anything and everything that Big Government and Big Media tell us. Not only do I find this insulting, but it completely undermines the whole profession of journalism. After all, what is (or what used to be) journalism but digging behind the official stories to find the truth? Watergate might today be nothing more than a conspiracy theory if not for the investigative work of reporters.
Personally, I don't believe anything I hear or read straight away, whether from the mainstream media or from fringe websites. I look for cross corroboration. Once many believable, independent resources, with no real motive to fool me have confirmed or denied the truth of some piece of information, then I add it (or delete it) from my personal storehouse of facts.
Some things are hidden in plain sight. Take for example, the US monetary system which relies on the Federal Reserve and fractional reserve banking. Simply reading about these two topics on wikipedia will reveal the moral hazard inherent in our monetary system. A little more research on the history of central banking in the US and the vehement opposition to it by US Presidents prior to Wilson would have to make one question whose interest was served by the creation of the Federal Reserve. Yet, until recently, no one every talked about the Federal Reserve, much less questioned its existence, except "conspiracy theory nutjobs" like G. Edward Griffin and Eustace Mullins.
Consider the movie The Wizard of Oz. What Mr. Aaronovitch is saying is that under no circumstance should you remove your green sunglasses and WHATEVER YOU DO, DO NOT PULL BACK THE CURTAIN!.
All in all, I think Mark Wilson was more correct than he realized when he jokingly posted this comment:
"Of course, this is just the sort of post we can expect from Them."