Skeptic Project

Your #1 COINTELPRO cognitive infiltration source.

Page By Category

Blogs - Muertos - The Usual Retorts: Conspiracy Theorists' Top 10 Misconceptions of Debunkers

Author: Muertos (Show other entries)
Date: Aug 11, 2010 at 23:36

By Muertos (

If there's one perennial truth in the world of conspiracy theories, it's this: nothing's ever new.  If you spend even a small amount of time pushing back against conspiracy theories, especially on the Internet, you'll notice very quickly that conspiracy theorists often respond to you with very similar arguments, and they usually make these arguments sound like they're making them for the first time.  Conspiracy theorists often have misconceptions--both innocent and sometimes deliberate--about people who don't share their belief systems, and especially about those who actively refute them.  The purpose of this blog is to expose the reader (whether he or she is a conspiracy theorist or not) to the most popular of these misconceptions, and to address them one by one.

As I said on a previous blog that also used this "top 10 arguments" format, at we don't stifle debate--in fact we like it.  However, because so much of dialogue with conspiracy theorists involves hearing and responding to points that have been made ad infinitum previously, often for years on end, there is some value in consolidating some of conspiracy theorists' top misconceptions about debunkers.  This blog is aimed primarily at people who may be fairly new to the world of conspiracy theories, or those who've begun to dip a toe into the waters of critical thinking and argument and want to have some pithy comebacks when a conspiracy theorist throws one of these shopworn clichés at you.  If that describes you, dig in!

The arguments that will be dealt with in this blog are the following:

1.  "You don't believe in Conspiracy Theory X, Y or Z?  You must love/support/never question the government, then!"

2.  "You don't believe in conspiracy theories because you've been conditioned to trust the mainstream media."

3.  "Debunkers simply ignore the evidence."

4.  "Debunkers are biased." and related "Debunkers are arrogant, always convinced they're right."

5.  "Debunkers ignore the fact that some conspiracy theories turn out to be true."

6.  "You believe everything is a coincidence!"  and related "If I'm a conspiracy theorist, you must be a coincidence theorist!"

7.  "So, you don't believe there is corruption in government/business/the world?"

8.  "I'm not a conspiracy theorist!  You are a conspiracy theorist!"

9.  "You don't believe in conspiracy theories because you've been brainwashed by vaccines/fluoridated water/RFID chips."

10.  "You debunk conspiracies because you're a paid disinformation agent."

Taking each one of these misconceptions in turn:

1.  "You don't believe in Conspiracy Theory X, Y or Z?  You must love/support/never question the government, then!"

This is without a doubt the number one misconception that conspiracy theorists harbor about debunkers, and it's one of their favorite comebacks.  Nearly every conspiracy theorist I've ever talked to has deployed this argument in one form or another.  9/11 Truthers particularly love it, since most of them believe at least one government (usually the U.S.'s, but sometimes Israel's) is responsible for the attacks, and anyone who defends what conspiracy theorists call the "official story" is automatically tarred as a mouthpiece for that evil, corrupt government.

The argument is invalid because it establishes a binary choice.  Either you believe the conspiracy theory 100%, or you believe the government 100%.  There is no in-between.  In the mind of a conspiracy theorist, it's not possible to question or oppose the government and also deny the validity of conspiracy theories accusing that government of wrongdoing; you're either enlightened or you're a shill.  I find this phenomenon interesting because it illustrates the shallowness of conspiracist thinking and also, in a subtle way, the attraction conspiracy theories have for their followers.  Conspiracy theorists like these theories because they separate a complicated world into black and white, good and evil, wrongdoers and the enlightened warriors.  Consequently, if you aren't willing to stand up and be counted with the enlightened warriors, you may as well cross over to the dark side.  There is no gray area.

The argument also illustrates a clear presupposition of the conspiracist crowd: that the government controls and dominates the information structure, and that the government is the ultimate source of all "official stories" used to explain events that conspiracy theorists question.  This is also a binary choice, dividing the information out there into two diametrically opposed camps, the "official story" and "the truth," again brooking no possibility of information falling into any other category.  Reality is that the government, at least in the western world, really doesn't dominate the information structure, and government is rarely the ultimate source of what happened on a given event.  It simply doesn't occur to conspiracy theorists that facts proving how a particular event, such as 9/11, actually happened can be ascertained from non-governmental, non-"official" sources.

On 9/11, for instance, the government was not the source of the facts we know about that day.  Thousands of people saw with their own eyes the planes strike the towers.  Media outlets from all over the world--including the non-western world--extensively documented what happened.  I remember on 9/11 telephone exchanges and web servers crashed repeatedly because so many people were talking about what happened.  The details that emerged about what happened, especially the identity of the terrorists and their Al-Qaeda affiliations, were in most cases initially reported by non-governmental sources, and in all cases were subsequently verified by media reporting unconnected to governmental investigations.  (For example, 9/11 Truthers routinely ignore the fact that Al-Jazeera, the largest news network in the Islamic world, investigated 9/11 extensively, even going so far as to interview the planners and perpetrators on a documentary program--there's no way the U.S. government could have had any involvement with this).  Yet, to be asked the question, "Well, you must never question the government, then, do you?" means that conspiracists view an event like 9/11 as having been essentially inexplicable at the moment of its occurrence, and then a sole and unified voice of authority pronounced from on high what the expected interpretation was to be.  In reality that's not how it happened.

Debunkers question governmental actions all the time.  Personally I believe the war in Iraq was a terrible mistake.  I believe the PATRIOT Act should be repealed.  I believe there's a case for charging George W. Bush with war crimes.  Those are my personal beliefs.  Yet I am a noted and vociferous critic of 9/11 conspiracy theories.  I'm not atypical either.  One of the best debunkers in America, Vincent Bugliosi, who wrote the all-time best book on the Kennedy assassination which demolishes all the conspiracy theories, went so far as to write a book stating his view that George W. Bush is guilty of murder as a result of the Iraq War.  So to claim that "debunkers always love the government" or "debunkers never question the government" is absurd and insulting.

2.  "You don't believe in conspiracy theories because you've been conditioned to trust the mainstream media."

This is a species of what I call the Sheeple Argument.  Conspiracy theorists typically have a great deal of contempt for society at large, and assume that most people are complacent zombies with no more intellectual capacity than sheep being led to an abattoir, hence the derisive term "sheeple."  The "brainwashed by mainstream media" trope is similar to the "you always trust the government" line, but goes a step further by asserting obliquely that major media outlets such as cable news channels, wire services and newspapers are also controlled by the government or the powers that be, and are little more than uncritical loudspeakers carpet-bombing the public with official pronouncements that obscure "what really happened."

This Sheeple Argument assumes many forms.  I had a conspiracy theorist tell me that I'm incapable of believing anything I didn't see on CNN, despite the fact that I don't even watch CNN; I had another one predict that I would eventually sign on to 9/11 Truth when the conspiracy theory was presented to me "by someone you trust."  A perennial favorite is when conspiracy theorists cite statistics like the number of people who vote for American Idol celebrities versus those who profess to care about national or international issues.  (This assumes that someone who cares about international issues can't also watch American Idol).

Like argument #1, the departure point for this belief is the assumption that people are incapable of ascertaining facts, of filtering good information from bad, or from distinguishing credible sources from non-credible ones.  Both of these arguments have at the core of their reasoning the certainty that it is the identity of the speaker as opposed to the content of the message that is determinative of peoples' beliefs.  I seriously doubt this is even close to being as true as conspiracy theorists believe it is.  Why, after all, do some people watch Fox News?  Is it because they trust Glenn Beck so completely--or could it be because they like the content of what Glenn Beck says, and thus expect him to frequently make statements that they like and agree with?  What would happen if Glenn Beck read one of Rachel Maddow's scripts on his show by mistake?  There would be a lot of complaints.  To hear conspiracy theorists tell it, if Glenn Beck says something, anything, his fans believe it unquestioningly.  I can't see Fox News viewers believing Rachel Maddow talking points simply because Glenn Beck says them (or vice-versa).

The "brainwashed by mainstream media" line is also at once a sour-grapes argument, and a breathtaking hypocrisy.  It's sour-grapes because conspiracy theorists, frustrated at being unable to get respectable large-audience media outlets to endorse nuttery like 9/11 Truth, NWO, ancient astronaut or Apollo moon hoax claims, lash out and deride those media outlets as tainted and untrustworthy, thus elevating fringe media like Alex Jones or Nexus Magazine to higher status.  It's hypocritical too because conspiracy theorists will seize upon any mainstream media report that they think supports their claims, and that particular media report will be treated as an unimpeachable "smoking gun."  A famous example is the brain-crushingly stupid claim that the 9/11 hijackers are still alive (we did an article on this subject), where Exhibit A for the Truthers is invariably a BBC news article reporting on mistaken identities in the early days of the 9/11 investigations.  For some reason, that BBC article is gospel truth, but yet BBC as a whole is "mainstream media" whose untrustworthy reporting is part and parcel of brainwashing the sheeple against conspiracy theories.

3.  "Debunkers simply ignore the evidence."

This argument is deployed in response to a debunker who brushes off any or all of the usually voluminous links to YouTube videos, quote mines, and links to stories on Prison Planet, Infowars or Above Top Secret in support of their conspiracy claims.  Further dismissal of such "evidence" will often elicit a sad shake of the head and a statement like, "There are none so blind as those who will not see," or some other cliché that attempts to paint the debunker as an arbitrary rejecter shooting from the hip to attack ideas he doesn't like.

What conspiracy theorists fail to recognize, however, is that, with extremely rare exceptions, there's nothing new under the sun.  Conspiracy theorists constantly rehash, re-package and re-broadcast the same old tired theories, often genuinely unaware of how old and tired they are.  9/11 theories are especially threadbare.  Almost all of the main conspiracy theories regarding 9/11 involve some sort of "controlled demolition" claim, which has been widely circulating at least since Thierry Meyssan's 2002 book 9-11: The Big Lie, and most likely before.  All of the usual bits of "evidence" pointing to a 9/11 conspiracy--squibs, Pentagon wreckage, free-fall claims, hijackers-still-alive, Willy Rodriguez, the "pull it" quote, etc.--were well-established gag lines in the 9/11 Truth movement no later than 2003.  Indeed, the only significant 9/11 theory that I'm aware of that's newer than 2005 is Dr. Judy Wood's ludicrous assertion that Star Trek-style beam weapons blew up the World Trade Center towers.  It's all been done, and it's all been debunked.  Repeatedly.

Of what utility is it, then, that Jesse Ventura gave an interview last week where he speculates (again) that 9/11 was a "controlled demolition?"  He's not presenting anything new.  Is a YouTube clip of Alex Jones warning, on last night's show, that we're all going to be herded into FEMA camps soon anything new?  He's been making that same claim for years.  Am I ignoring "evidence" by not watching the latest David Icke video?  I already know what David Icke has to say.  It's as crazy in 2010 as it was in 1991.  Nothing new under the sun.

Yet, to conspiracy theorists, every new video, every new Alex Jones film, every new Infowars story is freshly-minted "proof" of a conspiracy, even though it's just a new take on a very old theory.  Many conspiracy theorists we deal with on are quite young and have only recently fallen into the paranoid fold.  They probably don't even know who Thierry Meyssan is, or that Erich von Däniken has been pushing his ancient astronaut crap since at least 1968.  These days you can even run into Truthers who have never seen Loose Change because it was before their time.  So when someone today repeats the claim made in Loose Change that 9/11 was done to steal gold underneath the Twin Towers, a lot of conspiracy theorists think this is genuinely new.  They vomit up this "new" evidence to debunkers, and are puzzled why the brush-off is so quick.

In addition to this myopia, conspiracy theorists are prone to a technique called "slamming."  That is, they post vast multitudes of links, usually to YouTube videos, in rows as endlessly inexorable as the legions of battle droids in a Star Wars film, and insist that if you, the debunker, don't refute every single point made in every single one of those videos, you are "ignoring the evidence."  It's a Sisyphian game if you do manage to refute every point, because then the conspiracy theorist will say, "Oh yeah?  What about these?" and then slam you again with a huge spate of links.  This moving-the-goalpost behavior is very common among conspiracy theorists, but unfortunately they take debunkers' unwillingness to sit through the same YouTube video for the 67th time this week, electing instead to go spend time with their kids, as "proof" that the debunker can't refute the claims made in it.  Thus, some especially tiresome tidbits achieve the cachet, in conspiracy circles, of being "undebunkable."

This argument, like the last one, is also ironic.  I have never seen a 9/11 Truther comprehensively refute the NIST Report, for instance.  Usually it's a hit-and-run job like "Oh, well, the NIST is part of the government, so you can't trust it," or "we already know that jet fuel doesn't burn hot enough to melt steel."  So the slamming technique is ultimately hypocritical--as is argument #3.

4.  "Debunkers are biased." and related "Debunkers are arrogant, always convinced they're right."

The "bias" argument is fairly common, and is one usually leveled at websites such as this or other written pieces that (conspiracy theorists think) are somehow analogous to news sources.  The argument goes that debunkers can't see the truth because they're blinded by "bias" against conspiracy theories, and that even if evidence is presented to show a particular conspiracy theory is true, they wouldn't be able to see it because of this bias.

This argument toes the line between source/credibility arguments and what I call the epistemological objections to debunking, which quickly veer off into philosophical tangents like, "What do we really know?" and "How can we really know a particular fact is true?"  Conspiracy theorists who use the bias argument start from what seems at first like a rational departure point, that everything, even conspiracy theories, must stand or fall on the strength of the evidence available to support it, and that evidence should be considered afresh in all cases.  However, once you accept this rational view, the conspiracy theorist almost always starts slamming you with the same YouTube, Prison Planet, Infowars and Above Top Secret links that we saw in argument #3 and claiming that these things are evidence--and you're right back to the "Well, how do you know Alex Jones is wrong?" discussion.

Facts have no bias.  The facts of what happened on 9/11 do not care whether they point to Osama bin Laden, or to George W. Bush, or to Britney Spears.  The facts of the Kennedy assassination do not care whether they finger Lee Harvey Oswald, Lyndon Johnson or the Beatles.  If the facts indicated that 9/11 really was an "inside job," as strongly as the facts in real life indicate that it was not, then the conclusion that 9/11 was an "inside job" would be every bit as inescapable as the conclusion that Osama did it is in the real world.  If George W. Bush really did do 9/11, the facts would indicate that, and anyone who claimed that Osama bin Laden was really behind it would be a conspiracy theorist.  But they don't.  The facts demonstrate Osama did it.  Don't blame the facts if they lead to a conclusion you don't like.

Not all purported facts are equal, either.  Many are misconceptions, distortions, mistakes, or outright lies.  You may have heard that 4,000 Jews were warned to stay home on 9/11.  That is not a fact; it is a lie.  How do we know it's a lie?  Because there's no evidence to support it, and there is a great deal of credible evidence to contradict it.  Yet, lurking under the surface of the "you're biased!" argument is a tacit assumption by the conspiracy theorist that if you don't treat false claims and innuendo the same way as you do verifiable facts, you're somehow being unfair.  Bias doesn't work that way.  It never has, but this is something most conspiracy theorists have a particular difficulty understanding.

The "debunkers are arrogant" argument is not much different.  If you present a fact and can legitimately back it up, it is not arrogant to assert the truth of this fact and deny that conflicting claims are factual.  I use the George Washington example.  I know that George Washington was the first President of the United States.  If asked to, I can prove that fact is true.  If there is some poor sap out there who believes for whatever reason that Calvin Coolidge was the first President of the United States, my insistence that he is wrong is not me being unfair to him.  It's asserting what is true and what is false.  This isn't arrogance.  It's reality!

5.  "Debunkers ignore the fact that some conspiracy theories turn out to be true."

I love this one.  Ask, "Oh yeah?  Which ones?" and I can virtually guarantee that the list rattled off by the conspiracy theorist will contain (a) the Reichstag fire; (b) Operation Northwoods; and (c) MKULTRA.

This answer looks unimpeachable at first glance.  However, first impressions can be deceiving.  These aren't conspiracy theories--nor are the others the conspiracy theorist is likely to mention, such as Iran-Contra, Enron, Watergate, COINTELPRO, the 1953 Iranian coup, or the ouster of Allende in Chile in the 1970s.

Conspiracy theorists almost always conflate and confuse real examples of government or corporate secrecy or wrongdoing with perceived examples.  They ignore the differences, which are important.  To them, the fact that anybody, anywhere in government suggested or successfully took a covert or illegal action makes it more likely that someone must have in some other case--even if the transgression in the past is proven, and the one the conspiracy theorist believes happened is not.  There's also a difference in scale and result.  If the CIA did something that was dishonest 50 years ago that was comparatively minor in scope and didn't result in any deaths or crimes being committed, a conspiracy theorist will use the small long-ago transgression to "demonstrate" that it's likely the CIA would be willing to commit murder or criminal activity on a vast scale.

Let's take an example.  Conspiracy theorists love Operation Northwoods.  This was a plan proposed by some military brass in a 1962 document which would have had the CIA fake terrorist incidents and blame them on Cuban forces, thus building public support for U.S. military action against Cuba.  President John F. Kennedy rejected the plan out of hand and the officer who suggested it was later relieved of his command.  The document was not declassified until 1998.

Why is this not a conspiracy theory?  Well, first off, it was rejected; it never got off the ground.  Second, it was not even known about until the 1990s.  It's not like some conspiracy theorists were sitting around in 1962, batting scenarios around and someone said, "Hmm, you know, I bet the CIA is planning to stage false-flag attacks against the U.S. to justify an invasion of Cuba!" and then magically, 36 years later, a document drops out of the sky that proves this speculation was correct all along.  The real conspiracy (to do what?  Type up a memo and give it to the President?) was over and done with in 1962 and was a dead issue long before conspiracy theorists ever found out about it.  What it "proves" about conspiracy theories is exactly nothing.

Similarly, the other trope conspiracy theorists love to use, the Reichstag fire, wasn't even a conspiracy, much less a conspiracy theory.  In February 1933 the Reichstag was set ablaze by Marinus van der Lubbe in an act of arson.  It was not a false flag operation, and there is considerable evidence that van der Lubbe acted alone.  The Nazi Party made hay out of the incident while they were trying to gain power in Germany, but that does not mean they did it.  This not an example of a "conspiracy theory that came true."  It's not even relevant to conspiracy theories.  But for some bizarre reason conspiracy theorists trot it out on cue every time argument #5 makes an appearance.

Real-life conspiracies are much different than the fantasy plots that conspiracy theorists imagine exist.  Iran-Contra, Enron, Watergate and the others were all very small plots with very few participants; in all cases there were whistleblowers, in none of those cases were any lives lost, and none of these conspiracies were even suspected before there was ample evidence to support their existence.  In Watergate, for example, investigators knew there was a White House connection the very first night the Watergate burglars were arrested.  Similarly, there were no conspiracy theories floating around about secret government mind control experiments before MKULTRA was revealed, at least none that I'm aware of.  Real conspiracies always leave convincing and unmistakable evidence in their wake.  Conspiracy theories are unsupported by evidence.

I am not aware of any conspiracy theory that was postulated first without evidence and then later "turned out to be true."  That's not how conspiracies work in the real world.  Conspiracy theorists haven't learned this yet.

6.  "You believe everything is a coincidence!" and related "If I'm a conspiracy theorist, you must be a coincidence theorist!"

Dwelling as they do in a binary world of black-and-white extremes, conspiracy theorists believe that the polar opposite of devious design is innocent coincidence.  Thus, if you don't believe in conspiracy theories, you must believe in coincidences.

The simple answer is: yes, we do.  However, that's not the end of the story.  Conspiracy theorists don't understand how coincidences really work, so it's not surprising that they misuse the concept to try to prove that their detractors are gullible dupes who'll believe anything.

Let's say I'm a Wall Street day trader.  Today I get up and have a hunch that Acme Airlines is going to decline tomorrow.  I sell my 50,000 shares of Acme Airlines and pocket the money.  Tomorrow, an Acme Airlines jumbo jet crashes killing 300 people.  The investigation indicates massive negligence on behalf of the company, and Acme Airlines' stock becomes worthless.  The fact that I sold my stock the day before the crash is a coincidence.  To a conspiracy theorist, however, it's "evidence" that I must be behind the crash, because to them the chances are too wild that someone who stood to gain from Acme's misfortune would happen to pick that day to sell their stock.

However, what if I woke up yesterday and decided to sell shares of ABC Co. instead of Acme?  Acme would still have crashed without any help from me, and then I wouldn't have gained anything because my stock would have gone down the same as all other Acme shareholders.  No one would care about me, and I wouldn't be a "suspect" in conspiracy theorists' eyes.  Or, if I sold the stock but Acme didn't crash, for the same reason nobody would care.  The type of decision I made with respect to the Acme case--the decision to sell stock or stand pat--is something I do every day as a Wall Street trader, and it's not noteworthy or unusual at all.  It is only the unforseeable fluke of the Acme plane crash the next day that somehow transforms my unremarkable decision, the type of thing I would do every day if I was in that business, into a "wild coincidence" that seems so farfetched that there's no way it could have happened unless I had "foreknowledge" of the crash.

Let's take another example, also involving a plane crash.  Let's assume that the average odds of dying in a plane crash from any cause--pilot error, equipment malfunction, terrorist incident, bad weather, etc.--are 1 in 1,000,000.  That is, every time anyone steps on a plane anywhere in the world, their odds of not making it to their destination alive are 1 in 1,000,000.  (In reality the odds of dying in a plane crash are much smaller than that, because many millions of people travel by plane every week with comparatively few crashes, but assume these numbers just to make them easy).

Now take a specific person.  Let's say he's a U.S. Senator.  Furthermore, he's a U.S. Senator who is known as very progressive and very anti-war.  Further still, he is running for re-election.  Even beyond that, the election is in only a few days.  Even beyond that, a key issue in this election is this Senator's stance on a potential war that many believe is soon to begin.

Suppose this man, in these specific circumstances, sets foot on an airplane a few days before an election.  Under these circumstances, what are the odds the Senator won't get to his destination alive?

Simple: 1 in 1,000,000, just the same as anybody else.  His specific circumstances and the timing of his journey, however extraordinary, make no difference whatsoever to the probability that he will survive his trip or die on the way.  If he traveled as an average joe in the middle of July, his chances of getting off that plane in a body bag are still 1 in 1,000,000.

Of course, the circumstance I'm describing is the October 2002 situation of Minnesota Senator Paul Wellstone, who was unlucky and died in a plane crash days before the elections in which the impending invasion of Iraq was a major political issue.  Despite absolutely no evidence of foul play--the cause of the crash was pilot error--I had conspiracy theorists tell me at the time that it had to have been a veiled assassination, because "what are the chances?  That can't be a coincidence!"

Evidently, conspiracy theorists believe that extraneous circumstances--whether a person is a prominent politician, whether a war is about to start, how far it is from an election, and what the politician's stance on that potential war is--can somehow magically make it so much less likely that a plane crash could happen from accidental circumstances as the same thing could result from foul play.  Mind you, this is in the total absence of evidence that the Wellstone crash was rigged.  Conspiracy theorists would have you believe that probabilities alone suffice to prove a conspiracy, and can replace that absence of evidence, because "What are the chances?!?!?"

Probabilities are never evidence.  Conspiracy theorists need to quit pretending that probabilities alone can replace actual evidence of a conspiracy.  This is one of the stupidest arguments employed by conspiracy theorists, scraping the ultimate bottom of an already very deep abyss of logical fallacy and non sequitur.

7.  "So, you don't believe there is corruption in government/business/the world?"

This is a variation of argument #1, and doesn't require much discussion beyond what I've already said about it.  It's a very similar binary choice: either you believe in conspiracy theories, or you believe all is right with the world, governments and corporations never commit any form of malfeasance and you cannot believe that evil exists anywhere in the world.

Of course, this argument is insulting to the intelligence.  Yes, corruption does occur in governments and corporations, as it does in all human enterprises.  Yes, bad people sometimes do bad things.  But belief in this truth of human nature does not translate, automatically and inextricably, into belief in conspiracy theories.  To suggest that non-believers in conspiracy theories must disbelieve them because they can't bring themselves to envision corruption or malfeasance in any sphere is utterly absurd.

And, not to get philosophical about it, but not all evil is created equal.  Bernie Madoff is one of the most notorious criminals of our time.  He bilked many people of their life savings and destroyed the lives of many of them.  He did it for profit and evidently without any remorse.  Bernie Madoff is corrupt, and evil at least on some level.

However, what if Bernie Madoff was not the administrator of a Ponzi scheme, but say a CIA operative?  Suppose some pointy-headed conspirators came to him and said, "Hey Bernie, we've got this secret plan to blow up the World Trade Centers and kill thousands of people, and we need your help to do it.  Are you in?"  What's to say Bernie Madoff wouldn't reply, "No way.  I draw the line at that!"  Just because people are corrupt, steal money, forge documents, or endorse nefarious plans, doesn't mean that they're cold-blooded megalomaniacal killers willing and able to bathe in the blood of thousands of innocent people.  Conspiracy theorists often assume that all forms of malfeasance or corruption are equal.  They're not.  As usual, human nature is far more complicated than their simplistic black-and-white categories.

8.  "I'm not a conspiracy theorist!  You are a conspiracy theorist!"

This argument is classic projection.  Most conspiracy theorists deeply resent being called conspiracy theorists.  (I recently had a believer in Judy Wood's 9/11 space beams tell me, "I am not a conspiracy theorist!")  They'll do anything to squirm out from under the label or, better yet, twist the label 180 degrees and use it as a weapon against the debunker.  This leads to some interesting argumentative acrobatics, particularly when conspiracy theorists start playing games with the definition of "conspiracy theorist."

One of the most common formulations of this argument is to claim that debunkers are themselves conspiracy theorists, because they believe in "official conspiracy theories," such as the "official story" of 9/11.  So the reasoning goes, because debunkers believe that Osama bin Laden and his Al-Qaeda hijackers conspired to crash planes into the World Trade Center and the Pentagon, we therefore believe in a "conspiracy theory" that is indistinguishable from Truthers' flights of fancy except for the fact that the "official conspiracy theory" bears the imprimatur of government or mainstream endorsement.  The purpose of this argument is to confuse people into believing that conspiracy theories and the "official story" are essentially equal co-claimants on the truth, and that conspiracy theories have no less chance of being true than does the "official story."

What they fail to understand is that conspiracy theories are different than facts.  Yes, what happened on 9/11 was a conspiracy, hatched by Osama bin Laden, Khalid Sheikh Mohammed and other Al-Qaeda terrorists.  However, there are plenty of facts to support this belief.  It is not a theory, it is a fact.  A conspiracy theory is the fantastic notion that the WTC towers were blown up by secret explosives or science-fiction beam weapons.  It's a theory because there are no facts that support it.  There is no such thing as an "official conspiracy theory."  There is the truth, which is supported by facts, and there are theories, which are supported by speculation.  They are not equal co-claimants on the truth.  One is truth, and the other is garbage.

The difference between a debunker and a conspiracy theorist is very simple.   The debunker believes in facts, evidence, logic and supported conclusions.  The conspiracy theorist believes in fantasy, supposition, conjecture, innuendo and jumping to unwarranted conclusions.  Conspiracy theorists never like to hear this and they never will, and this paragraph will probably generate more hate mail than any other part of this essay.  (You can send it to  But, harsh or not, it is the truth.

9.  "You don't believe in conspiracy theories because you've been brainwashed by vaccines/fluoridated water/RFID chips."

This is another form of Sheeple Argument, and if you hear it from someone, you can be sure that person is very deep in the clutches of almost pathological paranoia.  It's almost futile to point out that there's not a shred of evidence that fluoridated water causes "brainwashing," or that RFID chips are being implanted into people without their knowledge.  If you ask a conspiracy theorist for "evidence" that these things are true, you'll almost certainly get Alex Jones clips or articles, or other super-paranoid doom-and-gloom scenarios that often also involve wild claims about vaccinations, forced population reduction, etc., usually masterminded by imaginary organizations like "the NWO" or "the Illuminati."

It is difficult to push back against these arguments because they're so irrational.  Anyone who is so delusional as to believe that fluoridated water or RFID chips cause "brainwashing" is not likely to be persuaded by the total absence of evidence that either of these things are true.  For more than 50 years the effects of fluoride in water have been studied, and not once has any evidence surfaced to the effect that it "brainwashes" people.  I find it amusing that when this argument is made conspiracy theorists exempt themselves from the "brainwashing" effect, when they presumably drink the same water as the rest of us, but maybe the theta rays emanating from Alex Jones broadcasts and Jeff Rense's website somehow counteract the effect of fluoridated water.  Nevertheless, all you can do is scoff at this argument.  You can't do much more.

10.  "You debunk conspiracies because you're a paid disinformation agent."

This is very similar to #9, but the difference is it's not a Sheeple claim, where debunkers are assumed to be "brainwashed" and "asleep" whether through willful ignorance or victimization by the same mind control techniques that conspiracy theorists sometimes believe are used on everyone.  Instead, this version of the argument is a direct accusation that the debunker is themselves part of the conspiracy.  This argument was recently used against me on an Internet forum where I was accused of being a member of "Project Vigilance," supposedly a government-funded effort to recruit bloggers and other cyberspace warriors to debunk conspiracy theories and tar their believers as nutjobs not worthy of serious attention.

Personally, I find this argument both humorous and sad.  It's humorous because the notion that our government (or anyone's government) has nothing better to do with taxpayer money than to pay people like me to post on the Internet debunking 9/11 beam weapons, FEMA camps and reptile people is utterly fantastic.  It's sad because it shows not only the depths of paranoia at which conspiracy theorists live their lives, but also the ridiculous sense of self-importance that they gain from their belief in such theories.  How could some guy posting on Internet message forums from his basement in suburban Chicago really be a threat to a power structure so omnipotent and powerful that it keeps secret beam weapons on hand for events like 9/11 and can cause earthquakes in Haiti from hundreds of miles away by using HAARP?  The truly paranoid conspiracy theorists like to cast themselves in movie roles, like the heroic Neo in the movie The Matrix: an ordinary guy who somehow "wakes up" to a hidden truth, and then fights the good fight against all odds to bring that truth to others.  In such a simplistic story there have to be villains.  Argument #10 unequivocally casts debunkers in the role of villains.  It also provides an easy excuse for ignoring anything they have to say: because they're paid disinformation agents, naturally everything they say is a lie.

For the record, I don't get paid for writing these articles.  I've never been paid, nor offered, a single dime for any debunking activity I've ever done.  Twisted as it may sound, I do this because I enjoy it, and because I feel that combating illogic and promoting critical thinking is a worthwhile activity.  I also feel conspiracy theories are dangerous both to reason and to political discourse.  There's also something of the contrarian in me: the vast majority of material on the Internet regarding conspiracy theories is pro-conspiracy.  There's a very small minority of sites and sources that devote considerable attention to refuting these ridiculous conspiracy theories.  I just want people to do a search for "9/11" and not have eight links to Truther sites pop up in their first ten search results.  It'd be nice for them to get the facts for a change.  That's why I do this.

It occurs to me as I write this blog that perhaps the idea that someone would debunk for free, and for enjoyment, is even more offensive to conspiracy theorists than the notion that they would do it for money at the government's behest.  I mean, if your world view is so ignorant and illogical that people are actually offended by it to the point where they'll take to the Net to refute you year after year, you perhaps ought to rethink your world view!


There's very rarely anything new in conspiracy-land.  Almost everything conspiracy theorists throw at you is something that's been around for years, or even decades, in one form or another.  On the one hand it's comforting to know that the fact that conspiracy theories are still regarded by most people as fringe kooky stuff means that the sheer power of repetition will not serve to improve conspiracy theorists' fortunes in the future, at least until some real evidence of their claims surfaces; but on the other hand it's depressing to have to hack away at the same silly arguments that were debunked years ago which are still being repeated as if there was something new.  The ten arguments listed in this blog aren't going away.  I'm sure I'll be hearing them as long as I maintain an interest in conspiracy theories.  But since other debunkers will doubtless hear them too, I thought that corralling them and analyzing them is a worthwhile task.

[ Please discuss this article on the forums. ]