A recent study by two political scientists, Eric Oliver and Thomas Wood, found that half of the American population believes in at least one conspiracy theory. They define a conspiracy theory as an explanation that makes reference to hidden, malevolent forces seeking to advance some nefarious aim. Not all conspiracy theories are untrue but they all contradict a commonly accepted explanation for the same phenomenon.
Here are some of the most popular and enduring conspiracy theories:
- Elvis is actually alive
- JFK Assassination Conspiracies
- 9/11 Cover-up
- Area 51 and Alien Cover-up
- The Moon Landings Were Faked
- Conspiracy Theories about the Denver Airport
- Secret Societies like the Illuminati and Freemasons Control the World
- That the Holocaust Didn’t Happen
- Obama Wasn’t Born in the U.S.
- Shape-Shifting Lizard People Run our Country
- The Earth is Actually Flat
- Man-made Global Warming is a Myth Created by Scientists to Further Their Liberal Views
- Vaccinations Cause Autism
- The FDA is Withholding the Cure for Cancer
- Paul McCartney Died in 1966 and Was Replaced by a Look-a-like
- Chemtrails Behind Planes Are a Form of Population Control or to Control the Weather
- Donald Trump is the Actual Creator of the Muppets
People who believe in conspiracy theories are not just strange, nerdy, paranoid loners living in their parent’s basement. Surveys by the authors of the book American Conspiracy Theories found “believers in conspiracies cut across gender, age, race, income, political affiliation, educational level, and occupational status. People on both the political left and right, for example, believe in conspiracies roughly equally, although each finds different cabals.” For example, those on the right are more likely to believe in climate change conspiracy theories whereas liberals are more likely to embrace GMO or alternative medicine conspiracies. Note, however that studies have found that those who are towards the extremes of political orientation are more likely to believe in conspiracy theories.
Why do people believe in conspiracy theories? There is no single, simple answer, but there are a number factors that contribute to such beliefs:
- People with less education are more likely to believe in conspiracy theories than those with more education.
- Belief in other unseen forces is associated with belief in conspiracy theories. According to the political scientists Eric Oliver and Thomas Wood, “we do not find conspiracism to be a product of greater authoritarianism, ignorance, or political conservatism. Rather, the likelihood of supporting conspiracy theories is strongly predicted by a willingness to believe in other unseen, intentional forces and an attraction to Manichean narratives.”
- People believe in conspiracy theories to find order in a confusing world. As humans we crave certainty and are constantly seeking explanations for events. When there are no answers we tend to believe explanations that fit our worldview. Even grand conspiracy theories. It is often easier to believe that there is a group of secret, powerful people “in charge” of world events rather than accept the reality of random events. For example, some blame the Las Vegas mass shooting on Muslim terrorists, Antifa activists or even the Illuminati. Each of these conspiracy theories has many followers. None have any credible facts supporting them.
- In addition to seeking explanations, we are also pattern-seekers. This evolutionary survival mechanism also causes us to find patterns in random data and noise where none exist. These non-existent patterns can lead to explanations and theories that are not sound.
- Recent research has found that individuals who “grew up insecurely attached to their parents” – meaning that they had a negative relationship with one or both parents – are more likely to believe in conspiracy theories.
Are any conspiracy theories true? The vast majority of conspiracy theories are NOT TRUE. As former Nixon aide G. Gordon Liddy once pointed out, “the problem with government conspiracies is that bureaucrats are incompetent and people can’t keep their mouths shut. Complex conspiracies are difficult to pull off, and so many people want their quarter hour of fame that even the Men in Black couldn’t squelch the squealers from spilling the beans. So there’s a good chance that the more elaborate a conspiracy theory is, and the more people that would need to be involved, the less likely it is true.” He makes a good point. Stop and think about ALL THE PEOPLE who would need to be involved in the conspiracy theories listed at the beginning of this IFOD in order to be true. How can all of them possibly keep quiet (think about all the leaks coming out of the Trump administration)?
Of course, some conspiracy theories end up being true. The Watergate conspiracy turned out to be true. As was the Japanese conspiracy to attack Pearl Harbor. And Archduke Franz Ferdinand was gunned down by a Serbian secret society called the Black Hand.