The internet is a breeding ground for all manner of vile conspiracy theories and misinformation. This isn’t news, but in recent years, conspiracy theory culture has gained quite a bit of steam. Far beyond the days of conspiracy theories surviving in isolated communities, these theories are now acted upon as though entirely true, as though being posted on the internet gives the theory credence. I’ve wanted to write on this subject for quite some time, but needed to choose my words carefully. Have I done so? We’ll see by the end of this. Regardless, conspiracy theories and those that believe in and promote them need to be taken down a peg or several.
Conspiracy theorists ask you to believe the extraordinary from the negligible. They take something seemingly minuscule and irrelevant, and blow it up into something highly unlikely. Using tangential information, the conspiracy theorist infers a fanciful conclusion and stands wholly impervious to contrary evidence. It’s the opposite of science. Where science postulates the sensible and accepts evidence to the contrary, conspiracy theories postulate fictions and hold their ground. It couldn’t be further from intellectual honesty and the wisdom to admit you’re wrong.
The trouble with conspiracy theorists is that they see their resistance to counter-evidence as a strength. Anyone seen as trying to disprove the conspiracy theory somehow becomes part of it. A “you’re part of the problem” mentality takes hold and the conspiracy theorist shuts down. If you were to explain that 5G doesn’t cause COVID-19, you’d either be cast aside as a “sheep” for going with the flock, or worse still, labeled party to the perceived nefarious plot. It must be nice to never be wrong.
Of course, all of this would be completely insignificant if conspiracy theories hadn’t gained so much traction via social media. Because conspiracy theorists have been able to come out from the cold, so to speak, they’ve seen their numbers grow and began to take real action. Baseless conspiracy theories are acted upon in the real world. The danger in this cannot be underestimated. This is a group of people completely sure of themselves with no chance of changing their minds even with the most concrete evidence proving them wrong.
Ultimately, this imperviousness to proof is anti-science. The evidence that science can provide is seen as false, cooked up, or part of the problem. Studies that otherwise reduce a conspiracy theory to dust are cast aside. This belies a greater problem: distrust of science. Conspiracy theories are fantastical fictions, science holds the answers. But this distrust of science leads to dire consequences as we’ve seen recently in the United States. Many, including the President, believe much of science to be a hoax, often proudly wearing the badge of “anti-science.” According to them, scientists to them are always up to no good, working against the people for some egregious and malicious purpose. They’ll cite that NASA was founded by ex-Nazi’s as proof. Once again, their proof is loose. Ex-Nazi’s were involved at the beginning of NASA, this is true and no secret. But, unlike government officials and leaders, scientists are a global community working towards progress, and so the Ex-Nazi scientists’ talents were put to better use in the United States. Today, we see scientists across the globe working tirelessly together to find a vaccine for COVID-19 – although, I’m sure conspiracy theorists won’t take it when it’s available, thus keeping the virus alive.
As I mentioned, the President himself is a conspiracy theorist, assuming always the extraordinary from the negligible. Contrary evidence is always “fake news” to him and he believes he knows better than scientists. Beyond the current pandemic, his disbelief is substantial enough that he pulled back from any and all environmental protections and climate change efforts, most famously the Paris Climate Accord. This flagrant display of ignorance will cost us, believe me.
Why do people believe these theories? Perhaps it’s because the real answer doesn’t satisfy them. The real answer is too boring, too simple perhaps. Maybe they’ve seen too many movies, and so they always expect something deeper. They like to posit that they’re the intellectuals, the deeper thinkers, that the non-believers in conspiracy theories are the sheep. Otherwise intelligent people fall prey to these bizarre fictions and take them as fact. There’s nothing intellectual or deep to believing something with little to no real evidence. Skepticism is fine in moderation. I’m a skeptic and a cynic to an extent, but I’m always beholden to evidence. To a conspiracy theorist, of course, I’m a sheep.
Scientists only worked their whole lives to get where they are. They trudged through the misery of a decade or more of schooling, they’re the only ones who have “done the work.” And yet, there are many who somehow believe they know better than scientists. To diminish the accomplishments and work of scientists with overconfident skepticism and armchair hypothesizing is ludicrous and insulting.
How do these theories go away? They don’t. They’re going to be here. What we can do, however, is bolster science. Scientists work for the greater good, believe it or not. Doctors do know what they’re talking about. I don’t know why anyone would believe that Doctor Anthony Fauci, with all his schooling and experience, is somehow inferior to the “intellectual giant” that is President Donald Trump. Please. A return to intelligence and rationality will not happen under this president, his ignorance runs too deep. However, we must all resist the temptation to see the extraordinary in the negligible. Facts matter.