Sunday, 5 July 2009

The Myth of Scientific Conspiracy

I love a good conspiracy theory.

Mayan Rocket In times past I’ve been fascinated, bemused, irritated and appalled (sometimes all at once) by everything from Von Daniken’s Chariots of the Gods and those wacky 9-11 truthers to the idea that the Mayans had rockets and the moon is an alien spaceship.

And don’t even get me started on that Timecube guy.

Dissemination of conspiracy theories has been both helped and hindered by Web 2.0, as both proponents and debunkers are just a few clicks away.

For the moment it looks like the debunkers are winning, but I suspect conspiracy theories will always be with us.

But where do they all come from?

Fox Mulder Big Government conspiracies got a boost in the 1990s, as US hegemony expanded and it became very easy to believe we were being lied to. In the 2000s the whole idea came crashing down once it became clear that we were being lied to, but it was incompetence not conspiracy at the core.

And still no secret alien technology in sight.

Big Farmer Big Government conspiracies seem to have shifted now to Big Pharmaceutical and Big Oil, as profit takes over from political power as the assumed driver. As conspiracies go though, these are a lot less interesting. Big companies doing whatever they can to make money? It’s not quite Spaceship Moon is it?

Big Science gets a run as well. This is a particular favourite of anyone whose wonderful new Theory of Everything has been rejected by the scientific mainstream.

The list of Big Science conspiracies is endless.

Jesus and His Pet DinosaurEvolution? Young Earth Creationists will bang on for days about how it’s a scientific conspiracy to keep the real truth hidden … the truth being that those fossils are all less than 6,000 years old and were actually placed there by Noah’s flood.

Entropy? It’s a lie foist upon the public to hide the existence of perpetual motion machines that could provide free energy to whole world. (An obvious cross-over here with Big Oil).

And emissions? It’s all those left-wing scientists blinded by their green ideology wanting to shut down the factories and throw everyone out of work.

And they’re just the ones starting with ‘E’.

But here’s the thing. Here’s why the whole notion of scientific conspiracy is preposterous.

Scientists are not in cahoots.
They’re in competition.

When any new scientific idea is thrown into the ring there'll be a phalanx of scientists trying their damnedest to kneecap it before you can say phlogiston.

And why? It’s not to be malicious. It’s because that’s how science works.

Ideas that withstand the onslaught are accepted and became the basis for further learning. The ideas that fall are simply discarded.

And you might notice the ideas that fall are also the source of most of the conspiracy theories.

After all, it’s much easier to blame the Masons and the Illuminati and the cabal of Big Scientists than to admit your idea doesn’t really have any merit.Freemasons For Dummies


Sean the Blogonaut F.C.D. said...

Bravo Matt. Spot on, I think I have a post on false dichotomies coming on. Very similar train of thought around companies etc.

Dave ~ said...

Very very true there Mat.

I love the way that the sceptic movement is getting out there (particularly in Blog form) and challenging, not only the loons that propagate this stuff, put the mainstream media who don't understand science and will print anything - sometimes under the guise of balanced view (don't get me started there).

Anyone will go crazy attacking all of these woo woo theories at once. The best thing we can arm anyone with (particularly school kids) is the ability for critical thinking. You don't have to have an answer for every crack pot theory there is, but at least you can say 'hang on, that doesn't sound right' and investigate.

If only more people had that skill, the world would be a better and more logical place.

Dave ~ said...

By the way, I just checked out Time Cube guy - he's awesome. AWESOME.

I think I found my new leader.