To the editor:
As sentient beings, we’ve evolved a sophisticated protocol for advancing our understanding of the world around us. It takes an idea from contention (something that could be) to hypothesis (something worth testing) to theory (something providing consistent and replicable results via testing and experimentation). We call this the scientific method.
So where do conspiracy theories fall on this spectrum? For the vast majority, theory is a complete misnomer — they are simply contentions. They aren’t tested — and when they are they generally don’t hold water (aka debunked). This is not to say that a “conspiracy theory” might not be true — it has happened — but even then it doesn’t tend to arise to the level of theory because it isn’t about a physical phenomenon but rather some kind of transient (mis)behavior.
So why do conspiracy theories abound? First, they’re free — it takes no expertise, energy or protocol to simply sound off. Next, they’re comfortable because they generally fit tightly with what the individual already believes to be true. Finally, they put ignorance on an equal footing with scholarship — those who skipped school can out shout those who skipped grades. And then the Dunning Kruger effect kicks into overdrive.
Dennis Q. Murphy
(Former Alexandria resident)