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Conspiracy theories are wonderful examples of the failure of critical thought. These theories come in many forms, but I want to look at just two – logical fallacies where the facts are known but ignored, and beliefs so bizarre that they can only be seen as a form of insanity. There is another class where the facts can't be checked so the theories are unchallengeable, but I will leave discussion of this until another time as the margins here are too small to contain it.

An excellent example of logically impaired conspiracism is the 911 Truth Movement, where a new theory about the events in New York on September 11, 2001 seems to appear daily. Here are some of the things I have been told, and many if not most deniers seem to believe that they are all simultaneously true

  • The buildings were demolished using thermite to cut the supporting beams.
  • The WTC buildings were destroyed by aircraft flown by CIA operatives.
  • The buildings were brought down by demolition charges placed in the foundations of the buildings.
  • None of the aircraft which people assume hit buildings were in the air at the time.
  • All North American air defences were stood down before the attacks so that fighter pilots would not do what they usually do when civilian planes fly over New York or Washington, which is shoot them down.
  • No planes ever fly over the Pentagon because it is a heavily-armed military base. The anti-aircraft guns were turned off for the day.
  • No plane hit the Pentagon. It was a missile and the plane that witnesses saw was a decoy which flew next to the missile to hide it. The plane rose to 350 feet above the building just before the missile impact, and then flew away. Somebody came back later to leave the black box recorder and some passenger body parts in the wreckage.
  • It was the Jews, because some Israeli tourists took videos of the collapsing buildings.
  • George W Bush organised the attacks on the orders of his Zionist masters.
  • Larry Silverstein and Frank Lowy organised the attacks to collect the insurance on the WTC buildings. It is a coincidence that both are Jewish.
  • One of the passengers who fought with the hijackers on the plane that crashed in Pennsylvania worked for Oracle. This makes him Jewish because Larry Ellison (the founder of Oracle) is a part-owner of a small Israeli biotech company.
  • There was no plane crash in Pennsylvania because there wasn't enough wreckage. The plane and passengers went somewhere else and have never been heard of again.
  • Larry Ellison offered millions of dollars worth of free software to help with paperwork after the event. This donation shows that he made money out of the tragedy.
  • There were no Arabs flying planes, just Mossad agents.
  • If a plane flew over the White House at 800kph heading for the Pentagon (or vice versa) there would be plenty of time to scramble an attack aircraft and shoot it down before it managed to traverse the 2 kilometres between the buildings.
  • Yellow rivers of molten steel flowed through the rubble. The steel was still molten weeks later.
  • An aluminium aeroplane can't possibly punch a hole in steel building cladding.
  • No steel-framed building has ever collapsed anywhere in the world.
  • Buildings don't collapse because of fire, only when they are blown up.
  • When a fireman says "Pull them out" he is using industry jargon for "Fire the demolition charges".

A lot of the insane theories surface in the area of alternative or anti-medicine. I have been in the room when an Australian doctor announced that vaccination in Africa is a deliberate policy of genocide carried out by the World Health Organization. A well-respected journalist who writes for several Australian alternative medicine publications once outed me in print as a member of the Illuminati, the world's most secret secret society. (I offered to sponsor her for membership but she didn't reply.) If you are unfamiliar with the Illuminati you might learn more from the head of an organisation called the International Association for Health Freedom, who noted that people like me are "run directly by the Council- the Illuminati- the small group who seek total control of our lives and who are pushing very hard now to impose a dictatorial world government on us via the UN, whose chief is Satan, the father of lies- who is making a major bid right now to control all of our souls as he seeks to force us into a microchipped, psychocivilized society under mind control".

Fluoridated water, anyone? Now there's an agent of mass mind control. Almost as bad as the nanoparticle transmitters in vaccines, the aspartame in soft drinks and the chemicals in the trails behind aircraft. Where did I put my tinfoil hat?

This article was published as the Naked Skeptic column in the October 2008 edition of Australasian Science
Australasian Science

The following year the same list was published on the Yahoo! 7 News Blog
Yahoo! 7 News
The comments were, as usual, magnificent

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