The Wise Favor Truth Over Conspiracy Theories

conspiracy theories

…unless of course there is a conspiracy afoot! That does happen from time to time, when all the stars are aligned. Usually, though, conspiracies fail or never even get off the ground. Isn’t it odd that the same government that the hardcore libertarians we have had in our midst since the inception of the Tea Party which is constantly facing budget cuts and which sees its best and brightest dismissed due to cronyism and corruption is also fully capable of hatching and executing a “deep-state-type” massive, successful conspiracy? We are to believe that the Federal government is at once a bunch of masterminds intent on crippling the decent government officials we duly elected with our awful, dark-money-driven campaign finance system—the “deep state”—capable of engaging in a very sophisticated feat of skullduggery, intrigue, and nefariousness, and yet we can’t even get masks to doctors? Kids go hungry. We can’t control the debt. Mexican immigrants are supposed to be our worst problem if you watch Fox News. I would say the U.S. government could more easily be accused of garden-variety, low-level corruption like Russia, or totally incompetent, like Venezuela, than this!  Nay, this just doesn’t add up. What is much likelier, logically and rationally, is that the people who see conspiracy and libertarian affronts and liberals run amok are suffering from bias, lack of objectivity, fantastic thinking, and group phenomena. They should turn off Fox or Facebook and read a book by Mark Twain or George Eliot, I say. Here are some thoughts.

Or in the case of Microsoft-founding multibillionaire Bill Gates, the man who is perhaps one of the most successful old men in the world today (or ever!) is hell-bent on, say, seeing Africans die. Like he has a handlebar moustache he twists in his lab. You know, like Austin Powers‘ Dr. Evil. It would not surprise me in the least to consider that Gates engaged in some unethical business practices when he was, say, 40-years-old and competing head-to-head with Apple’s Steve Jobs. Totally plausible.

There is an aspect of science called parsimony. It refers to the fact that when it comes to theories about how things work, the simpler the better. Cut out all the unneeded aspects. Clean and tight. The adjective is “parsimonious”.

According to the principle of parsimony, many conspiracy theories typically floated on social media, are just far too complex, wide-ranging, long-term, and deep to function correctly. Like that game we played when we were children, “Telephone”, the more sophisticated a plan is, the less likely it is to work and to be unnoticed.

Speaking of that, one mark of a weak and ineffective conspiracy theory is…wait for ityou and I know about it! Much like a cabal to get every man, woman, and child to take a bunch of vaccines administered by men in black who wear jack-boots, at the direction of the guys who smoke the cigarettes in the FDA or CDC or wherever (which my very close relative believes, by the way) and the alien crash at Area 51 in New Mexico: the fact that we are talking about it necessarily means the plot has been foiled. Active conspiracies, by definition, are secret, and you and I don’t know about them.

To sum up, the more complex and far-ranging and deep a conspiracy is, the less likely it is to be real (i.e., true). This is akin to the axiom that extraordinary claims require extraordinary evidence. In logic, all the postulates have to be valid in order for the conclusion to be true; any one error along the process and the whole thing turns out to fail to pass muster (e.g., is untrue or invalid). This is the law of logic, and it holds true in the real world, too.

Okay, Bill Gates specifically. In this piece, Ruth Reader writes:

“The Bible says there will be an Antichrist, a man that proclaims to be God, who will try to unite the world in a one-world government with a one-world financial system and establish a one-world religion,’ says Pastor Adam Fannin, a controversial Florida preacher who has latched onto the anti-vaccination movement, in a recent YouTube video. Who is this ‘man that proclaims to be God’? Fannin is referring to Microsoft founder and famed philanthropist Bill Gates, who has become the latest target of conspiracy theorists and anti-vaccination fringe groups.”

If this sounds like hooey believed by the cultists who followed David Khoresh to their deaths at the Waco compound in the early 1990s, it’s probably because it is cut from the same cloth. In that case, the ATF and the FBI bungled much of the standoff that led to a fire which led to the death of many of those sheeple. Do I believe the government capable of pulling that masterpiece off? Yes, I do.

The first clue that something was amiss with that whole paragraph should have been the first two words: the Bible.

The Bible of the ancient Israelites and the early Christians, written by a group of early Christians in the subsequent couple hundred years following Jesus’ death is in no way a valid and solid source for the goings-on of the fabric of reality today. Unless you are claiming something like: “Religious nuts in Texas go to church despite stay-at-home orders and social distancing guidelines meant to stop a horrible virus”— now that I can buy.

Anyway, Bill Gates being the maestro of evil instead of just enjoying his retirement. This is a man who gave away over five billion dollars to philanthropic causes, mind you. On The Giving Page, Gates, Buffett and other wealthy philanthropists pledged $125,000,000,000 of their hard-earned money to charitable causes. Does that sound like the work of the devil to you?

Think of these competing claims, and tell me which one would have the weight of evidence and even common sense on its side:

Bill Gates manipulates Warren Buffett and other rich white men to give their money to fund a host of self-serving and evil plans—mostly after these architects of doom have passed away and left a fortune in their will. They hatch nefarious ideas such as sterilizing women for no good purpose or enriching themselves by peddling vaccines people don’t need and can’t benefit from or creating for-profit prisons to make themselves money.

or

Bill Gates doesn’t just want to play golf and hang out in one of his mansions. As the richest or second-richest person on the planet, he is motivated to be remembered as more than the Microsoft shark; he wants to do good. His wife pulls him in this direction and plays a major role in his philanthropic organization. He and his wife have donated billions of dollars to fund charitable work in some of the most-forgotten places in the world, and using his connections, he got fellow-billionaire and all-around decent guy Warren Buffett—and many others—to pledge to help the less fortunate, as well. He’s got the 30,000-square-foot mansion and the plane; what he longs for is significance and to have a good legacy. 

 

Do you see which one not only passes the “smell test”, but which one would require a lot less amazing and nefarious acts and motives?

I have the fortune of being back in touch with a childhood friend I haven’t seen or really even talked to since 1989. He is James L. Taylor, and he is the Director of International Programs for the European Center for the Study of War and Peace. Dude has a better business card than I do, I can say that! Anway, we were talking about conspiracy theories and he aptly put his thoughts this way:

“Beyond the psychology of it all, I find [post-modern philosopher] Michel Foucault quite helpful. Through his analysis of “biopolitics”, you can get a sense for the general drift of society toward controlling and administering life—and you can be concerned about these things—without succumbing to crazy ideas that require some secret cabal that meets every Thursday evening in an abandoned bunker on the outskirts of D.C. in order to concoct and implement devious plans. We make plenty of bad decisions on our own as a society without having to vilify Bill Gates and George Soros as the secret masterminds responsible for all our problems!”

Nicely said. I noted in reply the following (and it gets a tad far afield, touching on population control, an old and well-justified phenomenon)(LINK):

“Indeed, almost all the horror we see coming out of the deplorable Trump Admin is IN PLAIN SIGHT. He is appallingly willing to just state what he has in mind: “China, if you’re honest, I would suggest you investigate the Bidens!” Never before has a president both tried the stuff he tries, and spoken so plainly about it! Not that he tells the truth often, but he’s like a broken clock: twice a day it tells the right time. That transparency makes all his chicanery, by definition, not a conspiracy. Even shooting some diplomat in the head for trying to foil his scheme in the Ukraine would not be a conspiracy, but a murder. Bill Gates is probably the least of our worries. He might be a bit heavy into population control, but I find that a laudable goal. No way can the planet support 10,000,000,000 people all of whom get vaccines, medical treatment, use resources, drive automobiles, take airplanes, want air conditioning, and eat meat frequently. No way. Maybe the Earth could support 4,000,000,000 who want that kind of lifestyle. It’s actually fairly humane and rational to try to limit future numbers of human beings. I would suggest that he promote condom use in America, though, so the less-educated folks don’t have so many children.”

To be clear, people do go bad. Sociopaths, drug lords, sexual predators, etc. They have mental illnesses, personality disorders, and are just plain rotten eggs. Perhaps they should be punished with lifetime incarceration or death. Think of the Bernie Madoffs of the world, the Martin Shkrellis.

Which reminds me, Bernie Madoff was, essentially, a one-man conspiracy. A Ponzi scheme. What was the purpose? To enrich himself. Did it harm others who trusted him (and who didn’t really verify some of the basic facts about how investments work?) Yes. Did my own stepfather have the opportunity to invest but did not because it didn’t make sense to him? Yes. Is Madoff a total sociopath, heartless bastard? Yes.

Does that mean that anything beyond these inferences and claims is the case? No. He was a bad apple. He did criminal and nefarious things and it was kept a secret for a long time, and then he was caught. The jig was up. Many, many millionaires and funds were fished in by his image and his reputation and the way he manipulated the government and the minds of others. Another man tries to become the wealthiest and most powerful of his class, not exactly surprising, since probably 3-5% of financial wizards, CEOs, and lawyers are sociopaths.

Incidentally, regarding Gates, I would say the (more or less) richest man in the world, who is completely in retirement, and has a documented history of philanthropic giving, is not trying to cement his position and grow his wealth and power.

Occasionally, rarely, someone like Madoff is able to pull off their heist, evil plan, or scheme. We don’t know about it, and then the house of cards comes crumbling down and we learn about it. The motives are usually pretty simple and explainable with psychiatry and forensic psychiatry and criminology. It doesn’t take the kind of implausible attributions and conjectures that we often see with folks like George Soros or Bill and Hillary Clinton, which many people have some wild misunderstandings about.


BONUS MATERIAL: A TED Talk by Skeptic Michael Shermer Entitled Why People Believe Weird Things

Back to Bill Gates specifically. Ruth Reader in Fast Company, again:

“Gates, who has long predicted the U.S. will be unprepared for a devastating pandemic, has been extremely active since the coronavirus emerged. He has donated $250 million toward the crisis, espoused the importance of developing a safe and effective vaccine, and supported the creation of a government-funded manufacturing infrastructure. But purveyors of disinformation are telling a different story, using several disparate false narratives about Gates. All of the conspiracy theories seem to sow doubt about an eventual vaccine. That’s not surprising, given how active anti-vaccine groups have been lately in spreading misinformation about false coronavirus cures.”

Vaccines meant to harm and to control, infringements on liberty, evil governments, planned pandemics for social control—all these conspiracy theories suffer from fatal flaws that can be detected if one thinks about them rationally, objectively, and dispassionately.

This is not to say that government never infringes on persons’ liberties, that pharmaceutical companies don’t want to make money for their shareholders, or that, say, the U.S. government did not run experiments in the past that were basically evil (think: the way schizophrenic-in-the-making Ted Kaczynski was treated in an experiment at Harvard, or the Tuskegee experiments with unwitting African-Americans). But, the fact that some actor, actors, or institutions have done morally wrong things in the past, and occasionally pulled off a bona-fide conspiracy, does not necessarily mean that every motive one can conceive of is true or that every institution is rotten or that every fear we harbor is all of a sudden coming true.

Because something is possible or even plausible does not make it so. Just because some theory has a nice, juicy ring to it and really gets your blood flowing when you tell your sect or in-group about it does not make it true.

None of this is simple. Many Americans obtained minimal education, or, like Trump voters, they may be educated through high school or college, but their personalities impel them toward a way of thinking that predisposes them to a certain worldview. Two examples: Trump voters are more likely to have authoritarian personalities than liberals or conservatives who were never enchanted by Trump, and there is a thing called paranoid personality disorder in which much of what one experiences in life is, metaphorically, painted some shade of red.

Think of all the lies that were said and claims that were made about Barack Obama by Donald Trump during Obama’s presidency. Over time, people began to believe things that were untrue: Obama is a Muslim; Obama is intent on destroying America; Obama isn’t even American, etc., etc. These were patently false; namely, bullshit. But many people bit into them hook, line, and sinker. Why did Trump do such a thing? It seems pretty obvious. Why did those on the Right form the Tea Party and listen to Rush Limbaugh and Fox News in growing numbers? How did they get so far afield in their logic and critical thinking? The answer: Kind of complicated, but very interesting.

This is the place where philosophy and critical thinking and logic meet sociology and political science and psychology. More akin to wisdom than religion. I don’t mean to toot my own horn, but this is not an arena in which the amateurish, the foolish, and the inexpert can easily tread, for the danger of slipping is ever-present. Even I am not infallible. Some of my beliefs are more like deep-seated wishes than they are facts. But I do try, and my critical thinking apparatus is pretty well-developed. I know enough to know there are things I don’t know, and things I think I know but do not; this is a hallmark of a good philosopher.

Yet, we must make decisions and take stances, lest we float around like jellyfish in a sea of mainstream media, social media giants, multinational corporations, and a far-away and typically-incompetent government.

In the case of Gates, some of these far-fetched claims have really gotten legs, but they also can be debunked as conspiracy theories meant more to function as click-bait for those who are peddling lies than the truth. Here is how Ruth Reader describes this:

“[The conspiracy-peddling preacher, Adam] Fannin also claims that Gates wants to use vaccination to ‘depopulate’ the world, a myth that has been around for at least 10 years. As Snopes explains, Gates has said he sees slowing population growth as a key component of helping to lift people out of poverty—one of the goals of his philanthropic efforts. In addition to supporting new healthcare initiatives and birth control accessibility, Gates also touts mass vaccination as a way of lowering child mortality rates. He believes that as child mortality rates lower and stabilize, parents will choose to have fewer kids, because they are less worried their children will die.”

Friends, vaccinations and population control are two very justifiable and legitimate phenomena. Do they have some, minor issues or potential dark sides to them? Yes. If I were to use a metaphor, it would be that one is consuming a 15-ounce bowl of soup and there is one fly and one hair present in it.

That is, Is there absolutely nothing about the pharmaceutical companies or the U.S. government worthy of criticism? No! Liberals have been making those criticisms for a very long time! Is reducing births so that in the future there will be fewer people on planet Earth a 100% clean and inarguable social good? No, not exactly. Population control as a sustainability measure is much less controversial or multi-sided than abortion, or phasing out the combustion engine automobile. But a major and effective method of increasing humanity’s sustainability is never going to be a simple, obvious, inexpensive, quick phenomenon.

Remember, only believe claims and conclusions and theories to the degree that they have evidence supporting them, and a paucity of counterevidence opposing them. That is how a clear-minded, rational, critical thinker navigates this Sargasso Sea of social media platforms which try to keep us attentive for dollars, a mainstream media which has fallen from its apex during the time of Watergate and Woodward and Bernstein, and significant societal pressure and stress.

Reader spends some time in that article examining claims for evidence and showing all-important context for the reader. For example:

“There are still more conspiracies surrounding Gates, including one that suggests he started the coronavirus or that he knew it was coming. A report from The New York Times revealed a cache of 16,000 posts on Facebook about Bill Gates with 900,000 likes and comments; Bill Gates conspiracies on YouTube showed similarly high engagement. Gates has long been the subject of conspiracy theories—like this one from 1996, which says that Microsoft is the invention of the Illuminati, or this one that suggests Gates is investing in antivirals as means of colonizing Africa. Conservative conspiracy theorists like Alex Jones have been suggesting Gates is using vaccines to ‘sterilize’ and ‘depopulate’ the world for at least a decade.”

In sum, the world is a weird and chaotic place. Let’s not make it any worse than it is, and instead concentrate on real problems such as money dominating the world of campaign finance, soaring wealth inequality, the anti-vaccine movement, nuclear proliferation, the rise of white supremacy, criminal justice reforms, Donald Trump’s possible reelection, and of course, “the Mother of All Concerns”, climate change. Don’t buy into conspiracy theories peddled by fools and lunatics and propagated by for-profit social media companies, dark media platforms like Breitbart, propaganda wings of the Republican party like Fox News, lax and biased websites such as these, and to earn right-wing talk radio listeners, like Alex Jones specializes in.

This, for example, is just patently obvious stuff, I think: (LINK). But even so, to check it out and be sure it’s not cooked up by the dark arts of the Left wingnuts is good form. Remember: evidence.

 

Your psychology—as well as the same principles that function in every human being, and in humans in groups—plays a role in all of this. In fact, group dynamics and social-psychological phenomena were gruesomely, fascinatingly, and notoriously laid bare in the Stanford Prison Experiment (LINK). You may have heard of the beautiful phrase that sheds light on the psychology of belief: Believing is seeing. This is what one philosopher who wrote a little book called On Bullshit believes:

“Genuine self-knowledge is, no doubt, exceptionally difficult to attain, and the truth about what we are may certainly be distressing. In our efforts to conduct our lives successfully, however, a readiness to face disturbing facts about ourselves may be an even more critical asset than a competent understanding merely of what we are up against in the outside world.” ~ Harry G. Frankfurt

Evidence-based medical doctor and critical thinking expert Steven Novella suggests the following (which bears directly on this issue of one’s psychology and the tendency toward bias impacting the beliefs, the methods, and the process one uses to discern what is true and what might be conspiracy, fraud, or other nonsense):

“It’s important to be humble, which means knowing your limits. We tend to get into trouble when we assume we have expertise or knowledge that we don’t have or when we don’t question the limits of our knowledge.”

As well, the great mind Ralph Waldo Emerson enlightens us with:

A person will worship something, have no doubt about that. We may think our tribute is paid in secret in the dark recesses of our hearts, but it will out. That which dominates our imaginations and our thoughts will determine our lives, and our character. Therefore, it behooves us to be careful what we worship, for what we are worshipping we are becoming.

 

Here is a source for learning more about cognitive biases. Two examples are: Attentional bias: The tendency of perception to be affected by recurring thoughts, and Curse of knowledge: When better-informed people find it extremely difficult to think about problems from the perspective of lesser-informed people. There are like 50 others, the most famous probably being Confirmation bias, which flourishes on the Internet.


“Wendy Kaminer has approached the topic through a more sociological lens. As she discussed in her book Sleeping With Extra-Terrestrials, our obsession with the supernatural is a product of our ‘evangelical culture’ and ‘confessional society.’ A belief in everything from guardian angels to past lives reflects our emphasis on feelings and emotions, i.e., thinking with our ‘heart’ rather than our head. The New Age movement and other expressions of magical thinking offer ‘psychic comfort and community,’ Kaminer added, and a conviction that we ourselves are somehow divine. ‘Faith reveals what reason can’t discern,’ she wrote, our common attraction to mystery and the fantastic providing a strong sense of belonging.” ~ Lawrence R. Samuel

Be skeptical. Here is author, rationalist, and humanist Michael Shermer on skepticism:

“Modern skepticism is embodied in the scientific method, which involves gathering data to test natural explanations for natural phenomena. A claim becomes factual when it is confirmed to such an extent that it would be reasonable to offer temporary agreement. But all facts in science are provisional and subject to challenge, and therefore skepticism is a method leading to provisional conclusions. Some things, such as water dowsing, extrasensory perception, and creationism, have been tested and have failed the tests often enough that we can provisionally conclude that they are false. Other things, such as hypnosis, lie detectors, and vitamin C, have been tested but the results are inconclusive, so we must continue formulating and testing hypotheses until we can reach a provisional conclusion. The key to skepticism is to navigate the treacherous straits between ‘know-nothing skepticism‘ and ‘anything goes credulity‘ by continuously and vigorously applying the methods of science.”

 

Science has its problems, since it is a human activity. We are just slightly-advanced chimpanzees in clothes, after all. But it’s still one of the best methods of apprehending reality and discerning truth that we have. That, and philosophy, are the most reliable.

Again, Steven Novella:

“Scientific skepticism is a mature view of the human condition and knowledge. It is not scandalized by the flaws in the human efforts of science – nor is it naïve about the existence of those flaws and the limitations of the human brain. The critical thinking approachinvolves doing the best that we can with the full knowledge and appreciation of those weaknesses and limitations.”

Below is a statement made by the estimable scholar, Mortimer J. Adler:

“Are scientific conclusions, supported by a preponderance of the evidence and by the best reasoning that is available at the time, the only opinions we are entitled to regard as [true] knowledge? No. Philosophical conclusions may also be opinions that we are entitled to regard as knowledge because they are supported by sound reasoning and by the weight of the evidence that is in favor of them.”

Skepticism is not for the weak. Consider this: the author of the Sherlock Holmes novels himself made a serious and very public error in rationality. Even he was duped, basically. It’s called the Cottingly Fairies Hoax, and yes, Sir Arthur Conan Doyle fell for it (LINK).

 

In addition to parsimony, skepticism, recognition of psychological dynamics, a healthy humility, and so on, a few principles I would suggest:

Plausibility is not the same thing as validity. 

A celebrity claiming something on Twitter is not the same as, say, a scientist or a scientific journal or a good news story done by a competent and objective journalist at a highly-regarded institution. One look at Jenny McCarthy’s claims about the autism-vaccine link should subvert her authority or believability, for example (LINK).

Just because something frightens you if it were true does not mean that it is in fact true.

Please check the Media Bias Factcheck CompanySnopesScience-Based Medicine, and FactCheck if there is concern about the validity or truth of a story or claim you saw on Facebook or heard your Aunt Margaret worry about.

Not all sources are equal, and Facebook or some anxious mom ranks very low on the hierarchy.

Rush Limbaugh is an absolutely horrible source. A webpage called www.AllianceForNaturalHealth.com is not legitimate (SOURCE). A website called www.CovertGeopolitics.com is mostly made up of complete bullshit (SOURCE).

 

Here is a list of the least-biased news sources, but remember, even they can make a mistake. You do know, however, that they are not set up to peddle conspiracy theories to the weak-minded in exchange for advertiser dollars. Consider the source is good advice, and some sources are more reliable than others. And a reliable source such as the New York Times is fairly transparent as to how it makes its money, what its goals and challenges are, and what kind of bias it might be subject to.

 

Where the rubber meets the road, I would say: Hey Mr. Militia, you may be addicted to owning weaponry, but that does not mean that Democratic governors, lawmakers, or presidents are “coming for your guns.”

Some believe that the Apocalypse is coming and that their cult leader knows when, and that they are assured to be “saved” and sent to “heaven”. They are incorrect. If you start getting that itch to know the truth, beware. Here are signs that a group is a cult.

Let me emphasize: I do not mean to say that if you believe that the government is up to no good in a particular case, that a person is lying, that a manipulation of some kind is happening, or that corporations seek money and power, then you are wrong. You may be right. It is up to you to validate your claims and conclusions using rational means, otherwise belief is just belief, as in, a wish. Here is a quote that I think is perfectly true:

“Democracy, like any sound relationship between people, is built on trust. We trust our leaders to tell the truth so that the consent that we give them is honestly informed. If the consent is won through manipulation, propaganda, fear, or lies, the basis of our democracy has been subverted.” ~ Robert Shetterly

Even back in the 1700s, Thomas Jefferson—major fan of “journalists”—said, “Nothing can now be believed which is seen in a newspaper. Truth itself becomes suspicious by being put into that polluted vehicle. The real extent of this state of misinformation is known only to those who are in situations to confront facts within their knowledge with the lies of the day.”

Figuring out what is true—”capital-T” True—is difficult, and is in the realm of philosophy. Some philosophers think we humans never really get to the Truth. However, when it comes to whether a particular claim or belief is true, that is subject to human methods of investigation and validation. Even that is difficult. But it’s quite possible with effort and mental discipline. One guideline is that you cannot be too emotionally attached to the outcome, and you have to be willing to say that your worldview might need adjustment. Another is to subject juicy, conspiracy-sounding claims to a rigorous truth test. Try to prove it false. Above all, you should not consider a person an authority to be believed without question.

Author Michael Parenti has this pithy belief, and it seems valid to me: “We may not always know what is true, but we can develop some proficiency at detecting what is false.”


Quotes and rules-of-thumb such as: Question authority, Do not believe anything without evidenceKnowledge is properly justified, true belief, and Extraordinary claims require extraordinary evidence are good to keep in your back pocket.


 

Okay, I find myself going on and on and on. This topic is right up my alley, since one of my areas of interest is philosophy and critical thinking. I also have two people in my family who buy in to all manner of alternative, unlikely, conspiratorial, and fraudulent ideas. It vexes me greatly.

 

I will end with a few quotes about truth, quotations on skepticism, conspiracy theories, disinformation, and so on: 

American traditions and the American ethic require us to be truthful, but the most important reason is that truth is the best propaganda and lies are the worst. To be persuasive we must be believable; to be believable we must be credible; to be credible we must be truthful. It is as simple as that. ~ Edward R. Murrow


The trouble with most of us is that we know too much that ain’t so. ~ Mark Twain


Trump’s tendency toward “bullshit” [which Harry Frankfurt defines as statements made “when the speaker does not care whether the things he says describe reality correctly; he just picks them out, or makes them up, to suit his purpose”] can be entertaining, such as when he pretends to have expertise in toilet flushing and windmills. But the habit is a great deal more problematic when the topic is, say, an ongoing pandemic that has the potential to kill millions of people, disrupt national economies, and cause chaos across the globe. ~ Eric Alterman


What is striking is the way such conspiracy theories—especially those with an anti-vaccine agenda—are allowed to proliferate on the web. Google (YouTube’s parent company) and Facebook have been making an effort to pull down content that would lead to someone getting hurt. But videos like Adam Fannin’s fall into a category of misinformation that isn’t considered detrimental enough to human health. ~ Ruth Reader


The facts are always friendly, every bit of evidence one can acquire, in any area, leads one that much closer to the truth. ~ Carl Rogers


The government may try to deceive the people, and the newspapers and television may do the same, but the truth has a way of coming out. The truth has a power greater than a hundred lies. ~ Howard Zinn


Some strategies and tactics for election interference were the same as before. Russia’s trolls pretended to be American people, including political groups and candidates. They tried to sow division by targeting both the left and right with posts to foment outrage, fear, and hostility. Much of their activity seemed designed to discourage certain people from voting. And they focused on swing states. But the Russian Internet Research Agency’s approach is evolving. Its trolls have gotten better at impersonating candidates and parties, more closely mimicking logos of official campaigns. They have moved away from creating their own fake advocacy groups to mimicking and appropriating the names of actual American groups. And they’ve increased their use of seemingly nonpolitical content and commercial accounts, hiding their attempts to build networks of influence. ~ Young Mie Kim


If we are uncritical we shall always find what we want: we shall look for, and find, confirmations, and we shall look away from, and not see, whatever might be dangerous to our pet theories. In this way it is only too easy to obtain what appears to be overwhelming evidence in favor of a theory which, if approached critically, would have been refuted. ~ Karl Popper


Meanwhile, the anti-vaxxer movement gained momentum and Jenny McCarthy suffered no repercussions for providing debunked and discredited scientists with a massive platform. McCarthy continued to tell the world that her son Evan’s autism was caused by vaccines laced with dangerous chemicals. How did McCarthy reach her scientific conclusion? She told Oprah it was “mommy instinct.” She had a bad feeling before the MMR shot. Today, she hosts a regular radio show on SiriusXM and serves as a panelist on the hit show The Masked Singer — and children are suffering. ~ Patrick A. Coleman


Two qualities are indispensable: first, an intellect that, even in the darkest hour, retains some glimmerings of the inner light which leads to truth; and second, the courage to follow this faint light wherever it may lead. ~ Carl von Claueswitz


I defend people’s right to deny the Holocaust and to utter lies — so long as the rest of us remain aware that what they’re saying is a lie. ~ Felipe Fernandez-Armesto


There’s no question that people change their minds, that the human race in the course of centuries passes from knowledge to error or from error to knowledge in the opinions that it holds. But this is a change in the human mind and not a change in the truth or in what is true. ~ Mortimer Adler


Rather than hit people over the head for their beliefs, we present the notion that if we’re going to survive, at some point we have to establish what is true and what is not. ~ Neil deGrasse Tyson


Though the situation may seem improbable to some, anti-vaccine sentiment has been building for decades, a byproduct of an internet humming with rumor and misinformation; the backlash against Big Pharma; an infatuation with celebrities that gives special credence to the anti-immunization statements from actors like Jenny McCarthy, Jim Carrey and Alicia Silverstone, the rapper Kevin Gates and Robert F. Kennedy Jr. And now, the Trump administration’s anti-science rhetoric. ~ Jan Hoffman


There are two ways to be fooled. One is to believe what isn’t true; the other is to refuse to believe what is true. ~ Soren Kierkegaard


It’s a cliché that the media is biased in favor of liberals, but a profoundly outdated one. The accusation, while true thirty years ago, perhaps, has been overtaken by the growth of a massive conservative media establishment that, to a considerable degree, has not only displaced the old media but simultaneously transformed it. ~ Eric Alterman


By conservative estimates, the amount of information available doubles every few years….And even if those figures are largely meaningless (Does disinformation count as information? What counts as information, anyway?), the reality that they are attempting to quantify makes it more difficult to determine what “truth” is worth studying and what is worth living by. ~ Howard Gardner


I think that people think of vaccines as a personal decision, especially people who are anti-vaxxers. And there are so many other things in society that could be a personal decision, but for the good of society we make them a legal decision: like wearing a seatbelt. ~ Jeannette Y. Wick


All puffed up with vanity,/ We see what we want to see;/ To the beautiful and the wise,/ The mirror always lies. ~ Neil Peart


…[P]eople are quick to accept as a miracle any unusual event, or an event that goes contrary to natural probabilities, as long as it works in their favor. A hundred people are killed in an airplane accident, but one survives. ‘It’s a miracle!’ say the survivor and his family. What the families of the non-survivors had to say about the matter is usually not recorded…. ~ John Hospers


I don’t propose to tell anybody what to believe, but for me, believing when there is no compelling evidence is a mistake. The idea is to withhold belief until there is compelling evidence. If the universe does not comply with our predispositions, okay, now we have a wrenching obligation to accommodate to the way the universe really is. ~ Carl Sagan


… why is it necessary for the Christian to introduce the idea of faith at all? What purpose does it serve that is not served by reason? The answer is obvious: the Christian wishes to claim as knowledge beliefs that have not been (and often cannot be) rationally demonstrated, so he posits faith as an alternative method of acquiring knowledge. Faith permits the Christian to claim the status of truth for a belief even though it cannot meet the rational test of truth. ~ George H. Smith


Skepticism is a vital part of science, which I define as a set of methods designed to describe and interpret observed or inferred phenomena, past or present, and aimed at building a testable body of knowledge open to rejection or confirmation. In other words, science is a specific way of analyzing information with the goal of testing claims. Defining the scientific method is not so simple, as philosopher of science and Nobel laureate Sir Peter Medawar observed: “Ask a scientist what he conceives the scientific method to be and he will adopt an expression that is at once solemn and shifty-eyed: solemn, because he feels he ought to declare an opinion; shifty-eyed, because he is wondering how to conceal the fact that he has no opinion to declare” (1969, p. 11). ~ Michael Shermer


Celebrity anti-vaxxers have a variety of concerns about adverse effects, parental freedom, and safety, but they all have something in common: None of them are scientifically accurate. Jim Carrey’s assertion that vaccine safety has not been researched is untrue, as scientists conduct myriad tests, including clinical trials and post-licensure studies, to ensure the safety of every vaccine on the market. Despite McCarthy’s vocal belief in vaccine-caused autism, the CDC has found absolutely no link. ~ Aislinn Antrim


Look into the irrationality closely, with a determination not to respect it, and not to let it dominate you. Whenever it thrusts foolish thoughts or feelings into your consciousness, pull them up by the roots, examine them, and reject them. ~ Bertrand Russell


In any given situation, the ideal thing to believe or do may have some elements of the “left” and the “right,” but that does not necessarily mean that the best course of action truly “lies in the middle;” perhaps truth is to be found in some fusion of progressive and conservative principles — but that is not the same thing as a watered-down amalgam of both philosophies. ~ Jason Merchey


Convictions are more dangerous foes of truth than lies. ~ Friedrich Nietzsche


We must learn to be more discerning about our news sources and beware of “fake news” or “alternative facts,” which are propagated by people interested only in maximizing clicks, even if it means peddling lies and half-truths, or even by foreign governments using our own freedom of speech against us to pursue their own agenda at our expense. ~ Bruce Bartlett


The defining mark of philosophy is a mode of criticism designed to test the validity or truth of propositions. ~ Daniel N. Robinson


Those who foretell the future lie, even if he tells the truth. ~ Arabic proverb


I cannot forecast to you the action of Russia. It is a riddle wrapped in a mystery inside an enigma, but perhaps there is a key. That key is Russian national interest. ~ Winston Churchill


The postmodernist belief in the relativism of truth, coupled with the clicker culture of mass media—in which attention spans are measured in New York minutes—leaves us with a bewildering array of truth claims packaged in infotainment units. ~ Michael Shermer


…most situations deserve to be viewed from many perspectives. Any one perspective on a situation, even if it is a totally valid perspective, reveals just a tiny bit of the truth of that situation. Additional valid perspectives reveal more. ~ Copthorne MacDonald


Educators believe it is up to them to teach critical thinking and drum into students certain habits that will offer some protection against being scammed by fake news themselves. They were alarmed by a 2016 study by Stanford University that found even bright, well-educated, tech-savvy students had great difficulty separating news from advertising or figuring out where a piece of information came from. ~ Bruce Bartlett


Someone who is determined to disbelieve something can manage to disregard an Everest of evidence for it. ~ George Will


…wise men do not accept my words just because they are the words of the Buddha, simply out of reverence for me, but just as a goldsmith would test the gold through various procedures and then finally make a judgement, similarly accept the validity of my statements only after you have subjected them to analysis and investigation. ~ Siddhartha Gautama (The Buddha)


…the anti-vaccine crowd aren’t trafficking in anything as concrete, mundane and quaint as facts. They’re not really engaged in a debate about medicine. They’re immersed in a world of conspiracies, in the dark shadows where no data can be trusted, nothing is what it seems and those who buy the party line are pitiable sheep. ~ Frank Bruni


Fox News, like the American Enterprise Institute, the Heritage Foundation, and the Washington Times, is a conservative counterestablishment institution designed to ape the functions of establishment organs, doing double duty by firing up the troops with custom-crafted ideological spin, “analysis,” and phony scholarship while confusing the rest of the world with nonsense disguised as news. ~ Eric Alterman


Anthropologists also have good reasons “why we believe.” Evolution has conditioned us to believe things are alive when we are not quite sure, some suggest, it being a far better survival strategy to assume that that big brown formation over yonder is a hungry bear than just a rock. Thinking that the thing that just went bump in the night is a ghost instead of rusty pipes could thus very well be instinctual, one more reason it should not be surprising that the supernatural is often accepted as truth. Control too, or more accurately the lack of it, is responsible for much of our supernatural ways, anthropologists argue. “In the absence of perceived control, people become susceptible to detecting patterns in an effort to regain some sense of organization,” wrote Bruce Hood, a fancy way of saying that the mind actively looks for explanations. ~ Lawrence R. Samuel


Liberals, conservatives—we’re all the same. We form opinions and then spend our entire lifetimes validating what we believe to be true. This rigidity is sad, because there is so much we can learn from points of view that are different from our own. ~ Richard Carlson


I have found that my best defense is the old adage: If something is too good (or outrageous) to be true, it probably is. That is, try to resist gullibility and credulousness; be skeptical and agnostic until you can determine the truthfulness or validity of some news item, especially if it confirms something you want to believe. ~ Bruce Bartlett


Right-wing forces have always operated freely and openly in the dark chasms of American life where racism, militarism, imperialism, blind devotion to private enterprise festered; the raw underbelly of fanaticism has spawned groups as disparate as the Ku Klux Klan, the Nazi party, the McCarthyites, the Liberty League, the America First’ers, the John Birchers, and the Tea Party, spewing either hatred, bigotry, or simply ignorance of history. ~ Peter Kuznick, Matt Graham & Oliver Stone


I discovered that the nutritionist’s Ph.D. was to be awarded by a nonaccredited nutrition school and, worse, I was the subject of his doctoral dissertation! Since that time I have noticed about extraordinary claims and New Age beliefs that they tend to attract people on the fringes of academia—people without formal scientific training, credentialed (if at all) by nonaccredited schools, lacking research data to support their claims, and excessively boastful about what their particular elixir can accomplish. This does not automatically disprove all claims made by individuals exhibiting these characteristics, but it would be wise to be especially skeptical when encountering them. ~ Michael Shermer


To become informed and hold government accountable, the general public needs to obtain news that is comprehensive yet interesting and understandable, that conveys facts and outcomes, not cosmetic images and airy promises. But that is not what the public demands. ~ Eric Alterman


The problem with ignorance and error is, of course, that they leave us in the dark. Lacking the truth that we require, we have nothing to guide us but our own feckless speculations or fantasies and the importunate and unreliable advice of others. ~ Harry G. Frankfurt


Can lies become truth? Could a media system, controlled by a few global corporations, with the ability to overwhelm all competing voices, be able to turn lies into truth? These corporations are not answerable to the people. Only the politicians can regulate them. The corporations possibly buy politicians with campaign contributions – contributions so large that the politicians would allow unregulated corporations to go about their business of eliminating less powerful voices until only one voice remained: one truth. ~ Robert Kane Pappas