Evaluating Conspiracy Theories

November 28, 2018 |  Tagged | Comments Off on Evaluating Conspiracy Theories

1 Leave a comment on paragraph 1 0 There is no better way to make people think you are crazy than to start talking about mind control experiments on unwilling subjects.  Thoughts like these are usually shared at high volume and with wild arm gesticulations.  Anyone who has lived in or visited New York City can probably attest to at least one subway or street corner encounter with such an individual.  While not all conspiracy theories are shared this way, it doesn’t stop people from viewing those who believe in them, at least the more far-fetched ones, as loonies and crackpots.  This is because conspiracy theories often lack true logic when explored deeper than the surface.  The ideas can be so over-the-top that the majority of the population is able to quickly disregard them and don’t think twice about it.  So what happens when one of these far-fetched, over-the-top, ridiculous and impossible conspiracy theories turns out to have basis in truth?  It can, and should, make us think deeply about our reactions to, biases towards, and the methods we use to discredit information.

2 Leave a comment on paragraph 2 0 Secret government human experiments sound more like the plot of a motion picture than an actual recounting of true experience.  In fact, there are a multitude of television shows and films that touch on this very subject, of which Conspiracy Theory, Manchurian Candidate, and American Ultra are some of the more well-known titles.  So imagine the disbelief encountered when informing people that this type of experimentation was performed by the CIA through a program they called MK-Ultra.  The program began during the 1950s in response to a belief that the Soviet government was conducting similar experiments.  The subjects ranged from willing contributors at universities to the unwitting participants pulled from prisons.  An unsubstantiated component of the conspiracy theory involves the practice of pulling homeless people off the street for experimentation.  Due to the underrepresentation of this community it would be impossible to confirm this aspect.  And, of course, the people claiming to have had experiments performed on them against their will are dismissed as being an emotionally disturbed person (EDP).

3 Leave a comment on paragraph 3 0 These experiments, which happened through to the 1970s, came to light because the CIA had a lawsuit brought against them by inmates from Florida.  A lot of the records were destroyed by the CIA, however, a large portion have been made publicly available because of the Freedom of Information Act.  By searching the CIA website any person can pull up news statements, articles about the lawsuit, experimentation file abstracts, and financial distribution approval for unnamed subjects.  The experiments were conducted using various hallucinogenic and psychotropic drugs such as LSD and mescaline.  The MK Ultra program has even been credited with introducing these drugs into the American economy because the government had to purchase them in such large quantities.  This adds a deeper level to an already overwhelmingly complex conspiracy.  If all aspects of this conspiracy theory are true, that means our government knowingly committed psychological drug-induced experiments, causing unknown harm and possibly enlarging the homeless population, while simultaneously creating an illegal drug market they continue to fight today.

4 Leave a comment on paragraph 4 0 As historians we are taught to evaluate our sources and think critically about the information presented to us.  But sometimes it is not as clear as it should be.  It also does not help that memory is faulty, whether referencing personal or social memory.  This means information about events needs to be carefully evaluated and corroborated which isn’t always possible.  In rare circumstances, like the MK Ultra case, the memories can sound so bizarre it seems natural to assume the person sharing the information is either lying or delusional.  But studying history should also teach us that sometimes truth is much stranger than fiction.  We need to continue to view information with a level of healthy skepticism but we should be careful about dismissing things too quickly because of their illogical appearance.  As historians, trained to conduct research on often obscure topics, we are in the best position to shed light on these hidden and underrepresented stories of society.  Conspiracy theories will rarely prove to be truth, but it will never happen if they are disregarded because of their content or the demeanor of the person relaying it.


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