No public relations effort in the 20th century has rivaled that of the CIA attacking critics of The Warren Report (1964) as “conspiracy theorists” in a memorandum of April 1967, implying that, unless those speaking out knew everything there was to know about what happened to JFK, they should not be taken seriously, which is, of course, completely absurd. The early critics of the government’s “official account” of the assassination, such as Mark Lane, Jim Garrison and David Lifton, among others, were observing that the narrative the public was given could not withstand critical scrutiny. That the critics are right and the reports are wrong has been characteristically distorted by assuming that what we are being told by the government must be true.
The CIA’s public relations campaign has now been extend to the mainstream press, which the agency long since targeted for infiltration through “Operation Mockingbird”, where, as early as 1975, its Director, William Colby, testified to Congress that “the agency owns everyone of significance in the media”. The alternative media did not exist at the time, but has emerged as a significant source of (what we ought to call ) “inconvenient truths” that the government wants to suppress, lest it should lose such credibility as it may retain in the eyes and ears of the public through virtually endless propaganda and disinformation via newspapers, magazines and especially television.
Conspiracy theorists have received a bad rap, which has extended to studies by psychologists and philosophers that suggest those who embrace “conspiracy theories” suffer from cognitive deficits, such as a need for closure or the incapacity to accept that sometimes minor causes (such as “a lone, demented gunman”) can bring about major effects (such as a change in the politics of the United States). Properly understood, however, “conspiracy theorists” turn out to be more intelligent and open-minded and less gullible than those who attack and ridicule them, which today includes most of the CIA-controlled media. This is not an opinion but a fact. It turns out to be a matter of methodology.
Americans Believe in Conspiracy Theories
In a recent study, “Majority of Americans Believe in 9/11 Conspiracies”, OCWeekly (28 October 2016), Chapman University reported that a majority of Americans “can find common ground in the belief that the government is concealing information about 9/11”. According to its research, close to 55% believe that there was more to the 9/11 attacks than the government has revealed to the public, where those who believe that was a coverup in the assassination of JFK at 50% runs closely behind. The following chart provides a graphical representations of their findings, where Chapman is conducing annual reviews:
Conspiracies are as American as apple pie. They only require two or more individuals collaborating together to bring about an illegal act. What may strike many as odd about the percentage regarding 9/11 is that even the official account, which posited the attacks as the work of 19 Islamic terrorists, qualifies as a “conspiracy theory”, which suggests that, if this were a measure of the percentage who believe 9/11 was a conspiracy, it ought to be closer to 100%. It therefore appears to be measuring not whether 9/11 was a conspiracy as such but whether agencies of the government, such as the CIA, were involved, In other words, “Was 9/11 an ‘inside job’?”, for which there exists abundant evidence.
Distorted Conceptions of Conspiracy Theories
Some attempts to deal with conspiracy theories are hopelessly inadequate and display gross misrepresentations. The study, “Analytic thinking reduces belief in conspiracy theories”, Cognition (December 2014), which has four authors, actually defines “conspiracy theories” as “a subset of false beliefs in which the ultimate cause of an event is believed to be due to a plot by multiple actors working together with a clear goal in mind, often unlawfully and in secret”. By that definition, a conspiracy theory about the assassination of Abraham Lincoln, for example, cannot possibly be true, even though four of the co-conspirators were hung from the same gallows at the same time.
An slightly less absurd conception may be found in a “tip sheet” for college course, which declares that, “The main problem with any particular conspiracy theory is not that it’s wrong, but that it’s inarguable; not that it’s false, but that it is unfalsifiable. Because it is unfalsifiable, a conspiracy theory is not provable or disprovable.” But it turns out that conspiracies (to commit murder, to commit fraud and so forth) is the most widely prosecuted crime in the United States. If those theories (“theories of those cases”) were unfalsifiable, then no one accused of a conspiracy would ever be able to defend themselves against the charge, no matter how strong their alibis or how weak the evidence against them.
A more interesting study, “’What about Building 7?’ A social psychological study of online discussion of9/11 conspiracy theories”, Frontiers of Psychology (8 July 2013), by comparison, suggests that those who are most often characterized as “conspiracy theorists” are more skeptical regarding what they are told by the government (“official accounts”) than they are enamored of specific alternatives and are more open-minded in the interpretation of evidence. They are less inclined to defer to officials as authorities and are more inclined to look at the evidence, which even hints that there may be a deep methodological difference in attitude between conspiracy theorists and other American citizens, where conspiracy theorists are more skeptical and less gullible regarding government reports. And this appears to hold the key.
Confirmationalism vs. Falsificationism
The difference lies between a confirmationalist approach (looking for confirming instances of an hypothesis or of a theory) and a falsificationist approach (searching for dis-confirming instances, if they exist). As a trivial example, the hypothesis, “All pennies are copper”, has billions of confirming instances. But, as those who have searched for dis-confirming instances are aware, in spite of billions of confirming instances, it turns out to be false–because in 1943, when copper was in short supply and needed for military purposes, pennies were instead made out of steel. A single counter example can prove an hypothesis to be false. But, unless you search for them, you are unlikely to find them, where the failure to find them when you undertake an aggressive search properly supports them.
Karl Popper, the British philosopher of science, emphasized the importance of attempts to falsify hypotheses, where only evidence acquired during attempts to falsify ought to count as evidenced in favor of a theory. It’s a bit technical, but “the raven paradox” of Carl G. Hempel, exemplifies the problem. The hypothesis, “All ravens are black” (“All pennies are copper”, and so on), has been interpreted by logicians as having the same meaning as, “Everything is either not-a-raven or black” (“Everything is either not-a-penny or its copper”, and so forth). If you assume that an instance of an hypothesis confirms it and that hypotheses that say the same thing are confirmed by the same instances, then non-ravens (or non-pennies), such as white shoes, turn out to confirm them (both).
A falsificationist would respond that testing hypotheses and theories requires more than the passive acceptance of confirming instances, which must be displaced by the active search for dis-confirming evidence. To test for the color of ravens (the composition of pennies and such), you have to conduct observations, measurements and experiments on ravens (on pennies and such). Or, in the case of historical events (such as JFK, 9/11, Sandy Hook and more), falsificationism would have us evaluate the authenticity of the evidence on which the government’s accounts are based. Sorting out the difference between authentic and inauthentic evidence plays a crucial role in separating true or well-founded narratives from false or fictional ones. But it can also require levels of expertise that are not common in the general population, which is why those with special backgrounds and abilities need to become involved. The assassination of John F. Kennedy provides a perfect illustration.
What happened to JFK?
Research JFK provides a stunning exemplification of the power of falsificationist methodology. As serious students of the assassination are aware, for 30 years an apparent difference between witness reports of a blow-out to the back of his head has stood in conflict with the autopsy X-rays, which do not show it. On that basis, the witness reports have been discounted by the government. In 1992, however, David W. Mantik, M.D., Ph.D., board certified in radiation oncology and an expert on the interpretation of X-rays, entered the National Archives with the permission of Burke Marshall, the Kennedy family attorney, to examine the autopsy materials, including the X-rays. Applying a technique known as “optical densitometry”, he was able to delineate an area “P” where the X-ray had been patched:
This finding, in turn, provided evidence that the home movies of the assassination, including the most famous, the Zapruder film, had been altered to conceal the same blow out at the back of the head. It occurred to me that the perps preoccupation with early frames 314-317, for example, might have led them to overlook that it might be visible in later frames, where I found it was observable in Frame 374. And when Mantik’s delineation of “Area P” was compared with Frame 374, the correspondence between them was striking, which thereby confirmed his research and demonstrated that the Zapruder film had been altered by covering up the blow out when it should have been visible in earlier frames:
Remarkably, the Bethesda Autopsy Report describes a much larger wound, where virtually the whole back of the cranium is missing. And, as though that were not astonishing enough, when the House Select Committee on Assassinations (HSCA), which re-investigated the case in 1977-79 issued its Final Report (1979), it had contracted the massive missing back of the head to a small wound of entry at the top of the head, inexplicably failing to account for the enormous discrepancy–which illustrates that, even when the government undertakes a re-investigation of a case of this magnitude, that does not mean that its outcome will be a closer approximation to the truth than the original–where we encounter the anomalous situation that there are three entire different descriptions of the back-of-the-head wound:
We need more Conspiracy Theorists
Composing an end-of-the-year review of the most important stories of 2017, I was rather stunned that only three of the stories–the NFL protest, the sexual-harassment scandals, and Trump’s decision to move the US Embassy to Jerusalem–were honest stories and that the other seven–including the New York car and truck attacks, an update on the Boston bombing, the latest on Sandy Hook, exposing the orchestrated events in Charlottesville and the elaborate Las Vegas production–concerned events that were staged or faked by the government with state and local authorities. Even the Russiagate scandal, about which we have heard so much for well over a year now, was invented out of whole cloth by Robbie Mook and John Podesta within 24-hours of Hillary’s concession speech for multiple motives, including to divert attention from her own entanglements in selling 20% of our uranium reserves to Russia:
But don’t take my word for it. You can test these conclusions as well, where they are subject to revision with the acquisition of new evidence and alternative hypotheses. My colleagues and I are not infallible and are capable of making mistakes. But one of the virtues of collaborative research is that we serve as checks-and-balances on each other’s conclusions. Discerning the difference between the TRUE and the FALSE, however, only matters if you want to know what’s really going on. If you are content to sleepwalk though history, never knowing whether your beliefs reflect reality or not, then you may make your way from birth to death without ever knowing the difference.
That’s your choice. Most Americans so busy getting food on the table and keeping a roof over head that they have neither the time nor the inclination to evaluate what they are seeing and hearing and reading in the newspapers and on television. Many suffer from cognitive dissonance and don’t really want to know that their own government–which they want to believe protects and serves them–has taken out its own executive officer and has committed real and fabricated atrocities to promote its political agenda–regardless of the consequences for the public. Even lots of faculty at colleges and universities are overly timid and unwilling to address the most pressing issues of our time. We are in a desperate plight in the United States, where the dark night of tyranny continues to descend upon this once-great nation. We can use all the help we can get.
Jim Fetzer, a former Marine Corps officer, is McKnight Professor Emeritus on the Duluth Campus of the University of Minnesota. He wrote his undergraduate thesis at Princeton for Carl G. Hempel and dedicated his first book, Scientific Knowledge (1981), to Sir Karl Popper.
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