The Life and Times of the Moon Hoax Conspiracy
Yes, it’s a 3-part Skeptoid episode, the first one ever, and it took more than 500 episodes to get me to finally address the moon landing hoax conspiracy. To those who follow science, the claims that we never went to the moon are the most tiresome and foolish of the conspiracy theories; but to those who believe them, they are absolute religion, and the ultimate token of their conviction that anything coming from official sources is a lie. Today we’re going to begin our in-depth analysis of the Moon Landing Conspiracy, of those who believe in it, and a survey of the facts and figures of the basic narrative.
Today we’re going to talk about the history and cultural impact of the claim; next week we’ll go into the most popular evidentiary claims said to prove that we never went to the moon (hopefully including some you haven’t heard before); and in the final installment, we’ll look at the hard physical proof that we did go.
The basic narrative of the Moon Truth conspiracy theory, as you probably know, is that NASA faked the Apollo missions and nobody ever actually went to the moon. As with most conspiracy theories, there are all sorts of variations on the claims of what actually did happen, while the only thing they have in common is that no men actually landed on the moon. Some believe the Apollo missions orbited the moon but did not land; some believe they never went farther than Earth orbit; some believe the Apollo spacecraft flew but were unmanned; some believe they never launched anything at all. The astronauts performed their moonwalks on a movie set, and fake transmissions were provided to the TV networks for broadcast. The reasons given for why the government would have gone to all this trouble range from simply distracting Americans’ attention from the unpopular war in Vietnam, to fooling the Soviets into thinking they lost the Cold War, to protecting NASA’s budget by appearing to spend it on something supremely impressive.
A big question we have to answer is what’s the point of even talking about this? The people who believe it have already heard the science-based responses to their claims a hundred times, and rejected them a hundred times. Their minds are riveted shut to anything but their preferred narrative. We’ll not be changing any of their minds today. And the rest of us aren’t in denial, and aren’t asking these made-up, shoehorned questions that try to raise doubt where none exists. So who is this episode for, nobody?
Well, maybe for somebody. Polling data has, for decades, consistently shown that some 6-7% of Americans believe the moon landings were faked; and even scarier, about four times as many Europeans agree with them. That’s a lot more people than the hardcore YouTube-obsessed serial conspiracists; it includes tens of millions of ordinary folks who are otherwise as rational as you or I. It seems there must be something deeply compelling about this odd belief.
For all those conspiracists who believe the moon landing was a hoax.
The Internet is polluted with craziness, and there is no better example than YouTube. If you’ve ever wondered what would happen when you give everyone on the planet the power to show everyone else on the planet their innermost thoughts, desires, and insane ramblings, you need only look at YouTube.
One of the biggest offenders of incoherent ramblings is the subject of spaceflight. Simply search ‘space shuttle’ on YouTube, and you’ll find accusations of the crew of Columbia being abducted by aliens. Crazy, incoherent, and somewhat insulting. Accusations of a moon landing conspiracy are unavoidable in the ‘related videos’ section and are similarly filled with videos from people with either a tenuous grasp of reality or too much time on their hands.
A broken clock is right twice a day, a broken calendar is right every twenty-eight years or so, and every once in a while, simply from the volume of videos on the subject, one conspiracy theorist will present a new and novel idea. Here we present perhaps the only moon landing conspiracy theory that makes sense, is consistent with physical laws, and that may actually be true.
Comparing other government conspiracies
One of the best ways to figure out what it would take to pull off a project is to compare it to earlier, similar projects. If you’re building a 100-storey skyscraper and need a good idea of how long construction will take, just look at how long it took to build the last 100-storey skyscraper. If you want to build a dam and wonder how much it will cost, just look at earlier, similar dams that used the same construction methods and materials.
The Apollo moon landing conspiracy contends that 400,000 government workers and contractors would need to keep quiet, and no inquisitive journalists would be out in the trenches, digging for the truth. This government conspiracy would ostensibly be headed by none other than Richard Nixon, and fortunately we have a pretty good analog to compare a moon landing conspiracy to other Nixon-era conspiracies. Watergate-gate, with far fewer people involved, was found out. It strains credibility that a conspiracy many orders of magnitude larger would not be uncovered.
Additionally, there are many other nefarious activities sponsored by the US government that have been made public. The MK Ultra experiments dosed hundreds of people including Ted Kaczynski and Sirhan Sirhan with LSD. Not all of the records were destroyed, though, and the entire experiment was disclosed in 1977 with a FOIA request. The US Public Health Service infected people with syphilis, and the CIA is responsible for overthrowing dozens of governments around the world. All of these conspiracies were eventually found out. The very idea that researchers, academics, and journalists are unable to pierce the veil of a moon landing conspiracy over forty years strains credibility.
There is one government project on the scale of the Apollo moon landing that was, for a time, secret: the Manhattan Project. With perhaps 300,000 people involved in the creation of the first atomic bombs, it is the only secret government project with the same scale as NASA in the 1960s. Here, history tells us that secrets that big don’t stay secret for long, with the Soviet Union receiving plans for atomic weapons before the end of the war.
In comparing the scale of an Apollo moon landing conspiracy to other, real conspiracies committed by the US government, the argument completely falls apart. The Tuskegee syphilis experiments involved perhaps a few hundred people. The MK Ultra experiments perhaps a few thousand. Watergate-gate involved less than one hundred. An Apollo moon landing conspiracy would involve nearly a half million over the course of ten years, yet moon landing conspiracists say the largest conspiracy of all time would be the one that succeeded. It doesn’t strain credibility – it completely destroys it.
Yesterday, July 20th, was the 45th anniversary of Apollo 11 landing on the surface of the moon, and Neil Armstrong and Buzz Aldrin becoming the first and second humans to walk on the surface of another world. This is, to be sure, one of the greatest achievements of the human species.
There are those, however, who claim that we never sent astronauts to the moon, that the entire thing was an elaborate hoax by the US, meant to intimidate our rivals with our spacefaring prowess. As is typical of most grand conspiracy theories, they have no actual evidence to support their claim. None of the many people who would have to have been involved have come forward to confess their involvement. No government documents have come to light, no secret studios have been revealed. There is no footage accidentally revealing stage equipment.
What the moon hoax theorists have is anomaly hunting. This is the process of looking for something – anything – that does not seem to fit or that defies easy explanation, and then declaring it evidence that the standard story if false. Conspiracy theorists then slip in their preferred conspiracy narrative to take its place. Sometimes they are more coy, claiming to be “just asking questions” (also known as jaqing off), but their agenda is clear.
Genuine anomalies are of significant interest to science and any investigation, no question. For an apparent anomaly to be useful, however, mundane explanations need to be vigorously ruled out (conspiracy theorists tend to skip that part). Only when genuine attempts to explain apparent anomalies have failed to provide any plausible explanation should it be considered a true anomaly deserving of attention.
At that point the answer to the anomaly is, “we currently don’t know,” not “it’s a conspiracy.”
The reason that anomalies, in and of themselves, are not very predictive that something unusual is going on, is that they represent one method of mining vast amounts of data looking for desired patterns. Conspiracy theorists, in essence, make the argument (or simply implication) that where there is smoke there is fire, and then offer apparent anomalies as the smoke. This is a false premise, however. If apparent anomalies count as smoke, then there is smoke everywhere, even without fires.
In other words, any historical event is going to have countless moving parts, curious details, apparent coincidences, and complex chains of contingency. Further, people themselves often have complex motivations contingent upon the quirky details of their lives. All of this is raw material for apparent anomalies. It would be remarkable if you couldn’t find apparent anomalies when combing through the details of an historical event.
Here are some of the alleged anomalies that moon hoax conspiracy theorists have pointed out over the years.
The New World Order, or NWO, is one of the most well-known conspiracy theories in modern history, right up there with the faked moon landings. In fact, there are those who believe that the NWO orchestrated the fake landings to reinforce their control over the population. Like a handful of cookie crumbs, the NWO has a way of slipping into the cracks behind every other far-fetched theory, and like entropy, the theories about them only get bigger with time. Just keep in mind that as plausible as these theories sound, they are, unfortunately, absolutely insane.
10 • The Ten Kings Prophecy
Conspiracy theories that begin with the Bible are nothing new, but according to some people, the New World Order was very specifically predicted in the Book of Revelation. The Ten Kings Prophecy is the theory that 10 nations will rise to power and create a new government. The “prophecy” usually quoted for this comes from Revelation 17:12, which reads “And the ten horns which thou sawest are ten kings, which have received no kingdom as yet; but receive power as kings one hour with the beast.”
The idea of a small group of people ruling the world is entirely what the NWO is about, so it’s no wonder that this is seen as a direct prediction of a new world order. And if you study a prediction enough, you’ll start to see it everywhere. The problem, of course, is that nobody can actually agree on where it’s happening.
There are those who think that the Club of Rome is the seat of the NWO, because they published a paper in 1973 that recommended splitting the world into 10 regions. If you crawl even deeper into the fog, you find others touting the G8 as the group of 10 kings from Revelation. Put that calculator away—there are only eight world leaders in the G8, but proponents of the theory predict that it will one day expand to include 10 core nations, signaling the start of Armageddon and, probably, the end of life as we know it.
9 • Population Control
In order to maintain its iron grip over the world, the NWO would have to trim off some of the excess population. According to conspiracy theorists, that means killing most of the planet and leaving about two billion people to continue the human race. These survivors would obviously be the best of the best—scientists, engineers, writers, and politicians—and they would live underground in cities connected by maglev trains. Alternatively, they’ll use alien technology to build bases on the Moon.
Exactly how the New World Order will trim down the population is a point of contention among theorists. Some people believe that a virus bioengineered by the NWO will wipe out the majority of the population, while others hold firm that Obamacare is slowly poisoning people with vaccines. Other purported methods range from devastating drone strikes to educating people about abortion.
8 • Silent Sound Spread Spectrum
One big theory about the NWO is that they use mind control on the general population. While that’s a constant in almost every conspiracy theory, NWO believers think that, when the time comes, the world leaders will flip a switch and instantly force the population into submission. If such a technology were that important to achieving their totalitarian goals, they would obviously try to test it first.
Silent sound spread spectrum (SSSS) is the term most commonly used, although it’s also called “voice to skull” (V2K) technology. It’s almost a cliche these days when a person complains that the government is putting voices in their heads, but they’re still popping up all over the place. One example that’s always repeated on conspiracy theory websites is that the US military used SSSS on Iraqi soldiers, causing them to surrender immediately.
The idea of setting up a system to send microwave signals into the mind of every American—not to mention the rest of the world—is ludicrous at best, but this theory is a cornerstone of the New World Order curriculum.
7 • Blueprints In Literature
In 1928, H.G. Wells published a book called The Open Conspiracy: Blue Prints for a World Revolution. In the book, he lays out a recipe for establishing a new world order that will last for generations, all of which will be run by the “Atlantic” elite. In 1940, he followed it up with the aptly named The New World Order.
Most people are familiar with H.G. Wells from books like The Time Machine and War of the Worlds, but his guidelines for the New World Order were anything but fiction. As an outspoken socialist, he believed that a world government was inevitable and that widespread eugenics was the proper course for humanity.
True to form, conspiracy theorists are quick to assume that his NWO literature is “required reading” for the world elite. They see it not necessarily as a prediction but as the impetus that brought the “current” New World Order into existence in the first place.
6 • Majestic 12
The conspiracy theory of the Majestic 12 goes something like this: In the 1940s, President Truman commissioned a secret committee of scientists and government employees to keep track of the UFOs that were plaguing America’s skies. The organization, Majestic 12, was kept top secret, but over the years, various documents have surfaced that seem to “prove” their existence.
That’s not what this is about.
According to conspiracy theorists, the government created the entire thing as a hoax in order to keep the public’s attention away from the real threat: aliens in the government. The NWO isn’t headed by the elite of humanity, per se—it’s being planned by aliens who already have humanity’s elite under their control. Majestic 12 is a convoluted mess of a conspiracy within a conspiracy, and while we’re all concerned about it, the aliens have been propelling human look-alikes to powerful government positions and giving us AIDS.