In Skeptoid Episode #364, Brian made a statement regarding conspiracy theories that I’ve since used many times in my continued battle against tinfoil-helmeted nonsense. It’s simple, direct, and 100% true:
A less-elegant and wordier way to say this is that there has never been a popularly held conspiracy theory, ie, a non-evidenced belief that a group of powerful people secretly worked together to do something harmful, that later had compelling evidence to prove that said conspiracy was real.
Whenever I use this argument in social media, I’m invariably sent one of about half a dozen different internet listicles that attempt to prove me wrong by going through a number of conspiracies or conspiracy theories that were later proven to be real. One is a really long slog from Infowars. Another is from Cracked. There are still others from Listverse, Style Slides and True Activist.
What much of the content on these lists, as well as those who send them to me, get wrong on a pretty consistent basis is that there is a difference between a conspiracy and a conspiracy theory. Conspiracies are real, and many of them have been proven conclusively to have taken place at all times throughout history. Some of these include the conspiracy to assassinate Abraham Lincoln, the conspiracy to assassinate Adolf Hitler (the so-called July 20th plot), the conspiracy to throw the 1919 World Series, American tobacco companies conspiring to suppress scientific research that painted their products as harmful, and so on. All of these are real and none of them are theories.
Likewise, things like 9/11 being an inside job, JFK being shot by multiple gunmen, chemtrails, the existence of an all-powerful New World Order, FEMA camps and any number of banking and currency related plots are all conspiracy theories. That is to say, they are all theories that a conspiracy took place – and most have little to no evidence supporting those theories.
Not only is there a difference between a conspiracy and a conspiracy theory, there are all manner of reasons why people would “conspire” about something – and they’re not all bad or harmful. There are perfectly legitimate reasons why a government or corporation would want to keep something secret, whether it’s a patented technology, proprietary research or a sensitive national security matter. Like it or not, not everyone gets to know everything.
With all of this in mind, I want to take a look at one of the lists I’ve been sent a couple of times. It’s representative of the general tone and content of the other lists, and has the added advantage of being from a reputable source, Business Insider. This is a good example of a list of “conspiracies” that is not a list of conspiracy theories, and isn’t even all “conspiracies.”
That’s a lot of qualifiers. To be on this list, the plot has to be huge (whatever that means), driven by the government, and proven to be a conspiracy that with compelling evidence to support its existence.
This is completely true. The Treasury, in its capacity to enforce the Volstead Act, added deadly chemicals to the industrial alcohol that was being used by bootleggers as a substitute for grain alcohol. While the poisoning became public knowledge very quickly, over 1,000 people still died in New York alone, thanks to this true conspiracy.
Another true conspiracy, and one that the CDC openly acknowledges – making up for decades of knowingly sickening hundreds of poor black men. But even during the heyday of the experiment, it was never a popularly discussed theory, and it’s been public knowledge for four decades.
Here’s a perfect example of something that’s not a conspiracy, certainly not a government conspiracy and not even true. The Business Insider piece relies on debunked testimony from anti-vaxxer Barbara Loe Fisher to back up the pseudoscience claim that millions of doses of Jonas Salk’s original formulation of the polio vaccine contained the “cancer causing virus” SV40. But no compelling evidence exists that SV40 actually causes any harm in humans (SV stands for simian virus), and virtually every source that makes this claim is strongly anti-vaccination.
The author of the BI piece is either anti-vaccine or fell for anti-vaccine propaganda.
This would indeed be a “huge government conspiracy” if it were true. As I wrote about in my piece on false flag attacks, the Gulf of Tonkin Incident was actually two separate attacks on a US destroyer by North Vietnamese torpedo boats in August 1964. The first was an actual attack, with bullet holes in both the destroyer Maddox and the North Vietnamese boats to prove it.
The second was theorized even at the time to be a phantom attack, featuring jittery US sailors shooting at shadows. While we now know that this “attack” didn’t happen, there was a tremendous amount of confusion in the White House shortly afterwards, and subsequent tapes show President Johnson openly wondering what happened. It could be argued that there was a conspiracy to make the Incident fit the Johnson administration’s desire to expand US involvement in Vietnam, that’s a conspiracy of a different color.
One of the world’s leading sponsors of vaccine research and bringing healthcare (including vaccinations) to underdeveloped countries is the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation, located in Seattle, Washington. There is nothing more admirable and moral than a person who has built incredible wealth, and then decides to give it back to the world in a way that cannot be measure monetarily. Bill Gates’ foundation is working to eradicate polio and HIV in countries where they are the some of the leading causes of death.
Of course, the Foundation’s support of vaccinations has caused it to be the target of the vaccine denialism movement. These attacks border on the vicious and insane–here are the worst of the worst:
- Natural News, the faux science website, promoted one of the most pseudoscientific lunatics on the planet, Mike Adams, pushes the frightening news that Gates Foundation partner forces vaccines on Malawian children at gunpoint, arrests parents. And then there’s a blog, that insists that vaccines cause autism (no it doesn’t), has this outrageous headline: 131 African Children Vaccinated at Gunpoint – Do Bill Gates and Paul Offit Approve? So, is this true? Well, every article about these vaccinations done at gunpoint referred to this article. It’s been pulled, for unknown reasons, probably because it was found to be inaccurate. It has not been replaced by any other article. And there’s no other article out there (other than the usual vaccine denialist websites repeating the same nonsensical myth) that substantiates this story. It was probably some police protecting the healthcare workers, but absent any other reliable evidence (and repeating the same myth is not evidence), it is nothing.
- Another antivaccination group is pushing the story that Gates is at fault for 47,500 paralysis cases after polio vaccine in India. However, the CDC has reported that there have been no cases of polio in India since 2011, compared to the 741 case in 2009. The paralysis cases were identified as non polio Acute Flaccid Paralysis, which can result from any number of non-polio viruses or bacterium. In this case, non-polio enteroviruses were identified as the cause . . .
So is Bill Gates really a Monsanto-owning, eugenics-loving, anti-education monster who wants to cull the population through poisoned vaccines? Or is he a wealthy man trying to use his fortune do some good in the world in a way that angers people who see conspiracy around every corner?
CLAIM: The Gates Foundation supports deadly vaccines that kill people.
First of all, let’s sweep away any speculation that supporting vaccination is a bad thing. Despite one’s personal opinion, vaccines save lives. Mommy instinct and Google University might not agree with that, but decades of scientific research does.
Vaccination in the developing world makes up a major platform of the Gates Foundation’s philanthropy. Populations that had no access to vaccines for a host of deadly, preventable illnesses now do. The Foundation’s efforts are working. In just one example, India, a country ravaged by polio not that long ago, reported one single case in 2011.
It’s the polio vaccine that makes up one of the most common claims against the Foundation, that Gates-sponsored vaccines caused 47,500 cases of paralysis in India. You’ll find this claim all over vaccine-doomsayer websites, and as you can guess, it’s not true. The polio vaccine does not cause polio. These cases turned out to be acute flaccid paralysis, caused by a non-polio enterovirus. Another oft-repeated and equally bogus claim is that Malawian children were forced at gunpoint to take Gates vaccines. The source of this is, of course, Natural News – which referenced an article from Malawi Voice that appears to have been taken down shortly after it went up.
Skeptical Raptor has a good write-up of these and other false vaccine-related accusations against the Gates Foundation. Read it, then beat your head against the nearest wall.
CLAIM: Bill Gates is a eugenics advocate who wants to cull the world’s population.
Conspiracy theories about global depopulation are legion, with everyone from the UN to the Illuminati supposedly preparing a massive thinning of the herd through “soft kill” techniques. So naturally, a Bill Gates speech about how vaccines can reduce the population of the world would be a big deal and prove him to be a murderous monster.
Of course, Gates never said such a thing.
What Gates DID do was give a TED talk in 2010, called “Innovating to Zero.” The focus of the talk was reducing global carbon emissions to, as per the title, zero. Out of that speech came this quote, which conspiracy mongers have seized on as an admission that Gates is a eugenicist in programmer’s clothing:
The world today has 6.8 billion people. That’s headed up to about nine billion. Now, if we do a really great job on new vaccines, health care, reproductive health services, we could lower that by, perhaps, 10 or 15 percent, but there we see an increase of about 1.3.
Devoid of context, it looks like he’s saying that vaccines and health care could kill a billion people. But a rational person doesn’t look at this and see the richest man in the world calmly (and publicly) outlining his plans for genocide. What Gates is talking about is reducing population growth, and reputable science bears out that a higher-standard of living equals lower birth rates. Included in this are things like good health care, better food and, yes, vaccines.
Like all the other depopulation plans, this one appears to be either not real or moving incredibly slowly.