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Exposing conspiracy theories

Was President John F. Kennedy’s (JFK) assassination perpetrated by his Vice President Lyndon B. Johnson? Do the water vapor trails of aircraft contain toxic chemicals planted by the government? Did this year’s flu vaccine spread the epidemic further? Conspiracy theories have been subjects of debate for decades and even centuries. One might refer to them as rumors, and they have little merit.

To understand how conspiracy theories lack credibility, one should examine their roots. A majority of these theories begin circulating after an unexplainable event occurs or an unanswered observation is not satisfied.

Recently, a CDC epidemiologist, Tim Cunningham disappeared after leaving work early claiming he did not feel well (he was just denied a promotion). Police searched Cunningham’s house and found that all his belongings (wallet, identification, keys, etc.) were intact. However, Cunningham was nowhere to be found. A neighbor told police that a few days ago, Cunningham had approached them and asked them to remove his contact info from his phone. While the investigation was occurring, a news site called published an article stating that a CDC doctor told a reporter that this year flu vaccine was actually causing the flu. Later, YourNewsWire updated the article, claiming that Cunningham was the scientist who gave the information and was presumed to be dead.

Cunningham’s case appears to have reached a dead end. So far, there is little to no concrete evidence on what happened to him. In the absence of this evidence, people naturally search for clues or at least some explanation as to what may have occurred, and that is when fear comes into play. The fear of not knowing what happened is similar to emptiness, and people may want to fill up that emptiness. For example, there’s a stereotypical fear that the government is always doing something behind the people’s backs. As a result, we make speculations or agree with rumors that may not be true.

After a huge or shocking event, many people may be left in disbelief. For example, it’s hard to believe that President JFK, one of the most popular presidents, was killed by two shots fired by Harvey Oswald. Although the killing was hate-motivated, it’s difficult to comprehend how such a small event could cause a large outpouring of emotions. We want to believe that there should be larger motive fueling a large event. In a way, conspiracy theories are not created, they happen.

In addition, certain theories challenge the credibility of years of scientific research. The Flat Earth conspiracy theory states that the Earth is not round, but flat. Many have devised and conducted experiments in an attempt to prove the theory. However, claims that the scientists have been feeding lies to society for centuries does not make sense. Columbus sailed the world round, satellites have taken numerous photos from space showing the Earth’s tilt and rotation on its axis, the Apollo missions allowed man to view the Earth with the naked eye, and has anyone found the edge of Earth? And why would scientists lie to us that the Earth is not round?

Many current theories are also insensitive. After the Sandy Hook or Parkland shooting, several people commented online claiming that the shootings were a hoax planned by liberals who want to away Americans’ right to bear arms and tighten gun control measures. These commenters seem to be more worried about weapons rights rather than the suffering of the victims’ family and friends. They twist tragic situations to back their arguments. It demeans people.

Although there is little certainty on what may be true when something occurs, it’s not the best idea to speculate on the specifics or readily believe a conspiracy theory.

By Phillip Leung, Production lead
Photo by Jessica Dixon