Any article entitled “On swine-flu conspiracy theories” should have an automatic warning label, but the one noted below, in the Canadian newspaper The Globe and Mail is really terrific (h/t ML). Conspiracy theories are all over the internet and they even show up here in the comments from time to time, but I’m glad to say our readership is saner than some. Like scientific theories, conspiracy theories aren’t hard to formulate (humans being an inventive and imaginative species), but like good science, conspiracies aren’t so easy to implement. It’s not that conspiracies don’t exist, the philosopher of science Karl Popper observed in The Open Society and Its Enemies:
But the striking fact which, in spite of their occurrence, disproves the conspiracy theory is that few of these conspiracies are ultimately successful. Conspirators rarely consummate their conspiracy.
Why is this so? Why do achievements differ so widely from aspirations? Because this is usually the case in social life, conspiracy or no conspiracy. Social life is not only a trial of strength between opposing groups: it is action within a more or less resilient or brittle framework of institutions and traditions, and creates–apart from any conscious counter-action–many unforeseen reactions in this framework, some of them perhaps unforeseeable. (Popper, The Open Society and its Enemies via BoingBoing)
In other words, the more intricate the conspiracy the less likely to work. Tabatha Southey’s piece in The Globe and Mail isn’t as fancy as Popper’s, but it is every bit as cogent:
I wish I could sustain enough faith in humanity to believe in the conspiracy theories that I’ve heard recently regarding the H1N1 vaccine.
If government and pharmaceutical companies are capable of working together, with medical professionals, all committed to doing pure evil, this would at least demonstrate that mankind is capable of completing mammoth, future-altering projects.
We’re just choosing not to. (Tabatha Southey, The Globe and Mail)
I’d love to just reprint the whole thing, but that would surely violate fair use, so instead you should go read it yourself. But the point is clear. The same people that peddle this crap are the ones who also assure us that no government program would work because it’s so incompetent. Maybe they should just hire one of the many conspiracy groups who seem to be able to pull off extremely subtle and complex schemes without any trouble — and even without any of us knowing about it (except for all the people who seem to be in on the secret and are blabbing it all over the internet). Yes, read Southey’s article for yourself. But still, I can’t resist teasing you with a little more of this delicious piece:
It’s as if humanity had come a full 360 degrees. We’ve moved from the credulousness that thrives on ignorance (excusable when we were actually ignorant), to a healthy skepticism, to just skepticism, to cynicism. And this led increasing numbers of people right back to credulousness again.
?I’m boosting my immune system,? people keep saying to me, beatifically.
The phrase is like a new ?Hail, Mary, mother of God? – it’s said as if the mere knowledge of the words, and the things the utterance of those words suggests about the speaker, provided special protection.
I know that there are some who believe that “get vaccinated against flu” is also magical thinking. I’m not going to say that magical thinking doesn’t exist in modern medicine. It does. But with vaccination we can dispel the magic with some anti-magic: evidence.
If that’s not good enough for you, you are welcome to try amulets or copper bracelets. Or just boost your immune system. I’m sure you can find immune system jumper cables somewhere on the internet. Order before midnight tonight and you might get a set of steak knives as a bonus.