Following up a recent post on this blog addressing the issue of fake news, it’s worth addressing an issue we sometimes run into when patrons come into the library looking for information on conspiracy theories. For example, if someone were to ask for a resource about how best to spot a reptilian, or for information about how NASA faked the landing on the moon, we would have a problem, because the kinds of books and articles that address those questions don’t generally meet the criteria for inclusion in the library’s collection. The main thing that keeps them out is their lack of references to anything resembling objective evidence, let alone scientifically verifiable studies. As works of fiction, they fail the requirement of literary merit.
This is not to say we don’t have information about particular conspiracy theories, or how they emerged, or why people believe them. We certainly have resources along those lines. This scientific paper, for example, explores how the tendency for people to believe in conspiracy theories is related to their perceived lack of control in the world.
We also have many books and articles that cover real conspiracies, which certainly have occurred, such as the Tuskegee Syphilis Experiment, Nixon’s Watergate conspiracy, Project MKUltra, and so on. Real conspiracies are eventually uncovered, and one researcher has even offered estimates for how long it should take conspiracies to be uncovered given the number of people that would have to be involved. For example, given the number of people who would have had to be involved in the conspiracy, the moon landing conspiracy should have been outed in a bit under four years.
Finally, if you’d like some help deciding whether something you’ve found on the internet is discussing a real conspiracy or a conspiracy theory, check out this short checklist in Scientific American. Your PSC Librarians are also happy to discuss questions about evidence and information creation.