There is no group of people this large in the world that can keep a secret. I find it comforting. It’s how I know for sure that [we’re not] covering up aliens in New Mexico.”
—CJ Cregg
A couple of years ago, I was mentioned at a meeting of the Astronomical Society of Southern Africa, of which organisation I am a proud contributing member of many years’ standing. I was not present at this particular meeting, held at the Johannesburg branch of the Society. It appears that a member in the audience challenged some statements made by the guest speaker, and supported his challenge with quotes from my book, The Virtue of Heresy.
Sensing that the invited speaker was being scurrilously questioned, the chairman leaped to his defence. “We take no notice of what Ratcliffe has to say,” the chairman declared, “because he is a conspiracy theorist.”
Good grief. In a manner of speaking, that’s akin to being called the antichrist. There can hardly be another member of the global scientific community who is as anti-conspiracy theory as I. I detest them. I rail against them and their proponents at every opportunity. So I am left to wonder whether my accuser had even read anything I’ve written.
Let me try to clarify this misconception. My position is this: For reasons of efficiency and brevity, science is done by means of widely accepted standard models. We don’t have to reinvent the wheel every time we analyse the results of an experiment or attempt to explain novel observations. We can quickly make great leaps in our reasoning by slotting in the appropriate standard model, which for our purposes is assumed to be true to material reality. However, it should be borne in mind always that the standard models are hypothetical constructs, which may in due course be falsified by more recent discoveries.
Meanwhile, the standard models form the basis of scientific education and constrain the mindset of future generations of researchers and educators. It is inevitable that properly qualified reviewers and editors of mainstream journals will test submitted material against the standards of university science curricula, and therefore, strictly in terms of the accepted standard models.
This not a conspiracy. There is no sinister plot in which people secretly conspire to get rid of opposition. It simply a natural consequence of our education. I know from long experience that professors and journal referees participate in this practice with great sincerity and without any trace of malevolence. The inevitable consequence of this part of the scientific method is that dissenting results are rarely, if ever published.
As a result, it becomes patently ludicrous to measure the veracity of a theory by the proportion of peer-reviewed papers that support the popular view. It is a very real, if entirely unintentional bias in the publication of scientific results.
No, Sir, I am not a conspiracy theorist; but I am, very definitely, a dissident.
From RationalWiki: “”Modern political religions may reject Christianity, but they cannot do without demonology. The Jacobins, the Bolsheviks and the Nazis all believed in vast conspiracies against them, as do radical Islamists today. It is never the flaws of human nature that stand in the way of Utopia. It is the workings of evil forces.
—John Gray, political philosopher
“”Conspiracy theories: They’re just fairy tales adults tell each other on YouTube.
—John Oliver
A conspiracy is a secret plan to achieve some goal. Its members are known as conspirators. A conspiracy theory originally meant the theory pre-formed conclusion that an event or phenomenon was the result of conspiracy; however, from the mid-1960s onward, it is often used to denote ridiculous, misconceived, paranoid, unfounded, outlandish or irrational theories.
Daniel Pipes, in an early essay “adapted from a study prepared for the CIA”, attempted to define which beliefs distinguish ‘the conspiracy mentality’ from ‘more conventional patterns of thought’. He defined them as: appearances deceive; conspiracies drive history; nothing is haphazard; the enemy always gains power, fame, money, and sex.
One of the worst things about conspiracy theories is the fact they are almost airtight. Every debunking or piece of evidence against it will be viewed as an attempt to “misinform the public”, and the lack of evidence for it is viewed as a government cover-up.
The flood of conspiracy theories results in possibly-rational conspiracy theories getting lost in the midst of the noise of newsworthy but disingenuous ideas such as New World Order or the Moon landing hoax.
Not everyone involved in a conspiracy necessarily knows all the details; in fact, invariably none do.

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