Conspiracy theories are weird things in today’s world. They were once restricted to fringe audiences and channels, but with social media and endorsements from high-ranking figures (including the likes of former US President Donald Trump), conspiracy theories have surged.
Conspiracy theories are like a hydra — you cut down one head and three others grow — but in principle, most conspiracy theories follow the same structure: the government, some sinister secret organization, or various powerful agencies such as the UN, the European Union, etc are continuously planning and implementing conspiracies against the rest of the humanity to keep things under their control. Conspiracy theories are reinforced by circular reasoning: if you don’t find evidence to support it, that just shows how good the conspiracy is. At some point, believing in a conspiracy becomes a matter of faith or ideology rather than anything to do with logical fact — which also makes it much harder to contradict these theories, as they gain an emotional dimension.
Because of their scale, conspiracy theories now pose significant obstacles to improvements in public health. For instance, some conspiracy theorists oppose vaccination and water fluoridation, two methods which have been shown to improve public health. Conspiracy theories led to the 2021 United States insurrection, and notably, conspiracy theories about genetically modified food led the government of Zambia to refuse foreign food aid — even as three million zambians were starving. No doubt, conspiracy theories are a big problem (and big business). Here are just some of the most prevalent conspiracy theories of our time.
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The Earth is flat
Oh yes, we’re starting with this one.
There are thousands of people around the globe who really believe that Earth is flat and stationary. Many of these people are members of the International Flat Earth Society, a community that’s been fueling and promoting this idea for the last 65 years. In support of their beliefs, flat earthers give references from the bible and have created their own theories, most of which suggest that “if the Earth is round then why are we unable to see its curvature”. Of course, we have found it’s curvature — people have known the Earth is round since the time of the Ancient Greeks, and we’ve photographed the Earth from space a bajillion times already.
The society was established in 1956 by Samuel Shenton but its roots can be traced all the way back to 1832 when a writer and socialist Samuel Birley Rowbotham published his book Zetetic Astronomy: Earth not a Globe and along with it, founded the Zeletic society, the predecessor community of Flat Earth Society. Members of the Flat Earth Society are often found speaking against the US government and NASA, they claim that the space agency’s photos of a round Earth are photoshopped. Though astronauts and scientists reject any such claims, and there is more than enough evidence to trust them, flat Earthers are growing in numbers and now their society has a verified Twitter account as well with more than 90 thousand active followers.
COVID is a by-product of 5G technology
COVID-19 wasn’t just a pandemic, it was an infodemic. As the number of cases surged, so too did the conspiracy theories, claiming that the disease is fake, or that it’s spread by drug companies to destroy the budding alternative medicine market. Somehow, one idea became popular: that the coronavirus was somehow caused by the “harmful” signals from 5G towers. Theories ranged from the idea that the towers somehow weaken the immune system to bizarre ideas that 5G is somehow creating the virus (though how exactly something like 5G could create a virus is beyond understanding).
Moreover, some conspiracy theorist goes further and claims that the vaccine shots taken against the infection include micro-sized 5G chips that further allow governments and influential people like Bill Gates to monitor the human population for their personal gains. Though tech experts and scientists have repeatedly confirmed that 5G technology has no connection with the coronavirus outbreak, unfortunately, some people still fall for such myths and avoid vaccination.
Bill Gates himself has raised concern about such conspiracies that are promoting misinformation regarding the pandemic, in one of his recent blog posts, he wrote, “I thought demand for vaccines would be way higher than it has been in places like the United States. It’s clear that disinformation (including conspiracy theories that unfortunately involve me) is having a substantial impact on people’s willingness to get vaccinated”.
Ironically, this made Bill Gates himself become the target of even more conspiracy theories.
CERN — the world ended in 2012 and now we live in a simulation
This conspiracy theory originated from the Twitter thread “Did the World End in 2012?” created by Twitter user Nick Hinton in 2019. Nick Hinton claims that CERN (European Council for Nuclear Research) destroyed the world in 2012 during its Higgs-Boson experiment with the Large Hadron Collider (LHC) and since then all of us have been living in a series of simulations. He also believes that as soon as our world was destroyed CERN cleverly transferred our consciousness into a parallel universe such that we don’t remember the real end of our own universe. A pretty big claim, but the evidence for such a claim just doesn’t exist.
In order to support his claim, Nick and his followers cite Mandela effect examples like people having memories of visiting the Statue of Liberty’s torch although, in reality, it was closed in 1916 after the Black Tom bombing. In his Twitter thread, Nick also mentions Stephen Hawking’s warning that the discovery of Higgs-Boson particles might also result in a “catastrophic vacuum decay” — though this is not what Hawking was referring to. Though all these vague references are not enough to prove his insane theory, they are certainly enough to earn him a decent number of followers on Twitter.
Conspiracy theories about the LHC have only grown in recent years, with TikTok emerging as the main platform for this. Usually, the conspiracy theories are some variation of “the LHC is creating a portal and hiding things from you.” CERN portals sound pretty cool, but unfortunately, that’s not how particle physics works.
The moon landing was fake
Ah yes, the one that just won’t go away.
In 1976, a person named Bill Kaysing started distributing pamphlets titled “We Never Went to the Moon: America’s Thirty Billion Dollar Swindle”. In the pamphlet, he claimed that the Apollo moon landing of 1969 never happened and the whole Apollo space program that took place between 1969 and 1972 was an elaborate hoax. Since Kaysing was the former head of technical publications at Rocketdyne, the facility under North American Aviation that was previously involved in the development of the Saturn V rocket with NASA, his claims garnered a lot of attention from the public as well as the media.
Later, the Flat Earth Society also called the moon landing a hoax and considered it a staged performance sponsored by NASA and the Walt Disney Company. The Flat Earth society claimed that the landing was actually shot as a film on earth under the direction of Stanley Kubrick and then was later projected as real landing footage from the moon.
However, later the moon rocks presented by NASA and the photos of the Apollo landing site on the moon that were captured by non-American spacecraft such as the Chandrayan-2 (launched by India) and Chang’e 2 (China’s lunar probe) confirmed that the claims made by Kaysing and the Flat Earth Society were not true. The high-definition images taken by NASA’s own Lunar Reconnaissance Orbiter (LRO) also proved the presence of tracks left by astronauts during the moon landing. So yes, we have plenty of evidence to prove that Neil Armstrong did actually walk on the moon.
Speaking of conspiracy theories that just won’t go away, here’s another one that’s proven it has surprising longevity. Several conspiracy theorists believe that the condensation trails left by an aircraft during its flight consist of classified chemicals or biological agents that are released in our atmosphere by the government for various secret purposes such as birth control, weather manipulation, mental conditioning, solar energy management, etc. Conspiracist Alex Jones famously said that the government is using chemtrails to “make the frogs gay“. Yes, seriously.
In reality, contrails are uniform trails of vapors that are formed as a result of a change in the air pressure when an aircraft moves through the clouds. It’s not even a process as obscure or extreme as smashing particles together, it’s simple physics.
Though a study conducted by more than 70 scientists in 2016 confirmed that no poisonous or harmful chemicals are found in condensation trails, thousands of conspiracy theorists and their followers still believe in the chemtrail conspiracy and claim that since scientists and researchers are also involved in the spread of evil chemtrails with the government, they can not be trusted.
The rise of the internet and social media has provided conspiracy theorists with new and powerful platforms to spread their bizarre (and sometimes harmful) ideas. We all believe irrational things, but it’s important to verify from time to time if your beliefs are factually correct. If you conspiracy theories just for entertainment purposes, there is no harm in doing so but if you have started to prefer them over peer-reviewed research and scientific findings then it’s probably time to stop. In these pandemic and climate change times, it’s more important than ever to trust the scientific process.