Michael Fullerton

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Why is someone a "conspiracy theorist" merely because they question the government account of something? Isn't that plain old skepticism?

Skepticism is supposed to involve objectively questioning claims based on evidence. Why then is someone called a conspiracy theorist when they merely question a government's extraordinary claim which is seriously lacking in evidence?

  • Aug 22 2013: A skeptic is merely someone who doubts a theory (as nothing outside the realm of pure mathematics can ever be 100% proven, everything can be considered a theory for our purposes).

    A conspiracy theorist, is someone who believes in things and connections that the general consensus is that they do not exist. The connotations that come with the term, which go beyond the dry definition, is that said conspiracy theorist is also a nut job. This can take the form of a skepticism where the two definitions overlap (not all conspiracies involve disbelief in a theory--some involve belief in something that the general public consensus claims does not exist, the opposite of skepticism)

    Some subjects, like alternatives to the "official" story of 9/11, have attracted so many nut jobs that people tend to automatically assume that any 9/11 skeptic is also a nut job, and therefore, a crap pot conspiracy theorist. Like all stereotypes, it saves time and effort at the cost of accuracy--he may well be a nut job, but you don't know that for certain.

    There are actual conspiracies out there, mind you. You'll typically find that the people dealing with those sorts of things don't like to be called conspiracy theorists due to negative connotations of the term. In fact, a lot of proper, nut job conspiracy theorists don't like to be called as such for much the same reasons.
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    Aug 22 2013: The reason I asked this question was because the first time I started merely asking questions about the official story of 9/11 on a "skeptic" forum I was immediately called a "conspiracy theorist" even though I was simply questioning and not presenting an alternative explanation.

    Closer to home, before asking this question I had been trying for a week to start a debate here on why the official story of the Twin Tower collapses on 9/11 which had absolutely no scientific evidence is considered scientific. Conversely why is the controlled demolition hypothesis rejected when it actually has scientific supporting evidence.

    Eventually the response I got was basically that discussing conspiracy theories were not allowed here. 9/11 makes a lot of people including TED highly irrational.
    • Aug 22 2013: Conspirators want to assure that all skeptics are considered to be irrational. Unfortunately, their job is very easy because people do not want to believe that they are being manipulated by conspiracies.

      There are many valid questions about 9/11 that have never been adequately answered. In addition, there is a small quantity of evidence that the attack involved people within the USA. Plenty of reason for rational skepticism as opposed to believing "without sufficient evidence to the contrary."

      TED can rightfully limit these discussions according to any policies that they determine, and there are other sites available to discuss 9/11 in more detail.
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    Aug 2 2013: Generally I find the order of events is what is different between skepticizm and a conspiacy theory. Many "Conspiracy Theories" seem to be fully formed theories for which evidence is then sought. This is the wrong way around. You are supposed to form a theory based on the evidence at hand. A pre-formed theory causes people to try to match evidence to what they want it to be. I'll give you two examples. The airplane that hit the Pentagon, everyone talks about where's the wreckage from such a big heavy plane. The problem here is that planes are big and heavy compared to cars but compared to a building they are very light for their size so when you crash an aluminium plane into a steel and concrete structure the plane loses badly. My other favorite is from a video on the collapse of the twin towers where they compare the towers behavior to one of the other buildings that remained standing eventhough it was "supporting a heavy crane". Here the problem is that the crane was a self supporting construction crane that in reality was reinfoercing the building.
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      Aug 22 2013: I have never heard of a conspiracy theory that was a fully formed theory for which evidence is then sought, except the official conspiracy theory of how 9/11 was solely the work of al Qaeda. The absurd NIST studies are examples of attempting to match evidence to what they want it to be.
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        Aug 22 2013: 9/11 is a good example. Thousands of people see two planes crash into two buildings which then burn for a period of time until heat stress causes structural failure. There are hundreds of examples of similar fires causing similar structural failures and then someone decides it must have been an inside job and they go looking for all sorts of complex and spurious arguements to support their conspiracy theory.
        This is a diesel fire causing the collapse of a crane in Sydney last year as an example.
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          Aug 25 2013: Nobody saw heat stress cause structural failure of the Twin Towers or WTC 7. That is an irrational _belief_ with absolutely no scientific support whatsoever. No one denies that hot enough fires can weaken steel. 9/11 skeptics however _know_ that there is absolutely no evidence that the fires in the three towers were hot enough to catastrophically weaken structural steel so that it offered almost no resistance.
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        Aug 26 2013: Did you watch the video? That's an unloaded crane that can lift 10tonnes collapsing under the weight of its own jib due to the heat effects of diesel burning in air. The fires in the towers would have been much hotter as the structure would have held the heat in.
        I must point out that your language gives you away as no-one can know how hot the fires were we can only estimate based on the limited knowledge we have of the circumstances or by observing similar situations.
        Plus the problem I see with the controlled implosion theory is that when a crew does implode a building they spend weeks weakening the structure by removing or partially cutting through sections of the structure. Otherwise the explosions required are large and dangerous to the surrounding buildings.
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    Aug 1 2013: No, it is not plain old skepticism. Conspiracy theorists are wildly misguided.

    Think of all the damaging political scandals that those involved would have liked to keep secret, if they could have. Here's an incomplete list of those in the United States:


    These involved only a few or a few dozen people over a singular event, and couldn't be kept secret. But conspiracy theorists would have us believe in plots ranging far and wide, involving hundreds or thousands of people across multiple organizations, all with the flawless secrecy of the Illuminati. And yet not one person breaks the silence or produces a shred of evidence. That's the difference between a conspiracy theorist and a simple skeptic.
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      Aug 22 2013: You're engaging in and Appeal to Incredulity fallacy and the Argument From Conspiracy Fallacy as explained here:


      One example: the Nazi's conspired to exterminate Jews. At one time this was a theory.
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        Aug 22 2013: Alright, how about this then:

        Skeptics hesitate to believe something without sufficient evidence. Conspiracy theorists hesitate to disbelieve something without sufficient evidence to the contrary
  • Aug 1 2013: Those who pejoratively call others conspiracy theorists are apparently taking the position that everyone who proclaims conspiracy is suffering from paranoid delusions.

    That position is not just incredibly naive, it is simply incredible. Our government has a long history of covert operations, which is just another term for a conspiracy.

    When someone tries to stick this label on someone else, I get very suspicious.
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    Aug 1 2013: A conspiracy theory is a theory that explains an event as being the result of a plot by a covert group or organization; a belief that a particular unexplained event was caused by such a group.

    I can question a account and not pinpoint blame.

    Being a spin doctor ... or calling names has become a art form ... you ask a question they put you on the spot.

    Be well. Bob.
  • Aug 31 2013: "The difference between a Patriot and a Traitor is timing"

    -From the Count of Monte Cristo
  • Aug 31 2013: Here is my "conspiracy theory". If you look up organised stalking/gangstalking, such as on wikipedia, the account will give prominent position to the view that organised stalking does not exist, it is a delusion. And this seems to be the view promoted by the "authorities" whoever they happen to be. But this is a ridiculous viewpoint. We know that stalking exists. We know that bullying exists. We know that in the past, and in other countries, individuals, and various social groups have been targets of persecution - collective persecution. It is difficult for a single person to persecute one person, or an entire group (Jews, blacks, etc). And we know that any crime which can be commited by an individual, such as stalking, can just as easily be carried out by a group. So why should the authorities resist the view that gangstalking is a criminal fact. And promote the view that it is a personal delusion? Unless they are engaged in it.
    So my conspiracy theory is this. Not that gangstalking is a conspiracy theory held by delusional people, but a fact, and the conspiracy is the authorities pretending that it doesnt exist and making out that the victims are "crazy". Just like in Russia. any who complained of mistreatment by the state were defined as crazy and put away.
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    Aug 30 2013: Sorry, Fullerton, the evidence points towards 9/11 being far more likely the work of terrorists than am inside job....Your language exposes your bias; there IS scientific evidence FOR the collapses being the result of jet fuel creating fires that softened the frame of the towers; there is conversely almost NO credible evidence for the "Controlled collapse" scenario, nor have ANY of the required personnel involved in this scenario come forward....NO-ONE out of the hundreds required....
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      Aug 30 2013: Prove it. Where is this magical evidence that no one is ever able to produce? Faith-based pronouncements don't cut it for me.
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        Aug 31 2013: The evidence WAS produced, by experts...YOU chose not to believe it...What is your field of expertise that lets YOU decide that the reports of the engineers is not evidence....

        Where are the people who said "Yeah, we did it and here's how." Where are the whistle-blowers? Where are the reports of the needed massive amount of extra "maintenance" staff that would have nbeen observed in the towers prior to the attacks...Quite simply, there IS no compelling, co-ordinated evidence that points to an inside job....and plenty that substantiates the account we know is true: 4 hijacked jets...hit three targets...
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          Aug 31 2013: In other words you have absolutely no evidence. All you have is faith. I need evidence.

          The rapid highly symmetric falls of all three buildings (WTC 7 and the Twin towers) are impossible to scientifically explain using the official story. The only time we see buildings fall that quickly and that symmetrically is when some form of controlled demolition is used. That is why there is absolutely no scientific evidence whatsoever to support the official fairy tale of how the buildings came down.
      • Aug 31 2013: Why, are you suggesting you have some sort of evidence that a structure can't come down quickly in a sort-of symmetrical manner by accident?
        If the conditions can be created artificially, they can also happen by chance.

        The collapse fits the science perfectly. If you don't believe me, as a civil engineer (or several if you're paranoid enough--they can't have bought/coerced all of them, especially non-American ones).
        Steel looses from its tensile strength under heat, it doesn't have to melt to fail. After all, they used to shape it by heating it and beating it with a hammer--its quite malleable while hot.

        The biggest problem I have with 9/11 being an inside job is government competence however. I honestly don't believe the US government could keep such a thing under wraps, especially with all the leaks they've had lately.
        Keeping these big operations water tight over years of scrutiny is practically impossible. All it takes is one person blowing the whistle to the press (unless you're suggesting they bought/coerced all those two, which makes for even more potential leaks, from the people most likely to blow the whistle at that).

        After all, everybody knows that the US government is testing experimental aircraft (if of perfectly human origin) in area 51 for decades now.
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          Aug 31 2013: For a steel structure to come down so fast and so symmetrically vertical support columns need to be separated simultaneously floor by floor. There is no way gradual damage due to fire could do this. This is why it has never ever happened before in the history of civilization. The burden of proof is on those who falsely claim this extraordinary scenario is possible but steadfastly refuse to provide evidence. Instead of supporting your position you are attempting to shift the burden of proof to me. This is the burden of proof logical fallacy.

          Claiming something did no happen because you personally find it difficult to believe is the appeal to incredulity logical fallacy. I need evidence not illogic.
  • Aug 30 2013: I think deep down people know certain things even with out proof (6th sense maybe). If you didnt belive my lies I Will make you look foolish any way I can.
  • Aug 23 2013: some conspiracy theories are plausible, while others require a great big leap of faith and incredulousness. the problem of course is that the incredulous outnumber the plausible and since almost all conspiracy theories deal with subject which tend to make people uncomfortable, it is easy to dismiss all such theories as foolish and ill informed.
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      Aug 25 2013: Where is the evidence that the incredulous conspiracy theories outnumber the plausible and who is it that decides? Dismissing an argument because you find it too hard to believe is a logical fallacy, the appeal to incredulity fallacy. Using illogic to dismiss arguments is the epitome of foolish and ill informed.
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    Aug 4 2013: First of all, i noticed that many people don't understand questioning, which explains why they don't like those who ask too many questions. Second, people don't really need evidence, which explains why they believed (and many still do) in all kinds of Gods.

    Finally, authorities in most countries, including the democratic ones, couldn't care less about your questioning as long as you don't make waves. Corporations and governments don't like that because it undermines their authority (at least that's how they see it).
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    Aug 2 2013: Try living in New Zealand, whose closest neighbor is Australia and has just allowed it's government to openly spy on all of it's citizens. A whopping huge 5 million people and in amongst this huge population are terrorist sleeper cells that have been here for the last 80 years, waiting. They have elaborate smuggling rings that cross the border moving ordinance all over the planet, my countries intelligence dept, The GSB can access any of our emails. Business and private.

    There goes passwords being secure and in the end my country will allow other depts access to this information. Conspiracy? The truth is this is what The States want and my idiotic current government is more than willing to do even if it breaks it's own laws to give it. We arrested a citizen on a request by The States for some hollywood bigwigs and took all his money, we don't know where his money has gone and he can fight extradition because it has nothing to do with politics,drugs, weapons or terrorism. If you want to find out what your government is up to then look at other security agencies around the planet. They talk to each other and i bet since i've used the "T" word this conversai has been red flagged.
  • Aug 1 2013: Michael Fullerton
    Isn't that plain old skepticism? Of course it is.
    How can you can compare Today, Last Week, and Last Month without becoming skeptical
    of the US Democracy sold world-wide as the good geographical Government.
    "1984" was a tough read as a novel, but nothing can deny it's parallels with today.
    “There was of course no way of knowing whether you were being watched at any given moment.
    George Orwell, from the novel ’1984′)
    How often, or on what system, the Thought Police plugged in on any individual wire was guesswork.
    It was even conceivable that they watched everybody all the time. But at any rate they could plug in
    your wire.whenever they wanted to. You had to live—did live, from habit that became instinct—in the assumption that every sound you made was overheard, and, except in darkness, every movement scrutinized.”
  • Aug 1 2013: Its not what you ask, but how you go about asking it... There is a particular line you don't cross in questioning the powers that be- that line is, "Don't sound like a crazy person."
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    Aug 1 2013: TED should invoke a requirement that the main terms stated in a post be defined in said post as a requisite for publishing. What exactly do YOU mean when YOU say "skepticism", and "conspiracy theorist"? We cannot possibly know what "they" are meaning when they stick their label on someone so it is difficult to discuss that question. I have a theory that it is a conspiracy by TED to promote content by allowing endless debate over undefined terms. Oh crap! I just got labeled.
  • Aug 1 2013: It is a form of propaganda, a lie that is embedded deeply now, within the human psyche,
    particularly of American'ts.
    They 'Can't" see the truth, hear the truth, discern the truth or live by the truth.
    They also 'Can't" seek the truth.
    Oh, there are some who do. Good for them but the pressure is on them and increasing,
    to become mentally ill like the rest of those in the U (un) S (suspecting)

    In 1981, the Director of the cia, william casey said, "we will know when our program of
    disinformation is complete, when everything the American public believes, is false."

    Conspiracy? Nah, no way! Hah! No one plots anything. certainly, as they tell the nation, loss of privacy
    is a good price to pay and certainly not a problem if you have nothing to hide..................Yet!
    Those in control are becoming more and more secretive every day.
    What? They have to have something to hide.
    Oh, but "ignore this little "rukus" about snowden.
    I'm not going to scramble some jets for a nobody like him."

    Then why do you want him so badly?
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      Aug 1 2013: Please defend your William Casey quote with a link. I couldn't find one.
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        Aug 1 2013: This quote is all over the internet. I assume you are requesting an original source so as to be able to evaluate the credibility of the information and to consider the context.

        I rooted around a bit and found the source of the quote is a journalist, Mae Brussels, who specialized in conspiracy theories, was not at the staff meeting where it was supposedly said, and never offered a source for her claim, even an anonymous one.

        The staff at wikipedia reached the conclusion, as I read it, that there is not reliable evidence that this statement was ever made by Casey.
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          Aug 1 2013: Yes, I read that as well. I was challenging Random Chance to come up with something different.
      • Aug 3 2013: I'll try and find it. Sorry for the delay
  • Jul 31 2013: Here's an interesting statement for people who resort to calling out for conspiracism;

    "The very idea of a government that can create money for itself allowing banks to create money that the government then borrows and pays interest on is so preposterous that it staggers the imagination. Either everyone in government in charge of the procedure is deficient in intelligence or they have been bought and paid for by those who profit from their venality and infidelity to the public interest."
    -William F. Hixson

    I've never found anyone to be able to answer that. In fact, instead of even trying, people have completely dismissed and ignored. Maybe someone here, in TED, could give an answer?
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      Jul 31 2013: There is no question (mark) in your comment. Maybe that's why you haven't gotten an answer.
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    Jul 31 2013: This is how they work. We say this and you BETTER believe it. Otherwise we'll discredit you by calling you a "conspiracy theorist". Same things happens when people talk about "God" or "Aliens".
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      Jul 31 2013: I saw this conversation topic and I thought to myself, the guy with 'V for Vendetta' mask is going to have a comment posted.
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    Jul 31 2013: Are people often labeled conspiracy theorists if they simply question claims others make?
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      Jul 31 2013: No but "skeptics" often use loaded question and straw man fallacies in lieu of rational arguments. Using such fallacies is much easier than dealing with the actual argument.
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        Jul 31 2013: Michael, I think you're unfairly labeling skeptics. Skeptics are critical and doubtful, but they don't have agendas and therefore have little use for "loaded questions and straw man fallacies." A conspiracy theorist is someone that uses loaded questions and straw man fallacies. They often want something to be true that isn't or is at least unlikely to be true. They see connections that aren't there. (Although I realize that this is a generalization, that there are legitimate conspiracy theorists that are perfectly sane and rationale, but if you're going to stereotype skeptics, I'll allow myself to do the same in return.)

        "Many skeptics critically examine the meaning systems of their times, and this examination often results in a position of ambiguity or doubt. This skepticism can range from disbelief in contemporary philosophical solutions, to agnosticism, to rejecting the reality of the external world. One kind of scientific skepticism refers to the critical analysis of claims lacking empirical evidence. Philosophical skepticism is an old movement with many variations, and contrasts with the view that anything is certain, especially with absolute or unconditional certainty. For example, Hellenistic philosophers would claim such beliefs are dogmatism."

        Source: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Philosophical_skepticism

        I think I'm misunderstanding you, because you said skeptics were objective in your topic.
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          Jul 31 2013: You are misunderstanding me Daniel. I clearly said "skeptics" not skeptics. I am a skeptic since I doubt explanations having no evidence, like the official story of how the Twin Towers came down. "Skeptics" are pretending to be something they are not. They automatically believe highly unusual or disturbing things to be false. That is irrational belief not critical thinking.
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        Jul 31 2013: Ahhhhh... I'm going to leave my comment posted so everyone can see what a dolt I am.
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          Aug 1 2013: No Daniel. Making mistakes and learning from them is smart. Refusing to admit your mistakes though is the worst form of stupidity.
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        Aug 1 2013: Awww, man... I like sitting in the corner, facing the wall, wearing my dunce cap. I know its really a badge of honor. Secretly, I was proud of admitting my mistake, but now that you've gone and pointed out it's a good thing to do so, everyone else knows, and now I can't have any fun pretending to be a dolt. Thanks a lot Michael Fullerton for ruining all my fun.
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      Aug 1 2013: Is that a rhetorical question? I think one is labeled a conspiracy theorist not for questioning claims that others make but for suspecting, often very strongly, that there is conspiring going on. There is at least two if not more conspirators and they've gotten together and are doing some conspiring, so the theorist suspects and he gathers his suspicions into a theory of conspiracy. The good ones use a very paranoid, almost schizophrenic version of the scientific method. It doesn't matter if they tell anyone or keep their conspiracy theories to themselves. It doesn't matter if they're conspiracies theories are right or wrong.

      People often theorize about conspiracies in the government, because there are plenty of possible conspirators, some quite plausible conspirators, and we know for a fact there have been conspiracies in the government before and there always have been conspiracies of some sort in something as large as a national governing body like the one my country us (even when it was a just a wee little thirteen colonies).

      In short, they should be labeled a conspiracy theorist, because the negative connotation aside, they are pointing out that the government is lacking enormous amounts of evidence and as a result two or more people are conspiring. They don't know for sure. So they theorize that they are conspiring. Hence, they become conspiracy theorists.
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        Aug 1 2013: The question implies that those who question the government account of something are automatically labeled conspiracy theorists. I thought people are called conspiracy theorists only if they believe an explanation for something or a conclusion is the result of a conspiracy among those with a vested interest in disseminating information they know to be false.
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          Aug 1 2013: Well, they're not called conspiracy believers (of explanations) and the government is always giving out, excuse me, disseminating information it knows to be false. It has a negative connotation, there's no getting around that. It's like cynics. There used to be a school and cynics were admired and didn't have the bad publicity it has today. I don't know that conspiracy theorist ever had a good day. I think of Sherlock Holmes sometimes, a benign conspiracy theorist, always trying to see secret connections or at least connections that are hidden or hard to see.