How Can You Tell if a Conspiracy Theory is Real? Here’s the Math…

Did the government fake the moon landing? Are drug companies hiding cures to deadly diseases?

The internet permeates with conspiracy theories of all types, shapes, and sizes. And for those who truly believe in one, not much can sway them. That’s what spurred the interest of David Robert Grimes, a postdoctoral research associate at the University of Oxford. Grimes now uses math to examine conspiracy theories.

Live Science reports:

David Robert Grimes, a postdoctoral research associate at the University of Oxford who studies cancer, is familiar with conspiracy theorists. His mainstream writing for the likes of The Guardian and BBC News has included controversial topics that lend themselves to conspiracies, including homosexuality, climate change and water fluoridation.

“The charge that there is a scientific conspiracy afoot is a common one,” said Grimes, in an email interview with Live Science, “and almost inevitably those making these charges will descend into accusing one of shilling or being an agent of some malignant entity.” In response to his work, conspiracy theorists have threatened him, even tried to get him removed from his academic position.

Recently, Grimes created a formula to examine four conspiracy theories, to  see how long they would last before someone blew the whistle. He looked at the moon landing, man-made global warming,

Grimes then calculated the potential success of the four conspiracies that continue to garner support. He used the best-case scenario for the conspirators, where the fewest number of people are involved who could leak such undercover machinations. The moon landing had an advantage over the other three scenarios because it could’ve potentially occurred without having to bring in new conspirators to preserve the hoax — this means the only people who are keeping secrets die off over time. Using peak NASA employment numbers from 1965 (411,000 people), and allowing for the fact that those involved would eventually die, the moon hoax still lasts less than four years, according to Grimes’ calculations. In the end, Grimes finds that if any more than 650 people were involved in creating the moon hoax and keeping it a secret, the cat would be out of the bag.

Using the same equation but modifying it to consider the need for added conspirators, the “lie” of climate change would last nearly 27 years if only scientists were involved in the cover-up, but under four years if scientific bodies were to take part. The vaccination conspiracy makes it to almost 35 years if it’s confined to the Centers for DiseaseControl and Prevention and the World Health Organization, but is revealed in three years and two months if drug companies are co-conspirators. The suppression of a cancer cure — maintained by Novartis, Pfizer, Roche, Sanofi, Merck and Co., Johnson and Johnson, GlaxoSmithKline and AstraZeneca — fails after around three years and three months as well.

Grimes says he doesn’t expect his work or anything else anyone could say will change the minds of true believers.


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