Author Topic: Math Study Shows Conspiracy Theories Prone to Unravel  (Read 2680 times)

Offline stromboli (OP)

Math Study Shows Conspiracy Theories Prone to Unravel
« on: January 26, 2016, 11:26:26 PM »
http://www.bbc.com/news/science-environment-35411684

Quote
A study has examined how long alleged conspiracies could "survive" before being revealed - deliberately or unwittingly - to the public at large.
Dr David Grimes, from Oxford University, devised an equation to express this, and then applied it to four famous collusions.
The work appears in Plos One journal.
The equation developed by Dr Grimes, a post-doctoral physicist at Oxford, relied upon three factors: the number of conspirators involved, the amount of time that has passed, and the intrinsic probability of a conspiracy failing.

He then applied his equation to four famous conspiracy theories: The belief that the Moon landing was faked, the belief that climate change is a fraud, the belief that vaccines cause autism, and the belief that pharmaceutical companies have suppressed a cure for cancer.
Dr Grimes's analysis suggests that if these four conspiracies were real, most are very likely to have been revealed as such by now.
Specifically, the Moon landing "hoax" would have been revealed in 3.7 years, the climate change "fraud" in 3.7 to 26.8 years, the vaccine-autism "conspiracy" in 3.2 to 34.8 years, and the cancer "conspiracy" in 3.2 years.
"The mathematical methods used in this paper were broadly similar to the mathematics I have used before in my academic research on radiation physics," Dr Grimes said.

Building the equation
To derive his equation, Dr Grimes began with the Poisson distribution, a common statistical tool that measures the probability of a particular event occurring over a certain amount of time.
Using a handful of assumptions, combined with mathematical deduction, Dr Grimes produced a general, but incomplete, formula.
Specifically, he was missing a good estimate for the intrinsic probability of a conspiracy failing. To determine this, Dr Grimes analysed data from three genuine collusions.
The first was the surveillance program conducted by the US National Security Agency (NSA), known as PRISM. This programme involved, at most, 36,000 people and was famously revealed by Edward Snowden after about six years.

The second was the Tuskegee syphilis experiment, in which the cure for syphilis (penicillin) was purposefully withheld from African-American patients.
The experiment may have involved up to 6,700 people, and Dr Peter Buxtun blew the whistle after about 25 years.
The third was an FBI scandal in which it was revealed by Dr Frederic Whitehurst that the agency's forensic analysis was unscientific and misleading, resulting in the imprisonment and execution of innocent people.
Dr Grimes estimates that a maximum of 500 people could have been involved and that it took about six years for the scandal to be exposed.
The equation he created represents a "best case scenario" for conspirators - that is, it optimistically assumes that conspirators are good at keeping secrets and that there are no external investigations at play.

Connecting the dots

Crunching the numbers from the three known conspiracies, Dr Grimes calculated that the intrinsic probability of a conspiracy failing is four in one million.
Though this number is low, the chance that a conspiracy is revealed becomes quite large as time passes and the number of conspirators grows.
The Moon landing hoax, for instance, began in 1965 and would have involved about 411,000 Nasa employees. With these parameters, Dr Grimes's equation suggests that the hoax would have been revealed after 3.7 years.

Additionally, since the Moon landing hoax is now more than 50 years old, Dr Grimes's equation predicts that, at most, only 251 conspirators could have been involved.

Thus, it is more reasonable to believe that the Moon landing was real.
Prof Monty McGovern, a mathematician at the University of Washington, said the study's methods "strike me as reasonable and the probabilities computed quite plausible".
Dr Grimes added: "While I think it's difficult to impossible to sway those with a conviction... I would hope this paper is useful to those more in the middle ground who might wonder whether scientists could perpetuate a hoax or not."

No doubt wouldn't make a bit of difference to conspiracy theorists, but it is good that the probability of said conspiracy can be at least examined mathematically. And one tenet, that the bigger the conspiracy and number of people involved leads to a greater chance of disclosure, certainly makes sense.

Re: Math Study Shows Conspiracy Theories Prone to Unravel
« Reply #1 on: January 27, 2016, 12:01:31 AM »
I just think it's funny how there are all kinds of government leaks all the time, but conspiracy theorists think that thousands of people can be silent about some pretty massive things for their entire lives without ever once spilling the beans.

I know a guy who swears up and down that there's a cure for cancer (he didn't specify which kind) but that the government won't use it.  Why the fuck not?  "Let's keep this amazing breakthrough that could make us all rich and famous a secret from the world."  Makes total sense.  And when the people in the know have family members who come down with cancer?  Mum's the word!

Offline stromboli (OP)

Re: Math Study Shows Conspiracy Theories Prone to Unravel
« Reply #2 on: January 27, 2016, 01:00:56 AM »
I have a wife with MS and there has been ongoing research to come up with a cure and billions spent by pharmaceutical companies. There has been some noise made about them not wanting to find a cure for something they can sell stop gap meds for and make money. But in this case, one of the primary researchers is with U of U and I've personally met him, and I guarantee he's not going to hide anything- he has the disease.

 My wife, a now retired LPN, spoke at a couple of seminars, so I've met some of the researchers and a slew of pharmaceutical reps. Got more free planners than I could ever use.

conspiracy theories abound. I've spent a lot of time looking into them, everything from the Illuminati to the long drawn out war we had on here over 9/11 with a conspiracy theorist. I'm glad somebody finally approached it scientifically.

Offline Baruch

Re: Math Study Shows Conspiracy Theories Prone to Unravel
« Reply #3 on: January 27, 2016, 06:46:53 AM »
You can fool all the people all the time.  This analysis supposes that people actually know, and are keeping it a secret.  A secret that nobody knows, is safe ... at best someone will spout it randomly (JFK was reptilian?) ... but like the pod people we are, nobody will believe it.  The problem for the guy in the movie about the pod people, is he was the last non-pod person.  The pod people are paid to look the other way.

Selective skepticism is good, and most conspiracy theories fall to good skepticism (the Moon landing never happened?).  But that isn't the same as ... people are basically bad and this life is a kind of Hell.  It is less important if Hitler survived the Bunker, but that he existed at all.

And no, I don't think a lot of cures are being withheld.  But capitalist pharmacy ... has no interest in curing people, only in making money.  That isn't a conspiracy, that is human nature in groups.  Individuals might want to cure something (like my daughter's fibromyalgia) but if they aren't funded, then it isn't happening.  And the people with the money, are not humanitarians, the researchers are not different than the scientists at the Tobacco Institute.
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Offline TomFoolery

Re: Math Study Shows Conspiracy Theories Prone to Unravel
« Reply #4 on: January 27, 2016, 07:07:47 AM »
I just think it's funny how there are all kinds of government leaks all the time, but conspiracy theorists think that thousands of people can be silent about some pretty massive things for their entire lives without ever once spilling the beans.

It really does defy logic especially in the social media age and evolving 24 hour news cycle, when people fall all over themselves to be the first to have breaking news. The old adage about a secret only working if it's between two people and one of them is dead comes to mind. Especially when it comes to cancer, I refuse to believe hundreds or even thousands of scientists, drug company executives, doctors, etc. could work that hard to keep something like that secret. Surely someone would eventually come into conflict with their personal ethics, leave evidence lying around, get their servers hacked, etc.
How can you be sure my refusal to agree with your claim a symptom of my ignorance and not yours?

Offline SGOS

Re: Math Study Shows Conspiracy Theories Prone to Unravel
« Reply #5 on: January 27, 2016, 07:11:04 AM »
Seems like an odd thing; Quantifying a conspiracy theory's life expectancy. I know of one that's lasted for 2000 years.

Offline Baruch

Re: Math Study Shows Conspiracy Theories Prone to Unravel
« Reply #6 on: January 27, 2016, 07:16:40 AM »
Unless someone like Snowdon comes forward, there were plenty of people who accepted the benign intentions of the US ... and most still do.  But I don't think there is any cure for cancer, secret or potential.  Humans are a cancer, and you can't stop a fire with fire.
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Offline josephpalazzo

Re: Math Study Shows Conspiracy Theories Prone to Unravel
« Reply #7 on: January 27, 2016, 07:17:28 AM »
Seems like an odd thing; Quantifying a conspiracy theory's life expectancy. I know of one that's lasted for 2000 years.

Christianity doesn't count... it has been debunked multiple times. :lol:

Re: Math Study Shows Conspiracy Theories Prone to Unravel
« Reply #8 on: January 27, 2016, 07:19:08 AM »
On Dec. 7th, 1941, Sen. Gerald P. Nye (not the sharpest pencil in the box) was giving a speech to an isolationist audience of American First members. During his speech a note was passed to him saying that the Japanese had attacked Pearl Harbor. (I wonder if he knew where that was at the time?) He finished his speech about how we should stay out of the war. Then, backstage, he exclaimed "Roosevelt must have tricked them into attack us!" And right there a conspiracy theory was born.
We 'new atheists' have a reputation for being militant, but make no mistake  we didn't start this war. If you want to place blame put it on the the religious zealots who have been poisoning the minds of the  young for a long long time."
PZ Myers

Re: Math Study Shows Conspiracy Theories Prone to Unravel
« Reply #9 on: January 27, 2016, 07:20:59 AM »
Christianity doesn't count... it has been debunked multiple times. :lol:
A writ of habaeus corpus sanctum would have settled that lot at the start.
We 'new atheists' have a reputation for being militant, but make no mistake  we didn't start this war. If you want to place blame put it on the the religious zealots who have been poisoning the minds of the  young for a long long time."
PZ Myers

Offline josephpalazzo

Re: Math Study Shows Conspiracy Theories Prone to Unravel
« Reply #10 on: January 27, 2016, 07:47:48 AM »
A writ of habaeus corpus sanctum would have settled that lot at the start.

You're assuming there was a real Jesus. When you assume you make and ass of u and...

Re: Math Study Shows Conspiracy Theories Prone to Unravel
« Reply #11 on: January 27, 2016, 07:57:48 AM »
You're assuming there was a real Jesus. When you assume you make and ass of u and...
No, I'm saying if they don't produce the body they have no case.
We 'new atheists' have a reputation for being militant, but make no mistake  we didn't start this war. If you want to place blame put it on the the religious zealots who have been poisoning the minds of the  young for a long long time."
PZ Myers

Offline Hakurei Reimu

Re: Math Study Shows Conspiracy Theories Prone to Unravel
« Reply #12 on: January 27, 2016, 08:22:42 AM »
You can fool all the people all the time.  This analysis supposes that people actually know, and are keeping it a secret.  A secret that nobody knows, is safe ...
A secret nobody knows is not a secret. It's just something unknown. Also, conspiracy theories are about large-scale actions. Large-scale action cannot happen without large numbers of people being involved and know something about what's happening. They may not know everything, but they know enough such that any serious digging will reveal the unpleasant truth.

And no, I don't think a lot of cures are being withheld.  But capitalist pharmacy ... has no interest in curing people, only in making money.  That isn't a conspiracy, that is human nature in groups.  Individuals might want to cure something (like my daughter's fibromyalgia) but if they aren't funded, then it isn't happening.  And the people with the money, are not humanitarians, the researchers are not different than the scientists at the Tobacco Institute.
The fact that the alternative medicine "industry's" bread and butter is exactly selling "cures" to ailments that pharmacology can't cure puts lie to this. See, a company would stand to make it big should a genuine cure is available to a big nasty like cancer, because they get every cancer sufferer on the planet after their cure — they'd be the only game in town — and there will always be a steady stream of new cancer sufferers to profit from. That huge influx of cash would absolutely be worth it. For once, the tragedy of the commons (here, the commons is all cancer patients) works to our advantage.

The problem for cancer and other chronic diseases is that the more we study them, the less likely it seems that there is a final "cure" for any of them. In order to say you're cured of cancer, you would have to get each and every single cancerous cell in your body, but the only way to assure this 100% is to kill the patient, because anything effective enough to get all those cancer cells are toxic enough to whack an unhealthy number of the normal cells. Also, any patient far enough along to have cancer has a pool of pre-cancerous cells that, while not cancerous now, are likely to turn cancerous in the future, even if the current cancer is cured. This has all come out in the primary research on cancer, which you need in order to develop all those treatments of cancer that are coming out all the time. Similar results have come out of other chronic diseases, like AIDS — indeed, AIDS has turned from an acute, lethal disease (with life expectancy of a few years) to a chronic, manageable disease within my lifetime due to the billions of dollars thrown at it by pharma and universities, but there doesn't seem to be a way to actually cure it short of destroying the immune system and dooming the patient to life in a bubble.

You're right that pharma companies don't care about our health, but only about our money, but by the same token, they don't care about other pharma companies either. They will screw each other over, and actual cures for what was previously been only treatable are killer apps.
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Re: Math Study Shows Conspiracy Theories Prone to Unravel
« Reply #13 on: January 27, 2016, 08:25:05 AM »
Ah, one of my favorite conspiracy theories: "If men got breast cancer there would be a cure by now."
We 'new atheists' have a reputation for being militant, but make no mistake  we didn't start this war. If you want to place blame put it on the the religious zealots who have been poisoning the minds of the  young for a long long time."
PZ Myers

Offline stromboli (OP)

Re: Math Study Shows Conspiracy Theories Prone to Unravel
« Reply #14 on: January 27, 2016, 09:50:01 AM »
Ah, one of my favorite conspiracy theories: "If men got breast cancer there would be a cure by now."

Did nobody point out that men get breast cancer?
http://www.nationalbreastcancer.org/male-breast-cancer

Rare, but it happens.

I would put religion in the mass hysteria category before a conspiracy theory. Belief and theory are not the same.