Monday, 6 September 2010

The Week in Tinfoil: Conspiracy Theory News in the UK, Aug 30 - Sep 5 2010

Another week's worth of conspiracy- and 'conspiracy theory'-related news stories. I'm sure I've missed some - I haven't been paying very close attention to the news, which not ideal. And it's a bit late for the intended Sunday slot. Any suggestions for things to add gratefully accepted. Thanks to Bensix for the early spot of the Demos paper in response to last week's instalment.

On to the week's tinfoilery:

1. Lockerbie bomber Megrahi: conspiracy theories persist -

Those conspiracy theories are so persistent...

2. The British Tabloid Phone-Hacking scandal -

News of the World accused of being bent shocker continues, with mention of the way the initial police investigation seemed to be rather cursory and, er, non-committal, and recollections of the 'collective amnesia' among employees noted by some select committee or other.

This time round, apart from more time having passed with concomitant evidence degradation, Coulson - one of the main allegatees - is working in no. 10 with PR man Cameron. There is also new testimony from an ex-reporter, Sean Hoare, whom I've just heard a NOTW/NI spokesperson smearing as a 'disgruntled former employee who was sacked because of drug and alcohol issues'- which certainly - obviously - doesn't establish his testimony is unreliable (they didn't really try to establish that it was, just left the smear dangling suggestively - note btw that only ex-employees are likely to blow the whistle anyway), and is also not necessarily to be taken at face value, since one of the benefits for employers of having (informally) a heavy drink and drugs culture is that it provides a standing pretext for getting rid of people. For all I know, Hoare was dismissed for having an insufficiently 'flexible' attitude to just this kind of skullduggery.

Meanwhile 'oiky' Gove says the claims are 'recycled', which is a variation on the 'these allegations have been around for a long time' routine. Yes, so very annoyingly persistent are conspiracy theories.

3. Get ready for conspiracy theories as ESPN adds BCS - BusinessWeek

A trivial story about possible accusations of conflict of interest - the use of the C-word introduces a pretty strong slant and a certain amount of obfuscation, e.g. this non-sequitur: Locksley is at one of those schools that lacks the big-name recognition in the college football perception game. He's also been at the other end of the spectrum as an assistant at BCS conference programs Maryland, Florida and Illinois - and believes those power players get their fair share of coverage: "I'm not a conspiracy theorist."

4. Markets And Conspiracy Theories : Planet Money : NPR

Scholars who study conspiracy theories tell us that the human mind desperately seeks to find order in chaos— and that is exactly what is going on as technical analysts try hard to make sense of an erratic stock market.
- here the stupidity of junk economic forecasting is quite unnecessarily compared with 'conspiracy theories', and the method used for drawing this comparison is...junk psychology.

5. Defeating conspiracy theories | Magazine | Progress

One of the authors of the recent Demos hack report on conspiracy theories complains: The reception of our report by online conspiricist [sic] communities is already an interesting micro-study of this process at work. Featuring prominently on websites such as,, and conspiricist youtube channels, the report has been mangled, cherry-picked and generally misrepresented out of all recognition.

Of course we can take this on trust from him, as we may the claims in the paper, since he committed to journalistic standards; source attribution; the evaluation of evidence; rigorous research methods and generally the baseline standards that we use to discriminate between credible truth claims, and the many pieces of misinformation packaged to look like fact. This last bit of redundancy of course lifted from the dreadful Counterknowledge.

The other author has also been commenting: Conspiracy theories are corroding our society | Jamie Bartlett | Comment is free |

He too complains that his pisspoor pamphlet was unwelcome among those he wants government to spy on:
We were accused by many 9/11 "truthers" (even though the paper was not about them) of being paid disinformation agents
But the paper was about them, wasn't it, Jamie.

There's quite a bit to be said about the Demos piece, but I'm too busy at the moment.

6. China bestseller slams Goldman Sachs, as conspiracy theories over crisis crowd shelves | CJAD

Another excellent example of the inverse relationship between use of the term 'conspiracy theory' on the one hand, and on the other clarity and informativeness. The first half is in the former mode, though it's a pretty restrained example not particularly aiming to ridicule. It contains a certain amount of mouth-breathing about conspiracy theories, and selected phrases (translated from a very different language) suggesting hysterical confabulation. We do not really get anything here that could tell us where in the capacious category conspiracy genre and dramatized accounts of scandals the book falls. It could be utter tosh, or largely accurate.

The second half actually looks at the substance, and those who continue reading to the end get: To buttress its myriad allegations, the book notes well-known links between former top Goldman Sachs executives, such as former U.S. Treasury Secretary Henry Paulson, and government officials in America and other countries. It also includes copies of what appear to be U.S. court documents. They include a complaint against Goldman Sachs and Fabrice Tourre, a Goldman vice-president accused of shepherding a deal at the centre of SEC charges that the company sold mortgage securities without telling buyers that they had been created with input from a client that was betting on them to fail. Last month, a U.S. federal judge approved a settlement calling for Goldman Sachs & Co. to pay $550 million to settle civil fraud charges...

7. Pont-Saint-Esprit poisoning: Did the CIA spread LSD? - BBC News

60 years ago, and no longer a topic only for loonies now that pretty much everyone involved is dead. Ah, the bad old days, perpetually just about one adult lifetime ago.

8. Tony Blair's scary journey - Telegraph

Andrew Gilligan gives a reasonable analysis of Blair's cut-price autohemibiography. The book seems to expose the kind of mental gymnastics that most real conspirators tend to be engaged in. A long summary of the book in the form of tweeted quotes and comments is here.

9. Mahmoud Ahmadinejad: may end up as Genghis Khan with a nuclear bomb - Telegraph


10. Businessman victim of 'state created crime' court hears - Telegraph

More apparent self-serving incitement from US govt agents provocateurs - customs this time, rather than the FBI.

11. Pakistan Taliban threaten attacks on US and Europe - Telegraph

Of course the popular terrorist method of leaving cars in prominent places with smoke billowing out and some camping-gaz canisters inside doesn't involve the FBI suggesting and organising any heavy artillery, so the Times Square Terror is not so obviously an arranged crime, just a crap one. And it's that kind of hell that the latest terror despatch tells us to be afraid of. There is a novelty - the person who told the Associated Press news agency by phone from an undisclosed location about this stuff didn't claim to be representing any kind of 'Al Qaeda' franchise.

12. Fidel Castro's Conspiracy Theories: Worth Considering? By Benjamin Radford, LiveScience's Bad Science Columnist

An aside - the author asks rhetorically: is Skull and Bones planning global domination? Well, basically, yes - it's a non-trivial part of the US ruling class setup, which aims to establish life-long relationships of mutual aid and trust between a select group of those who intend to, and will, occupy positions of great power in the US. And once they do so, they follow the US aim of global domination (or more politely, hegemony, preeminence, etc.). So basically, yes. But that's not what the author means by 'planning global domination'.

As with many such dismissals of supposed 'conspiracy theories', fairly reasonable points about the clearly observable power structure in the world seem somehow to be beside the point. There's some extra element that the 'debunker' has in mind without which nothing counts as a 'secret society' conspiracy theory, and which also guarantees that the theory must be untrue and crazed.

Any reasonable varsion of the 'conspiracy theory' gets the response: everyone knows that. These allegations are old. There's nothing weird or Esoteric or SMERSH-like about them, so they don't partake of the true essence of Conspiracy Theory. This seems to be a genuinely held attitude - that 'conspiracy theory' doesn't actually mean mad and untrue, but at the same time, nothing counts as a CT unless it is in fact mad or untrue (in the opinion of the speaker).

13. The Face of Iraqi Democracy - Ahmad Chalabi may not be what his U.S. backers wanted—but he’s what they got. | Newsweek

I can't really put this better than 'Bruschetta Boy' at Aaro Watch:

Of course, the idea that an Iranian spy with a conviction for bank fraud managed not only to convince liberal journalists that he was the authentic voice of democracy, but to convince the CIA that he headed a credible nationalist movement would be ludicrous enough. The idea that, having been exposed as such, he could nevertheless remain powerful enough to gain the post which allowed him to disqualify his political opponents from standing in elections, still more so. The idea that someone who the Decent Left first lionised, then defended, then finally more or less refused to talk about, could be the kingmaker in the Iraqi elections, seven years later, is pretty far fetched.

So I guess Ahmad Chalabi must just be a very popular politician after all.

[update 6 Sep, 18:13 - addition of Castro story; tidied up comment on Chinese story; typos. 19:51 - added numbering 21:52 added vanity link to the word 'Counterknowledge'
8 Sep 16:40 added #13 on Chalabi (thanks to ParanoidAndroid in comments) - also slightly expanded Castro/Skull and Bones bit


  1. If NoW journalists can be sacked because of alcohol and drug 'issues' I'm amazed they manage to staff the paper!

  2. The best conspiracies are those which are quietly buried without any fuss , with docile,conspiring journalists,compliant judges, no awkward World in Action documentaries. The internet has made things a bit more difficult for the seamless conspiracy.
    I guess quite a few conspiracies come under the same umbrella, the ur-conspiracy. How about Dunblane (100 year lock)?. Check out reference no 6,referring to a para midway through, at the bottom for a familiar face and friend of this blog.

  3. Conspiracy?

  4. Why would an entrenched, incredibly powerful duopoly carrier impose an "elaborate scheme" to milk more money out of consumers and businesses that already pay for bandwidth? To make more money, of course. While the Free Press is certainly known for occasional hyperbole, suggesting that AT&T could abuse their market position using paid prioritization certainly isn't conspiracy material. It's not even controversial.

  5. Bensix - strewth, that piece and the stuff it refers to are wrong in too many ways to get my bonce around at the moment. Definitely merits a mention in dispatches - I'll put something in the next instalment as that's now looming.