A new and particularly infuriating conspiracy theory, the Sandy Hook Truthers, inspired a recent post on Firedoglake. I wasn’t going to open that can of worms on a major political blog because that’s like making eye contact with a rabid dog — once you attract their attention you’ll never get away. Debating directly with a conspiracy theorist is like staring into an abyss of circular arguments and despair.
So instead I took a look at a basic tool for critical thinking, Occam’s Razor, and showed how you can apply it to news stories and alternative theories:
Conspiracy theories proliferate in the blogosphere, via YouTube videos, and on social media. As the Internet penetrates further into our lives, it can seem like these beliefs become more common. This may be a side effect of communal reinforcement engendered by modern communication — irrespective of what evidence could confirm or deny these ideas, they seem to become more weighty and relevant the more our friends share them, the higher their view counts become on YouTube, or the more they show up in Google searches.
Using Occam’s Razor can help radical thinkers focus on important facts over flights of fancy.
It concerns me when these theories appear among my activist friends, because I think it makes the entire movement look bad when we stray from fact into fantasy. Rather than address any specific conspiracy theory, I want to focus on a tool which I believe can help us focus on reality and its many tangible ills. That tool is Occam’s Razor, also known as the Principle of Simplicity (or the Principle of Parsimony if you want a nice five-dollar word).
I was flattered when Bob Carroll, author of The Skeptic’s Dictionary (which I quote in the piece) told me he enjoyed this essay!
Image via Wikimedia Commons, released under a Creative Commons Share Alike license.