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43 comments, In Series: Thoughts on Conspiracy Theories

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A Proposed Standardized Scientific Approach to Assessing Conspiracy Theories and Questions

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There's a system for assessing explanations for how things work and if they work. It's called science. But things are not that simple. There are a lot of circumstances where it's not so easy to measure outcomes.  

Outcomes are a big deal. There's a ton of writing on outcomes research. Psychotherapy, health and related approaches have used Outcomes research  to support claims of efficacy. 

Outcomes research often collects studies and pulls them together to report findings based on that collection of studies. 

Perhaps there's a way to take a somewhat scientific approach, or at the least, a statistical approach to some theories that are in the realm of what is designated conspiracy theory. I'm thinking that it would be helpful to have a database, on a website, or a network of websites, where all the questions and concerns were laid out, in some kind of standardized, systematic way. 

Let's take a look at the 911 collection of theories. This is indeed a collection.  It's possible to break down all the concerns into different elements or parameters. I'll start with one I'm comfortable with-- that the official government investigation was not satisfactory. It would be interesting to see what percentage of Americans are not satisfied with it. Then, we could identify the questions that were and were not answered, the people who were not questioned. I'm sure it's been written about somewhere, but it would be nice to have all those questions set in a database that was tagged and organized in standardized ways. 

Then there  are many many claims that relate to 911-- about building seven, about the way the buildings collapsed at the WTC, about the state of readiness of the military, about whether a plane actually hit the pentagon or the WTC, about energy weapons, about nano-thermite.  

It would be useful to have some way to look at all the theories, to see which ones were given the most credence, which ones had the most support from credible sources, which ones were referred to on non-credible sources, which ones had science underlying them. Of course all of the credibility parameters I just listed would also need support. The database would enable critics and supporters to weigh in on all the sources, all the claims. 

We're in a transitional time for information open-ness and data accessibility. That means that the amount of data and content that is available is exploding. Government is, sometimes willingly, sometimes reluctantly, opening trillions of bits of data to public scrutiny. Even corporations are putting more and more info on the web in accessible formats. 

It is time that people who are interested in different "conspiracy theories" also work together to develop a way of addressing data, questions, claims, disputes, challenges, sources-- all the parameters that play a role in creating the questions and then assessing them. 

In science there are standards which are set to measure phenomena and facilitate discussion of what scientists are focusing upon. It would serve everyone well to develop a standardized, scientific collection of tools to raise questions about events that occur, so people, from the bottom up can assess those events, not necessarily accepting the explanations provided by the mainstream media or the government. We've had enough experience where the government lied, where the mainstream media either helped the government to lie or failed to do its job and ask all the questions it should have. 

Ideally, this project should be indecently funded, without government money involved, since government has such a bad record of being part of the problem. There are foundations which might help. There are millions of people who believe one conspiracy theory or another. It would be fruitful for people who believe in different theories to come together-- not to argue for their pet theories, but to work together to establish solid, scientific and statistical approaches to addressing questions and claims of different theories. 

I do not have any fantasies that such an approach will answer or resolve all the questions But it seems there are already methodologies and approaches that could more systematically address the kinds of questions that events sometimes raise. These would definitely be able to parse out the elements of the claims that were solidly grounded in facts and science. 

There is no doubt that, for lack of a better word, "conspiracy theory" groups already claim to have taken a scientific approach. I'm saying it will be far more credible if a standardized approach is established, that any new events or questions can be plugged into. This article proposes that a collection of scientific, statistical standards be established, with a shared language, set of measures, criteria and databases-- so, where possible, common language and standards can be established. 

It would be valuable if these databases could be integrated, creating APIs (application programming interfaces) and integrating them with other website databases, such as transparency databases that look at connections between organizations, like ones the Sunlight Foundation have funded. 

These API tools and website mashups might also tie together seemingly disparate factors. 

I write this with the hope that it opens a conversation. If there's anything like it already in existence, please add your comments, with links. 

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Rob Kall is executive editor, publisher and website architect of OpEdNews.com, Host of the Rob Kall Bottom Up Radio Show (WNJC 1360 AM), and publisher of Storycon.org, President of Futurehealth, Inc, and an inventor . He is also published regularly on the Huffingtonpost.com

Listen to over 200 of Rob's Podcast interviews here.

Rob is, with Opednews.com the first media winner of the Pillar Award for supporting Whistleblowers and the first amendment.


With his experience as architect and founder of a technorati top 100 blog, he is also a new media / social media consultant and trainer for corporations, non-profits, entrepreneurs and authors.

Rob is a frequent Speaker on the bottom-up revolution, politics, The art, science and power of story, heroes and the hero's journey and Positive Psychology. He is a campaign consultant specializing in tapping the power of stories for issue positioning, stump speeches and debates, and optimizing tapping the power of new media. Watch me speaking on Bottom up economics at the Occupy G8 Economic Summit, here.

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Killers get convicted all the time with no body an... by Skyler Trombly on Tuesday, Jan 22, 2013 at 10:22:47 AM
Some funding possibilities include kickstarter, as... by Scott Baker on Tuesday, Jan 22, 2013 at 10:31:36 AM
The problem with having a large independently fund... by Skyler Trombly on Tuesday, Jan 22, 2013 at 11:23:17 AM
Easy there, Skyler.   Might makes right, do... by Ned Lud on Tuesday, Jan 22, 2013 at 11:57:30 AM
Good points.  The "official"  authoritie... by Alan 8 on Wednesday, Jan 23, 2013 at 11:06:49 AM
look at the evidence and decide whether a crime ma... by Mark Adams JD/MBA on Tuesday, Jan 22, 2013 at 11:44:10 AM
Hey Mark Adams~   I would give you two thum... by Ned Lud on Tuesday, Jan 22, 2013 at 12:04:48 PM
That is what AE911Truth.org is doing.... by Anton Grambihler on Tuesday, Jan 22, 2013 at 1:04:07 PM
How about a website that posts court rulings and p... by Toby Seiler on Tuesday, Jan 22, 2013 at 6:00:46 PM
Yours is an interesting thesis and proposal, Rob.&... by Michael Gillespie on Tuesday, Jan 22, 2013 at 11:49:10 AM
To your theory, smell, benefit tests, I would add ... by Hubert Steed on Tuesday, Jan 22, 2013 at 12:15:53 PM
... come under the heading of scientific testing, ... by Michael Gillespie on Tuesday, Jan 22, 2013 at 1:02:32 PM
Yes, I see that comes under the theory test. Theo... by Hubert Steed on Tuesday, Jan 22, 2013 at 2:51:23 PM
CIA Document #1035-960 RE: Concerning Criticism of... by Joe Giambrone on Tuesday, Jan 22, 2013 at 12:07:46 PM
Rob, you are engaged in a good effort, but in my o... by Dave Spencer on Tuesday, Jan 22, 2013 at 12:15:21 PM
involves setting up the theories or hypotheses in ... by Rob Kall on Tuesday, Jan 22, 2013 at 1:46:00 PM
There is something similar to your proposal, altho... by Dwain Deets on Tuesday, Jan 22, 2013 at 3:38:59 PM
family tree format, with each branch having a prob... by Toby Seiler on Tuesday, Jan 22, 2013 at 6:14:14 PM
The tools of science are useful in forensic invest... by Richard Pietrasz on Tuesday, Jan 22, 2013 at 12:58:02 PM
Thanks for these insights!... by Andrew Kreig on Tuesday, Jan 22, 2013 at 1:04:12 PM
We only find truth from knowledge and this knowldg... by Merv Ritchie on Tuesday, Jan 22, 2013 at 2:23:45 PM
if your proposal could be carried out without bein... by intotheabyss on Tuesday, Jan 22, 2013 at 3:45:14 PM
  I made a Bayesian analysis of the 9/11 ... by Mark Sashine on Tuesday, Jan 22, 2013 at 4:27:31 PM
For kicks, on the site I was watching where the sh... by Toby Seiler on Tuesday, Jan 22, 2013 at 6:49:12 PM
... but you just know you are going to be seen as ... by B. Ross Ashley on Tuesday, Jan 22, 2013 at 8:09:04 PM
oath, in this? This is a valuable idea. But, it i... by Paul Repstock on Tuesday, Jan 22, 2013 at 8:24:17 PM
a huge hurdle to overcome when the highest authori... by Paul Repstock on Tuesday, Jan 22, 2013 at 9:18:52 PM
Supposing that some large coalition of Truth Seeke... by Paul Repstock on Tuesday, Jan 22, 2013 at 9:54:02 PM
As others above have mentioned the problem... by Kevin Cloyd on Tuesday, Jan 22, 2013 at 9:33:54 PM
Mr. Gillespie has unwittingly pointed out a ma... by J. Edward Tremlett on Tuesday, Jan 22, 2013 at 11:21:32 PM
So what are we to do when discussing contentio... by J. Edward Tremlett on Tuesday, Jan 22, 2013 at 11:23:06 PM
It's not always that your favorite scientific ... by J. Edward Tremlett on Tuesday, Jan 22, 2013 at 11:26:01 PM
But then again -- who did that poll? How did t... by J. Edward Tremlett on Tuesday, Jan 22, 2013 at 11:28:08 PM
A policy paper on media violence, with 83 citation... by Michael Gillespie on Wednesday, Jan 23, 2013 at 12:35:11 AM
We should look at what its detractors are saying, ... by J. Edward Tremlett on Wednesday, Jan 23, 2013 at 7:59:35 AM
I propose a new "X Prize". This prize would be pai... by Paul Repstock on Wednesday, Jan 23, 2013 at 12:42:50 AM
Nowhere in this article or in the comments which f... by Frank Legge on Wednesday, Jan 23, 2013 at 1:13:57 AM
Modern Chemical Discoveries, by Richard Clements, ... by Peter Duveen on Wednesday, Jan 23, 2013 at 9:32:02 AM
I see nothing wrong with Rob Kall's suggestion tha... by Peter Duveen on Wednesday, Jan 23, 2013 at 9:17:16 AM
If we are going to use s scientific standard for m... by Ken Stevens on Wednesday, Jan 23, 2013 at 11:51:34 PM
There is a simpler way to determine if a conspirac... by Perry Logan on Friday, Jan 25, 2013 at 7:53:36 AM
Yes and I would include the crackpot, illegitimate... by Davey Jones on Friday, Jan 25, 2013 at 8:46:38 AM
More than 11 years later, we are still at the stag... by Richard Pietrasz on Friday, Jan 25, 2013 at 7:50:18 PM