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January 22, 2013

A Proposed Standardized Scientific Approach to Assessing Conspiracy Theories and Questions

By Rob Kall

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.

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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. 

Frankly, I am tired of being told of two hour videos that are convincing, with no detail, no explanation of why they are convincing.  I would rather be able to view data that can be collapsed, abstracted, detailed and parsed. Those videos may have value, but they should be indexed and annotated, especially since some are loaded with advertisements. 

Finally, I am not under the illusion that taking the approach I am describing will prove any particular theory. But we humans have a history of developing science and inquiry. We've made progress on applying new tools to better explain and assess claims and theories. Applying these tools and methodologies may shed more light on and smarten the conversation. It's worth considering. My hope is that any such efforts will be designed so that non-professionals will be able to participate in adding to the light that is cast. 

If a science, as I've described can develop, then it is even possible that universities may begin to offer courses and, eventually, concentrations, degrees, or departments that focus on the science of the study of explanation of events.  This might emerge from history departments, but maybe not. 

I did a search at flickr.com for images tagged with "conspiracy theory" seeking one to illustrate this article. 

I found the one below that suggests an interesting way to look at a range of theories. I don't in any way endorse the image, but it does show a way that diverse ideas can be looked at. 


the image from flickr is By Vince_Lamb but appears to be attributed to Public Eye. I was  unable to find the image there, but it appears that Public Eye may indeed be one of a number of sources that offer data that can be useful, for at least some perspectives. Public Eye comes from a progressive perspective. That would be a consideration in pulling together all the elements. I'm sure there are conservative sites that do similar work. 

This is the third article in a series I've written on conspiracy theories:

A Conspiracy Conspiracy Theory   

Conspiracy Theory As Distraction From Reality  1/16/2013



Submitters Bio:

Rob Kall has spent his adult life as an awakener and empowerer-- first in the field of biofeedback, inventing products, developing software and a music recording label, MuPsych, within the company he founded in 1978-- Futurehealth, and founding, organizing and running 3 conferences: Winter Brain, on Neurofeedback and consciousness, Optimal Functioning and Positive Psychology (a pioneer in the field of Positive Psychology, first presenting workshops on it in 1985) and Storycon Summit Meeting on the Art Science and Application of Story-- each the first of their kind.  Then, when he found the process of raising people's consciousness and empowering them to take more control of their lives  one person at a time was too slow, he founded Opednews.com-- which has been the top search result on Google for the terms liberal news and progressive opinion for several years. Rob began his Bottom-up Radio show, broadcast on WNJC 1360 AM to Metro Philly, also available on iTunes, covering the transition of our culture, business and world from predominantly Top-down (hierarchical, centralized, authoritarian, patriarchal, big)  to bottom-up (egalitarian, local, interdependent, grassroots, archetypal feminine and small.) Recent long-term projects include a book, Bottom-up-- The Connection Revolution, debillionairizing the planet and the Psychopathy Defense and Optimization Project. 

Rob Kall Wikipedia Page

Over 200 podcasts are archived for downloading here, or can be accessed from iTunes. Rob is also published regularly on the Huffingtonpost.com

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

To learn more about Rob and OpEdNews.com, check out A Voice For Truth - ROB KALL | OM Times Magazine and this article. For Rob's work in non-political realms mostly before 2000, see his C.V..  and here's an article on the Storycon Summit Meeting he founded and organized for eight years. Press coverage in the Wall Street Journal: Party's Left Pushes for a Seat at the Table

Here is a one hour radio interview where Rob was a guest- on Envision This, and here is the transcript. 


To watch Rob having a lively conversation with John Conyers, then Chair of the House Judiciary committee, click hereWatch Rob speaking on Bottom up economics at the Occupy G8 Economic Summit, here.


Follow Rob on Twitter & Facebook. His quotes are here

Rob's articles express his personal opinion, not the opinion of this website.


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