Saturday, July 16, 2005

What to Do with a Conspiracy Theory

Theories suggesting possible causes for the London bombs other than that they were entirely the handiwork of four British-born Muslim men, have begun to proliferate on some of the UK home educating listservs. Predominant amongst what often were merely hints and suggestions of a conspiracy, was the idea that members of the British government were aware that the atrocity was about to occur and did nothing to prevent it. The reason why the government should apparently have allowed the atrocities to happen, was either unclear, or was attributed to the idea that the government was trying to garner support for the Identity Card scheme.

A reasonable number of home educators kept their heads. They demanded to see evidence for such a hypothesis. The supposedly corroborative evidence that was produced, such as the fact that both the London mayor, Ken Livingstone and the PM Tony Blair seemed insincere in their speeches, or that there was an exercise bomb alert being conducted by a private firm at some of the stations on the lines where the bombs went off, or that there was major disruption on the tube network that morning prior to the bombs going off, simply did not amount to anything of note, and some HEors did their best to point this out.

Undeterred, the hypothesists came back. At this point, it is possible to start to get a little desperate! How can people really start to believe a theory for which their is absolutely no corroborative evidence at all? However, there is another way of demonstrating the falsity of these kinds of hypothesis, and this entails taking the hypothesis seriously. What must really have happened in order for a particular hypothesis to have been enacted?

To this end, these kinds of questions were posed:
"If your theory is right, how did the government manage to either recruit so many conspirators, (since permitting a bombing of this size would require an awful lot of recruiting of the police force, for example), or if they didn't recruit them, how did they manage to dupe so many people?"
"Why would people who do not stand to gain politically from the acceptance of ID cards agree to collaborate?"
"If these people were instead rewarded financially, how would they have been paid?".
"How would one ensure the collaboration of all those accountants?"
"Is the media also implicated?"
"If they are, how were they reliably recruited?"
"If the media is being duped, how is it that they have suddenly all become so stupid when it is normally the dream of every journalist to uncover the hidden story?"
"How is it that not one credible person, close to the supposed sources, has not blown the whistle?"
"Surely, some of the conspirators would have been deeply concerned as to the danger posed to family and friends, and would either have called a halt to the proceedings or would have threatened to expose the conspiracy."

When all these questions are answered feasibly, then I will consider a change of mind, but until that point the best explanation remains the official one.

Occasionally it is possible to think that there are signs that the HE community is gaining in political and ethical maturity, but clearly we aren't by any means the whole way there yet! We can only hope that the latest chance to thrash out this kind of issue will provide an opportunity for the more truth-like theories to prevail and that home educators will eventually lead the way in clear-headed, truth-seeking thinking

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