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Magic Show & Lecture Sunday
The Psychology of Magic

Dr. Tony Barnhart (photo by Dimitri Sherman)

Sun. Nov. 23 2014 at 2 pm
Baxter Lecture Hall, Caltech

IN THIS DELIGHTFUL SHOW of mind and magic Dr. Tony Barnhart, a cognitive scientist and part-time professional magician (with over 20 years of performing experience), shows how magicians are informal cognitive scientists with their own hypotheses about the mind. His work on the science of magic has been featured in Science News for Kids as well as in national television shows, and he teaches a course on the Psychology of Magic at Northern Arizona University where he teaches students the principles of cognitive science through the art of magic. Don’t miss this entertaining and enlightening show and bring the kids!

This lecture includes a magic show!


Then, on December 7th
Alan Turing: The Enigma

IT IS ONLY A SLIGHT EXAGGERATION to say that the British mathematician Alan Turing (1912–1954) saved the Allies from the Nazis, invented the computer and artificial intelligence, and anticipated gay liberation by decades—all before his suicide at age 41. In November a major motion picture starring Benedict Cumberbatch as Turing will be released, based on the classic biography by Dr. Andrew Hodges, who teaches mathematics at Wadham College, University of Oxford (he is also an active contributor to the mathematics of fundamental physics). Hodges tells how Turing’s revolutionary idea of 1936—the concept of a universal machine—laid the foundation for the modern computer and how Turing brought the idea to practical realization in 1945 with his electronic design. Hodges also tells how this work was directly related to Turing’s leading role in breaking the German Enigma ciphers during World War II, a scientific triumph that was critical to Allied victory in the Atlantic. At the same time, this is the tragic story of a man who, despite his wartime service, was eventually arrested, stripped of his security clearance, and forced to undergo a humiliating treatment program—all for trying to live honestly in a society that defined homosexuality as a crime.

A book signing will follow the lecture. We will have copies of the book, Alan Turing: The Enigma, available for purchase. Can’t attend the lecture? Order Alan Turing: The Enigma from Amazon. This lecture will take place in Baxter Lecture Hall, Caltech.


Weekly Highlights

INSIGHT at Skeptic.com sheds light, offers critical perspective, and serves as a broadly accessible, evidence-based resource on mysteries of science, paranormal claims, and the wild, woolly, wonderful weirdness of the fringe. This week’s highlights are:

Donald Prothero
Eine andere Welt

Donald Prothero visits Berlin to attend the 74th Annual Meeting of the Society of Vertebrate Paleontology, and reflects on differences he perceives in social and political trends and scientific understanding between Germany and the United States.

Read the Insight

Mike McRae
Next Gen Dr Karl? Not Me

Mike McRae considers the ever-changing fashions of the public face of science presenters—fatherly and professional, wacky and fun, and so on—and reflects on the necessarily varied audiences such tropes seek to reach.

Read the Insight


NEW SCIENTIFIC AMERICAN COLUMN ON MICHAELSHERMER.COM
A Science of War: Do democracies make better lovers?

In Michael Shermer’s November 2014 “Skeptic” column for Scientific American, he considers democracies as perhaps the best way to create the type of perpetual peace toward which most sentient beings strive.

READ THE POST

FOLLOW MICHAEL SHERMER ON TWITTERFacebookInsight

ABOVE: Detail of the official White House portrait of John F. Kennedy, by Aaron Shikler [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons

About this week’s eSkeptic

On November 22, 1963, President John F. Kennedy was assassinated by lone-gunman Lee Harvey Oswald. Yet, about three-quarters of Americans believe that President Kennedy was the victim of a multi-shooter conspiracy. In this week’s eSkeptic, Michael Shermer discusses several psychological factors at work that allow conspiracy theories to persist.

Michael Shermer is the publisher of Skeptic magazine, a monthly columnist for Scientific American, and the author of the forthcoming book: The Moral Arc: How Science and Reason Lead Humanity toward Truth, Justice, and Freedom (January 20, 2015).

Why Kennedy-Assassination
Conspiracy Theories Endure

by Michael Shermer

Half a century ago (plus one year) this Saturday, President John F. Kennedy was assassinated. Less than a year later the Warren Commission released its comprehensive 889-page report, concluding that Lee Harvey Oswald acted alone. Since then, exhaustive investigations, such as those by Gerald Posner (Case Closed, 2002) and especially Vincent Bugliosi (Reclaiming History, 2007) have backed up that original finding: Oswald acted alone.

Nevertheless, according to a 2009 CBS News poll, between 60 and 80 percent of Americans believe that President Kennedy was the victim of a conspiracy; that is, that there was more than one shooter in Dealy Plaza that day in November 1963. They are all wrong.

We’ve known the truth for 50 years, but many continue to deny the facts.

Consider just a few of the many facts that are not in the conspiracy believers’ favor: Oswald’s Carcano bolt-action rifle—with his fingerprints on it—was found on the sixth floor of the Texas School Book Depository building, where he was employed, in a sniper’s nest he built out of boxes that also had his fingerprints on them. Three bullet casings there match what 81% of eyewitnesses in Dealey Plaza reported hearing—three shots. (And tests with this rifle found that three shots are possible in the amount of time he had.) It was the same rifle Oswald purchased by mail order in March 1963. Co-workers saw him on the sixth floor of the Book Depository building shortly before JFK’s motorcade arrived, and saw him exit soon after the assassination. Oswald went home and picked up his pistol and left again, shortly after which he was stopped by Dallas Patrolman J.D. Tippet, whom Oswald shot dead with four bullets, all witnessed by numerous observers. He then fled the scene and ducked into a nearby theater without paying. The police were summoned and Oswald was confronted. He pulled out his revolver and attempted to shoot the first officer but the gun failed and he was arrested, saying, “Well, it is all over now.”

So why, 50 years later, do the conspiracies persist? There are several psychological factors at work:

COGNITIVE DISSONANCE. Big effects need big causes—we want balance between the size of the cause and the size of the effect. Example: The Holocaust is one of the worst crimes ever committed in history and its cause was the Nazi government, one of the most criminal regimes in history. There’s a balance. JFK was the most powerful political person on the planet, yet he was killed by a lone nut, a nobody living on the margins of a free society. There’s no balance. To reduce this dissonance and balance the scales, people have concocted countless co-conspirators (some 300 total) to stack on the “cause” side of the scale, including the KGB, Communists, radical right-wingers, the CIA, the FBI, the mafia, Castro, pro-Cuban nationalists, the Military Industrial Complex and even Vice-President Johnson (in a coup d’état). We saw a similar effect unfold when Princess Diana died. The cause of her death? Drunk driving, speeding, no seatbelt—but Princesses are not suppose to die of common causes. So, to dissipate the dissonance, conspiratorial cabals, everyone from the Royal family to the MI5 British intelligence agency, were conjectured to have been the real cause.

ANXIETY. Psychological research also shows that when people are placed in environments or conditions in which they feel anxiety and a loss of control, they are more likely to see illusory patterns in random noise and to look to conspiracies as explanations for ordinary events. Sociological research has also found that natural disasters such as hurricanes and earthquakes lead people to think that there are conspiratorial forces at work. The assassination of JFK was exceptionally disrupting and anxiety-producing, so it fits the bill.

RANDOMNESS. Another psychological factor at work is that the mind abhors randomness. We humans are terrible at understanding chance and probabilities. We find hidden patterns everywhere, even in purposefully random sequences and noise. And yet much of what goes on in life, in politics and in history at large is the product of chance and randomness. By this I do not mean to imply that JFK was killed by a random event, but that Oswald acting alone feels like a random factor when compared to a vast conspiratorial cabal plotting to overthrow the United States government.

Some conspiracy theories are real—Lincoln’s assassination, Watergate—so we should not dismiss them all out of hand without first examining the evidence. But once an unmistakable pattern unfolds before our eyes—as it has, for 50 years straight, in the case of JFK’s lone killer—it’s time to let the President RIP, for this conspiracy theory is DOA. QED. END

48 Comments »

48 Comments

  1. George Tzindaro says:

    The belief that it was NOT a conspiracy rests on an assumption that the official sources and the official witnesses are telling the truth. Since that is an unproven assumption, and there are so many cases where the government is known to have lied, it is perfectly rattional to disbelive the official story and consider other possibilities as at least equally likely. This particular conspiracy theory will remain in the active file until some credible source debunks it. And the U.S. government is simply not a credible source.

    Instead of looking for psychological motives for beliving in a conspiracy, it might be better to look at the psychological motives of those who think it was not a conspiracy. Why would anyone who pays attention to the news ever think the official government story might be true? What deep psychological factors underlie the thinking of people so credulous they think the government might be telling the truth?

    • Keith Kenyon says:

      This is a neat one… But you must be joking???

    • Michael says:

      Your argument is completely back to front. You are starting by assuming that which you wish to prove (that the US government is lying about the Kennedy Assassination), and then demanding that others prove the negative. Same with your general statement about conspiracy theories. The reason people disbelieve them is either because they are so inherently implausible that they can be dismissed out of hand (no planes on 9/11, for example), or because there is little or no evidence to back them up. If you believe someone else was involved in the Kennedy shooting, then you need to provide actual evidence that that was the case. Picking holes in the opposing argument is not enough.

    • aqk says:

      Shhh…! Although a citizen of Canada, I am secretly part of the US government.
      I and 780,499 others have been sworn to secrecy about the JFK assassination.
      Of course, many of us are dying off now- there’s only about 396,300 of us left.
      But! We KNOW HOW TO KEEP A SECRET!
      Oh! I was also involved with the 9-11 plot. Much better organized (we learned from the JFK “incident”), it required only 175,000 of us to achieve this triumph. If you wish the truth about this, just stop in any NYC fire-station and ask them. They are part of it, you know. Tell them that you are now party to this particular conspiracy and that you now know that very few (if any) of their comrades and family members ever died there. They may refute your argument initially but I am sure you can convince them if you try hard enough!
      Good luck!

  2. George Tzindaro says:

    The most plausable theory for this case is that both Kennedy brothers were killed by orders of Frank Sinatra in retaliation for the FBI murder of Marillyn Monroe. She was poisoned by the FBI at Robert Kennedy’s order because she was pregnant and blackmailing JFK to get a divorce and marry her or she would go public and name him as the father of her child. Since either of those actions would have ruined his politcal career, RK had her murdered by the FBI and Sinatra, who was secretly in love with her, used his well-known Mafia connections to get revenge.

    This theory is ignored by the popular concpiracy theory movement beccause people want to find a political explanation, not just a personal one. But since people at the top of the political system are human, they act from the usual human motivations like everybody else, and that means they are more likely to kill each other over sex and revenge than money or power.

    • Willis Warren says:

      LOL

    • Edward Stern says:

      the government has a bad track record at keeping secrets. So give it up. Just like the 9/11 truthers there is nothing new to see here move on.

    • Matt says:

      The most plausible assumption is you’re full of shit.

    • aqk says:

      Damm! You are getting a it closer to the truth, but no one will believe you. Have you asked where Rita Hayworth figured in this? HA! Of course not! There are just too many links that we have covered up- ask and speculate some more, and… well, you know- we have ways of shutting you up. Just ask Bill Clinton.

  3. James Criscuoli says:

    One of the issues with the Kennedy assasination is that there was mass confusion between the law enforcement agencies. This contributed greatly to the suspicion that something was there when it really wasn’t. Its hard for people today having grown up where conspiracies are always figured out in movies and TV. You have to remember it was 1963 and the Dallas PD, Secret Service, FBI, CIA were not as trained to handle and investigate crimes like they are today. Bill O’Reillys Killing Kennedy was about as accurate a portrayal as your going to find about the assasination. I heard Gerald Ford interviewed about it and he said that while on the Warren Commission there wasn’t once credible piece of evidence that pointed to anyone but Oswald acting alone.

  4. Patrick Hoggard says:

    You don’t yave to believe that anyone is/was lying to think that there could have been a conspiracy. You only have to note that Oswald was killed two days later and that his killer was himseelf dead a short time after that. Everything in the Warren report can be true, but still we are left with that loose end.

    • Ro Niles says:

      Coulda, woulda, musta, didda.

    • Dave says:

      Well, Jack Ruby died in July of 1967 of complications of lung cancer. To the extent that one can argue that almost four years is “a short time after”, I guess…

      You know, just saying something isn’t evidence. Do you have any evidence of a conspiracy aside from the fact that someone died on a specific date? I could search death records and find all sorts of people who died between Nov 1963 and July 1967. Does that fact mean we should investigate all of them?

      Ruby was originally sentenced to death. If they had executed him before July 1967, would that be evidence that he was part of a conspiracy because he would have died “[an even] short[er] time after” Oswald.

      I can tell you one thing that would be proof of something odd. If Ruby had died a short time BEFORE Oswald. Now, that would have been something!

  5. Bob Pease says:

    The Bavarian Illuminati are still around .
    They have ( since since at least the Seventh Century),
    orchestrated practically every major event in History.

    As an example, why do the portriats of George Washington look qiute different before and after the American revolution?
    Explanation:
    When it was obvious that America was coming to power, The French decided that they could use the opportunity to overtake the Brits, and finance the Revolutionary War.
    They kidnapped George Washington and replaced him with a ringer of similar appearance.
    *******************
    Why is there a strong smell of Bavarian Beer in Colorado Springs?
    Does it have anything to do with the Warproof shelter underneath Cheyenne Mountain??

    Dr. S .

    • Matt Giles says:

      Wow I love the way you talk with authority about subjects you clearly know nothing about. You are so stupid that stupid needs a new name so not to confuse it with your infinite stupidity. Get laid.

      • Bob Pease says:

        Does that come with fries.??

        On a scale of offensive, you get 3.5 oit of 10 because the Popester has been insulted by folks who understand English.

        The reward for a good round of insults is a reprise in kind using every letter of the alphabet

        Your Snerdesque reply gets you a nomination for the least clever aitempt at satire ever posted to Eskeptic.

        If you’re serious , it is sad that you do not even recognize admittedly bizarre attempts at satire.

        You are a good candidate for the Church if the Subgenius, but I gon’t think they need any more sad trolls than the pseudonerds that take them seruouslY
        Fie or pity on thee sire!!

        Pope Bobby II

  6. mary says:

    Since I was in college when this event happened, and since I was then an ardent Kennedy supporter, my take is this:
    When Kennedy decided to run for President, he was immediately idolized by the press as the Second Coming. He could do know wrong. He was a Philosopher King!!! he had a happy, lovely family,etc. The adulation was much greater than with Obama’s idolization.
    During his second year in office, disturbing facts began to seep out. About the secretaries who came back to work in the afternoon with wet hair,his dalliances with numerous women in the White House,while married, etc. The reason these were so shocking is that they were in opposition to his press-made image.
    When the Warren Report came out, no one believed it. If the press and government had lied about everything else related to the Kennedys, who could believe this government report? That is why there is still a conspiracy theory.

  7. Charles Munroe says:

    Michael you left out two of the most important points for the
    persistence of conspiracy theories:
    MONEY – Often conspiracy theories generate books and lectures that
    generate income for those promoting the conspiracy theory.
    Creationism is a good example. Look at all the books that have
    been written in support of creationism, the creation parks and
    museums; all income generators.
    PUBLICITY – Develop a zany conspiracy theory and you too have a
    chance of being interviewed on television and developing a following
    on the internet.

  8. Paulo Cabaço says:

    One of the doctors in Parkland Hospital (sorry I can’t remember his name, but his interview is recorded in the TSBD facebook page ) gave an interview last year saying that he didn’t believe in the magic bullet theory.He didn’t make much publicity of it, bur there are serious people who have some doubts about the the Warren Commission report.Although all evidence points that Oswald was involved in crime, no one can say beyond any reasonable doubt that he acted alone

  9. Luis says:

    It’s odd how Shermer doesn’t mention that the House Special Committee on Assassinations in 1976 concluded that there probably was a second shooter. Why reduce the issue to what ”the public” thinks, as though that’s the only contending voice? He might be right about the reasons that the public thinks it was a conspiracy, but why not mention that an investigation carried out by a government body concluded differently to the Warren Commission if he’s going to talk about evidence?

    Shermer mentions ”three bullet casings”, and this was consistent with what most of the people on the day ”heard”. Well, many witnesses also report hearing a shot ringing out from behind the Grassy Knoll. Bullet casings in the Book Depository don’t mean that three shots were fired from there (snipers are known to often clear the first case without firing it. I don’t remember why they do this). Oswald was undoubtedly in the building at the time, and undoubtedly fired at least two shots. But the point is to look at all the data, but not just fitting it with ”Oswald did it”. The Zapruder film also shows that the president’s head flung backwards, suggesting that a shot was indeed fired from in front. And the metal spray in the president’s head suggests that he was struck with a hollow point projectile which fragmented upon impact and resulted in the spectacular blow-out of his skull that we see in the film. But Shermer doesn’t even mention the Zapruder film, even though many Americans are well aware of it. He instead comes up with his own ”theories” about ”cognitive dissonance” and ”anxiety”, instead of addressing a key piece of evidence that forms the core of many Americans’ opinions about what happened on that day. And he also assures us that the Warren Commission was ”comprehensive” (why was it comprehensive? Because the Warren Commission said so?), even though it’s been severely criticized by many people close to the scene and was headed by a future head of the CIA. Perhaps the ”cognitive dissonance” belongs to Shermer, who can’t seem to even contemplate that there might have been institutional pressures to make the conclusions come out a certain way. His faith in the objectiveness and disinterestedness of officially appointed bodies is endearing, but it doesn’t cut muster when it comes to understanding the facts.

    • jimbeaux says:

      “The Zapruder film also shows that the president’s head flung backwards, suggesting that a shot was indeed fired from in front.”
      Actually, a bullet entering from the front will result in the back of the head being blown out and forcing the head FORWARD.
      https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=d7TbB4uxJEk starting at the 52 second mark.

      • Luis says:

        This test isn’t conclusive at all. A melon is much softer than a human skull, so a lot less energy and momentum would be transfer to the melon as a whole and the jet effect would be much more important to it, in spite of the claim made in the P&T video. Secondly, the melon wasn’t fixed to the table, and the size of the table could be having an effect (a larger table might be more appropriate since it’s less prone to moving and bouncing, which could influence the melon’s movement). Thirdly, there is a spray of melon goo coming out from both the entry hole and the exit hole. This isn’t seen in the Zapruder footage. Fourth, tests that have been done on cadavers have shown a different reaction when fired at using the solid rounds purportedly used by Oswald to hit Kennedy in the back of the head.

        I should mention that the House Select Committee on Assassinations concluded that, while there was probably a second shooter, the fatal shot that killed Kennedy was fired by Oswald. Their conclusion that there was a fourth shooter was largely based upon acoustic data taken from a police recorder at the site during the assassination. This data has since been called into question. The HSCA concluded that they didn’t think that the CIA was involved (or that the Soviets or Cubans were involved). However, one of the top guys on the committee later stated that he thought the CIA hadn’t been completely forthcoming and that they had obstructed the investigation.

        • aqk says:

          Just to pique your interest, I will advise that there were SIX shooters. But the gun of one of them jammed, so you can count him out.
          He was a failure there. But his fate was sealed-
          An old man in 2001, he was used later to carry the final charges up the stairwell (I advised against it as he was so old) of the WTC to the 32nd floor. I was wrong- he performed magnificently. Remember the blasts coming out of the 30-33 floors as the top of the tower collapsed? That was his contribution. I can now admit that I was wrong- he did pretty well for an old man running up stairs!
          Oh- And John McAfee, hiding out in Central America. And boasting he’s part of the 9-11 conspiracy. Oh-oh! Kiss of death.
          Why do think he practices firing .50 cals so much? The CIA will have a tough time offing him!

    • Bob says:

      Here we go again with the House Assassinations Committee finding a probability of a conspiracy; based on acoustic evidence that was later discredited. In other words jocko; it didn’t happen.

  10. Provocateur says:

    I don’t think the question is “why do people believe conspiracy theories”, as much as “why DON’T people believe the official government reports”. Answer? Lack of government credibility.

    Give this, people are suseptible to alternate/competing story lines, and face it, most people are not as critical/logical/skeptical as we would ideally like them to be.

    I don’t “believe” any particular conspiracy theory, but I sure as hell don’t believe the Warren Report either.

  11. Canman says:

    I remember when Gerald Posner’s book came out. It appeared to me to coincide with a peak in interest in JFK conspiracy theories. This book caused a lot of consternation among the JFK conspiriatti. I think the main reason is that Cased Closed was such a great book and provided a much more interesting and comprehensive narrative.

  12. Tim Felton says:

    The gun never had fingerprints it did have a Palm print. Oswald couldn’t have been seen exiting the building just after the assassination because he was he was stopped and questioned by a police officer and verified as being an employee by a supervisor.
    The doctors at Parkland were ordered to preform a tracheotomy when his brain was missing brain matter immediately after being shot. On and on… The Warren Commission did a lousy job but the 1981 House of Representatives determined that Kennedy’s assassination was part of a conspiracy.

  13. tpaine says:

    I finally read the Warren commission report and there was comprehensive evidence presented that Oswald was indeed the lone shooter. All of the evidence presented was and is open to critical analysis and no one has chipped away at this body of evidence.
    I have little faith that our govt. could have successfully conspired to kill him, or successfully covered up such a plot, or most importantly, kept it a secret. It only takes one credible witness to upset the conclusions of the report and none of the critics have been judged a credible witness supplying any worthy counter evidence.

    • Luis says:

      ”I have little faith that our govt. could have successfully conspired to kill him, or successfully covered up such a plot, or most importantly, kept it a secret.”

      It depends what you mean by ”the government”. The government is made up of many disparate people. Not all of them are bumbling bureaucrats as you seem to think, and not all of them are involved in legal actions.

      ”It only takes one credible witness to upset the conclusions of the report and none of the critics have been judged a credible witness supplying any worthy counter evidence.”

      Says who? It seems you’re using circular logic here: if someone says that it was a conspiracy, they’re not to be judged credible (because ”the government can’t keep secrets”), and since all those who charge a conspiracy aren’t credible, ”the government” wasn’t involved. You’re automatically closing off even the possibility that this was a hit carried out by people within the government.

  14. Louis says:

    Mr. Shermer, what are your thoughts about Ruby’s murder of Oswald. and Dorothy Killgalen’s untimely overdose after her interviw with Ruby?

  15. Espen Andresen says:

    Interesting article, but I do not fully understand. Why would a man like J Ruby kill Oswald if not to silence him? Are you claiming that he was mad because Oswald killed JFK?

  16. John R Murphy says:

    After reading this unconvincing explanation, I feel disappointed with Mr Shermer.
    He seems to conveniently evade points which might undermine his argument.
    eg Jack Ruby, – why would he shoot Oswald?
    (A former Cuban nightclub owner, with Mafia connections) outraged patriotism ? I think not ! Coincidences are not evidence, but then why do the police, and anybody with any common sense, treat coincidences with suspicion?
    Some would say there is no smoke without fire.
    At least Mr Shermer can be accused of choosing a very shaky example to debunk conspiracy theories.
    Mr Shermer also failed to mention that conspiracy theories generate megabucks for novelists – which would have been a much more convincing argument on his part.

  17. Mark Adams says:

    At the end of the day Lee Harvey Oswald shot the President, and most likely did so by himself. Some things were not done particularly well, or done in great haste. The Dallas Police Department was criminally sloppy during the transfer of Oswald. The one event that makes it appear that there was a conspiracy is that Jack Ruby shot and killed Oswald. That Ruby did this can’t be disputed. His motives can be debated. If there was a conspiracy and one believes in Machivelli’s ideas then the conspirators must take out the assassin. Jack Ruby shooting Oswald does fit with there being a conspiracy. Oswald and Ruby were odd cats, and yet after all these years nothing substantive has come out that can’t be explained by haste, panic, sloppiness and how things were in early 1960’s.

  18. Paulo Cabaço says:

    Actually Robert Robert Blakey, former chief counsel of House Select Committee on Assassinations gave an interview to the Las Vegas Sun, on 2012,in which he says that Oswald was probably set up by other people, probably the mob. And there was a mob connection with Sam Giancana before and during the Kennedy’s Presidency.
    Not that I necessary agree with him,but he is a distinguished Lawyer and Law Professor and had assess to classified information during the investigation of the HSC.Also he never made too much publicity of his opinions about the JFK assassination.

  19. J.A says:

    JFK was assassinated by the Federal Reserve for his executive order 11110. He directly attacked the powers that be and tried to break away from Centralized banking. FACT.

  20. W. Corvi says:

    The two identifying features of a conspiracy theory are, first, the theory goes from hypothesis to being a conclusion with little or no evidence, almost instantly; the lack of evidence proves a cover-up. And second, if the theorist believes in one, he believes in all of them; JFK? sure, and 9/11, bigfoot, nessie, Elvis, never went to the moon, flying saucers, etc.

  21. D. Wright says:

    Are some tendencies to believe or not believe in larger conspiracies correlated culturally? Has there been studies on this? Also, it seems plausible that the root cause for belief in these theories might be an evolutionary process that rewarded ancient hominids for suspecting danger like a saber-toothed cat in the tall grass every time the wind blew the grass. Sure, they would have been wrong most of the time and the grass moving would have been simply caused by the wind. On the other hand, the reward for being right occasionally would have had a tremendous payoff in reproductive opportunities compared to the skeptical hominid who waited for more evidence before clearing the area. It’s probably hard-wired so deeply in our DNA that even highly rational people naturally gravitate towards these explanations, only escaping their clutches by using pure logical tools. That is likely why there is an inverse correlation between educational level and one’s likelihood to believe in most conspiracy theories. These tools are probably acquired frequently in higher education, though not exclusively there.

  22. mthunk55 says:

    I have always been skeptical of the conspiracy theories around the assassination and was in 6th grade when we were told of the Kennedy’s death. I watched Oliver Stone’s film later as a teen. After watching a documentary recently in which the Secret Service may have covered up an an accidental discharge from behind Kennedy’s car involving an untrained agent with an M16 rifle, I am more convinced of that scenario than any other. I am an experienced rifleman and pistol marksman (both military and law enforcement) and have seen professionals in extremely stressful events. I have also seen negligent discharges of weapons in various training scenarios and actual events. The evidence presented by this film and preceding book ( “JFK: The Smoking Gun” is based on the work of retired Australian police Detective Colin McLaren and the book “Mortal Error: The Shot that Killed JFK” by Bonar Menninger” presents very compelling ballistic evidence and obvious obstructive behavior by many of the Secret Service Agents that handled all the evidence and never turned it over to the FBI. Many of the people that should have been questioned during the Warren Commission were not called. It makes more sense to me that this was a conspiracy to cover up an unfortunate accident that would have ruined careers and embarrassed the Secret Service than the idea that the Mafia or CIA could have orchestrated this.

  23. mark says:

    Then there’s the conspiracy about vaccine’s. Oh that’s right it’s not a conspiracy. Recent reports show how studies were held back. That’s right our government held back information, imagine that. And your still publishing articles from 7 years ago.

  24. mthunk55 says:

    Further:

    I recently viewed the documentary several months ago on Netflix. It may still be available.

    Article from a year ago: http://www.theblaze.com/stories/2013/07/29/new-documentary-puts-forth-controversial-theory-about-jfk-assassination/

    Anyway. I do believe that people cover stuff up all the time to protect their own interest and that of any organization and that conspiracies do exist. It is conspiratorial if it involves more than one person. I just think that the more people supposedly involved in any conspiracy and the more complicated and technical the plan may seem makes it more unlikely to be real based on peoples inability to 1. keep their mouth shut and 2. the inevitability that unforeseeable circumstances will change the events beyond the ability of the participants to manage.

  25. Dr. Strangelove says:

    Warren Commission report? How about Nostradamus prophecies? LOL Tell that to Jesse “The Body” Ventura. If you don’t believe the former wrestler-governor, how about a National Geographic documentary? Here’s the “conspiracy theory”

    JFK was a womanizer and drug addict. CIA and the US military wanted him out of office because he was perceived to be a threat to national security and world peace. He almost started World War 3 in the Cuban missile crisis. The military top brass viewed his action as reckless and probably caused by his drug addiction.

    The CIA-military probably did not plan JFK’s assassination. But they probably knew about it or knew that many people want him dead and would attempt an assassination at Dallas, and they did nothing to protect the president. Admittedly this is hard to prove because we are speculating ill motives for people’s inaction. At best, it is only circumstantial evidence. The event that transpired suited the wishes of people who are responsible to prevent it. How convenient.

  26. Dr. Strangelove says:

    JFK the womanizer and drug addict are factual. It’s an open secret. It’s also obvious that the open top limousine that JFK rode was extremely dangerous and made him an easy target for sharp shooters. These were all known to the Secret Service and they were just all too willing to put JFK in the shooting range. If one is accused of conspiring for murder, an easy defense is ignorance and incompetence. The Secret Service just didn’t know how to do their job.

  27. Doug says:

    As other people have pointed out, people are prone to believe in conspiracies when an assassination attempt is successful (JFK, RFK, MLK, etc). When an attempt is unsuccessful, people are more willing to buy the “lone nut” explanation–for instance there were two assassination attempts on Gerald Ford, but no-one suggests that they were part of a conspiracy. However, if Squeaky Fromme had been a better shot, then there would no doubt be dozens of books explaining the “real story” of the assassination. It doesn’t even have to be politicians: there is at least one book claiming that John Lennon’s murder was part of a government plot, while no-one says that about the unsuccessful attempt on George Harrison’s life.

  28. Richard says:

    I remember when watching the movie and they were talking about a “magic bullet” and how it was impossible for there to be just one shooter. I thought to myself “When a bullet is fired it is deformed, then when it goes through a body it’s going to be even more deformed and change it’s trajectory”

    Fast forward to a few years ago when a cable Tv show demonstrated exactly that with ballistics.

  29. Jay says:

    I can only reiterate what many others have said: one chief factor in why people tend to believe in conspiracy theories is the utter lack of credibility politicians the world over are so eager to produce for their respective bodies.

    I live in Spain, and our current government is so totally steeped in corruption it looks like a mafia thriller. The governing party gained a majority in both houses with a program that, in its virtual entirety, says the opposite of actual government policy.

    Who but a fool would believe them? If the prime minister says that he will reduce taxes, and that’s a sure sign of an upcoming rise in taxes, then how could a sane person trust him? Parallel cases abound in the US, too, don’t they?

    Plus, if the object to be protected by a huge and costly operation carried out by multiple, rivalling agencies ends up being shot in the head, that’s at the very least a major cock-up. Those agencies would have a strong incentive not to spill all the beans, even if that only meant admitting that a key operative had nipped over the street for a doughnut at the wrong moment. Mistakes made higher up the ladder would be very likely to be hushed up. Result? Inconsistencies.

    Lack of credibility + inconsistencies + psychological factors = guaranteed success of conspiracy bogus.

  30. Arturo says:

    Mr. Shermer,
    I have two questions for you:
    1) Is there room in your mind to accept that you are not always right?
    2) Why do you dismiss the Zaprouder film? It is very conclusive. It does not mean Lee Oswald was not involved, simply, there were more shooters that day. The “How” question is, for me, solved. The “why” is the real matter of debate.

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