Updated: Jul 19, 2020
A recent YouTube video series titled "Plandemic" made a splash on social media, partly for its claims and partly because YouTube removed it for violating its community guidelines, stirring concerns about free speech.
One of my goals is to help people evaluate information for themselves, without relying on a fact-checker or someone else's word about a source's credibility.
So, here are the reasons why some conspiracy theories make sense, the reasons why most don't, and the emotions and thoughts behind it all.
Why Some Conspiracy Theories Might Be True
It's a simple theory.
There's a clear incentive or pay-off.
Few people are involved.
Senator Richard Burr received classified briefings on Coronavirus in January and February while chairing the Senate Intelligence Committee. On Feb. 13, days after publicly reassuring the country about Coronavirus, both Burr and his brother-in-law sold a ton of stock. Other lawmakers also sold stock with questionable timing and ethics, but Burr's sales stand out for their size, timing, and family involvement.
Sign up for my newsletter, and get free excerpts of books at www.EricSentell.com.
It's not hard to believe that Burr used non-public knowledge from U.S. Intelligence briefings to sell off stock before Covid disrupted the markets and also warned his brother-in-law. It's a simple, straightforward cause-and-effect scenario.
There's a Clear Incentive
Burr had obvious financial incentive. He stood to lose millions if his stocks stayed put, but instead, he cashed out.
Few People Are Involved
The allegations involve only Burr and his brother-in-law. How hard is it for two people to coordinate their actions? To believe they can keep a secret between themselves?
Which is more plausible? That Burr used insider knowledge to make a financial decision, or that Burr and his brother-in-law just happened to sell over millions in stock on the same day after Burr was briefed by U.S. Intelligence on the Coronavirus?
Why Most Conspiracy Theories Don't Make Sense
It's so complicated, who could expect to pull it off?
There isn't a clear incentive or pay-off.
It involves way too many people, too much coordination, and too much secret-keeping.
The alleged actions are self-defeating.
The alleged goals could be accomplished much easier.
From what I've gathered, in "Plandemic," a doctor and anti-vaxxer, Judy Mikovits, claims that the Coronavirus isn't a real threat but is being hyped to sell vaccines.
According to the logic of "Plandemic," Dr. Anthony Fauci and pretty much every public health official in the world is hyping a disease to sell a vaccine that doesn't exist yet, won't be developed for another year or longer, and may not be widely available initially.
That plan counts on a lot of things going right over a pretty long, unpredictable time-period. It depends on people experiencing or hearing about enough hardship from the disease (deaths, severe illness, etc.) to take the hype seriously.
There Isn't a Clear Incentive
How do public health officials benefit from developing a vaccine for the government to give away? How do government leaders, especially in democracies, benefit from wrecking their countries' economies on the scale of the Great Depression?
It Involves Too Many People
How exactly were most of the world's leaders, health officials, and epidemiologists able to coordinate their messaging about Coronavirus? Did they have a summit, or a giant Zoom meeting, where they agreed to exaggerate Covid's risks so they could profit later from a vaccine they didn't have yet?
And not one of them has come forward to blow the whistle? Not one of them has blabbed to the wrong person? Said or done something suspicious, like buy stock in Big Pharma?
The Actions Are Self-Defeating
While the world's leaders, health officials, and epidemiologists were on that Zoom meeting, did they agree the potential profits of exaggerating Covid's dangers would outweigh their personal losses in the stock market?
If "Plandemic" were true, wouldn't it make a lot more sense to downplay Covid's dangers, preserve the stock market and the economy, and then come out with the vaccine and hype it? Personally, I'd much rather have my cake and eat it, too. If I were going to exaggerate something, I'd exaggerate the thing I'm trying to sell.
The Goals Could Be Accomplished Easier
What would you do if you were trying to make money off a vaccine for a new disease?
Would you help people avoid getting the disease? Or would you hope for as many infections as possible?
If the plan is to make billions off a vaccine, then the best way would be to let everyone get sick so that they'd want the vaccine. The worst way would be to exaggerate Covid's risks so that people would take precautions, stay home, and stay healthy. People get flu vaccines every year because they've had the flu before. We don't get vaccines for rare illnesses we've never had and are unlikely to get.
Why We Love Conspiracy Theories
Conspiracy theories have a powerful hold on our collective imagination. Even people who don't buy them often enjoy discussing them.
Many people buy them because they make the world seem more ordered and less random. Sure, there's a global pandemic, but there are people behind it! There's logic! Purpose!
The appearance of an explanation, a control, for hard-to-understand, difficult-to-control circumstances makes us feel better in the face of those circumstances.
But if we believe in conspiracy theories, then we deprive ourselves of the means to make good judgments and decisions about the world.
Next time you hear about a conspiracy, ask yourself:
Who could expect to pull that off?
What's the pay-off? Who benefits?
Could that many people coordinate their actions and keep it all secret?
Will that actually achieve the goal?
Is that really the best way to achieve that goal?
Eric Sentell teaches writing and rhetoric at Southeast Missouri State University. He is the author of How to Write an Essay like an Equation and Become Your Own Fact-Checker. Learn more about his work, sign up for a newsletter, and get free excerpts at www.EricSentell.com.