Conspiracy theories: the rumors are out there

Note: Yesterday evening, 03/12/07, I ordered the previous issue of Skeptic magazine wherein the “9/11 conspiracies" are covered at length:

I was not able to find this issue on any of the newsstands in my area. And I have been told by Skeptic magazine that there is no electronic version of their magazine. So to get my copy in just a few days, I have purchased the fastest shipping available for my order. As soon as I get it, I'll post it for everyone to read. :)


Conspiracy theories: the rumors are out there

By Diana Washington Valdez / El Paso Times

El Paso Times

Article Launched: 03/11/2007 12:20:13 AM MST

Forum on conspiracy theories at:

El Pasoans and other readers around the world recently chuckled over a story about an alleged crop circle in the Upper Valley that turned out to be the work of El Paso artist Michael Alford.

The enormous interest in the El Paso Times online story served to demonstrate the eagerness with which people pursue conspiracy theories. Though the artist claimed he created the circle, the newspaper received numerous e-mails insisting its origin was unusual.

Many people also persist in believing that facts have been hidden from the public about the alleged UFO incident at Roswell, the assassination of John F. Kennedy, the 1996 crash of TWA Flight 800, and the purpose of currency symbols such as the all-seeing eye used by the Federal Reserve. Cattle mutilations reported in the 1970s and 1990s in Southern New Mexico provoked suspicion.

Because of pressure from a skeptical public, a special inquest into Princess Diana's death is under way in Great Britain.

It's a good bet that the Feb. 8 death of celebrity Anna Nicole Smith will lead to another slew of unproved theories, said Rick Shimitz, 41, a former Army reservist who is a conspiracy theory buff.

"There will definitely be conspiracy theories about her, the way she died, the drugs, and all that," he said. "They're already starting."

Shimitz said the most widespread conspiracy theories attempt to explain UFOs and the JFK assassination.

"In the case of JFK, I think it's hard to believe that one person did it," he said. "The theories continue because people still wonder who could actually be behind it. To make up my mind, I look at newspapers, books, TV programs and the Internet. I like to look at different options before I decide."

Why do people persist in promoting conspiracy theories through radio programs, Web sites, books and films?

Dr. Michael Shermer, who has a doctorate in the history of science, is founder and director of the Skeptics Society in Altadena, Calif. He listed several reasons for the popularity of conspiracy theories.

"One is our pattern-seeking psychology, which is built into the brain," he said. "People look for patterns and connect the dots in things. ... The problem is, we also find false patterns that are like random noises in the brain.

"Also, there is a tendency to oversimplify explanations," Shermer said. In a complex world, it can be comforting to believe a simple theory about who's really in control.

In addition, finding presumably "secret or insider information is cognitively titillating. And, most of us have a low tolerance for ambiguity," he said.

Shermer said the theories about Princess Diana's death offer a good example. Officials say her death was caused by the facts that the chauffeur was driving drunk, that the car was speeding and that she did not wear a seat belt.

But some people don't want to accept that a princess can be brought down by such mundane things. They want to attribute such a death to something bigger.

The same people also have trouble believing that a man of President Kennedy's stature could be killed by "a lone nut and not by some great event," Shermer added.

The Skeptics Society describes itself as a "scientific and educational organization" that serves as a tool for people seeking clarification and viewpoints on controversial ideas and claims. The current issue of the society's magazine tackles 9/11 theories.

"We refute them one by one," Shermer said.

UTEP professor Tom Ruggiero and another academic presented a scholarly paper in 2004 on the outcome of the late Pierre Salinger's promotion of a conspiracy theory about the 1996 crash of TWA Flight 800.

Salinger, a former journalist who was once an aide to President Kennedy, is said to have based his theory on a document that conspiracy buffs and others sent over the Internet.

"I believe (Salinger) was suckered ... by a forgery on the Internet," said Ruggiero, who teaches investigative journalism at UTEP. "We live in a world where (some) people are still doubting that we went to the moon."

Serious fact-checking should help avoid the kinds of pitfalls that have trapped Salinger and others, he said.

The paper by Ruggiero and professor Samuel P. Winch -- "The Media Downing of Pierre Salinger: Journalistic Mistrust of the Internet as a News Source" -- explores the role of the Web in contributing to unreliable information, and the increasing use of that medium for information.

"I never jump to any conclusions until after I conduct a field test," said Yolica Stone, a UFO field investigator and former member of the Mutual UFO Network-El Paso Chapter. The local chapter disbanded for several reasons, including a change in leadership and members moving away.

"Some people are reluctant to report unusual sightings because it is an unknown and they fear being ridiculed, but it is more acceptable today than before for people to speak more openly about these things," she said.

Stone remembers the reports of mutilated farm and ranch animals in El Paso and Southern New Mexico in the 1970s and 1990s. She was not involved in investigating the mutilations, but she said law agencies took complaints from residents in El Paso's Lower Valley, New Mexico, Colorado and Wyoming.

Hollywood has cashed in on the popularity of conspiracy theories with TV shows and movies that include "The X-Files," "The Da Vinci Code" and "Roswell."

In the movie "Conspiracy Theory," actor Mel Gibson played a paranoid cabdriver who was obsessed with supposed government plots against an unsuspecting public.

Syndicated radio show host Art Bell has produced a popular late-night program, "Coast to Coast AM with George Noory," which is wholly devoted to exploring subjects about the paranormal, UFOs and conspiracies. It airs at 11 p.m. on KTSM-AM (690). During the week, the program lasts five hours; on Saturday, when Bell leads the show, it is one hour long.

"I've been listening to the Art Bell show for about three years," said Juan Rubalcava, 31, a security guard. "I work late at night, and it's interesting to listen to. One of the most popular theories out there is about how the government is using the Patriot Act to spy on us."

Rubalcava also agrees that the Internet has made it easier to spread correct and incorrect information over the Internet.

"That's where I saw an item that said the massive 2003 blackout in Canada and the Northeast was caused by the U.S. government testing a new satellite weapon."

The U.S. government has denied that allegation.

Diana Washington Valdez may be reached at; 546-6140.

The conspiracy files
"The truth is out there."
-- From "The X-Files"
Many enduring conspiracy theories are also out there. Here are a few:
# The JFK assassination: The government covered up the real facts about who killed President Kennedy and why.
# The death of Princess Diana: She was killed to prevent her marriage to Fayed Dodi.
# UFO incident at Roswell: The government covered up the fact that a UFO carrying space aliens crashed near Roswell in the '50s.
# Animal mutilations: UFOs are behind the surgical mutilations of cattle, goats and horses.
# Area 51 military base: The Air Force has a secret desert base that is off limits to the public.
# TWA Flight 800 crash: A U.S. missile accidentally shot down the plane.
# The Sept. 11 terrorist attacks: The military-industrial complex and complicit politicians covered up the facts.
# "The DaVinci Code": Jesus Christ was married to Mary Magdalene and had offspring with a traceable family tree.
# Weather manipulation: Secret government experiments involve the use of weather as a military weapon.
# Big Brother government: All sorts of techniques are being used to keep track of everyone's movements and communications.

Conspiracy Web sites