COVID-19 and ‘Conspiracy Theory’: Six More Questions to Assess the Claim of Conspiracy Theory, Part 3 of 6

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In addition to the first six questions we covered in the last section, the following are six further questions that should be asked.

1. If the official narrative were untrue, what paradigms would this invalidate?

This is a useful exercise to judge the assumptions under which the official narrative is made. It is also useful for clarifying our assumptions regarding the state of reality. As an example, later on, we examine how the defense of the 5G technology assumes that non-ionizing radiation has no health effects, a critical assumption used to justify the label of “conspiracy theory.”

It is important to note that scientific and sociological beliefs exist within a paradigm, a set of thoughts and concepts about a given phenomenon. A paradigm is useful in clarifying reality, but it can blind us to observations that lie outside the paradigm’s explanatory realm.

2. Is there a political or ideological agenda being served? If so, what is this agenda?

We see increasingly that news and media organizations are blending reporting with editorializing, oftentimes with an ideological bent, such that it becomes difficult to get the facts. When you read a piece, it is up to you to separate fact from opinion and keep your mind attuned for potential political or ideological biases.

A new but relevant ideology that is becoming increasingly common is the scientism ideology, the promotion of science in a way that over-glorifies it or discourages criticism of science’s ability to deal with society’s problems. This ideology leads to the situation where non-scientists blanketly accept any recommendations or conclusions by science without questioning the underlying reason behind them. An example of this would be the blanket acceptance by policymakers for COVID-19 lockdowns and widespread masking to deal with the pandemic without sufficient verification as to whether those recommendations met the stringent evidence-based criterion.

Those propagating the scientism ideology are scientists, researchers, or companies who are vested in a particular viewpoint. An example of this mindset is pharmaceutical companies who attack natural remedies as lacking in evidence or who characterize their users as lacking in scientific literacy.

3. What financial interests or power agenda is served by those propagating the narrative?

Furthermore, it is useful to question how those propagating narratives financially benefit or otherwise utilize the narrative to increase their power. Companies will promote their products, scientists will promote their research, and government institutions will promote their mission. These incentives create pressure to bias or tell only one side of the story.

For example, incumbent news media organizations, part of the mainstream media, wish to be seen as the dominant authority for news information. Jeremy R. Hammond, in his article “Who Will Tell the Truth About the So-Called ‘Free Press’?” writes, “The [New York] Times, in other words, wishes for the corporate media to preserve their oligopoly in determining what information the public should and should not be made aware of. The Times editors wish to preserve their leadership in determining for us what we should think about any given issue and to determine for us which issues we should regard as important.”

4. Is the burden of proof applied equally for both sides?

If one side makes evidence demands of the other side, it behooves that side to provide the same level of proof. It is suspicious when one side (often the more powerful side) tells us that the other side is wrong without providing suitable evidence.

With scientific controversies, it is essential to examine the burden of proof criterion applied to both sides. Oftentimes, dominant players will cherry-pick the evidence used to justify their position while ignoring or discounting the evidence against their position. In doing so, incumbent players seek to move the burden of proof to those making the novel claims and then demand stringent evidential proof to uphold these claims. Any doubt that is cast is then claimed as a lack of evidence, and then the incumbent players assume that their position is the default one without having to provide any evidence to support it.

5. What first-hand evidence do we have for both sides?

It is important to consult first-hand evidence, and sources regarding any commentary brought up to see if the logic is sound. It is vital when the dominant side relies upon its authority or power to make its case.

Another thing to be aware of is that sometimes mainstream news sources will cite a source but misrepresent its meaning to advance a given narrative or ideology. This mistake happened with a New York Times article that made a case for the flu vaccine but deliberately ignored the modest conclusions over efficacy in an important source it cited, the Cochrane Collaboration.

6. How likely are “alternative paradigms” to be true?

Author Arthur Conan Doyle, the author of Sherlock Holmes, once remarked, “Once you eliminate the impossible, whatever remains, no matter how improbable, must be the truth.” When presented with two sides of a story, we must ascertain whether the dominant paradigm explains all of the observed phenomena. If it doesn’t, and unanswered questions remain, we must consider the possibility that there may be some truth to the alternative paradigm.

In summary, the above 12 questions help you to critically evaluate news and media stories and help you better sift through truth and falsehood. They are critical when dealing with claims of conspiracy theory. Remember that you, the reader of the piece, need to be the ultimate decider. 

In the next part, we will cover applying this framework to various stories deemed by the media to be Covid conspiracies.

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