You can bet that the Moon landing of 1969 was not fake, it was not made up, because we would know by now if it were, says Dr. David Robert Grimes, an Oxford University researcher who created a conspiracy probability equation. He showed that large groups of people sharing a conspiracy very quickly give themselves away.
For the Moon landing to have been a fake, many people would need to have been involved in the conspiracy, which means that by now – 47 years later- the truth would definitely have surfaced.
Dr. Grimes, a physicist and postdoctoral research associate at Oxford University’s Gray Laboratories, writes in the academic journal PLOS ONE that people thinking of creating a massive conspiracy should consider scaling back their plans.
A conspiracy does not remain secret for long if many collaborators are involved in the deceit. Either a whistle-blower spills the beans or a blunderer makes a mistake and everything is exposed.
Currently working on cancer research, Dr. Grimes is also a broadcaster and science writer. His profile means that lots of people write to him claiming to know about science-related conspiracies.
All those letters from people prompted him to investigate whether large-scale collusions were really feasible.
Some conspiracy theories good – some bad
Dr. Grimes explained:
“A number of conspiracy theories revolve around science. While believing the moon landings were faked may not be harmful, believing misinformation about vaccines can be fatal. However, not every belief in a conspiracy is necessarily wrong – for example, the Snowden revelations confirmed some theories about the activities of the US National Security Agency.”
“It is common to dismiss conspiracy theories and their proponents out of hand but I wanted to take the opposite approach, to see how these conspiracies might be possible. To do that, I looked at the vital requirement for a viable conspiracy – secrecy.”
He started off by creating an equation to express the probability of a conspiracy being deliberately exposed by a whistle-blower or unintentionally laid bare by a bungler.
If the Moon landing had all been done in a studio, the deception would have required a large number of collaborators. We would have known about it a long time ago.
He factored in the number of conspirators into the equation, the conspiracy’s duration, as well as the effects of the conspirators dying, either by suspicious or nefarious means, or natural causes (old age).
However, the equation needed a realistic estimation of the likelihood of any one conspirator spilling the beans. He used three genuine conspiracies to provide this – including the NSA PRISM project that Edward Snowden exposed.
The PRISM project is a clandestine surveillance program under which the NSA gathers internet communications data from at least nine major US internet companies.
In each case, the total number of conspirators and how long it took before the conspiracy was exposed were over – estimated to ensure that the chances of a leak occurring were a ‘best case scenario’ for the conspirators – about a 4 in 1 million chance of accidental or intentional exposure.
If our leaders were liaising with aliens, it would not take long before everybody got to know about it.
Calculation of likelihood of 4 conspiracy theories
He then looked at four alleged plots, estimating the greatest number of individuals required to be in on the conspiracy – the aim was to determine how viable these conspiracies could be.
The conspiracies he looked at were:
1. The US moon landings were a giant hoax (411,000 people).
2. Climate change is all made up (405,000 people).
3. Vaccines are unsafe and we are not being told about this (22,000 people assuming that the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and the World Health Organization are conspirators and that other organisations involved in advocating, producing, distributing and using vaccines are dupes).
4. The cure for cancer is being suppressed by the world’s pharmaceutical giants (714,000 people).
Big pharma would not be able to keep the lid on a cure for cancer for very long.
Conspiracies would’ve been exposed long ago
According to Dr. Grimes’ equation, if the lunar landings had been a fake, the conspiracy would have been exposed within 3 years and 8 months, climate change in 3 years 9 months, the vaccination conspiracy in 3 years 2 months, and the suppressed cure for cancer in 3 years 3 months.
In other words, if any of those four scenarios really had been conspiracies, we would have known about it a long time ago.
Dr. Grimes then looked at the maximum number of individuals who could take part in a conspiracy in order to keep it secret. A plot lasting five years could have no more than 2,521 people, while one that lasted a whole century could only have a maximum of 125 collaborators.
Even a simple cover-up of a single event, which would require the collaborators just to keep their mouths shut, could not have more than 650 accomplices if there were any chance of keeping it quiet.
Dr Grimes said:
“Not everyone who believes in a conspiracy is unreasonable or unthinking. I hope that by showing how eye-wateringly unlikely some alleged conspiracies are, some people will reconsider their anti-science beliefs.”
“This will of course not convince everyone; there’s ample evidence that belief in conspiracy is often ideological rather than rational, and that conspiracy theories thrive in an echo chamber. This makes challenging the more odious narratives much more difficult.”
“If we are to address the multitudinous difficulties facing us as a species, from climate change to geo-politics, then we need to embrace reality over ideologically motivated fictions. To this end, we need to better understand how and why some ideas are entrenched and persistent among certain groups despite the evidence, and how we might counteract this.”
Citation: “On the Viability of Conspiratorial Beliefs,” David Robert Grimes. PLOS ONE. 26 January, 2016. DOI: 10.1371/journal.pone.0147905.
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