Monday, 21 November 2016

Conspiracy Theories Mathematically Impossible?

It's not easy keeping a secret. If your partner is cheating on you and one of your friends finds out, it's only a matter of time before it gets back to you. We have words like "grapevine" or "scuttlebutt" to describe this process. This is the basis of a rather hubristic conclusion by one Dr David Grimes of Oxford University. He claims to have worked out a mathematical formula for calculating how long a successful conspiracy can endure. His equations are based on three factors: the number of people briefed in on the secret, the length of time the secret has to be kept, and what he calls the "intrinsic probability" of the conspiracy failing. This means inevitable occurrences of ineptitude or rogue whistleblowers. He based this on a statistics tool called Poisson distribution. He used examples of real conspiracy theories that have been proven true, such as the NSA's PRISM surveillance system, the Tuskeegee syphilis experiment and the revelations of Dr Fred Whitehurst about the FBI falsifying evidence. In the background links below I discuss historically proved conspiracy theories in more detail. His method generated some remarkable results. The moon landing hoax would have failed after a maximum of 3.7 years. The climate change lie would have only lasted 3.4 years and the vaccine autism conspiracy just 3.15 years at the most. In order for the fake moon landings to have been covered up to the present day, 47 years, there would have had to be only 251 people on the inside. Clearly there had to be many more involved. Dr Grimes did speak to several people involved in pro-conspiracy research, like Marcus Allen and Ian Henshall, but mostly he just crunched numbers. Sources: http://www.independent.co.uk/news/weird-news/conspiracy-theories-testing-the-formula-designed-to-debunk-the-worlds-weirdest-claims-a6842721.html and: http://journals.plos.org/plosone/article?id=10.1371/journal.pone.0147905.

It all sounds very neat at first glace; however when you look at Dr Grimes' system in more detail you'll see that it misses out some vital factors. To begin with the method always assumes that the people involved in the conspiracy fall into just two camps: 1. Active instigators, willing and malicious. 2. Completely ignorant innocents who would immediately spill the beans if they heard a peep about it. However, real conspiracies don't work like that. Compliance with a malevolent secret in an organization is maintained by far more subtle pressures like the herding instinct, tacit subconscious agreements and veiled threats. I can give you some perfect examples. Firstly a friend of mine whom I cannot name right now is a domiciliary nurse in the NHS; I'll call her "Michelle". She had a friend, not one of her patients, who was struck down with terminal cancer. Michelle treated her friend with THC, a very powerful anti-cancer drug that is not available from any mainstream oncologist; in fact it is denounced as quackery. It can be made by extracting oil from the cannabis plant and can only be bought privately. Michelle was suspended from duty and almost lost her job. She is just three years away from retirement and could have had her pension reduced. (Her friend is now in complete remission, but who cares!) According to Dr Grimes, the cancer cure cover-up would have collapsed within just 3.2 years... but it hasn't. When you make a person's livelihood depend on them telling a lie, most of them will tell it. Occasionally exceptional individuals will refuse to cooperate, but they are very quickly drummed out of the institution, for example Ghislaine Lanctot and Kevin Annett in Canada. This rejection process usually involves financial ruin, social ostracization, a loss of professional identity and public shaming. Who was it who said: "Most men will face an army before the scorn of their peers."? This elimination of wayward individuals is always deliberately made very public within the organization and this serves as a warning to the others not to rebel; in the same way Spartacus' army was crucified in a row all the way along the road to Rome. I can give other examples, such as the way Dr David Bellamy has been treated for being a "climate change denier!", see: http://hpanwo.blogspot.co.uk/2010/04/alternative-view-4-part-3.html. Dr Grimes lacks knowledge of human psychology. Grimes' formula doesn't fit the Savile scandal at the BBC either. Jimmy Savile abused children regularly for his entire career at the corporation, which was 46 years, close to the same length of time as from the moon landing to now. It's become obvious that far more than 251 people were involved. He only got away with it because of a vast level of institutional collusion. The reactions from people like Esther Rantzen, Johnny Rotten and Janet Street-Porter is exactly what I mean by tacit subconscious collaboration, see: http://hpanwo-radio.blogspot.co.uk/2016/04/programme-182-podcast-child-abuse-update.html. Also in my recent radio interview with Marcus Allen, see background links below, we discuss compartmentalization, the method of significantly reducing the number of people needed to know the whole story of any conspiracy by dividing them up into different pools of awareness and making sure that they don't know what their own jobs are really for beyond their own pool. We give the example of the beginnings of the atomic bomb programme. Hundreds of thousands of people were involved, but they were often working in factories hundreds of miles away from each other making components for something; but because they didn't know what the other components were they never realized what the finished product was going to be. Even some of the aircrew who flew aboard the bombers that dropped the bombs on Japan at the end of World War II did not know what kind of ordnance they were delivering until they saw it detonate. The Milgram experiment is a chilling illustration of how common the obedience mentality is, see: http://www.simplypsychology.org/milgram.html. What's more somebody did reveal the moon landing hoax within four years. Bill Kaysing's book We Never Went to the Moon- America's Thirty Billion Dollar Swindle! was published in 1976, less than four years after the end of the Apollo programme. Dr Grimes needed to take these factors into account and he has not. Given the very powerful abilities in the realms of psychological warfare and the experience perpetrators of covert agendas have in this field, in my view a conspiracy of the kind he talks about could be maintained indefinitely.

4 comments:

Laurence said...

Only got round to reading this today Ben and I have to say that I am as dubious as you are with respect to Grimes's paper. The following may be of interest in this regard.

Grimes equates the average number of events per time interval with the, "intrinsic probability of a conspiracy [being exposed] per person per unit [of] time", p. Personally, I would have been far more impressed had the author conducted some proper research and given an accurate figure for the number of conspiracies that have actually been exposed over the last 100 years; nevertheless, let us continue.

Interestingly, assuming that Poisson's distribution is applicable to the problem (I am not certain that it is), we can introduce a parameter into Poisson's distribution to take account of the two main contentions that you had with the paper. These variables can be summarised as follows:

(1) Compartmentalisation (the ratio of the number of individuals 'on the inside' to the total number of individuals working on the project);

(2) Peer pressure problem (the ratio of the number of individuals who will not give in to peer pressure to the total number of individuals involved).

The atom bomb example would suggest that no more than 1 in 1000 are essentially 'in-the-know' but we shall say 1/100 to be conservative. As for peer pressure, a ratio of 1 is to 10 would be considered conservative. Thus the probability of (1) and (2) occurring (i.e. a soul emerges that is both on the inside and unafraid of the repercussions of putting their head above the parapet is 1 in 1000. (1) and (2) are both per unit time.

Therefore, what we should really be discussing is the, "intrinsic probability" of a conspiracy being exposed per 1000 persons per unit of time. Inputting our ratio, the effect on both Poisson's distribution and the time factor of introducing the '1 in 1000' parameter is of the order of the ratio, viz. the times given by Grimes could potentially be multiplied by three orders of magnitude!

Ben Emlyn-Jones said...

That's a much improved mathematical formula, Laurence. Thanks.

Laurence said...

Hello Ben. Update: I corresponded with the Author of the paper. My comments and the Author's response at the following link. You will be interested to know that the Author appreciated your ideas. (Please let me know if any further interpretation is required.)

On the Viability of Conspiratorial Beliefs

Ben Emlyn-Jones said...

Hi Laurence. Sorry for the delay in replying. Thanks, I'll have a look through.