(A booklet for general audiences)
SUMMARY: The phrase “conspiracy theory” is often used as a pejorative, especially by people who take themselves to be sophisticated—such as scholars, government officials, and TV news personalities—even though they will generally admit that some conspiracy theories have turned out to be true. Their dismissiveness stems, in significant measure, from the assumption that conspiracy theories imply implausibly large and malevolent conspiracies. However, the considerations offered in this booklet suggest: (1) conspiracy theories need not, and often do not, posit malevolence or implausible motivations, (2) alleged conspirators holding high office in Western countries should not be regarded as above suspicion, and (3) the scope of a (possibly well-motivated) cover-up may reasonably be expected to be considerably larger than the scope of the associated (possibly appalling) underlying conspiracy. The third finding suggests that conspiracy theories that are generally regarded as implausibly large based on the size of what may seem to be a cover-up (much of which may not be conspiratorial) may not be implausibly large after all. All this suggests that dismissing conspiracy theories because they are presumed to entail implausibly large and malevolent conspiracy theories is a mistake. Rather, each theory ought to be judged on its own particular merits, focusing on the most plausible version.