Get smarter, faster. Subscribe to our daily newsletter.
7 bizarre conspiracy theories that are actually true
Are conspiracy theories ever true? Here are a few occasions when the government really did what the conspiracy theories claimed.
Conspiracy theories are generally relegated to the fringes of society, considered to be beliefs that are unsupported by evidence but that make very big claims about reality. A conspiracy theorist says that what you think you know is not how it really is, and most likely, there’s some nefarious group that is actually ruling your life and arranging events in the world.
Most of the conspiracy theories do turn out to be patently untrue and created by the insecurities of people who feel they lack of control over their lives, as says Professor Galinsky. He studied conspiracy theories and found a connection between the feeling of lacking control and a propensity to believe in outlandish tales that may somehow explain why your life is not the way you want it to be.
But are there times when conspiracy theories actually do pan out and are, in essence, true? While nothing that has truly shaken the foundations of our societies has recently been uncovered, there have been times when suspicions of conspiracies were proven correct. Here are seven such instances that involve the favorite topic of conspirators: the government.
1. The government poisoned alcohol during Prohibition and killed thousands
A classic government-centric conspiracy maintains that the government is not telling us the full truth and often does dangerous things to enforce its power over us. One strange and deadly episode of American history can provide much fuel to such a fire. In the saga of the American attempt to prohibit alcohol consumption that began with the passage of the 18th amendment in 1919, a little-known story emerged that when the efforts to prohibit alcohol sales and consumption were failing, the government attempted to poison the alcohol supply in order to convince people to stop drinking.
Women turn out in large numbers for the anti-prohibition parade and demonstration in Newark, N.J., Oct. 28, 1932. More than 20,000 people took part in the mass demand for the repeal of the 18th Amendment. (AP Photo)
While there are nuances to this story, it is generally true that from even before Prohibition started the government encouraged manufacturers to add dangerous chemicals to industrial alcohol in order to make it undrinkable. When this practice was combined with the explosion of an unregulated black market for alcohol under Prohibition, thousands of Americans died as a result of a vicious cycle of bootleggers trying to find new ways to purify and resell industrial alcohol for drinking and the government ordering the addition of more and more dangerous chemicals like kerosene to the mix. While the government cannot be exclusively blamed here, it is true that its policy contributed to the deaths.
2. The government is trying to control your mind
It would certainly make the government’s job easier if it could directly tell its subjects what to do and no shortage of rulers have tried to do just that. But is the government actively trying to tell you what to think? While that may not be true on a large scale, there is evidence that the government has attempted to do just that.
There was a CIA-run program called MK-ULTRA that from 1953 until the late 1960s involved experimentation on subjects using the hallucinogenic drug LSD. While the program was first using volunteers, it had offshoots like the “Operation Midnight Climax”, whereby the CIA for eight years had prostitutes drug unsuspecting clients with LSD who would then be monitored via two-way mirrors by field agents. With most of the records from the program destroyed by now, it’s hard to know the full extent of the government’s attempt to control minds but the precedent is certainly there.
3. The government is spying on you
While they may not be looking into every single person individually, rest assured the government is aware of your existence and is not above taking a look at your Facebook profile. In 2017, Facebook received 78,890 information requests from governments around the world, with 41% of those coming from the U.S., which saw 85% of such requests granted. The government is also making similar requests of Google, Apple and other companies that don’t even reveal they are being asked this information.
4. The government is spying on the media
The extent of this is not entirely clear but it seems true that the government is very much interested in creating a database of media outlets and social media influencers as well as their political leanings. This has been revealed recently in a posting by the U.S. Department of Homeland Security which was looking for contractors to create just such a system.
It would feature “24/7 Access to a password protected, media influencer database, including journalists, editors, correspondents, social media influencers, bloggers etc,” says the posting. The database would also have the “ability to analyze the media coverage in terms of content, volume, sentiment, geographical spread, top publications, media channels, reach, AVE, top posters, influencers, languages, momentum, circulation.”
5. The government lied to get the country involved in wars
Take your pick on this conspiracy. The government lies? You don’t say. The Gulf of Tonkin incident is one example where the U.S. military used a supposed attack by the North Vietnamese on the American naval ship “Maddox” on August 2nd, 1964, as a pretext for escalating the country’s involvement in the Vietnam War. The only problem - no such attack ever happened, according to even to the former Secretary of Defense Robert S. McNamara.
And who can forget Secretary of State Colin Powell’s 2013 speech at the U.N., showing us charts of Saddam Hussein’s WMDs - “weapons of mass destruction”. No weapons like that were ever found among his stockpiles even after the Iraq War, which claimed thousands of American and millions of Iraqi lives.
6. The government knows where the aliens are
Ok, we don’t know exactly what the Feds know about this issue but we do know they have been interested in it for a while (despite years of denial) and actually had a program as recently as 2011 that was looking for UFOs. It was reported that a five-year initiative called the Advanced Aerospace Threat Identification Program was gathering video and audio footage of possible UFOs and building storage facilities to contain any alien materials recovered.
While the Pentagon denies that any such efforts are continuing, Luis Elizondo who ran the program, says it’s definitely still going on.
7. The government can control the weather
We don’t know how much of this it cares to do but we know that the government can, to some extent, influence the weather. During the Vietnam War, the CIA would seed the clouds in monsoon season to make it rain even more. The goal of this tactic, which was in use between 1967 and 1972, was to wash out roadways and provoke bad landslides that would prevent the North Vietnamese troops from moving their weapons and provisions, says this CIA blog.
If you’re in the mood to check out America’s most popular conspiracy theories, check out this article.
- Where far-left "wellness" purveyors meet right-wing conspiracy theorists - Big Think ›
- Secretive agency uses AI, human "forecasters" to predict future - Big Think ›
- Agenda 21, a wild conspiracy theory, reignited by coronavirus - Big Think ›
- Why do people believe in conspiracy theories? - Big Think ›
A man's skeleton, found facedown with his hands bound, was unearthed near an ancient ceremonial circle during a high speed rail excavation project.
- A skeleton representing a man who was tossed face down into a ditch nearly 2,500 years ago with his hands bound in front of his hips was dug up during an excavation outside of London.
- The discovery was made during a high speed rail project that has been a bonanza for archaeology, as the area is home to more than 60 ancient sites along the planned route.
- An ornate grave of a high status individual from the Roman period and an ancient ceremonial circle were also discovered during the excavations.
Foul play?<p>A skeleton representing a man who was tossed face down into a ditch nearly 2,500 years ago with his hands bound in front of his hips was dug up during a high speed rail excavation.</p><p>The positioning of the remains have led archaeologists to suspect that the man may have been a victim of an ancient murder or execution. Though any bindings have since decomposed, his hands were positioned together and pinned under his pelvis. There was also no sign of a grave or coffin. </p><p>"He seems to have had his hands tied, and he was face-down in the bottom of the ditch," <a href="https://www.livescience.com/iron-age-murder-victim-england.html" target="_blank">said archaeologist Rachel Wood</a>, who led the excavation. "There are not many ways that you end up that way."</p><p>Currently, archaeologists are examining the skeleton to uncover more information about the circumstances of the man's death. Fragments of pottery found in the ditch may offer some clues as to exactly when the man died. </p><p>"If he was struck across the head with a heavy object, you could find a mark of that on the back of the skull," Wood said to <a href="https://www.livescience.com/iron-age-murder-victim-england.html" target="_blank">Live Science</a>. "If he was stabbed, you could find blade marks on the ribs. So we're hoping to find something like that, to tell us how he died."</p>
Other discoveries at Wellwick Farm<p>The grim discovery was made at Wellwick Farm near Wendover. That is about 15 miles north-west of the outskirts of London, where <a href="https://www.hs2.org.uk/building-hs2/hs2-green-corridor/" target="_blank">a tunnel</a> is going to be built as part of a HS2 high-speed rail project due to open between London and several northern cities sometime after 2028. The infrastructure project has been something of a bonanza for archaeology as the area is home to more than 60 ancient sites along the planned route that are now being excavated before construction begins. </p><p>The farm sits less than a mile away from the ancient highway <a href="http://web.stanford.edu/group/texttechnologies/cgi-bin/stanfordnottingham/places/?icknield" target="_blank">Icknield Way</a> that runs along the tops of the Chiltern Hills. The route (now mostly trails) has been used since prehistoric times. Evidence at Wellwick Farm indicates that from the Neolithic to the Medieval eras, humans have occupied the region for more than 4,000 years, making it a rich area for archaeological finds. </p><p>Wood and her colleagues found some evidence of an ancient village occupied from the late Bronze Age (more than 3,000 years ago) until the Roman Empire's invasion of southern England about 2,000 years ago. At the site were the remains of animal pens, pits for disposing food, and a roundhouse — a standard British dwelling during the Bronze Age constructed with a circular plan made of stone or wood topped with a conical thatched roof.</p>
Ceremonial burial site<img type="lazy-image" data-runner-src="https://assets.rebelmouse.io/eyJhbGciOiJIUzI1NiIsInR5cCI6IkpXVCJ9.eyJpbWFnZSI6Imh0dHBzOi8vYXNzZXRzLnJibC5tcy8yMzUzMTk0Ni9vcmlnaW4uanBnIiwiZXhwaXJlc19hdCI6MTY0NDgwNTIyMX0.I49n1-j8WVhKjIZS_wVWZissnk3W1583yYXB7qaGtN8/img.jpg?width=1245&coordinates=0%2C82%2C0%2C83&height=700" id="44da7" class="rm-shortcode" data-rm-shortcode-id="46cfc8ca1c64fc404b32014542221275" data-rm-shortcode-name="rebelmouse-image" alt="top down view of coffin" data-width="1245" data-height="700" />
A high status burial in a lead-lined coffin dating back to Roman times.
Photo Credit: HS2<p>While these ancient people moved away from Wellwick Farm before the Romans invaded, a large portion of the area was still used for ritual burials for high-status members of society, Wood told Live Science. The ceremonial burial site included a circular ditch (about 60 feet across) at the center, and was a bit of a distance away from the ditch where the (suspected) murder victim was uncovered. Additionally, archaeologists found an ornately detailed grave near the sacred burial site that dates back to the Roman period, hundreds of years later when the original Bronze Age burial site would have been overgrown.</p><p>The newer grave from the Roman period encapsulated an adult skeleton contained in a lead-lined coffin. It's likely that the outer coffin had been made of wood that rotted away. Since it was clearly an ornate burial, the occupant of the grave was probably a person of high status who could afford such a lavish burial. However, according to Wood, no treasures or tokens had been discovered. </p>
Sacred timber circle<img type="lazy-image" data-runner-src="https://assets.rebelmouse.io/eyJhbGciOiJIUzI1NiIsInR5cCI6IkpXVCJ9.eyJpbWFnZSI6Imh0dHBzOi8vYXNzZXRzLnJibC5tcy8yMzUzMTk0Ny9vcmlnaW4uanBnIiwiZXhwaXJlc19hdCI6MTY2MDAwOTQ4Mn0.eVJAUcD0uBUkVMFuMOPSgH8EssGkfLf_MjwUv0zGCI8/img.jpg?width=1245&coordinates=0%2C149%2C0%2C149&height=700" id="9de6a" class="rm-shortcode" data-rm-shortcode-id="ee66520d470b26f5c055eaef0b95ec06" data-rm-shortcode-name="rebelmouse-image" alt="An aerial view of the sacred circular monument." data-width="1245" data-height="700" />
An aerial view of the sacred circular monument.
Photo Credit: HS2<p>One of the most compelling archaeological discoveries at Wellwick Farm are the indications of a huge ceremonial circle once circumscribed by timber posts lying south of the Bronze Age burial site. Though the wooden posts have rotted away, signs of the post holes remain. It's thought to date from the Neolithic period to 5,000 years ago, according to Wood.</p><p>This circle would have had a diameter stretching 210 feet across and consisted of two rings of hundreds of posts. There would have been an entry gap to the south-west. Five posts in the very center of the circle aligned with that same gap, which, according to Wood, appeared to have been in the direction of the rising sun on the day of the midwinter solstice. </p><p>Similar Neolithic timber circles have been discovered around Great Britain, such as one near <a href="https://bigthink.com/culture-religion/stonehenge-sarsens" target="_blank">Stonehenge</a> that is considered to date back to around the same time. </p>
Being skeptical isn't just about being contrarian. It's about asking the right questions of ourselves and others to gain understanding.
- It's not always easy to tell the difference between objective truth and what we believe to be true. Separating facts from opinions, according to skeptic Michael Shermer, theoretical physicist Lawrence Krauss, and others, requires research, self-reflection, and time.
- Recognizing your own biases and those of others, avoiding echo chambers, actively seeking out opposing voices, and asking smart, testable questions are a few of the ways that skepticism can be a useful tool for learning and growth.
- As Derren Brown points out, being "skeptical of skepticism" can also lead to interesting revelations and teach us new things about ourselves and our psychology.
New study suggests the placebo effect can be as powerful as microdosing LSD.
- New research from Imperial College London investigated the psychological effects of microdosing LSD in 191 volunteers.
- While microdosers experienced beneficial mental health effects, the placebo group performed statistically similar to those who took LSD.
- Researchers believe the expectation of a trip could produce some of the same sensations as actually ingesting psychedelics.
Psychedelics: The scientific renaissance of mind-altering drugs<span style="display:block;position:relative;padding-top:56.25%;" class="rm-shortcode" data-rm-shortcode-id="92360c805fe66c11de38a75b0967f417"><iframe type="lazy-iframe" data-runner-src="https://www.youtube.com/embed/5T0LmbWROKY?rel=0" width="100%" height="auto" frameborder="0" scrolling="no" style="position:absolute;top:0;left:0;width:100%;height:100%;"></iframe></span><p>For the study published in eLife, the team recruited 191 citizen cosmonauts to microdose either LSD or a placebo over the course of several weeks and note the psychological effects. Volunteers were already microdosing LSD, so there was no true control. Each volunteer was given instructions on creating their own low-dose gel capsules, some containing LSD, others not. Then they mixed the capsules in envelopes so they didn't know if they were taking the real thing or not.</p><p>The trial design was ingenious: each capsule featured a QR code that was scanned after the addition of ingredients but before they were placed in the envelope so that researchers knew what they were ingesting.</p><p>The problem: volunteers sourced their own LSD. Lack of quality control could have had a profound effect on the results. </p><p>The results: LSD microdosers reported feeling more mindful, satisfied with life, and better overall; they also noticed a reduction in feelings of paranoia. </p><p>The catch: the control group felt the same thing, with no statistical difference between the groups. </p><p>Lead author Balázs Szigeti comments on the findings: "This suggests that the improvements may not be due to the pharmacological action of the drug but can instead be explained by the placebo effect." </p>
Credit: Alexander / Adobe Stock<p>Psychedelics are notoriously difficult to control for given the intensity of the experience. Yet there is precedent for the above findings. A <a href="https://link.springer.com/article/10.1007/s00213-020-05464-5" target="_blank">2019 study</a> found that 61 percent of volunteers that took a placebo instead of psilocybin felt some psychedelic effects, with a few volunteers experiencing full-on trips.</p><p style="margin-left: 20px;">"Several stated that they saw the paintings on the walls 'move' or 'reshape' themselves, others felt 'heavy. . . as if gravity [had] a stronger hold', and one had a 'come down' before another 'wave' hit her."</p><p>The Imperial team believes the expectation of a trip might have been enough to produce similar results. Senior author David Erritzoe is excited for future studies on the topic, believing they tapped into a new wave of citizen science that could push forward our knowledge of psychedelic substances.</p><p style="margin-left: 20px;">"Accounting for the placebo effect is important when assessing trends such as the use of cannabidiol oils, fad diets or supplements where social pressure or users' expectations can lead to a strong placebo response. Self-blinding citizen science initiatives could be used as an inexpensive, initial screening tool before launching expensive clinical studies."</p><p>As investments into the psychedelics market explode, with one company <a href="https://www.bloomberg.com/news/articles/2021-03-03/thiel-backed-magic-mushroom-firm-atai-hits-2-billion-valuation" target="_blank">reaching a $2 billion valuation</a>, a recurring irony appears in the long arc of psychedelics and research: the power of our minds might be enough to feel greater life satisfaction and a deeper sense of mindfulness. If that's possible with a placebo, we have to question why the rush to create more pharmacology is necessary. </p><p>This is, mind you, a separate conversation over the role of psychedelics and rituals for group bonding. The function of group cohesion around consciousness-altering substances will continue to play an important role in many communities. </p><p>Of course, we should continue to explore the efficacy of psychedelics on anxiety, depression, suicidal ideation, PTSD, and addiction. <a href="https://bigthink.com/surprising-science/antidepressant-effects" target="_self">Pharmacological dependence</a> is a stain on the psychiatry industry. Whether or not psychedelics can be prescribed for daily use remains to be seen, but we know a moneyed interest is expecting a return on investment—the above company, ATAI Life Sciences, raised $157 million in its Series D round. </p><p>When it comes to wellbeing, some things money just can't buy. How we navigate the tricky terrain of mainstreaming psychedelics remains to be seen. </p><p>--</p><p><em>Stay in touch with Derek on <a href="http://www.twitter.com/derekberes" target="_blank">Twitter</a> and <a href="https://www.facebook.com/DerekBeresdotcom" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">Facebook</a>. His most recent book is</em> "<em><a href="https://www.amazon.com/gp/product/B08KRVMP2M?pf_rd_r=MDJW43337675SZ0X00FH&pf_rd_p=edaba0ee-c2fe-4124-9f5d-b31d6b1bfbee" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">Hero's Dose: The Case For Psychedelics in Ritual and Therapy</a>."</em></p>