A theory by any other name…

artists rendition

“Well, it’s a theory, so that means it’s worth discussing.”

The statement left me tongue-tied.  Maybe I take my life in science too much for granted. Maybe a lot of us have forgotten that theories are based on a supposition or a system of ideas intended to explain something, especially one based on general principles independent of the thing to be explained.

Quite some time ago, I wrote a post about the difference between theory and belief: Evolution is not a belief system. Now I’ve gone full circle. A belief is not the same as a theory.

Words are so important. I noticed that people now talk as though feelings are the same as facts, that opinions need no supporting evidence, that a guess is the same as knowledge, and asking what seems to be a rhetorical question is the same as answering that very question.

Theory is supported by facts and principles. As such, theories can be tested. Beliefs can be like dogma, held onto regardless of evidence.

I made a decision. I’m not going to use the phrase “conspiracy theory” anymore. Instead, I’ll call them what they really are: just “conspiracies,” or maybe I’ll use the phrase, “conspiracy beliefs.” Why muddy the water? Because a rose is a rose by any other name; but a theory must hold up under scrutiny.

Don’t get me wrong. We should talk about conspiracies. But, we should not give them equal footing with evidence-supported theory.

When someone tells me that Covid-19 is spread through 5-G, I’m not going to upgrade that belief to the level of a theory. I might point them to the Alliance for Science website where the top conspiracies about Covid-19 are debunked with facts.

When I hear that Bill Gates, Anthony Fauci, and Mark Zuckerberg were roommates in college, I’m going to gently suggest that based on their ages, it’s unlikely these three people were in college at the same time, and although possible, it’s highly implausible.

When I hear that people say that they don’t believe in vaccinations, I’ll simply say, “Believe me, vaccinations are real.”

After that, I’ll need to let my friends hang on to their beliefs, because beliefs are not grounded in fact. Quite frankly, beliefs can become even more entrenched when confronted with facts or logic.

What is your approach to conspiracy beliefs? Maybe we can help each other.