Whether you are afraid the Illuminati and Barack Obama are trying to impose a new world order, or if you think the pharmaceutical companies are just trying to rake in their billions in swine flu drug sales, here are the steps to take to confirm or debunk health-related conspiracy theories:
Find the Theory's Originator
To determine whether the theory you are testing is fiction or fact, you may need to find the originator. You will want to pass judgment on the reasons that person would have for theorizing or sharing information. (Money? Attention? or Wisdom and Knowledge?)
Mimics, especially people who are paranoid and simply repeat information through their own fear, can be found anywhere. But sometimes it requires finding the first person who proposed an idea to decide how credible it can be.
Ask yourself, who stands to gain from frightening people with this information? The real information, including deaths and illness from H1N1 swine flu, is scary enough. But if someone can capitalize on fears, then they may choose to put wild information out there just to call attention to themselves, or worse, to defraud.
Here's how to follow the money:
Begin by assessing who can make money from the statements being made. Figure out how they could - or could not - make money from those allegations, and therefore, whether they make sense.
One example is the idea that pharmaceutical companies are trying to kill off the world's population. Why would pharmaceutical companies want everyone to be dead? If everyone dies, then they have no one to make money from. If there are no more patients, then there is no more income.
So why would someone make that statement up? The simple answer is because they call attention to themselves. Typically they want to do that either because they crave attention (remember the class clown?) or even worse, because they want to make money from calling attention to themselves.
You'll find these kinds of statements on YouTube videos, and in podcasts on an individual's website. A few of these people host their own radio shows and know they can benefit from bigger listener numbers because more listeners equals more advertising revenue. Others have written books they want to sell. If they scare you, then you'll buy their books either to learn how to survive the pandemic or how to create your own new world order.
Another "follow the money" approach is to assess products being sold by people who are unscrupulous and want to capitalize on your fears by selling you either counterfeit drugs or some other snake-oil-like product so you'll believe you can't catch the flu, or will be cured of it. Don't believe them. Typically this hype is that there is a cure "they" don't want you to know about -- but if you buy the book, you'll be able to learn all about it!
Learn to Assess Web Credibility
Make yourself familiar with how to identify credible and reliable information on the Internet. These tenets are the same, whether you are assessing the validity of conspiracy theories or trying to determine whether a newly discovered treatment is right for you.
Keep a List of Fact Checking Websites
Keep a list of websites that are known for their objective analysis of any sorts of theories, including those that are health-related. See below for some of my favorites.
- Factcheck.org: An activity of the Annenberg Foundation, a think-tank in Washington DC
- The Urban Legends Guide here at About.com writes on some of the wildest swine flu theories.
- Snopes.com is a well known site for finding the truth or debunking rumors and theories on all topics.
- Politifact is excellent if the theory you want to review is at all related to politics.