Our regular readers have probably noticed by now that we’ve initiated a series of regular features.
Some of these will persist, while some will not. It’s survival of the fittest.
The latest mutation is today’s feature: Tinfoil Hat Tuesday. That’s where we kick around a conspiracy theory.
The whole series could get really heavy. It’s Christmas Week. Let’s start off the feature with a lighter Advent-ure.
Randy Quaid and his wife Evi were arrested in Vancouver, British Columbia in October. They claim they feared for their lives, destined to be the next victims of a secretive cult called the Star Whackers, who have already claimed Chris Penn (d. 2006), Heath Ledger (d. 2008), David Carradine (d. 2009) and Ronni Chasen (d. 2010) as victims. What were the Star Whackers doing in 2007? We may never know.
Police and prosecutors, coldly rational and small-minded people that they are, claim that the Quaids are fleeing to avoid prosecution.
Both Quaids were arrested last year in Presidio County, Texas on charges of skipping out on a $10,000 hotel bill in September 2009. Charges against Randy Quaid in that case were dropped; Evi Quaid pled “no contest” and was placed on probation.
Apparently September is a bad month (mensis horribilis?) for the Quaids, because this September they were arrested again on charges of “squatting” in a house they formerly owned, but had allegedly sold several years earlier. (Quaid was apparently channeling his inner Bartleby.)
So, they did what anyone in their situation would do, and fled from the shadowy Hollywood cult known as the “Star Whackers.” Obviously, when one’s friends are murdered in Bangkok, New York, Santa Monica and Hollywood, one must go to a remote and inaccessible location to save one’s life. That would be Vancouver, British Columbia.
(Hear Randy Quaid explain the conspiracy in his own words.)
Both Quaids were detained by Canadian officials, but released after it was discovered that Evi Quaid’s father was actually — Canadian. Now Evi Quaid is Canadian, too. Channeling her inner McKenzie, she said, “I am so proud to be a Canadian. … It is a beautiful day.” At this writing, Randy’s petition for asylum from the Star Whackers is still pending. I’m certain that Avi Quaid’s pride in her Canadian heritage will increase his chances of getting a successful hearing.
So, there’s a great conspiracy theory. Is there a secretive cult of “Star Whackers” who have already offed Heath Ledger and David Carradine, as the Quaids claim? Let’s run the claim through the Shermer Conspiracy Theory Detector.
(I’m not dissing the Shortchain mod of the Shermer CTD. I invite Shortchain to chime in here with his analysis.)
This conspiracy theory is rated on a zero- to five-tinfoil-hat scale. Each “hit” gets a half-hat.
- Proof of the conspiracy supposedly emerges from a pattern of “connecting the dots” between events that need not be causally connected. When no evidence supports these connections except the allegation of the conspiracy or when the evidence fits equally well to other causal connections—or to randomness—the conspiracy theory is likely to be false. Most authorities would agree there is no causal link between the apparently accidental deaths of Chris Penn in Santa Monica, Heath Ledger in New York, Keith Carradine in Bangkok and Ronni Chasen in Hollywood. Hit.
- The agents behind the pattern of the conspiracy would need nearly superhuman power to pull it off. People are usually not nearly so powerful as we think they are. These guys are Ninjas. They specialize in making deaths look like dilated cardiomyopathy, drug overdose, asphyxiation and gunshots and have tricked medical examiners in all those venues into thinking these deaths are accidental and unconnected. Plus, the Quaids are due to be killed by knife. These guys are versatile. Hit.
- The conspiracy is complex, and its successful completion demands a large number of elements. See #2 above. Hit.
- Similarly, the conspiracy involves large numbers of people who would all need to keep silent about their secrets. The more people involved, the less realistic it becomes. None of these deaths were exactly low profile, except maybe Penn’s. Hit.
- The conspiracy encompasses a grand ambition for control over a nation, economy or political system. If it suggests world domination, the theory is even less likely to be true. Miss, unless you count domination of Hollywood. Small beer.
- The conspiracy theory ratchets up from small events that might be true to much larger, much less probable events. Hit.
- The conspiracy theory assigns portentous, sinister meanings to what are most likely innocuous, insignificant events. Hit.
- The theory tends to commingle facts and speculations without distinguishing between the two and without assigning degrees of probability or of factuality. Hit.
- The theorist is indiscriminately suspicious of all government agencies or private groups, which suggests an inability to nuance differences between true and false conspiracies. Hit.
- The conspiracy theorist refuses to consider alternative explanations, rejecting all disconfirming evidence and blatantly seeking only confirmatory evidence to support what he or she has a priori determined to be the truth. Hit, mostly because of the possibility of what psychologists call “secondary gain”, namely, staying out of jail.
We have our first Tinfoil Hat Tuesday Award Winner, with a rating of 4½ tinfoil hats:
This one is right up there with the birther conspiracy. It requires somewhat less people to carry it out, or to remain silent, though, so I give it about 17. (Birtherism is about 19.) Note that another difference is due to the grand goals of the conspiracy, accounting for the difference of +2.
With that kind of a score, this one is LOFLMAO implausible.
We note, in passing, that anyone wishing to gain domination of Hollywood would be be better advised to go after the producers and studio execs. Perhaps we also need another category:
5a. Does the supposed conspiracy, if it exist, actually further the goals in item 5?
Note that this would not affect the relative standing of the “star whackers” and “birtherism” much, because it’s pretty obvious, given the events of the last few years, just getting someone elected president doesn’t guarantee world (or even American) domination.
By the way, the AGW “Conspiracy” comes up with almost exactly the same score as the birther conspiracy. Coincidence? I don’t think so…
So, shortchain, where does your scale max out? I’m wondering if we can convert it to a zero-to-five-hats scale.
Even if there was such an organization as Star whackers, why would they waste their time on Mr. Quaid?
As with all good scales, there’s a minimum (0) but no theoretical maximum. However, if everybody else on Earth but the believer is “in” on it, and it has a positive on everything else, it will come out almost 24. Of course, as the population of the Earth goes up, so does the theoretical maximum…
I would suggest that, near the maximum, a tinfoil hat should be replaced by a capsule labeled “thorazine” or maybe “haldol”, because that goes way beyond a “conspiracy theory”.
Divide by four and we’re pretty close. For the present example, I get 4½. You give it 17, divided by 4 it’s 4¼.
If it’s greater than 20, I vote for a straitjacket and a Haldol.
Ah, but division by 4 compresses the scale, especially on the low end, where the differences are most important. It’s not likely to matter when the score comes out at 20, whether a small change makes it 18 or 22, but there would be a significant difference between a score of 8 and 12.
That, indeed, is the advantage of the FSCCC over the flat metric.
It appears discussing the ‘conspiracy theory’ scale is more interesting than discussing Randy Quaid, eh. ~ solo estoy diciendo …
Let it be, brother. Let it be.
Well, what is there to say about Randy Quaid’s belief? If anybody has information that would turn this “star whacker” theory from an pathetic, yet entertaining, sideshow, into something that we could possibly believe, now is the time for them to come forward.
I regard the affair as an opportunity to calibrate my formula. That’s the scientific way.
Maybe we need to invent the first Thorazine helmet with Haldol chin strap.
Randy who? 😉
This may seem self-evident, but I see a lot of confirmation bias inherent in the heuristic. For example with criterion #1, someone who is predisposed to believing the “conspiracy theory” is less likely to admit that other causal connections or randomness could explain the situation. Or, with #2-4, one who is predisposed towards the conspiracy is more apt to believe that it could be managed by fewer people, whereas a skeptic is more apt to recognize all of the tertiary pieces and players required to pull it off. Or with #7, innocuous or insignificant to whom?
Shortchain’s adjustments account for the relative weighting of the different criteria, but not the subjective nature of assigning the yea/nay score in the first place.
I think everyone here will agree that the “Star Whackers” conspiracy is whack, but what happens when we get to a more controversial topic? It will be interesting to see how divergent the scoring becomes between the believers and skeptics. It should get fun!
We’re on the same page, mclever.
UFOs are a’comin’,
There’s tinfoil in sight.
UFOs are a’comin’,
Fili posts it up right.
It’s a two-fer Tinfoil Hat Tuesday.
Whew… coffee break! I’m serving dinner for 15 tonight and have been busy since the crack of dawn. We always do this… have Christmas dinner a few days early so the kids and grandkids are free on Chsritams Day to go to the in-laws, head for Mexico, Disnelyand or whatever kids do these days. Then on Christmas Day my beloved and I drive out to the ski hill and have a sumptuous Christmas dinner, plus wine and quiet adult conversation at the lodge among the mounds of snow bathed colored lights, squirrels and birds in the feeders outside the window, and deer coming shyly up to the window.
At our early Christmas dinner (since everybody o.d.’s on tryptophan duing the season) I make and serve the world’s best lasagna, to general cheers and many hugs of appreciation. But it’s a lot of work to make enough for this crowd.
Anyhow… speaking of cross-border conspiracy theories, I forgot to mention a truly delicious “side story” from the Wikileaks debacle that probably didn’t get much coverage south of the 49th. (But lots of giggling in Canada over this story.) It appears the American diplomats in Ottawa are upset by some Canadian TV programming and even sent a stern letter to that effect.
They don’t like the depiction of Americans in some of our border police shows… and they appear to suspect we might be making fun of them. Particularly suspicious is “Little Mosque on the Prairie,” a sitcom about a group of youg Muslims and their funny hi-jinks in a little western Canadian town. Apparently when you cast Muslims in a positive light, you are making fun of Americans. Jeez, who knew? 😉
Coffee’s gone… back to stirring and mixing. I’m feeling very festive this morning. (Could be all the wine sampling. You have to make sure it’s good before you serve it… right?)
@Mainer… Maybe we need to invent the first Thorazine helmet with Haldol chin strap.
Best post of the week….
Treme… I don’t know how to post my THT contribution. Somebody will have to do it for me…
Apparently, some US diplomats had their sense of humor removed when they crossed the border…
I mean, it’s not like Americans ever make fun of our neighbor to the frosty north, eh? It’s like the same sort of friendly inter-state kidding that goes on between Iowa and Minnesota, or Texas and Oklahoma. Geez, people!
fili, do you agree that the US is a bunch of
“Shatner stealin’, Mexico touchers!” (an unknown Canadian border agent on The Simpsons)
@foppsie… do you agree that the US is a bunch of “Shatner stealin’, Mexico touchers!”
Oh, absolutely. We’re still REALLY bitter about the Shatner stealing. Lorne Green and Leslie Nielsen were bad enough, but Shatner is just a bridge too far.
On the other hand, we do owe you something for taking Celine Dion and Pamela Anderson, so I’m prepared to call it a draw.
fili, do your grandkids have any Santa conspiracy theories ~ just wonderin’
mclever and Monotreme,
Since conspiracy theories involve the beliefs of people, it’s quite impossible to evaluate them without stooping to estimate the beliefs of these people. Conspiracology is a soft science, for which we make no apology, we merely shrug our metaphorical shoulders and push on.
Hey, it’s either that or build a STM and start pushing atoms around. Or we could go into climatology and have to live with noise, not only in our data, but in the minds of nitwits who have no understanding of statistics, chaotic systems, and instead cling to belief in a fatherly, omnipotent, yet strangely insecure being who needs worship or he gets cranky and murderous.
Come to think of it, that STM sounds like fun.
I’m partial to fMRI myself.
Shortchain, Mono can either of those thing be made or maintained with duct tape, blue plastic tarps or baling wire? If not I’m probably not going to be much help to you.
Throw in a colander, and it might work.
Blue plastic tarps are totally inappropriate for either fMRI or STM. Duct tape will work to hold the victim, er, subject, for fMRI, and baling wire would be useful for any task whatsoever.
But where do you get baling wire these days? They use plastic wrap on those big round bales, don’t they? All the baling wire I’ve ever seen was manufactured pre-1965. Anything nowadays would be either from that era or made in China, and probably contain Lead and/or Cadmium.
I still have some of the old stuff, picked up on rambles out in the field.
Quaaaid….. Quaaiidddd…. Free Mars….. Staaarrrt the reactorrrrr…..
Oh crap, wrong Quaid…
Baling wire is still pretty easy to get hold of. Heck even Tractor Supply has it. I still have a pretty good supply as well as several miles of old solid telephone wire from when they stripped it off the rail lines. I also believe you can get American made. Some is indeed galvanized as is the telephone wire. Hey how could one build a decent dog run with out telephone wire let alone a fMRI or STM?
Now I am going to have to find another use for some fine plastic tarps but I can pitch in with a number of weights of duct tape in contrasting colors. As for colanders……I think the good wife might have some thing to say about that.
People built fine dog runs for decades without fMRI.
Oh, wait…that’s not what you meant, is it?