“To conspire or to not conspire?” said the avid social media scroller. This typically comes to light from hours, minutes—even seconds—of assuming a deliberate, painful, and insipid, desire for truth.

Today, there is a lot to sort through, so let’s focus in on one thing at a time—here’s my best understanding of "conspiracy theory": a proposed explanation of some historical event(s) in terms of the significant causal agency of a small group of conspirators, acting in secret.

Take into account that this may be called a “theory” because it provides an explanation and reasons why an event occurred and that the conspirators must be a group (although not necessarily powerful). A ‘conspiracy of one’ cannot be termed conspiracy but rather the workings of an individual.

Unwarranted conspiracy theories contain the following additional criteria:

  • An explanation that runs counter to some official account of the event.
  • The true intentions behind the conspiracy are invariably evil, that is, no such conspiracies exist of conspirators secretly operating to achieve good.
  • Generally seeking to tie together seemingly unrelated past events.
  • The truths behind events explained by the conspiracy theories are essentially well-guarded secrets.
  • The mechanism that drives the theory is errant data.

Errant data comes in two forms: a) unaccounted-for data and b) contradictory data. Unaccounted-for data are the data that are not explained by the official account (but do not contradict it) while contradictory data are data that simply contradict the official account.

Before we throw around the word ‘conspiracy theory’ we should understand that when an explanation makes sense of all the available data we should be critical as all data cannot be possibly explained due to the fallibility of human nature. Expect explanations to be exceptional but also expect them to be less than perfect.

Second, we should not over-rationalize the world and the events that take place in it. By overconfidently crediting rationality to people, groups, or institutions, we search for purposeful explanations where none exist. People are human and humans do some weird stuff sometimes.

Intense conspiring leads to a sort of global skepticism that discredits the institutions that provide us with belief systems. We should be wary of those theories that attack the basis for warranted beliefs of competing theories rather than searching for further compelling evidence to the case.

Conspiracy theories should thus be a sort of entertainment tool than an ideology. Tread carefully