Menu Search

Author Archives: John Naughton

Stranger than fiction: the Umbrella Man and the JFK Assassination

Brooding on the conspiracy theories surrounding what happened to Building 7 in 9/11, I fell to thinking about frame 313 of the famous Zapruder film of the assassination of JFK (which, at least until the advent of YouTube must have been the most-watched home movie in history). Here’s how Ron Rosenbaum, writing in the Smithsonian […]

28 September 2013
Parallel ontologies: the case of Building 7

YouGov recently published the results of an interesting poll carried on to mark the 12th anniversary of the 9/11 attacks. The poll found that one in two Americans have doubts about the government’s account of 9/11, and after viewing video footage of World Trade Center Building 7’s collapse, 46% suspect that it was caused by […]

21 September 2013
Hindsight and its drawbacks (updated)

Hindsight, as the saying goes, is the only exact science. It can also be a liability, because it enables us to view events of the past – and contemporary theories about them – with an unwarranted degree of condescension. That was one of the most useful insights provided by Thomas Kuhn’s work on the history […]

25 August 2013
There are conspiracy theories and conspiracy theories

“The reason there are conspiracy theories”, runs an old adage, “is because sometimes people conspire”. They do, which is one reason why the sneering condescension with which people talk about conspiracy theories is, well, unwise. It may make statistical sense (because the majority of conspiracy theories are unfounded), but it’s not good epistemology, because sometimes […]

20 August 2013
The death of Dr David Kelly

“Having written the biography of David Kelly”, writes Robert Lewis, “I have found out many new secrets, but have finally let go of the conspiracy theories.”  Ten years ago, Dr David Kelly  Britain’s foremost authority on biological weapons, and perhaps Britain’s leading expert on Iraqi WMD, was found dead in an Oxfordshire wood, apparently as a result […]

6 July 2013
What Edward Snowden has achieved, so far

One of the things that interests me about the current fuss concerning Edward Snowden and the information that has come from him into the public domain via the Guardian and the Washington Post is the light it sheds on reasons why citizens might legitimately be suspicious of their governments.  I wrote a piece about this angle recently in the Observer/Guardian, and my […]

28 June 2013
Conspiracy and intent

Take, for example, the requirement that a conspiracy must involve malign intent on the part of the conspirators. Lots of bad things happen in the world which are the outcome of informal collusion between agents.  But the collusion doesn’t explicitly involve malign intent: just a shared set of values, or a shared ideology. Take, for example, the […]

15 May 2013
How rumours spread on electronic networks

A major focus of work on the Internet strand is the question of how ideas, memes, rumours, ‘facts’, etc. disseminate through online networks.  Is the online world significantly different from its offline counterpart, and, if so, in what ways?  These questions have been of enduring interest to sociologists at least since 1973 when the Stanford […]

30 April 2013