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Conspiracy Theories in Society and Medicine

America is awash in conspiracy theories, from classical cases surrounding who shot JFK and what happened at Roswell in 1947 to contemporary concerns about microchips in COVID vaccines and the relationship between 5G cell towers and the origin of COVID. 

But how do we distinguish conspiracy theories that should be dismissed as ridiculous from those that should be taken more seriously? After all, historical events that we now take to be fact, such as Watergate and the Iran-Contra Affair, were initially written off as phony conspiracy theories. So what distinguishes the legitimate ones from the illegitimate ones?

For over a decade, Professor Tabery has taught a course at the University of Utah affectionately known as "Detecting Bullshit" (the course catalogue lists the class under the more scholarly name of "Theories of Knowledge"). From debates about climate change and macroeconomics to astrology, bigfoot, Barack Obama's birth certificate, and 9/11, the course surveys a range of topics that have all been characterized as either conspiratorial or pseudoscientific. In the end, students identify a number of "tells" that indicate whether any given theory remains legitimate or has crossed over into the realm of the absurd.

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