How To Deal With Conspiracy Theorists

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I read this in the hard copy of the Smithsonian Magazine when it came out, but it was not available online at that time. Since it is accessible now, I thought I would direct people to it. Melody von Smith came up with the perfect argument to silence conspiracy theorists. when they spout their "truths". In this case the conspiracy theory in question was that the US had never sent a man to the moon.

I went to a party a while ago. In the course of otherwise reasonable conversation, one of the guests said, "Oh, everybody knows the moon landings were faked."

I started laughing at what I assumed was sarcasm—maybe a riff on NASA's recent announcement that it had lost some high-quality videotape of the first one. Then I saw from the expression on his face that he was serious. And a number of other guests were nodding in agreement.

Both my parents are scientists—analytical chemistry and molecular biology. I have a physicist uncle, and I am a chemist. The notion of faked moon landings was an affront to the family crest.

"Excuse me?" I said.

"The pictures are all perfect," he said.

"Because there is no air," I replied. "Which means no dust, so that distant objects on the moon still appear crisp."

"But they're perfectly focused."

"The published ones are perfectly focused, sure. Nobody wants to see the astronaut's thumb."

His eyes narrowed. "The flag is flapping. How is that possible when there's no wind?"

"It's not flapping," I said. "It's unfurling. Well, not unfurling, but that's the point—it was folded during the flight, and it didn't unfold fully even after they hung from the flagpole."


I started spewing mathematical formulas, not because it was crucial to my argument but to intimidate. "Do you understand?" I finally demanded.

He shrugged. "I'm a biologist."

Finally, my coup de grâce: "The Russians."

He knit his brow.

"They had the first satellite, the first man in space, the first spacewalk," I said. "Then America gets the first man on the moon? That's like getting tripped by the other team's mascot. But have the Russians ever said the moon landing was a hoax?"

Read the whole thing. It involves models of the solar system constructed entirely out of food. Always the high point of a dinner party!

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