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Space exploration conspiracies


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#1 Orpheus

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Posted 19 July 2015 - 03:15 PM

Everyone loves hearing a good conspiracy theory, right? Even if you don't buy them, they're a great excuse to do some background reading/math and stretch your brain cells.

I've seen 3 space-exploration-related conspiracy theories spreading this past week, and I'd love to see links to any others that you might have encountered.

Conspiracy #1: Lockheed Martin Blew Up SpaceX's Rocket With a Laser
I'd planned to discuss the Falcon9 failure in depth soon after it happened on June 28, but I was waiting to hear more details beyond the high quality videos that became almost instantly available, but everyone has remained tight-lipped -- until now: Elon Musk did an hour long discussion with Mike Suffredini yesterday at ISSRDC 2015 (International Space Station Research and Development Conference) and will be holding a SpaceX press conference tomorrow.

Let's just say that the timing of June's Falcon9 failure, after 100% success in all 18 of its prior launches, was rather convenient for many of the major space players:
  • it gave Orbital Sciences Corporation some breathing room after the explosion of its new Antares launcher [and Cygnus cargo capsule] on its third resupply attempt in October. OSC's Antares/Cygnus is NASA's "backup" carrier to resupply ISS, but it carries less payload to orbit, costs much more to launch than SpaceX, can't bring back any cargo [it burns up on re-entry] and can never be man-rated. OSC is an established military contractor for small launches, missiles, etc.
  • It may give some breathing room to United Launch Alliance's heavy launch vehicles [Atlas V and Delta IV Heavy], by slowing the introduction/testing of the Falcon 9 Heavy which would carry comparable -- and greater loads, at far less cost. ULA is a merger of the two leading "old space" launch companies, Boeing Defense, Space & Security (which developed the Delta launcher) and Lockheed-Martin Space Systems (which developed the Atlas) Ironically it was formed after potentially devastating mutual court suits where Boeing and L-M each showed evidence the other was guilty of industrial espionage and dirty tricks. They decided to drop their mutual suits and form a combined company to protect their established space ventures again other emerging competitors.
  • It delays the human-rating tests of SpaceX's interplanetary-capable Dragon Spacecraft [slated to being this year], so NASA's unfinished Orion space vehicle [the "manned" portion of the expensive Constellation boondoggle that Congress cancelled after decades of scandalous failure and $10s of Billion wasted] won't seem completely irrelevant. An Orion "test article" flew two orbits (unmanned) last year after being launched on a ULA Delta Heavy, and only has one "mission" planned -- another unmanned flight in late 2018, with ultimate human-rating testing being years further off
  • Without the Orion, NASA's "Space Launch System" [ostensibly a NASA program, but being built by Lockheed and Alliant using Space Shuttle launch technology] would be a bust, lacking all purpose
Don't get me wrong. I don't buy into this particular conspiracy theory (i.e. that ULA used it's proven anti-rocket laser to shoot down this Falcon 9 mission). I'm just trying to cite a few of the many general reasons why the conspiracists feel that tens of billions in lucrative government contracts would be at stake if SpaceX wasn't slowed down.

Personally, I think it's pretty clear that the Falcon9 was MUCH too high at the time of disruption for ULA's Laser system to have hit it, and that even if someone *were* to seek to destroy that mission, it could better be done internally (e.g. by sabotaging one of the many schoolkid/amateur experiments aboard or introducing a hardware/software sabotage into the rocket itself -- i.e. "the old fashioned way". While it was hard to miss the "hotspot" on the launch video, even at the time, I don't see telltale signs of an IR beam --- and it would have been a terrible risk to undertake, if caught.

#2 gsmonks

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Posted 19 July 2015 - 04:31 PM

SpaceX is having the same problems as NASA in its early days- quality control, experience, design issues, due diligence, you name it. NASA had plenty of embarrassments in its early days.
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#3 Orpheus

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Posted 19 July 2015 - 11:49 PM

Actually (though I find it tremendously unsatisfying), I think it is sufficient to simply note that "space travel is hard". It's at the limits of our technology, and we've had relatively few discrete chances to test any given vehicle.  (This is one area where SpaceX really excels; they do several low-altitude engine firings, rocket launches and landings EVERY DAY at their McGregor, TX launch test facility, and also conduct far more lab trials on every piece of their equipment than anyone ever has before: NASA couldn't afford to test their exhorbitantly expensive "gold plated" gear, but SpaceX finds it far cheaper than a possible failure might be.

In short strokes: a single parking garage or neighborhood might easily perform more "missions" (of cars 'taking off', 'doing ther mission' and then returning) in the course of a single year than all the space programs in world history combined. Even a busy airport does -- and the complexity of a jetliner at least approaches that of a rocket. Yet, after over a century of incredibly intensive experience with millions of such vehicles, cars and planes still fail and crash.

I've always said a SpaceX failure would be inevitable in the short term. I've only ever wondered how it would be tolerated. A years-long hiatus for investigation, such as we saw with the Apollo or Shuttle disasters would be ruinous.

Conspiracy #2: "We can't send humans beyond the Van Allen Belt (Low Earth Orbit), even today"

I think the classic "space exploration conspiracy" theory is the moon landing "hoax" -- which is of course, alive and well (as a theory) among conspiracy advocates today. However, it has been given a new life by a NASA video attempting to make the Orion seem viable and important [seen in the second part of the video linked below] which seeks to make study of Earth's Van Allen belts (belts of radiation in medium high Earth Orbit, caused by interactions between the solar wind and Earth's protective magnetic field) seem like a difficult and important test for Man's space travel future.

There is some validity to the need to test. The electronics on Apollo were crude. I've seen what passed for "integrated circuits" on Apollo missions: roughly a half-dozen resistors, diodes or transistors embedded in ceramic tiles about 2" (5 cm) square. The active components were too large to be much affected by a single x-/gamma- ray or an energetic charged particle. Today's integrated circuits may put billions of such components into a silicon chip the size of a fingernail, with the signals being represented or controlled by a relatively small number of electrons or 'holes' [places in the crystal lattice where an electron might sit] A single cosmic ray can easily pack the energy to flip a bit in a modern chip. We've seen this in other settings: during the Cold War, it was noted that the EMP [electromagnet pulse] from a nuclear blast could completely disable a NATO F-15 or 70s/80s era Western military electronics, but have little effect on the vacuum tubes that were still used in many front line Soviet fighter, communications gear, etc. [Conversely, military/civilian infrastructure from electric grids to car alternators could be vulnerable, not because they were micro-miniatured, but because they contained enough wire to act as a good antenna to absorb the electromagnetic energy of such a pulse and burn themselves out]

I'm linking this video, not because it is the best example, but because it shows two very distinct avenues of argument, both common. You'll find others if you search YouTube. In fact, many conspiracists even doubt the existence of manned Low Earth Orbit projects like ISS. (I guess they don't watch the 1000s of "physics in space" demos filmed since Skylab. To fake all of those accurately [rates, distances, etc can be measured from film or video and compared to the well-known equations every physics student derives from scratch] would be more impressive than space flight!)

To be fair, I don't recall ever actually conducting any of the proposed "layman/university" tests to prove that [some elements of] the Apollo manned lunar landings actually occurred, but on the other hand, I've never seen any argument against them that I felt was at all compelling. That doesn't mean that better (or better presented) arguments don't exist. Maybe "the real flaws" are just too complicated, hard-sciencey or subtle to appeal to the "conspiracist crowd".

Also in the interest of fairness, I'd like to note that though many people automatically dismiss "conspiracists" as crackpots --- so much so that "conspiracist" literally means anyone who believes in any conspiracy. (Someone who actually participates in a conspiracy is a "conspirator) However, very significant conspiracies of all stripes -- political, social, scientific, religious, commercial/business, criminal, etc.-- exist and are actually quite common. Arguably, it's a conspiracy any time you try to keep your plans and activities secret from those who would oppose you, or the public. Every iPhone roll-out is a conspiracy until it's unveiled.

#4 Orpheus

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Posted 21 July 2015 - 12:36 PM

BTW, I should have mentioned this in the "SpaceX (CRS-7) explosion conspiracy"

ULA's Atlas V and Orbital Sciences' Antares are both under pressure because they buy their base rocket engine from Russia. [SpaceX designed and builds all its own engines from scratch]. For reasons of national security (and because Russia has openly threatened to cut off the supply), Congress passed a laws saying that US launch vehicles have to use US-made engines. ULA CAN make it's own engines, but buying from Russia is cheaper, hence more profitable, in the "fixed price" contract environment ushered in by "new space" ventures like SpaceX [vs. the old military style "cost plus" basis which guaranteed they'd be repaid for any extra costs -- plus a guaranteed profit percentage on those sexpences]

ULA has been fighting this law tooth and nail, arguing that it might even give SpaceX a temporary monopoly on heavy launchs for a few years (Of course, it was fine when Atlas and Delta, the ULA launchers had a monopoly) -- and to put further pressure on congress, ULA has actually *decreased* its manufacture rates of [the more expensive] American-made engines and saying that in a year or two that it is "impractical to continue launching solely with US-made engines". I don't know what manufacturing or engine options Orbital Sciences has for the Antares, but it is not a very capable platform [less payload, not man-capable, can't bring materials back] compared to Falcon/Atlas/Delta, so they may not be thinking of using it beyond their existing contract for 8 ISS resupplies and maybe a single contract renewal for a few more resupply flights.

SpaceX has a factory that is currently  capable of producing 400 Falcon modules a year [Falcon-1 launches use one module; Falcon-9 launches use 9 modules; Falcon Heavy would use 27 per launch], enough to take on more missions than it currently has. Had it continued its spotless flight record, ULA and Orbital Sciences would have had a tough argument to sell, even with it's NASA-style "subcontractors in every congressional district" political clout.

I'm only listing this as an issue that is considered "suspicious" by advocates of this conspiracy theory. As I'll post this evening, SpaceX announced the initial results of its postmortem last night: failure of a substandard contractor-supplied mechanical strut.

#5 gsmonks

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Posted 21 July 2015 - 02:46 PM

Heh- as the saying goes, "Dammit! One little thing . . . "

I'm still waiting for the Civilian Space Agency to be invented. It'd have a big website with a PayPal icon where the public could donate funds for projects.

Edited by gsmonks, 21 July 2015 - 02:47 PM.

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#6 RJDiogenes

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Posted 21 July 2015 - 05:45 PM

Or a Kickstarter.  The Planetary Society's Lightsail Project, the ARKYD telescope, and now the Neil Armstrong Spacesuit project have all done phenomenally well.  I wonder how soon it will be before someone kickstarts a space habitat or Moonbase.
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#7 Orpheus

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Posted 22 July 2015 - 11:05 PM

View Postgsmonks, on 21 July 2015 - 02:46 PM, said:

Heh- as the saying goes, "Dammit! One little thing . . . "

If you're saying what I think you're saying, you're right, and I apologize. My research into this conspiracy led me into a whole raft of memoranda to Congress (etc.) that outraged me with their seemingly disingenuous "too big too fail" (while threatening to fail) Greed but which really don't apply directly this thread.

I'll be back with another "current space exploration conspiracy" soon. I hurt my wrists and want to let them recover.

#8 RJDiogenes

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Posted 23 July 2015 - 06:28 PM

^^  Ouch.  What happened?  :(
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#9 Orpheus

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Posted 24 July 2015 - 02:55 AM

No biggie. It's just the deliberate cluelessness with which ULA has recently been demanding Congressional subsidies, claiming "there are no commercial opportunities" [meaning: there aren't for ULA, given that even for the "Heavy Lift" (the biggest launcher category, which very few missions need) which they once effectively monopolized the entire Free World supply), they charge many times as much for Delta/Atlas Heavy as SpaceX is charging for on the (yet unproven) Falcon Heavy -- or, for that matter, European Space Agency's proven Arianne V ES or ECA or Russia's proven Proton-M.

SpaceX doesn't want subsidies for Medium or Heavy Lift. OSC only does Medium Lift (i.e typical Earth Orbits) on and doesn't want subsidies (but I'm no sure they are booking. I think they gave NASA a discount off their own cost, hoping they'd get lucky <they just announced they'd switch to NEW Russian engines, after their older cheaper Russian engines blew up>-- but their ISS resupply cost is still 50% higher per launch than SpaceX which provides 50% more payload *and* returns material from ISS <OSC's Antare burns up on re-entry> *AND* books flights for significantly less now that Falcon 9 is proven).

ESA's Arianne has always gotten some subsidies (it's semi-governmental, somewhat akin to the USPS or Aérospatiale-BAC Concorde) and is asking for additional subsidies to counter the SpaceX threat. Russia has considered its space program a "mission of national prestige" since the Soviet Era. Though the Russian Ruble is now significantly "harder" than the Soviet Ruble, now that they have real global trade vs Politburo fiat, "hard western currency" [foreign trade balance] is still at a premium in the eyes of internal Russian politics.

But ULA considers itself "too big to fail" and keeps threatening to kill itself (by slashing its own throat by deliberately not complying with the Made-in-USA requirement). Truth is: though I don't think highly of ULA, I don't wish them ill. I seriously want then to think of options beyond "suckling at the guaranteed govt teat" and become more competitive. I think they see the writing on the wall, but are still thinking (not incorrectly) "there are billions in OldSpace bucks to be siphoned before we have to become efficient."

#10 RJDiogenes

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Posted 25 July 2015 - 01:06 AM

^^  Actually, I meant what happened to your wrists.

I'm really excited about the growth of private civilian space efforts-- I hope the business side of the business doesn't kill it before it really gets going.  Heinlein may come back from beyond the grave and strangle a few people.
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#11 Orpheus

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Posted 27 July 2015 - 09:26 PM

gsmonks: On re-reading, I think I may have misunderstood your joke. Sorry

RJD: My wrists are not serious. It's just one of those self-feeding cycles of inflammation, strain, muscle spasm, displacement and disuse. I have meds that help a lot, but they make me "too happy" and functionally useless. Of course I'm fairly functionally useless without my hands anyway. Most of the primary muscles for your fingers are actually in your forearms, and operate your fingers through like puppets through tendons that pass though your palmar and dorsal wrists. This inflammation also pinches the nerves as tthey pass into my hands, so I have little strength, sensation (except pain in my wrists and forearm -- couldn't do without that, could I?) or fine control via the small intrinsic muscles of my hands themselves -- i.e. I can just about operate a doorknob or light switch, but the keypad on a microwave is a challenge, and turning my car key is quite uncomfortable.

I suppose it's time to be a man and "take my medicine" (even if it is more of a short pharmaceutical vacation than a Puritan trial of character). See, this is why I could never be a drug addict -- as so many teachers have told me: I have the wrong attitude.

But back to the space explorations conspircies

Conspiracy #3:The New Horizons Mission to Pluto is a hoax

When I started this thread, the "Pluto hoaxers" were out in force, showing "inconsistencies" between the resolution of the images of Pluto at 1 million miles with images taken of Jupiter from much farther via other space probes from missions long ago, or even from earth-based telescopes. Alas, since then, those original conspiracist videos have been buried under news report videos about the "new conspiracy theory", as well as people making fun of them (often under the guise of pretending to believe them, or under misleading video titles, like "Are the Pluto photos a hoax?" (that video started with the kind of glitzy into and music often seen on hoax videos, but when the host appears, he simply says "No".

I'll do some more looking to see if I can find the original source material (and I'd appreciate it if any of you can) but thus far the "proof" I've seen usually hinges around bad numbers/science. E.g.:

1) Jupiter and its atmosphere encompass 100 trillion times the volume of Pluto, so Pluto would have showed up as a few pixels in those Jupiter shots, if you could see it at all.

2) We couldn't see Comet Showmaker-Levy at all. We could only see sun reflecting off its diffuse cloud, and (later) the atmospheric storms caused when it smashed into Jupiter's atmosphere. Our best space-screening programs would be hard-pressed to find a multi-kilometer asteroid approaching Mars, but a Martian with an unremarkable Wal-Martian consumer telescope would probably be able to see the disaster if one hit Earth.

3) I've seen conspiracists claim the New Horizon's telescope is as large as 13m. I don't know where they get that. A telescope's size is rated by its aperture (the diameter of its primary mirror or lens) because light-gathering capability is vitally important to a telescope --  each photon only represents the tiny subpoint spot of the target that emitted or reflected it, so it takes trillions of photons per second, over hours to get any kind of image of a tiny distant target. That big dish --the most visible feature of New Horizon- is only 2.1 m, so you can see from that scale there's nothing "13m" or "8m" about the entire spacecraft (maybe the circumference of the space craft is ~8m) and worse, it's not even a telescope; it's the radio communication dish. The Optics are those small tubes or openings around the craft

More on this later, as I find source material

#12 gsmonks

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Posted 28 July 2015 - 12:31 AM

Heh- no, you got it right. I was maybe being a little too subtle.

Speaking of conspiracies, I just heard one from a old-timer that I haven't heard for several decades- that of rockets into space poking holes in the atmosphere and letting scary things either in or out. The old guy in question still believes that rockets to the moon have done scary things he can't put his finger on to the planet.
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#13 RJDiogenes

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Posted 28 July 2015 - 05:58 PM

^^  That sounds positively Lovecraftian.

View PostOrpheus, on 27 July 2015 - 09:26 PM, said:

RJD: My wrists are not serious. It's just one of those self-feeding cycles of inflammation, strain, muscle spasm, displacement and disuse. I have meds that help a lot, but they make me "too happy" and functionally useless. Of course I'm fairly functionally useless without my hands anyway. Most of the primary muscles for your fingers are actually in your forearms, and operate your fingers through like puppets through tendons that pass though your palmar and dorsal wrists. This inflammation also pinches the nerves as tthey pass into my hands, so I have little strength, sensation (except pain in my wrists and forearm -- couldn't do without that, could I?) or fine control via the small intrinsic muscles of my hands themselves -- i.e. I can just about operate a doorknob or light switch, but the keypad on a microwave is a challenge, and turning my car key is quite uncomfortable.  
Sounds serious enough.  Are you seeing a specialist?

Quote

Conspiracy #3:The New Horizons Mission to Pluto is a hoax
Do they have any ideas on why this hoax is being perpetrated upon us?  Were the Commies going to beat us there with their own digital camera or something?
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#14 Orpheus

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Posted 28 July 2015 - 10:34 PM

gsmonks: No sweat. We've got a bit of a cultural barrier. I'm glad to know I "got" your meaning the first time.

RJD: Without going into a long diatribe about the limitations of "medicine in its first century as a proper science", I'll just say that, much to my own regret and against my wishes, I actually AM something of a specialist in my category of illnesses.

In Science in general: we know a lot of valid basic principles, but we'll never be this primitive again. Our descendants will mock us. Still, I'm content. I do dearly love Science As We Know It. I'm probably too stupid to be allowed to be a Scientist in the 22nd century

As regards Pluto: "The Hoax" is of course, that we're being lied to in support of So Many Lies Already Told. After all, if we could reach Pluto today, then wouldn't "CommonSense" dictate that we should have reached the Moon at some point in the last 50 years -- barring some barrier (like the Van Allen Belt) or govt/alien/Illuminati conspiracy?

I'm glad I never had much CommonSense. [I guess that's why I've been allowed to be a Scientist in this day and age]

#15 gsmonks

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Posted 29 July 2015 - 01:01 AM

My younger brother, sadly, is a conspiracy-theory nutter. When SkyLab was still a visible satellite in the night sky, and you could tune in and listen to the spacemen from Earth, I asked him how people on the ground could hear the spacemen. And what about satellites? (People had also been asked to not use their radio equipment to try to talk to the spacemen because they were interfering with communications.)

His explantation? "Well . . . they can maybe get men into orbit . . . "

His nuttiness was a result of smoking mountains of pot for many years. He became as cracked as several old refugees from the 1960s I know.

The moral of Orwell's 1984 was not the paranoia associated with "Big Brother". It was that modern Man had come to love the evil that had come to define his life. The great irony is that those that think they understood the story are relating to the paranoia, not the message.
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#16 RJDiogenes

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Posted 29 July 2015 - 06:12 PM

View PostOrpheus, on 28 July 2015 - 10:34 PM, said:

RJD: Without going into a long diatribe about the limitations of "medicine in its first century as a proper science", I'll just say that, much to my own regret and against my wishes, I actually AM something of a specialist in my category of illnesses.  
Well, take good care of yourself then.  :nod:

Quote

As regards Pluto: "The Hoax" is of course, that we're being lied to in support of So Many Lies Already Told. After all, if we could reach Pluto today, then wouldn't "CommonSense" dictate that we should have reached the Moon at some point in the last 50 years -- barring some barrier (like the Van Allen Belt) or govt/alien/Illuminati conspiracy?  
So everything is a hoax?  Pluto, Ceres, Vesta, Mars....?

View Postgsmonks, on 29 July 2015 - 01:01 AM, said:

His nuttiness was a result of smoking mountains of pot for many years. He became as cracked as several old refugees from the 1960s I know.  
Nah, lots of people smoke pot and it didn't turn them into conspiracy theorists.  Usually just the opposite.  It's just how some people are.  Not enough imagination to appreciate reality.
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#17 Orpheus

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Posted 30 July 2015 - 03:46 PM

Well, being a conspiracist --"someone in the know"-- does confer a sense of being superior. Also the drop from being "one of the few who were right" to "one of the few where wrong, while BILLIONS were right" can motivate powerful reactionary defenses..

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#18 RJDiogenes

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Posted 30 July 2015 - 06:15 PM

Yes, those poor people need to cultivate the illusion of being superior.  When one is truly superior, like we are, one does not need that.  :cool:
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#19 Orpheus

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Posted 02 August 2015 - 10:46 PM

RJD, I'd be very surprised if you weren't a conspiracist: you're too smart and observant -- and countless conspiracies happen every day. I'm not claiming to be as smart or observant, but I happened to participate in some conspiracies in my misspent youth.

I shouldn't have been so snarky. My point was not to dismiss conspiracists (I hope some post here!), but to give an insight into why they are so difficult to dissuade in cases where they have few strong arguments and no direct personal experience.

I don't doubt that *some* conspiracists will prove correct. I read about proven conspiracies in the news every day, under the titles "scams", "party politics", "too big to fail"/"corporate", etc. When it comes to space or science conspiracies, I generally rely on my own grasp of science, which I hope isn't trivial. I've nonetheless been convinced I was wrong on some science issues, so...

#20 gsmonks

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Posted 03 August 2015 - 04:32 AM

Conspiracy nutters seem to go for alternative explanations. Back in my great-grandmother's day, it was the same people who turned from religion to seances.
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