The Lure of the Conspiracy Theory

When I began the online journal I wanted to name it Occam’s Razor. This is the principle that in layman’s terms says that if you have two theories with the same evidence, the simpler is the one most likely to be true. Occam’s Razor is one of the must useful tools one has at one’s disposal. I think of it as the Swiss Army knife of logic that can be used to pry the Truth from fiction in most situations.

Occam’s Razor is particularly useful against conspiracy theories. In fact conspiracy theories are pretty much the opposite of Occam’s Razor. Where the razor cuts away the superfluous, conspiracy theories add it in order to protect the kernel of truth they rest upon. Once the razor exposes that truth, the conspiracy theory tends to fall apart under its own weight.

Unfortunately when I set this journal up in October 2001 all the domain names having the word “Occam” or “Ockham” were taken, so I had to make due with

Anyhow, here’s an interesting story from a recent issue of New Scientist which discusses why conspiracy theories tend to thrive in our culture.

Source: New Scientist: The lure of the conspiracy theory (subscription necessary)

Was Princess Diana the victim of drunk driving or a plot by the British royal family? Did Neil Armstrong really walk on the moon or just across a film set in Nevada? And who killed President John F. Kennedy – the Russians, the Cubans, the CIA, the mafia… aliens? Almost every big event has a conspiracy theory attached to it. The truth, they say, is out there – but where exactly? Perhaps psychology can help us find at least some of the answers.

Article removed at request of copyright owner. See New Scientist, “Lure of the Conspiracy Theory.”

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  1. Adele Edisen:

    Occam’s Razor may apply when the evidence is truly the same. In the case of the assassination of John Kennedy, much of the evidence is either lacking, or is neglected, or is denied as evidence. And, of course, some of the ‘evidence’ is false and misleading. More and more evidence has been uncovered over the years to indicate that a conspiracy did indeed exist. What remains is to find the links between planners and the gunmen who shot and killed President Kennedy.

  2. Administrator:

    You’re right. Occam’s Razor applies when the evidence is the same.

    However in the case of the JFK assassination the evidence supporting the fact that Oswald shot Kennedy and did so without being involved in a conspiracy outweighs all the other theories that have been put forward.

    What I find fascinating about conspiracy theories is the fact that they seem to deny the possibility that extraordinary people or events can be impacted or caused by the ordinary. Princess Diana – a bigger than life figure – could not possibly die at the hands of a drunk driver even though in 2005 nearly 17,000 Americans died in alcohol related accidents. In the eyes of the conspiracy minded, an extraordinary figure cannot possibly be laid low by the same mundane mechanism that kills tens of thousands of commoners; she has to die from some greater cause – something more befitting of a princess.

    Or 9-11. How could 19 pissed off Muslims kill 3,000 people? The extraordinary event must have been caused by something equally extraordinary – a conspiracy involving the Illuminati, or the Bushes, or the Mossad – or all three. If the evidence doesn’t fit, simply expand the theory. Bin Laden was in the pay of the CIA and doing their bidding. Al Qaeda is a CIA front. Such theories are much more interesting than the fact that al-Qaeda is composed of comparatively well-educated Muslims who take a twisted interpretation of their religion in order to justify their own lust for power.

    The same with the moon landings. How could such an extraordinary event such as men walking on the moon be accomplished by thousands of engineers and scientists using slide rules? The extraordinary event must have an extraordinary origin – in the eyes of those who believe the extraordinary event was an equally fabulous fiction.

    Occam’s Razor is a Damascus Sword when only a penknife is needed for these “theories.” The evidence supports the conventional explanation for all of these events – however Occam’s Razor can still be used to cut away the fabulous until only the Truth remains. Princess Di died in a car accident caused by a drunk driver. 19 pissed off Muslims killed 3,000 Americans (Christians, Muslims and Jews), and Neil Armstrong walked on the moon – not in the Nevadan sands.

  3. John Burgess:

    I welcome your efforts at the Sisyphusian task of trying to convince those who have closed their minds. Your explanation of the dynamics behind belief in conspiracies sounds dead on. I’d only add that madness is sometimes a factor and should not be neglected.

  4. Greg Burnham:

    I find it interesting that most of those who vilify “conspiracy theorists” do so by first constructing a straw man argument. For instance, by definition a conspiracy involves more than one person. That’s it. It does not necessarily involve 3 nor 3,000 participants. It only requires more than one. Given that fact, in the case of JFK’s murder, it is in the interest of the guilty parties and in the interest of any party with something to gain from a cover-up, to inappropriately cast the word “conspiracy” in a light that obfuscates its true meaning and cast “theorists” into a category which limits their ranks to those who subscribe to a belief in a massive plot that encompasses not only the individual theorist’s pet scenario, but also includes every other theory ever postulated by anyone, anywhere, at anytime…

    It is interesting, albeit tragic, to see the agency’s signature in what I like to call: domestic perception programs. Long before the revelation of the violations of law that are contained in the recently released CIA Family Jewels, we have the agency’s own prescription on “how to” discredit critics of the Warren Report. If you recall, the majority of the recommendations were designed as methods of debunking dissenting arguments without any regard for the validity of the argument being debunked nor the veracity of the facts being offered in rebuttal.

    Unfortunately, there are times when individuals pick up on the same tactics who probably have no super sinister interest in further obstructing justice…just a micro-management issue with their own personal paranoia that they may not be living in a world within their neat little vision after all.

    A pity.

  5. Dan Schneider:

    Adele and Greg are right, but so is Scott, re: JFK’s death.

    In this essay I quote from an online scientific trial that debunks the idea that the kill shot of JFK came from Oswald. The idea that the head gets propelled backward from a backward shot is silly, as this article shows. Having seen people shot at close range, the shot always travels with the direction of the bullet, and a human skull is not akin to a mere watermelon.

    That aside, Scott is right re: most conspiracies are loony, as many mentioned are- the moon landing, 9/11. But, that does not mean all claimed conspiracies are loony.

    The fact that Oswald acted alone and there was a conspiracy are not mutually exclusive.

    He was a known braggart, and more than one person knew of his plans to off JFK from his own lips. What a perfect patsy, esp. for someone w ties to all the known JFK enemies- the Mob, Castro, and the CIA.

    All you need do is shadow this loon, and have a gunman in place in case Oswald fails. Clearly the ‘magic bullet’ was Oswald’s, and Oswald was no innocent. He clearly killed Tippett and wounded JFK and Connally. But the kill shot came from the other direction. There were 4 distinct shots, the last from the other direction.

    No computer simulations can distort reality. Smoke was seen rising from the other direction, JFK’s head went in the direction of the shot, and even the coroner admitted that a massive exit wound was seen in the back of the skull.

    The wildcard was Zapruder. His film nails that there were others.

    Here is where Greg is right. All you need is two people acting in concert, shadowing Oswald, and both the Lone Gunman and Conspiracy theories have validity.

    Lastly, there is the Ruby problem. The claims that a known Mob low level lowlife wd off Oswald just for patriotic reasons is absurd, cancer or no.

    So, yes, there was a JFK conspiracy, even if Oswald truly did not know about it. He was likely what he claimed, a patsy- but a murdering one who attempted to kill the President and Governor. He was, however, aided and abetted, and likely in such a panic because he realized his big mouth had gotten him deeper in the shit than realized.

  6. Administrator:

    The Discovery Channel show Unsolved History did a show called JFK Beyond the Magic Bullet; that destroys not just the Magic Bullet myth, but the Grassy Knoll one too. They used the same rifle, the same ammunition and were able to reproduce the assassination pretty accurately.

    That show pretty much stuck a fork into the last vestiges of my belief in a JFK conspiracy.

    However for those who Believe, the Discovery Channel was merely part of the conspiracy. Sigh…

  7. Greg Burnham:

    Dan said of Oswald: “He was a known braggart, and more than one person knew of his plans to off JFK from his own lips…”

    Then why did OSWALD insist that he did not kill the president? Historically, an assassin is attempting to make a political statement as well as a political impact. They want credit because they believe in what they are doing. Can you imagine John Wilkes Booth jumping from the presidential box and screaming, “I’m just a patsy…” ??? It is true that many times the assassin does seek to escape punishment, but it is not typical for them to deny the act as it is in that act that they become whole—they become heroic through it and are therefore significant because of it. For them to deny responsibility for it is totally counter- intuitive to their objective.

    Dan also said: “All you need do is shadow this loon, and have a gunman in place in case Oswald fails. Clearly the ‘magic bullet’ was Oswald’s, and Oswald was no innocent.” What magic bullet? There was no magic bullet. Magic bullets do not exist except in the Warren Commission’s Report where they don’t make sense. But that does bring us back to Occam’s Razor, no? The magic bullet theory is the most convoluted, contrived, fabricated bit of mental meanderings to ever be proffered by an otherwise intelligent group of men. Occam’s Razor, in a nutshell, says that “The simple explanation is preferrable to the complex explanation so long as it is adequate to the evidence.” The magic bullet theory is both complex and INadequate to the evidence.

    Dan also said: “He clearly killed Tippett and wounded JFK and Connally.” What? Did Oswald have two [2] hand guns with him when he allegedly left his boarding room? Because Tippit was shot 3 times in the torso and once in the right temple. Four spent shells were found near the body, 3 from a semi-automatic hand gun and one from a revolver. The only eyewitness to the shooting said that 2 men shot Tippit and that neither of them looked anything like Oswald.

    I’m encouraged that you don’t buy the official version, but some of your research into Oswald is lacking, in my opinion.

    For instance, Oswald was given a nitrate test to determine if he had fired a weapon that day. If you fire a rifle there is always splash pattern of nitrates on your cheek afterwards unless you wash them off prior to the test. If you fire a handgun it leaves residual nitrates on your hands. However, that is not the only way that one can acquire nitrates on their hands. Oswald worked in a warehouse full of them. He was among boxes that had nitrates all over them. He handled those boxes regularly as a normal function of his job. When he was tested he did, in fact, have nitrates all over his hands as would be expected due to his line of work. However, there were NONE on his cheek. Perhaps he washed them off before he was tested you say? How? He must have used his feet to wash his face since his hands were still full of them!

  8. Greg Burnham:

    Admin said: “The Discovery Channel show Unsolved History did a show called ”JFK Beyond the Magic Bullet” that destroys not just the Magic Bullet myth, but the Grassy Knoll one too.”

    Now, if you are conceding that the Magic Bullet Theory was destroyed by that show, then you logically must conclude that there was more than one shooter! It is logically inescapable. Even the Warren Commission would have concluded that there was more than Oswald shooting if Arlen Specter hadn’t contrived the single bullet nonsense and Gerald Ford hadn’t directed the artist rendering to re-locate the BACK wound to the neck area. It is important to realize that the only thing that makes the “Oswald done it all by his lonesome” scenario work at all is that weak theory. Once it is gone… it’s all over. As for the Grassy Knoll, maybe, maybe not—but in order for us to show a conspiracy existed, it is not necessary for us to prove what did happen—it is only necessary to show that the official version did not happen.

    Admin also said: “They used the same rifle, the same ammunition and were able to reproduce the assassination pretty accurately.”

    Which rifle did they use? There are 2 distinct rifles that have been associated with the events in Dallas. Both are Mannlicher Carcanos but the one in the National Archives today is not necessarily the same as the one entered into evidence in 1964 during the Warren Commission which is different than the one photographed for the House Select Committee on Assassinations in 1978. As for the ammunition, this is a huge can of worms. The ammunition that was recovered from the 6th floor of the Texas School Depository Building that day was from a batch of 400,000 rounds of 6.5mm Mannlicher Carcano ammo ordered by the CIA through the US Marine Corps for “concealment purposes” in 1954. That’s right, 1954. So, the so-called lone assassin mail ordered (and had shipped from Chicago to an easy to trace alias) a grossly inferior weapon that had been retired from the Italian army 23 years earlier (1940) because it had a reputation of “never killing anyone when deliberately aimed at them” (true story, BTW) even though he could have purchased a much superior, nearly brand new weapon on any street corner in Dallas—and used NINE YEAR OLD [9 year old] ammunition that was from a batch shipped by Western Cartridge Company to the US Marine Corp (who have NO WEAPONS that could ever use 6.5 mm Mannlicher ammo) and pulled off the MARKSMANSHIP feat of the millenium—??? Oh yeah, forget that—because if it isn’t true then there was a conspiracy and we know that those don’t exist…

  9. Dan Schneider:

    Scott: I did not advocate the ‘Magic Bullet theory, just used it in ref to Oswald’s bullet. I agree that it took no magic for the Magic Bullet.

    But the link I provide, about the front kill shot, destroys all notions that it came from Oswald. That’s simply not physics in the known universe.

    Greg: Oswald was in a panic, because he knew that he alone was not involved, and likely did not know which of the many groups he had ties to was setting him up. Recall, assassins all think they can get away with it. Oswald was likely supremely confident of his marksmanship. But, when he sees that another shot took out JFK, he knows that things are not as they seem. The killing of Tippett was avoidable to someone thinking clearly, but knowing he’d waded into a minefield spooked him.

    Greg: I agree totally with Occam’s Razor, and again, I used the term Magic Bullet to describe the JFK-Connally shot.
    As for Tippitt, like all else, there are conflicting versions, and since there was no film on that, I’m not going to delve into that. And, it is also disputed as to whether Oswald was residued.

    In the long piece I linked to I specifically said I was sticking to those points both pro and con conspiracy believere agree on, and with those points, the Razor falls squarely w Conspiracy.

    The Magic Bullet fails because of misassumed positions of JFK and Connally, not for any other reason. But, that is a different issue than the kill shot, which came from the front.

    It is clear there were two gunman. Yes, it is possible that there were two lone nuts unaware of each other and JFK’s real killer got away, but likely that 2nd gunman was one or more, who were shadowing Oswald ready to finish the job they knew he was aiming to do, and was not so good at.

    From Oswald’s end there may have been no idea of a conspiracy, until afterwards- and to him the conspiracy was to frame him for what he intended and failed to do. But, that’s still a conspiracy.

    And it’s still the simplest solution to all the known facts; and that still isn’t even accounting for the Ruby Factor, which is the final proof of a conspiracy. People are NOT silenced if they act alone.

  10. Dan Schneider:

    Another point about conspiracies- they not only draw pro-conspiracy nuts, but also debunking nuts, whose own contortions can match or outdo the conspiracists.

    Most of the people who debunk the JFK conspiracy may not be part of a cover up, but uncritical dupes who see any dissuasion as a sign of interrupting reality, as they see it.

    And most times they are likely right- we’ve still not a single shred of proof about ghosts, past lives, lake monsters, hairy bipeds, nor UFOs (Roswell, Area 51), etc.

    And I agree with the Great Event-Great Cause fallacy. But not all things can be ascribed to formulae; each has to be seen on its merits. Diana was killed by her drunk driver, but because that explanation is mundane has no bearing on the JFK facts.

    They support a conspiracy, although we’ll never know which is likely true. I think my idea that a hybrid LOne Gunman-Conspiracy non-mutual exclusivity is likely the closest, from all I’ve read.

    But, whether it was Mobsters (most likely), the CIA or other Black Ops, or Castrovians, is unclear.

  11. Administrator:

    Since 90% of Americans believe in a JFK conspiracy, you’re in good company. However I remain part of that 10% that doesn’t.

  12. Dan Schneider:

    And that 10% is about right when one tallies all folk who believe in some form of lunacy- from religion to UFOs and back.

    Re: JFK: known facts- 4 shots, and Oswald’s gun fired 3. Front kill shot, as proved by Zapruder. And, Jack Ruby- not the warren Commission nor any other Lone Gunman believer has come up with a credible explanation for his act. A Mob hit fits Occam’s Razor. If so, why?

    If one sticks to the facts, things are clear.

  13. Administrator:

    So I’m a lunatic for not believing in a conspiracy and placed in the same bin along with the UFO believers?

    That’s… Interesting…

  14. Greg Burnham:

    Dan, I encourage you to update your research. Overall I think you’re on the right track because your intentions are sound, but many of your reasons “why” you have reached the correct conclusion are actually inconsistent with the evidence. Rather than depend on what you have read from others’ research, I suggest that you acquire the genuine article independently. For instance, the actual nitrate test is available for your inspection from the National Archives and/or Dallas Police files. So you won’t have to take my (or any one else’s) word for what it says. I even have a copy of the random “splash non-pattern” itself. I have copies of the actual first day reports from the Dallas Police where they report everything about the Tippit murder. If you haven’t read the originals for yourself, you really should. Again, don’t take anyone’s word for it when you can do your own research/homework and eliminate any doubt as to where the evidence and documentation lead. Believe me, when a fellow Police Officer is murdered his brother officers have an extremely high motivation to correctly write the reports even if their own zeal causes them to mistakenly place their trust in other agencies who claim they have cornered his killer. The amazing thing is this, in 1978 the House Select Committee on Assassinations [HSCA] concluded not only that JFK was killed as the result of a conspiracy, but that the work of the Warren Commission was flawed to an EXTREME extent. It is a no-brainer that the Warren Report is irreconcilably at odds with reality, yet there are numerous otherwise intelligent people who still cling to it as a child does to the notion of Santa Claus or any number of comforting urban myths.

    One more thing, the evidence that the single bullet theory doesn’t work reaches far beyond the positions of JFK and Connally as shown in the Zapruder film. It is wholly inconsistent with the medical evidence. An associate, David Mantik, MD PhD is one of literally a handful of individuals who have been granted access to the actual autopsy x-rays and photographs. Not only is he a medical doctor with a specialty in radiology, but his PhD is in physics. He is uniquely qualified to render an expert opinion on such matters. I encourage you to seek out his work which can be found in various places including the website linked to my name. Good hunting—

  15. Cutting Edge Political Commentary The Razor:

    [...] I mention this today because one of the posters on this thread thought I had banned him because I disagreed with his take on the JFK assassination. I hadn’t. Hell, I welcomed his opinion because it showed that someone reads my writing (always a good thing for a writer’s ego) and it challenged my beliefs. [...]

  16. Dan Schneider:

    Greg: I simply have not the time nor interest in JFK alone. This is why I stuck with the ‘uncontested’ facts.

    Yet, all those uncontested facts point to conspiracy- who or why can be debated, but conspiracy really cannot.

    Still waiting, Scott, for the Jack Ruby as Patriot gambit!

    The above was my last reply to Greg and Scott.

    Unlike Greg I have not spent years researching every bit of minutia, which was why my linked piece stuck to the uncontested facts both sides agree on.

    But, aside from that handful, the killing of Oswald by Jack Ruby- a man who had ties to people both men knew, was a low level mobster wannabe who wanted to get an in, and silenced Oswald, simply leaves little but Occam’s razor- that is, Ruby silenced Oswald. Why?

    To curry favor from Mob bosses who wanted to silence Oswald? That has to be the likely answer, not stretching the facts.

    Having grown up in a Mob infested area I can say this- hits are never freelance jobs done by assassins moonlighting as serial killers. There is always someone paying out.

    This HIGHLY suggests conspiracy.

    Don’t recall how the Warren C. dismissed Ruby’s hit, but I do believe subsequent committees have connected the dots- from Ruby and onward.

    Again, put aside shell casings, whether or not the kill shot was from the rear or not. Ruby is the elephant in the room, and Ruby as patriotic killer is absurd.

  17. Administrator:

    What’s your proof that Ruby wanted to silence Oswald for the mob?

  18. syberghost:

    Ah, if only Zorch and I had access to this research back when we started the Fidonet CONSPRCY echo. Thanks for this, Scott; I don’t subscribe to New Scientist and this is gold.

  19. alfredo reino » Archivo del Blog » Crea tu propia teoría de la conspiración:

    [...] Pero si lo tuyo es elucubrar sobre qué gobierno ordenó la muerte de Lady Di, o sobre cómo una cinta de la Orquesta Mondragón implica a ETA en el 11M, entonces lo tuyo es la teoría de la conspiración. Aquí tienes una sencilla guía inspirada por este artículo. [...]


    Occam’s Razor is the worst argument you could ever use. It is something that is nice to know about but sticking to that you are being blind. The simplest solution is almost NEVER the real solution.

    Occam’s Razor is usually an appeal to authority or a religious type of thinker where they aren’t sure so they are being safe and siding with theri belief in God or their belief in their authority.

    Open up your newspaper, it is littered with conspiracies. People conspiring to rob a bank, or Enron conspiring to drain funds, or a corrupt cop using the system to take advantage of the system.

    Take this example: Which conspiracy do you believe?

    Is it more simple to believe an elaborate network of dark arab cavemen are training in caves just to kill Americans?


    There was some crooked group of individuals that used or allowed an attack to get benefits after the crime?

    Why do the cops suspsect inside jobs when there is a bank robbery or large crime where knowledge of the innerworkings of the system were needed to subvert it? Why was there drills on the same day as 9/11 to the attacks? Who had knowledge of this?

    Is a corrupt cop part of a GRAND CONSPIRACY of the police or is there simply individiuals that take advantage of systems when they know their holes and when they can hide behind them?

    Occam’s Razor check: What is more simple God made the world in 6 days or it is billions of years old? Well if you ride with Occams’ you are one dumb ar-s-e.

  21. Scott Kirwin:

    You misunderstand Occam’s Razor. The Razor is not simply the “simplest solution” as is commonly believed. The weight of the evidence supporting two theories must be weighed as well.

    All things being equal, the simplest solution tends to be the best one.”

    Contrary to what Dan and Greg state above, the evidence supporting a conspiracy behind the JFK assassination is outweighed by the evidence that Oswald acted alone. Therefore Occam doesn’t apply.

    As for the “drills” you mention, I believe you are referring to the rather obscure rumor that lacks any shred of evidence. Should such evidence exist, it would have to outweigh the mountain of existing evidence that al-Qaeda
    1. Had motive for the attack.
    2. Planned the attack.
    3. Executed the attack.

    Then, and only then, would Occam’s Razor be used to select the simpler of the two explanations.

  22. Conspiracy Theories « The Lumber Room:

    [...] Conspiracy Theories August 15th, 2007 Via Schneier on Security, this New Scientist article, a copy here. So what kind of thought processes contribute to belief in conspiracy theories? A study I carried out in 2002 explored a way of thinking sometimes called “major event – major cause” reasoning. Essentially, people often assume that an event with substantial, significant or wide-ranging consequences is likely to have been caused by something substantial, significant or wide-ranging. [...]

  23. links for 2007-08-20 « piccolomondo:

    [...] Cutting Edge Political Commentary The Razor Fascinating New Scientist article (for subscribers only, but there’s a copy here) on conspiracy theories, and why we believe them (tags: security conspiracy theories) [...]

  24. » Bits & Pieces:

    [...] Numerous studies have shown that in general, people give greater attention to information that fits with their existing beliefs, a tendency called “confirmation bias”. New Scientist article (for subscribers only, but there’s a copy here) [...]

  25. fung0:

    It is foolish to discuss a broad and poorly-defined term like “conspiracy theory” as though it were a scientific theorem, or an organized system of beliefs. It easily leads one to discard the baby with the bathwater.

    While some “conspiracy theories” certainly are preposterous (the faked moon landing, for example), the term “conspiracy theory” is far too convenient for putting down speculations that are simply uncomfortable for the status quo. No one would dispute that conspiracies can and do exist. As David Ray Griffin points out in his excellent book about 9/11, “The New Pearl Harbor,” all explanations of this tragic event, including the official one, are in fact “conspiracy theories.” But somehow it is only those that contradict the government position (no matter how rationally) that get labeled with this pejorative term.

    Similarly, regarding the JFK assassination, any suggestion that Oswald wasn’t acting alone would by definition be a “conspiracy theory.” And yet, the official version is riddled with ridiculous inconsistencies and loose ends. Yes, Oswald could have been a lone nutcase; but that “conspiracy of one” explanation is only a loose fit for the known facts, and many other possibilities remain.

    It is vital that we continue to ask questions and seek truth in such important cases. That doesn’t mean that we have to abandon all our critical faculties; quite the contrary. But it does mean that we must risk occasionally being slapped with a facile and derogatory label like “conspiracty theorist.”

  26. Scott Kirwin:

    You don’t need perfect information to find the truth. Take for example the theory of Evolution. We don’t have example of each and every intermediate form between two given species, yet we can conclude that one evolved from the other.

    It’s good that we don’t need perfect information because being perfect it’s impossible to achieve. Do we then throw up our hands and say “we can’t reach a conclusion about…” the JFK assassination, or Evolution, or 9-11? Do we entertain all theories as being equally valid? There is scant evidence for Creationism, yet since our knowledge of Evolution is imperfect, should we then be forced to consider Creationism as an equally valid theory?

    No. Just as we draw conclusions in a court of law by using the standards of a “preponderance of the evidence” for civil cases and “beyond a reasonable doubt” for criminal, we can reach a conclusion about any given theory of an event.

    In the case of the JFK assassination, if we “try” the Oswald acting alone theory we can “convict” the theory “beyond a reasonable doubt ” based on the evidence. However if we try to do the same with the other theories bandied about, we cannot reach a similar conclusion based on the evidence.

    As for “conspiracy theories” being a pejorative term, it has become so because of the Kennedy Assassination. A conspiracy only exists when two or more individuals act together in the commission of a crime. Since Oswald acted alone as portrayed by the official explanation of the assassination, this explanation cannot be a conspiracy theory. It’s only when you include other individuals acting in concert (a second gunman, Ruby acting as “clean-up” man) that you have a conspiracy for this event.

    I have the official 9-11 report on a nearby shelf and have read it. The attack WAS a conspiracy organized by al-Qaeda leadership including that hedgehog we have down in Guantanamo, and managed by Mohammed Atta. Here again we have motive (Bin Laden’s declaration of war on the USA in 1996); We have prior actions (modus operandi): (al-Qaeda’s attacks on WTC in 1993, as well as in Saudi Arabia 1995-96, Tanzania & Kenya 1998, and on the USS Cole 2000). We have opportunity (open borders and “sanctuary cities” that ignore immigration laws). And means: fully fueled jets.

    We even have confessions after the fact (Bin Laden & Zawahiri praising the attackers in videos). No other theory comes close to explaining the events of that day based on the evidence.

    And conspiracy theorists tend to believe in more than one conspiracy. They are like intellectual Cheezits. They are delicious in the sense that they explain a messy event perfectly, but they make you intellectually fat and lazy. More importantly, you can’t believe in just one. People who see the Jews behind 9-11 also tend to believe they control the US government. Those who believe that the CIA killed Kennedy also tend to believe that the Queen was behind the death of Princess Di.

  27. Eugene:

    i just want to say 2 things on this whole discussion (i’m not talking of 9/11 cause you can read everything everywhere on it):

    1) occam’s razor is a principle, which means it’s not demonstrated nor it is possibile to; moreover, it’s statistical: “if you have two theories with the same evidence, the simpler is the one most likely to be true” (copied fro above), most likely means that this holds true in a majority of cases, not always, so only very simple-minded people come around using the razor as a “Swiss Army knife”. it’s like saying that every set of independent events is distributed as a gaussian (i know not everyone will understand this :)

    2) the idea that JFK was killed by only one shooter is simply ridicolous: you are quoting the discovery channel here, i understand this is a very seriuos source of information (forgive the sarcasm), but recently the italian army (the rifle was made in italy) demonstrated it’s impossible to shoot all the fired shots in the recorded time, the rifle is too slow to reload.
    whether this means it’s a government conspiracy or that there was another hidden shooter i don’t know, though the vietnam war went on after that.

    the only thing that could help to really say if a conspiracy theory is likely or not would be having all the information available, but this is never the case (for jfk, 9/11 and similar, only the reports are available, the real info stays secret)

  28. Scott Kirwin:

    I’ve reread your comment regarding Occam’s Razor several times, and I must be one of those simple minded people you mention because I don’t get your point.

    As for JFK
    The Italian Army has a sniper? (sarcasm)
    Using the assassination rifle mounted with the telescopic sight, three marksmen, rated as master by the National Rifle Association, each fired two series of three shots. In the first series the firers required time spans of 4.6, 6.75, and 8.25 seconds respectively. On the second series they required 5.15, 6.45, and 7 seconds. The marksmen took as much time as they wanted for the first target at 175 feet, and all hit the target. For the first four attempts, the firers missed the second shot at 240 feet by several inches. Five of the six shots hit the third target at 265 feet, the distance of President Kennedy from the sixth floor window when he was struck in the head.[37] None of the marksmen had any practice with the assassination weapon beforehand except to work the bolt. Source: Wikipedia

    Regardless, you are making two assumptions: First “the real info stays secret.” That’s a copout because you must then believe that it’s impossible to know the Truth of any sort. Someone will always be “hiding it” from you.

    The second assumption you make is that one piece of evidence (e.g. the Italians firing the Mannlicher-Carcano rifle) destroys the theory.

    This is the equivalent of a Creationist saying that it is impossible for Evolution to build the Eye. It’s an attempt to discredit a theory using a “single bullet” (couldn’t resist). As with the Eye (there are intermediate forms from humans, through primates, through squid all the way to light-sensitive patches on multicellular creatures) Evolution stands intact – just as the Single Bullet theory does.

    But the urge to believe that JFK, an extraordinary president in the eyes of some, could be felled by a ne’er-do-well like Oswald will always excite our imagination to believe in something greater.

    I won’t even get into Kennedy’s buildup and plans for South Vietnam except to say that had he lived, the escalation in 1965 and the resulting trouble in Vietnam would likely have not gone any different.

  29. Gabriel Christou:

  30. Greg Burnham:


    You are completely out of your depth. Clueless. I have in my possession a copy of the original draft of NSAM 263 which ordered ALL U.S. personnel out of Vietnam by December 1965. This type of document is not drawn up for fun. A National Security Action Memorandum is on a level even higher than an Executive Order. But, I digress. You and Dan Rather deserve each other. Clueless or disingenuous…

  31. Scott Kirwin:

    I’ll let the insults slide for now because I understand that they tend to be worse when read than written due to the limitations of this media. However calling your enemy “stupid” may work on the playground or at the DailyKos, but I’ll just shrug and ignore you.

    NSAM 263 - drawn up by McNamara/Taylor in May 1962 – called for withdrawal “without impairment of the war effort” and with assurance that “the insurgency has been suppressed.” So in short it only called for withdrawal after the VietCong had been defeated in the south. It isn’t a cut-run memo.

    As the intelligence in the field became more pessimistic, Kennedy became more hawkish on the growing insurgency there and shelved the plan. According to Ball/Mansfield, after the assassination JFK’s advisers praised Johnson for continuing JFK’s policies with “wise caution” and opposed withdrawal. Even his brother Robert Kennedy said in May 1965 that a withdrawal without victory was “a repudiation of commitments undertaken and confirmed by three administrations.”

    The evidence for JFK’s continued involvement and escalation of the war in Vietnam – a policy followed by Johnson less than two years after his death – far outweighs the evidence proving that JFK was going to pull out. Yet the latter evidence is cited by some conspiracy theorists to provide motive for his assassination.

    Sorry, but that doesn’t fly. Kennedy was a WW2 veteran and Cold Warrior. He wasn’t the cut-run type, especially early on in the war there.

    If you want a motive for a conspiracy you’ll have to try something else.

  32. Greg Burnham:


    The last interview JFK had with Walter Cronkite just weeks before he was assassinated focused on foreign policy, particularly in Vietnam. JFK told Cronkite that the “war is fundamentally their (the Vietnamese people) war for them to win or lose…” He was prepared to declare victory and withdraw. Remember the Joint Chiefs were always peddling the paranoid fallacy that says, “One thing always leads to another…” in the form of “once Vietnam falls to Communism, so will Laos, Thailand, Cambodia, and all the rest…” Well that simply is an illogical argument. JFK was far brighter than to fall for their crap.

  33. Greg Burnham:

    Dan Rather is missing an important part of the definition… “The simpler explanation is preferrable to the more complex explanation SO LONG AS IT IS ADEQUATE TO THE EVIDENCE.”

    The examples you used, Dan, are NOT adequate to the evidence. We’re looking for the simplest, yet adequate, explanation. When the existence of a conspiracy is required to adequately explain evidence then it [conspiracy] is the simplest and appropriate explanation.

  34. Boyce:


    These are two quotes from the interview JFK gave to Walter Cronkite on Labor Day in 1963.

    Quote #1

    JFK: In the final analysis, it’s their war. They’re the ones who have to win it or lose it. We can help them—we can give them equipment, we can send our men out there as advisers—but they have to win it, the people of Vietnam against the Communists.

    Quote #2

    JFK: But I don’t agree with those who say we should withdraw. That’d be a great mistake. That’d be a great mistake. I know people don’t like Americans to be engaged in this kind of an effort—and 47 Americans have been killed in combat with the enemy—but this is a very important struggle, even though it’s far away.

    I think the notion that Kennedy was killed to prevent withdrawal from Vietnam is a way to try and ascribe some greater meaning to his death.

  35. Scott Kirwin:

    I’d agree. It’s much nobler than being killed by a loser/whackjob which is all LHO ever was.

  36. Greg Burnham:

    You are both mistaken about JFK’s intentions as evidenced below. If you are interested I can supply you with a copy of the ORIGINAL DRAFT of this NSAM that I have in my possesion from Colonel L Fletcher Prouty, Chief of Special Operations, USAF —[aka Man “X” in the film JFK by Oliver Stone portrayed by Donald Southerland]—
    OCTOBER 11,1963



    Secretary of State

    Secretary of Defense

    Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff

    SUBJECT: South Vietnam

    At a meeting on October 5, 1963, the President considered the recommendations contained in the report of Secretary McNamara and General Taylor on their mission to South Vietnam.

    The President approved the military recommendations contained in Section I B (1-3) of the report, but directed that no formal announcement be made of the implementation of plans to withdraw 1,000 U.S. military personnel by the end of 1963.

    After discussion of the remaining recommendations of the report, the President approved the instruction to Ambassador Lodge which is set forth in State Department telegram No. 534 to Saigon.

    McGeorge Bundy

    Copy furnished:

    Director of Central Intelligence

    Administrator, Agency for International Development

  37. Greg Burnham:

    Follow up below:

    Washington, October 5, 1963—5:39 p.m.

    534. Eyes only for Ambassador Lodge.
    1. Following is overall instruction resulting from NSC consideration of McNamara/Taylor report and recommendations together with those you have submitted in recent weeks. These instructions have the President’s personal approval. At any time you feel it is necessary you may state to GVN that you are acting under the specific instructions of the President as recommended by the National Security Council.
    2. Actions are designed to indicate to Diem Government our displeasure at its political policies and activities and to create significant uncertainty in that government and in key Vietnamese groups as to future intentions of United States. At same time, actions are designed to have at most slight impact on military or counterinsurgency effort against Viet Cong, at least in short term.
    3. The recommendations on negotiations are concerned with what US is after, i.e., GVN action to increase effectiveness of its military effort; to ensure popular support to win war; and to eliminate strains on US Government and public confidence. The negotiating posture is designed not to lay down specific hard and fast demands or to set a deadline, but to produce movement in Vietnamese Government along these lines. In this way we can test and probe effectiveness of any actions the GVN actually takes and, at same time, maintain sufficient flexibility to permit US to resume full support of Diem regime at any time US Government deems it appropriate.
    4. We recognize that recommended actions cannot be continued more than a limited period—tentatively estimated at two to four months—before they begin to have substantial impact on counterinsurgency effort. Even within this period, they will require careful and constant evaluation. As they begin to have substantial impact on war effort, further major decisions will be needed.
    5. It is not possible to specify with precision the criteria that we should use in determining whether this proposed course of action has brought about adequate changes in performance of Diem Government and should, therefore, be modified or withdrawn, or whether on contrary response of the Diem Government is clearly inadequate so that more drastic action should be considered. The desired GVN measures in this report are grouped under three headings: (1) military actions, (2) political actions, and (3) actions with respect to US itself. Test of adequacy of these actions should be whether, in combination, they improve effectiveness of GVN effort to point where we can carry on in confident expectation that war effort will progress satisfactorily. Since we cannot now foresee interlocking impact of possible actions both in GVN and here, we obviously do not expect that GVN will or even can perform on entire list and for this reason this is in no sense a package of demands. While general view here is that some action in each of three areas will be necessary, we do not now wish to prejudge question of balance or quantity of actions which may justify resumption of full cooperation with GVN.[2]

    A. Actions:

    6. AID Commodity Import Program. Existing suspension of new commitments will be maintained, and under this policy the presently due second-quarter allocation of $20-25 million will be withheld. You should make this continued suspension clear in an appropriate manner to the GVN.
    No public announcement will be made. In addition, US working levels should inform Vietnamese military that commodity import assumptions being used for budget planning purposes must now be considered uncertain not only from previously stated standpoint of Congressional uncertainty, but because of executive review of program.
    7. PL 480. Presently pending supplementary agreement for $2.9 million worth of condensed milk (5-months’ requirement) will be handled by making month-to-month agreements for appropriate portions of this amount until further notice, but outright suspension will not be undertaken. Action on other pending items in PL 480 account will become due with respect to wheat flour ($6 million annually) and raw cotton ($12 million annually) approximately 1 November, and these items will then be submitted for action by Washington. Remainder of presently planned PL 480 for FY 1964, comprising tobacco ($2.5 million) and miscellaneous items ($2.5 million), does not require any action in next 60 days. Discussions with GVN on PL 480, especially with respect to food, should take note of fact that no deliveries are being held up or negative decisions made; we are simply not able to make forward decisions in October.
    8. AID Project Loans. Presently pending balance of loan projects for Saigon-Cholon Waterworks ($10 million) and Saigon electric power project ($4 million) will be “suspended for review,” and you should inform GVN in appropriate manner to this effect without making public announcement. If this becomes publicly known here or in field, explanation will be limited strictly to bare statement of suspension for review.[3]
    9. Assistance to Forces Commanded by Colonel Tung in or near Saigon. You should inform GVN, through whatever channel you deem appropriate, that US can no longer furnish support to these forces unless they are placed under effective operational control of Joint General Staff and committed to field operations. (This applies to MAP [less than 1 line not declassified] support for certain airborne ranger, Civil Guard, and “civilian airborne ranger” units.) Again no public announcement will be made, but if action becomes known explanation here and in field will be that we cannot assist forces that are not contributing to the war effort. Notion that action is a reprisal for political use of these forces should be discouraged.[4]
    10. Handling of GVN Inquiries in Saigon: US representatives in Saigon should make clear that these matters must be taken up with you personally.

    B. Negotiating Tactics:

    Your policy toward the GVN of cool correctness in order to make Diem come to you is correct. You should continue it. However, we realize it may not work and that at some later time you may have to go to Diem to ensure he understands over-all US policy. Decision of when this becomes imperative rests with you, in light of your assessment of situation.
    12. If, as we hope, Diem seeks clarification of US policies and actions, you should present an exposition of how our actions are related to our fundamental objective of victory. There are three issues at root of strained relations between GVN and US and of our judgment that victory may be jeopardized. The first concerns military effort; GVN must take steps to make this more effective. The second is crisis of confidence among Vietnamese people which is eroding popular support for GVN that is vital for victory. The third is crisis of confidence on the part of the American public and Government. Heart of problem is form of government that has been evolving in Viet-Nam. Diem’s regime has trappings of democracy, but in reality it has been evolving into authoritarian government maintained by police terrorist methods. What GVN must do is to reverse this process of evolution.
    13. To preserve flexibility and provide an opportunity for testing and probing on effectiveness of measures GVN actually takes, you should avoid laying down specific demands, but consider actions listed below as illustrative examples of general proposition outlined above, picking and choosing particular items as situation warrants.
    14. Purpose of all actions listed below is to increase effectiveness of war effort, to ensure popular support, and to relieve strains in GVN/US relations.
    15. Specific military actions listed below are probably most acceptable to Diem, but serve as a test of his commitment to furthering war effort. They should increase effectiveness of war effort and this in turn should feed back to improve political climate. We believe that burden of pressure for military actions should be assumed by General Harkins in direct conversation with Diem and others under your general guidance and that these conversations should not await initiative by Diem, since our continuing posture of cooperative consultation on military matters should not be broken. Conversely, Harkins should not be channel of a discussion on relation between improvements by GVN and resumption of full US support.[5]
    16. Political actions are not arranged in order of importance. First of political actions, i.e., entering into negotiations to normalize university life, etc., should set stage for later political actions, such as broadening government.
    17. If, in fact, GVN does begin to move along lines we desire, an opportunity will be provided to test and probe effectiveness of the actions in improving war effort, ensuring popular support, and easing strain in GVN/US relations. Paramount need, however, is for GVN to set a psychological tone and image that will make specific actions both real and credible. Although we cannot at this time in complete confidence predict the exact point in this complex of actions at which we will be sure war effort will proceed to successful conclusion, it seems probable its achievement will require some restriction of role of Nhus. As practical matter, we would expect that Diem would not take such action at outset, but only after he had proceeded a considerable distance down the path we desire.
    18. Military
    a. Further shift of military emphasis and strength to Delta (IV Corps).
    b. Increase in military tempo in all corps areas, so that all combat troops are in field an average of 20 days out of 30 and static missions are ended.
    c. Emphasis on “clear and hold operations” instead of terrain sweeps which have little permanent value.
    d. Expansion of personnel in combat units to full authorized strength.
    e. Training and arming of hamlet militia at accelerated rate, especially in the Delta.
    f. Consolidation of strategic hamlet program, especially in the Delta, and action to insure that future strategic hamlets are not built until they can be protected, and until civil action programs can be introduced.
    19. Political
    a. Resumption of normal university life. Detained students should be released; school and university classes should be universally resumed. Diem should sit down with rector and faculty of Saigon University to work out conditions of normalization of university life. Since students are fearful of arrests and inclined to riots, this will involve significant negotiations on a variety of police-terrorist techniques, including secret arrests, torture, beatings, etc. For this reason, it is an excellent technique to get Diem to focus on the core issues. Similar action should be taken in regard to Hue University, including reinstatement of ex-rector. In both universities, at least some faculty members who have resigned, been fired or jailed should be reinstated.
    b. Specific concessions should be made to Buddhists. Those still jailed should be processed for release with all possible speed. Repair of pagodas should be facilitated with government sponsorship. GVN-sponsored “Union Committee for Pure Buddhism” should be expanded and genuinely representative Buddhist leaders given responsible positions. Assembly action should eliminate laws which deny equal status to Buddhism.
    c. Renewed activity in land reform program. This was an early Diem achievement but stopped short of completion. It could be revitalized and attract rural support for the GVN and improve its international image.
    d. Joint re-emphasis on political aspects of strategic hamlet program. Phasing and security aspects of strategic hamlet program are dealt with under section 1 above. Following is concerned with aspects of strategic hamlet program affecting popular attitudes. This would require an effort to gain more support from peasants through increasing payments to them for their labor and other services and through weeding out graft by local officials. In addition, particularly in Delta, redesigning the program to avoid unnecessary relocation of population and increased emphasis on social and economic programs that are likely to elicit peasant support.
    e. Police techniques. GVN should abandon its present practices of controlling populace by instilling fear through night-time arrests, brutal interrogation (including women) and other police-terrorist methods which contribute to growing resentment and unrest and diminishing acceptance of regime.
    f. Civil liberties should be restored. Arbitrary arrests should cease and those arrested speedily released or given fair public trial. Religious freedom should be implemented as guaranteed by constitution. Public gatherings should be permitted and controlled only to insure safety of life and property.
    g. Refurbishing GVN image. Government should be broadened so as to include respected individuals, including some within Viet- Nam who have not participated in government and some, such as Vu Van Mau, who have departed. It should be pointed out that these respected individuals are not likely to participate in government or return to Viet-Nam until changes such as those described above convince them that GVN has in fact reversed trend towards authoritarian government. Their willingness to accept posts in government or return to Viet-Nam will in turn be convincing evidence to mass of population that changes are, in fact, meaningful.
    h. “Changes in personnel.” Specific “reforms” described above are apt to have little impact without dramatic symbolic move which convinces Vietnamese that reforms are real. As practical matter this can only be achieved by some feasible reduction in influence of Nhus, who are—justifiably or not—a symbol of authoritarianism. Future role of Nhus in government is therefore of paramount importance. At this point it is impossible to tell whether Nhu must be permanently removed or merely confined to well-defined and limited role. In either case, some device must be found both to restrict his activities and to symbolize this restriction by his absence from power center in Saigon. In addition, similar devices must be found for those individuals, such as Colonel Tung, who are most closely associated with Nhu and his authoritarianism.
    i. Public and official statement by Diem before National Assembly which would set new tone for government by pointing to steps being taken to respond to popular sentiment, and by making a call for total mobilization of effort on part of officials and people equally.
    20. US/GVN Relations
    a. Avoid divisive press attacks, e.g. Times of Viet-Nam story attacking CIA, etc.
    b. Cease public statements slandering the US effort and the role of US military and civilian personnel.
    c. Cease undercover efforts to discredit the US and weaken the will of US individuals to give their full support to programs, e.g. “mendacious briefings” of GVN troops and rumors of physical danger to US families and other personnel.
    d. Re-cast GVN propaganda in such a way as to gain foreign support of its socio-economic program.

    C. Congress, Press, and Public:

    21. No public statement will be issued here for the present.
    22. At President’s next press conference, he expects to repeat his basic statement that what furthers the war effort we support, and what interferes with the war effort we oppose. If questioned on actions US may take, he expects to say only that US programs are being reviewed to insure consistency with this policy.[6]
    23. Similar responses will be given if information about any US actions leads to detailed inquiries. If detailed inquiries pinpointing specific actions are made, they will be dealt with as indicated in each paragraph of A., above.
    24. On Tuesday and Wednesday[7] in meetings with Congressional committees in executive session, Rusk, McNamara and Bell will follow same line. They will explain our three-fold concern as outlined in para 5, above, but they will avoid as you should any listing of desired actions which could be construed as a package of US demands. We believe it of great importance that there should be no public impression of a package of sanctions and a package of demands. We are seeking necessary but limited improvements from a government very difficult to move, and we do not wish to encourage unjustified sense of optimism or of triumph from those who wish this situation was easier than it is. In particular, we would prefer press to consider us inactive than to trumpet a posture of “major sanctions” and “sweeping demands.” (You should follow same line in briefing Zablocki Codel.)[8]

    D. Coordination in Saigon:

    25. Separate cables to Harkins and Brent lay out their areas of these instructions in detail.[9] You should, of course, coordinate all actions by country team representatives. Suggest you pass this cable to them individually.



    Source: Department of State, Central Files, POL 15 S VIET. Top Secret; Immediate. Prepared by Hilsman with clearances of Harriman and Bundy. Cleared in draft with Rusk and McNamara. Regarding the drafting of this cable, see Document 179. Repeated to CINCPAC for POLAD exclusive for Felt.

    The last sentence in paragraph 5 was in neither the Draft Report to the NSC of October 4 nor the attached cable. Its inclusion reflects the President’s concern as expressed at the 9:30 a.m. meeting of October 5; see Document 179. The changes noted in footnotes 3-6 below also reflect the President’s concern.

    The last sentence in paragraph 8 is in neither the Draft Report to the NSC nor the draft cable.

    The last two sentences in paragraph 9 replace the following sentence in the Draft Report to the NSC and the draft cable: “Concurrently MACV should assume operational relationships with border surveillance and mountain scout forces [less than 1 line not declassified] commanded by Colonel Tung.”

    The last two sentences of paragraph 15 were neither in the Draft Report to the NSC nor the draft cable.

    The draft of telegram 534 to Saigon expanded President Kennedy’s statement: “that in line with this policy Secretary McNamara and General Taylor have recommended that certain programs be reviewed; and that, on your additional recommendation, a small number of programs have been held up in order to permit review to determine their consistency with policy he has enunciated. He will say all other programs are being continued, in line with US policy of supporting war effort against the Communist aggression.”
    The draft continues:
    “In the meantime, you will have informed GVN through appropriate channels, as outlined in the section concerning actions above, of the steps US is taking.”
    “If, as a result of your actions, inquiries are made about the programs under review, by either GVN or press, replies will state that certain programs have been held up, on your recommendation, to permit review for consistency with policy President has enunciated of supporting what furthers war effort and opposing what interferes with it; and that the bulk of the programs, which clearly further war effort, are being continued.
    “At some point, after you have appropriately informed GVN, and after the President has made the statements described above, inquiries concerning Tung’s forces should be made with statement that, in line with its policy, United States has terminated support to certain military units which are not contributing to the prosecution of the war.”

    October 8-9.

    Congressman Clement J. Zablocki chaired a special study mission to Southeast Asia, composed of members of the House Foreign Affairs Committee, which traveled to Laos, Malaysia, and Vietnam October 3-19. Also on the mission were Congressmen Harris B. McDowell, Jr., Ronald Brooks Cameron, William T. Murphy, William S. Broomfield, J. Irving Whalley, Vernon W. Thomson, and Peter H.B. Frelinghuysen. See Document 222.

    The Joint Chiefs of Staff sent Harkins and Felt these instructions in JCS 2792, October 5. The cable was substantively the same as the first three numbered paragraphs of section B of the Taylor-McNamara Report, Document 167. (Department of State, Central Files, POL 26 S VIET)
    The instructions to Brent were in Aidto 915, October 5, and were essentially a reiteration of AID-related actions and tactics. (Ibid., AID (US) S VIET)

  38. Mike Harkins:

    This is classic!

    As “therazor” said in the beginning: “...conspiracy theories add (to) it in order to protect the kernel of truth they rest upon…”

    So true here with the JFK Conspiracy.


  39. Boyce:


    Here are the first two paragraphs of NATIONAL SECURITY ACTION MEMORANDUM NO. 273, issued November 26, 1963. Note paragraph 2: “The objectives of the United States with respect to the withdrawal of U. S. military personnel remain as stated in the White House statement of October 2, 1963.”


    November 26, 1963



    The Secretary of State
    The Secretary of Defense
    The Director of Central Intelligence
    The Administrator, AID
    The Director, USIA

    The President has reviewed the discussions of South Vietnam which occurred in Honolulu, and has discussed the matter further with Ambassador Lodge. He directs that the following guidance be issued to all concerned:
    1. It remains the central object of the United States in South Vietnam to assist the people and Government of that country to win their contest against the externally directed and supported Communist conspiracy. The test of all U. S. decisions and actions in this area should be the effectiveness of their contribution to this purpose.

    2. The objectives of the United States with respect to the withdrawal of U. S. military personnel remain as stated in the White House statement of October 2, 1963.

  40. Greg Burnham:

    I addressed the above post from Boyce about a week ago and had a very cordial exchange with Joseph. Now those posts are deleted.

    Wow. Censorship is alive and well here. The control of information and the blatant disregard for freedom of speech (even when on topic) plays well in the ongoing conspiracy to cover up, obfuscate, and obsure the truth from coming out. It is this type of behavior that fuels the fire of those claiming an ongoing conspiracy still exists to this day. Well done! By deleting several of the most resent posts you just proved that point admin! Amazing, even the Agency is smarter than that…

  41. Terry Hildebrand:

    The Occam’s Razor principle is applicable as a guide only (an assumption taken on faith by scientists in general) about natural phenomena in developing scientific theories; it is not necessarily applicable to the intrigues and deceptions that human beings engage in on a daily basis. Hence, the notion of Occam’s Razor has no relevance to the various theories and speculations people develop to explain and attempt to solve mysteries about other human beings’ secretive actions in which the world abounds.

  42. Scott Kirwin:

    Occam’s Razor is a tool of logic. Logic is not limited to science. In order for Occam’s Razor to be applied one must have evidence supporting two competing theories equally.

    Conspiracy theories always have less evidence supporting them than the accepted theory they challenge. Conspiracy theorists state that they lack the evidence because it has been made secret as part of the conspiracy. This is circular reasoning that doesn’t need Occam’s Razor to undermine the claim of conspiracy.

  43. Terry Hildebrand:

    It is surprising that someone who has named his blog after some principle of the scientific method should have such a confused and superficial understanding of it himself, Mr. Kirwin. In fact, the Occam’s razor principle was articulated to apply to physical science—to understand the workings of natural world. It was put forward only as a guide in theory-building and to generally encourage economy of thought. Your application and understanding of Occam’s razor expounded upon in your blog post and in your responses to other commenters is profoundly naive and entirely misses the point.

    Quoting from WIkipedia: “In science, Occam’s razor is used as a heuristic (rule of thumb) to GUIDE scientists in the development of theoretical models RATHER THAN AS AN ARBITER between published models. In the scientific method, Occam’s razor is not considered an irrefutable principle of logic, and certainly not a scientific result.”

    I am not a scientist myself, but I have held an interest in the philosophy of science for many years. A very well written and interesting book I read long ago, “Einstein’s Space & Van Gogh’s Sky: Physical Reality and Beyond” had a short synopsis in it pages (72-73) about Occam’s razor: “Occam’s razor was a rule demanding that all inessential features be shorn off a scientific theory. In his Latin phraseology, ‘Essentia non sunt multiplicannda praeter necessitatem’ (‘one must not proliferate constructs beyond necessity,’ in loose translation). What that necessity is he does not make clear, but his theory means simplicity, or adequacy, a minimum use of constructs, in the formulation of theories. Scholars of a later day like Mach (1838-1912), a physicist whose ‘number’ is familiar as a measure of aircraft speed, alluded to the same feature of theories as occasioned by ‘economy of thought.’”

    Your claim that conspiracy theories ALWAYS have less evidence supporting them than the “accepted” theories they challenge is absolute hogwash and self-delusion. Whose is the “accepted” theory any way, according to Mr. Kirwin? If you mean in the case of the JFK assassination the theory propounded by the Warren Commission report, you admit that probably only a small minority of perhaps 10% of the public accepts it. So what makes it the “accepted theory”? Because the US government said so (or at least the Warren Commission members appointed by the Executive Branch headed by Johnson in 1964)? However, another branch of the US government, the U.S. House Select Committee on Assassinations in the late 1970’s, came to the conclusion that there was indeed a conspiracy to kill JFK. Or, is the “accepted” theory whichever one Scott Kirwin proclaims to be so? In any case, as the sources quoted above indicate, it is improper for you to invoke Occam’s razor in attempting to promote or validate one theory about the events surrounding a political crime versus an alternative theory. It is NOT the purpose for which Occam’s razor was ever intended to be put.

    I find it ironic that your first commenter to this post, Adele Edisen (if it was the person’s real name and not a pseudonym to test Mr. Kirwin), is an accomplished scientist and was perhaps drawn to your blog because of the false claim that it understood and respected the scientific principle of Occam’s razor. She had a very interesting story to tell about her encounters with a fellow scientist in April of 1963, about 7 months before the JFK assassination. In fact, I only stumbled upon your blog inadvertently while following the trail of Internet links on her name. To inform yourself about her story, I recommend that you read this webpage (referring to Ms. Edisen), titled “A New Oswald Witness Goes Public”:

  44. Scott Kirwin:

    I apologize for coming across as bombastic in the above posts regarding conspiracy theorists. Having debated at length with them over the past 20 years I’ve tired of revisiting the same old memes of grassy knolls, secret organizations, etc. I started as a believer in the JFK conspiracy; 20 years later I’m a skeptic. It would take a lot of evidence to move me back into the former camp. I admit I am closed minded on the subject, but that doesn’t mean that I will ignore the weight of evidence against my belief, just that such a move would take a lot of it: extraordinary claims demand extraordinary proof. So far I have yet to see that proof in the Kennedy assassination, the death of Vince Foster, Area 51 or any other common conspiracy theory beloved by the Left or the Right.

    During that journey Occam’s Razor became an invaluable tool in the quest for Absolute Truth. My first experience with the Razor came in a freshman philosophy class in Logic, and it became the namesake of this blog to counter moral relativism that I believe has infected our culture at a dangerous time in its history. This post is just one of about 2000 – the majority of which deal with domestic and foreign policy as well as economics with a smattering of philosophy.

    Occam’s Razor has limits, but one of them is not being limited to science. Again, I was first knowingly exposed to the tool in a philosophy class on Logic. Note also that William of Occam was not himself a scientist.

    See this link for more info on its usage outside science and its limitations.

  45. Greg Burnham:


    I understand that you have the prerogative to delete any posts from your website. However, I assumed that “censorship of dissenting opinions” was not your agenda. Yet, several of the most compelling posts refuting your position were deleted. Why? None contained ad hominem attacks on anyone; they were to the point of the conversation; none were abusive nor did they violate any rules of your venue. They just disagreed with your general position—and then they disappeared.

    About 8 years ago several of us were invited to participate in an ongoing series called “The Men Who Killed Kennedy”—for a History Channel presentation. The series originated more than 20 years ago and eventually grew to a total of 12 episodes (3 episodes per part—4 parts total). The final series showed for about 6 months. The last episode actually named people (but not irresponsibly) in high places as probably complicit. That conclusion was based on official government documents and eyewitness accounts. There was no “wild speculation” included—just very damning evidence.

    Instead of allowing those with a dissenting opinion to refute the evidence or conclusions presented in the documentary, the History Channel caved in to the pressure exerted by those in “high places” and agreed to (for a direct corollary to your blog) delete that entire last episode. The History Channel censored a series that they had been showing for over a decade after evidence was produced in its latest episode that was impossible to refute because it was gleaned from official records. The program showed for about 6 months and then was pulled forever—and can not even be purchased.

    Is the prospect of “the truth coming out” really that unacceptable, threatening, or too hard to bear? Who is being protected—still—to this day?

    It is mind boggling that otherwise intelligent people resort to “censorship” simply because “they can get away with it”—all the while claiming that they are seeking the truth.

  46. Scott Kirwin:

    I’m not sure what you’re talking about regarding deleted posts – especially ones made in October/November 2009. I haven’t felt the need to moderate this thread. So far the comments are fine and I have no problem hosting them. In fact I can’t even remember the last time I had to delete a non-spam comment on any of the 2000 or so threads hosted here.

    I’ll check my comments control panel in WordPress to make sure if something isn’t stuck. If you feel that a comment you have posted is no longer around, let me know by email ( Chances are it’s stuck in moderation due to too many links in the post, or because a link has appeared on a blacklist in Spamkarma.

    Also, be advised that I plan to switch servers sometime over the next month or so – increasing the likelihood of comments dropping.

    I might disagree with your point of view, but you express it well – so you’re welcome here.

    Scott K.

    UPDATE: Comments queue was empty, so dunno what’s up.

  47. Greg Burnham:

    Thanks for the reply, Scott. I have no idea why or how the posts disappeared. They had commentary in them and they contained suggested reading, such as, a book by my friend, the late Colonel L Fletcher Prouty: “JFK, The CIA, Vietnam, and the Plot to Assassinate John F Kennedy”. I did include a link to his website:—And Joseph suggested some work by historian, John Newman, as well. All those posts—mine and Joseph’s—disappeared.

    I assumed they were intentionally removed since they were the only ones missing in the thread. Thanks for checking… Greg

  48. Marvin Bush:

    Mr Administrator’s interpretation of the meaning of Occam’s razor is really hilarious.

    The simplest explanation for two theories is usually the best.

    So he agrees with those who use the wildest and most imaginative theories of how the twin towers were destroyed. No need to go into all their ali baba science.

    But Occam’s razor shows that the simplest and most logical explanation is controlled demolition.

    I’ve heard some of the most contrived arguments for how the laws of phsyics were violated on that day.

    However Occam’s razor indicates that the simplest explanation is tv fakery.

    Todd Beamer called his mother and said, “Hello, Mom,. this is Todd Beamer.

    You really have to be imaginative to explain this one away, and the “debunkers” are not without an unlimited amount of resourcefulness on this one either. (a violations of occam’s razor)

    However the simplest explanation is voice morphing. So says occam’s razor.

    Ted Olsen says his wife called him collect from a cell phone.

    The best explanation for this one according to occam’s razor is Ted is lying.

    I could go on and on but let this be sufficent to prove that citing occam’s razor is indeed a telling blunder on your part.

  49. Scott Kirwin:

    The simplest explanation is that you don’t exist except as a figment of my imagination.

    Occam’s Razor isn’t reductio ad absurdum; it requires much more rigor than that. The Razor requires evidence and can only be applied when the evidence for two competing theories is equal – not when evidence favors one side or the other. When evidence favors one theory over another, the favored theory is most likely the Truth. Occam’s Razor cannot be used when an imbalance of evidence exists.

    In the case of 9-11 the evidence supporting the destruction of the Twin Towers, the crashes into the corn field in Shanksville PA and into the Pentagon is overwhelming in favor of al-Qaeda versus the scattered bits of evidence supporting Truthers, Israeli conspiracy theorists, and others. In the case of 9-11, Occam’s Razor cannot be used.

  50. Marvin Bush:

    The evidence is overwhelming to you because you favor it. It is not overwhelming to the average American since those who doubt the government’s conspiracy theory, according to polls, far outnumber the other side.

    In fact, those that are more likely than not to favor the government’s theory are all in the media.

    It is almost as if it is they, and not politicians or government officials, who have been tasked with the responsibility to debunk, criticize and mock those who digress from the official line.

    I can only leave it up to supposition as to why this is so.

    I can agree that Occam’s Razor cannot be used. However it is because the imbalance of evidence is clearly a product of your own imagination.

  51. Scott Kirwin:

    Uhm… No. Evidence isn’t that subjective. It exists outside of your – or my – imagination.

    As for the public, 80% of Americans believe in God but that doesn’t make him exist.

  52. ben:

    Who would enter into a conspiracy in which the simplest explanation of the crime pointed at them?

    The whole point of conspiring to do something is to make people think you could not have done it. An even better planned crime includes the caveat that someone else, some dumb patsy, takes the blame.

    You are correct about one thing, that Occams Razor is useful, but only to labodomize.

  53. Brian:


    You have my full support in your assertions – it was a similar documentary on the JFK assassination that convinced me of the ludicrous nature of conspiracy theories (I was always a sceptic). Further reading has also helped me put to bed any lingering doubt – Carl Sagan’s Demon Haunted World.

    I fear though, Scott, you are trying to convince a devout Christian that there is no god!

    I probably won’t be back to this blog as I only stumbled upon it and I’m not particularly fanatical about such things (I’m happy with my belief system), but I wish you the very best and keep flying the flag for the sane amongst us.


  54. Greg Burnham:

    Let’s be clear and honest:

    The reporting of documented evidence that offers PROOFS that a crime involved more than one individual does NOT constitute a “conspiracy theory” and one is not a “conspiracy theorist” simply because they report it.

    I don’t claim to know exactly what happened nor who “done it” in Dallas. If I did claim that I did know such a thing I would be offering a conspiracy theory…but that is NOT my claim.

    However, it is quite obvious that OSWALD did not act alone. It would be at least a move in the right direction for some of you to concede the point, as did FBI Special Agent James Hosty, who said: “There was a benign cover-up” [paraphrased]. At least he conceded that the truth was withheld—albeit, in his opinion, for all the right reasons. I disagree with him about the reasoning behind it. However, there is no denying the fact that the abundance of evidence is overwhelmingly opposed to Oswald as the so-called lone assassin.

  55. Greg Burnham:

    As for the discussion that we had above regarding JFK’s Vietnam withdrawal policy, I wrote an article for JFK LANCER on the subject of both NSAM 263 and the DRAFT of NSAM 273. They are rather brief articles. The important point is this: it is NOT in question that JFK was withdrawing from Vietnam. Check it out for yourself:

    You can find NSAM 263 introduction here:

    You can find NSAM 273 introduction here:

  56. Terry Hildebrand:

    You are deluded, Mr. Kirwin in believing that Occam’s Razor is a tool for finding “Absolute Truth.” The link you cite in your response to me back in January of this year does not really support your own views, if you are able to understand the on-line article. This particular paragraph from your citation seems to describe yourself: “There are, however, some … who wield the razor like a broadsword. To these people it proves one theory and disproves another. There are two problems with using Occam’s razor as a tool to prove or disprove an explanation. One, determining whether or not something is simple (say, empirical evidence) is subjective—meaning it’s up to the individual to interpret its simplicity. Two, there’s no evidence that supports the notion that simplicity equals truth…. The problem with all of these arguments is that what constitutes simplicity is subjective. What’s more, we cannot rationally show that the universe could be any simpler.”

    I find the article itself a bit pedestrian—simplistic and inaccurate any way in its exposition of Occam’s Razor. It is not an on-line source I would recommend to anyone wishing to better understand the principle. I cited far superior authorities and sources in my previous post.

    The principle of Occam’s Razor is only useful in theory building and exposition, it does not imply that the natural world around us is inherently “simple” rather than “complex” whatever those words might mean. Simplicity is subjective, as your favorite website correctly states. A good example where the principle of Occam’s Razor was usefully applied was in theoretical physics in regard to the existence or non-existence of aether as a medium for the propagation of light and electromagnetic radiation. The famous Michelson-Morley experiment which attempted to measure the speed of light based upon the assumption of the existence of aether ultimately led physicists, such as Albert Einstein and others, to discard the postulation of aether in their theories of the cosmos. As an assumption to the construction of their theories the existence of aether was unnecessary.

    There isn’t anything “simple” about anything in this universe, and your quest for Absolute Truth is quixotic for sure. When Crick and Watson were competing with Linus Pauling and others for untangling the genetic code of life, there were numerous models under consideration until experimental evidence eventually confirmed the double helix formulation by Crick and Watson. The principle of Occam’s Razor had no relevance to this important discovery, nor does it to any other scientific discoveries per se, as it is a principle relevant only to the exposition of theories—communicating that special insight about the natural world as succinctly as possible in the form of a mathematical formula or physical model. The insight itself is what it is, and “simplicity” or “complexity” have nothing to do with it; they are meaningless human concepts with respect to the structure of life and the universe.

    You are really being extremely naive and foolish when you start mindlessly employing the notion of Occam’s Razor to human affairs. When it comes to the natural world beyond us, it is reasonable to assume that it does not care whether we human beings probe and discover its workings. The sun and the planets and the stars and the rest of the cosmos are not trying to keep secret from human investigators an understanding of their motions and gravitational forces.

    The same cannot be said about the actions of humans, especially when criminal activities are involved where perpetrators, if held accountable, could spend years in prison, or give up their lives. Criminals are highly motivated to cover up their crime and throw investigators off in false directions, and very clever and well organized ones can succeed at covering up their crimes quite well. Criminals also frequently commit their crimes not only as lone individuals, but in conspiratorial groups of two or sometimes many more. Most of the inmates in our state and national prisons are in fact doing time for various kinds of conspiracy—to commit murder, larceny, etc.

    Your attempt to dismiss crimes of conspiracy, whether they be the assassination of prominent political figures like JFK, or whomever, on the basis of “Occam’s Razor” is absurd and logically unsupportable. I hope that you soon come to your senses and realize the foolishness and futility of your efforts.

  57. Matthew:

    Occam’s Razor cannot be applied to the affairs of intelligent beings for the simple reason that such a being has the intelligence to construct equivalent artificial evidence that points to some other theory. It’s fallible in science too. Applying O.R., if this was still Newtonian times, we’d all believe that the kinetic energy of an object is 0.5 * Mass * Velocity^2. Well, this is not quite true as Einstein said this breaks down as velocities approach relativistic speeds. So whilst Newtonian science was useful for non-relativistic calculations, it was never true.

    Furthermore today’s conspiracy theorist is yesterday’s heretic, except now it the Church of Government that issues the edicts. Whilst most heretics of the day were probably spouting all sorts of half baked beliefs, a few got it right; Galileo, Copernicus, etc. Nevertheless, they were heaped in with all the other conspiracy nuts (sorry, I mean heretics).

    Just some food for thought. If the intelligence services of the world are not engaged in conspiracies, what are they doing? Is that not their job?

  58. Pamela Crossley:

    Just happened across this website, the discussion (or one half of it) is so absurd that I can’t help commenting. If I’m understanding this, Scott Kirwin founded this site in honor of Occam’s Razor, and then informs us “When I began the online journal I wanted to name it Occam’s Razor. This is the principle that in layman’s terms says that if you have two theories with the same evidence, the simpler is the one most likely to be true.”

    That is not what Occam’s razor is. First of all, no need to put it into layman’s terms—Occam already did that, or anyway put it into layman’s Latin which translates very easily into English: “”entities must not be multiplied beyond necessity” (entia non sunt multiplicanda praeter necessitatem).” It has nothing to do with truth, it has to do with what can be proved and what cannot be proved in an experimental setting. It is the law of parsimony, and it is designed to be applied in empirical situations where a reaction can be repeated as many times as necessary, and then the explanations for these repeated results can be reduced to the simplest number of propositions that would explain it (and if many are needed, then many are used). It does not now, nor did Occam EVER expect, that it would be applied to history (or theology, or esthetics or anything not connected to the exploration of physical laws). Otherwise, he recognized, everybody would soon collapse their historical, theological, ethical and who knows what explanations to very simplest explanation: Everything happens because God wants it to.

    Amazingly, “Occam’s razor” has become the new intellectual crutch for people who cannot accept that historical causation is in fact very complex, and in some cases just cannot accept the implications of some interpretations.

    It’s good to see that reasonable and thoughtful people have dropped by here to offer civil, informed comment. It is very sad when the coincidence theorists resort to high-falutin’ legerdemain like “Occam’s razor” to attempt to occupy the high ground through nothing more than bogus association with this great medieval philosopher. Unfortunately Occam’s razor is one of the most confused and abused rhetorical weapons of the weak.

  59. Scott Kirwin:

    Congratulations on understanding “layman’s Latin”; it’s a language that I’ve always wanted to learn but unfortunately I am monolinguistic: in fact even English does not come easy to me (I guess the strain of the virus that infected me with language posited by William S. Burroughs was weak).

    But I think that you are attempting to “keep Occam’s Razor” in its sheath by wrapping it with limitations that aren’t there in order to prevent its use against you. Occam’s Razor is not limited to purely empirical situations.Also here. I see no such limitation myself, and neither did Carl Sagan who famously quipped that extraordinary claims demand extraordinary proof – another intellectual “rule of thumb” that is related to Occam’s Razor – but that doesn’t make for a pithy URL.

    As I have written here and elsewhere, Occam’s Razor is an intellectual tool used to judge competing theories having the same evidence. In most cases posited by posters above, their theories do not even attain the level where Occam’s Razor can even be used. Take the Kennedy Assassination beloved by Mr. Burnham; there is more evidence that Oswald acted alone than that he was part of a conspiracy. All the supposed evidence of a grassy knoll shooter has been disproved through analysis of the Zapruder tape, a reel-to-reel recording that supposedly captured a gunshot from that site, and the “magic bullet theory” – disproven by the fact that Connelly’s seat wasn’t wear theorists expected it to be. Not that it matters: believers will simply come up with another theory that ignores those facts – or explains them away in the same way that Ptolemy’s epicycles explained the motion of the planets prior to Copernicus. The evidence continues to support Oswald acted alone, but I allow the arguments to continue here because they are interesting and keep me intellectually honest (I am an ex-JFK Conspiracy believer myself).

    “Coincidence theorist” – cute but implies a relativism between conspiracy theorists and those who oppose them, denying the existence of a reality that exists outside of their perceptions. Sorry, but I stopped smoking pot a very long time ago. :)

  60. Greg Burnham:

    I gave a presentation on National Security Action Memorandums # 263 and 273 in Dallas. You can find them on Vimeo and at this link:

  61. The Razor » Blog Archive » The Lure of the Conspiracy Theory Revisited:

    [...] years ago I wrote about how conspiracy theories were alluring, thereby attracting attention of some conspiracy theory believers in the comments section of the [...]

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