I'll make this quick. I was going to write it in the comment section of the post I banged out earlier today on Joe Rogan's schooling of Roseanne Barr on the basics of science, but I think it probably deserves its own spot. This is mostly because I'll probably want to be able to link to it in the future whenever we post something here that takes aim at a conspiracy theory and the usual suspects come out of the woodwork to respond angrily (as they're doing right now).
"Russell's Teapot" is a philosophical analogy which states that in any argument, the burden of proof is always on the person making the unfalsifiable claim. It's usually applied to religion and is meant to thwart those who try to shift the burden of providing proof of God onto the person claiming the absence of God. In other words, it exists to combat those who argue from the negative viewpoint by saying, "Well, you have no proof there isn't a God, so that means it's a possibility or even a likelihood." This is one of the first things I think of whenever I make fun of conspiracy theories or the influential people who espouse them and invariably wind up being taken on by the "Wake Up, Sheeple" crowd. I'm always reminded that when somebody makes a really outlandish accusation, it's up to that person to prove it; it's not up to me to disprove it.
It works like this: If you think that the U.S. government or Monsanto is dispensing chemicals into the air via jets, with the nefarious goal of creating giant mirrors, or controlling the population, or whatever, it's your job to provide evidence to back up your claims. And when I say evidence, I mean evidence -- not a tangentially related government report that happens to set off alarms in the suspicion center of your brain, a random link to some website you happen to trust but which is likely very untrustworthy, or a fucking video made by stoned college kids that uses specious logic to connect a few barely-there dots and which assumes that coincidence is proof of corruption. The more outlandish the claim, the more proof you need to back it up; the tighter you need to seal up your argument. If you don't have it, then, as Christopher Hitchens famously said, you and your claims can be shrugged off without any discussion, because that which is asserted without proof can be dismissed without proof. If you really believe that, say, the government was in on 9/11, you'd better goddamn well have something real to back it up because otherwise the sheer scope of what you're alleging will directly correlate to how hard you're laughed out of the room for not being able to prove it.
And, no, despite the fact that it's the nature of a conspiracy theory that it's self-reinforcing, the absence of evidence is not evidence. That's the most ridiculous kind of circular reasoning. You can make an argument like that all you want but it'll always be the rambling of a mental patient.
To those who live to criticize anyone who doesn't buy into their spurious accusations of secret corruption as being duped by -- or willing tools of -- the evil establishment, understand something: no one's saying that the "official word" shouldn't occasionally be poked, prodded and looked upon with incredulity. There's no harm in asking tough questions of our authority figures and regarding them with a healthy level of distrust, whomever they happen to be. But there's a difference between asking questions and making shit up, assuming facts that are the product of imagination and wishful thinking, and disregarding contrary evidence, all with the goal of confirming a bias. I've said this before, but there's a reason the truth is important. It's important because the truth — supported by empirical evidence and the scientific method — is the yardstick by which we measure reality. If you don’t have an at least functionally common yardstick as a society, everything descends into chaos. Anyone can make up any story he or she wants and call it the truth. We already have enough of that crap as it is given that, thanks to the internet and on-demand media, it's now possible to live inside a hermetically sealed epistemic bubble that never lets in any information we don't already agree with.
Again for the cheap seats: You want to tell me I'm the unwitting subject of secret population control from the skies; that the U.N. and the Illuminati are preparing FEMA camps for me and my family; that President Obama tried to detonate a nuclear device at the Super Bowl three years ago; that Raytheon, Bechtel and Jacobo Arbenz assassinated Kennedy; that the United States government killed 3,000 people on 9/11, fine. But show me proof. Not speculation. Not paranoid fever dreams. Not the Texas Sharpshooter Fallacy.Proof. Proof from a reputable, damn-near-irrefutable source. Show me that or shut the fuck up.
If you've got no proof, you're not worth listening to. Quite the opposite: you're asking to be mocked mercilessly.