Real Conspiracies are Almost Never Uncovered by Conspiracy Theorists

Jørgen Veisdal
3 min readMay 4, 2022


In teaching methodology to undergraduates I get great milage from philosopher Bertrand Russell (1872–1970)’s analogy ‘Russell’s Teapot’:

“If I were to suggest that between the Earth and Mars there is a china teapot revolving about the sun in an elliptical orbit, nobody would be able to disprove my assertion provided I were careful to add that the teapot is too small to be revealed even by our most powerful telescopes.” — Russell (1952)

In the realm of conspiracy theorizing, Russell’s teapot is one a few necessary ingredients to any good “theory”. By their nature, conspiracy theories resist falsification as both evidence for and against them are re-interpreted as evidence of their truth. Such circular reasoning — very reminiscent of the foundations of religious belief — thus keep conspiracy theories alive and thriving.

As any conspiracy theorist will tell you, real conspiracies have and do occur, very rarely. The odd thing is that conspiracy theorists are never the people to uncover them. That is, real conspiracies are never uncovered by the very people so passionately interested in them.

The year, type and source of a handful of known conspiracies

Rather, real conspiracies are more often than not uncovered by trained journalists who are paid to do investigative reporting (e.g. Operation Paperclip, Watergate, Iran-Contra), employees of government agencies (e.g. Operation Snow White and the Volkswagen emissions scandal) and/or whistleblowers, people from within the conspiracy who decide to speak out (the Gulf of Tonkin incident, the FBI forensic scandal and NSA’s PRISM program). Indeed,

I am struggling to come up with a single example of a conspiracy that has been uncovered by a conspiracy theorist.

The exceptions, I suppose, are generic conspiracy theories of the sort ‘the government is spying on you’. In cases when this has turned out to be true (e.g. the National Security Agency’s PRISM surveillance program), at times conspiracy-minded people are involved (say, a Glenn Greenwald). However, even in…