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How to Debunk A Conspiracy Theory

Conspiracy theories are unavoidable when your Museum deals with topics in science, but this week’s guest, Tony Gondola, outreach coordinator for the New Mexico Museum of Space History, has some good advice on how to debunk these unsound ideas. Gondola also explains how the people who formulate conspiracies profit from those who fall for them. In dealing with Moon landing science, Gondola also has experience with other theories. “Right now, flat Earth stuff is everywhere,” he says. “All claims of hoaxsters are easy to debunk because they usually don’t go too deep into the science.” Conspiracy theories have become increasingly popular these past few years because common objections to the Moon landing stem from a distrust of authority, the government, and science. Gondola describes why it’s so important to counter these ideas. “We can’t deny this great historical event,” he says. What the astronauts did on the Moon does, in fact, include some science, although science was not the primary objective. The Apollo 11 astronauts left behind experiments like a laser reflector that still functions to this day. Gondola gets questions every day that are not necessarily accusatory but definitely uninformed, and he suggests that the best way to counter conspiracy theories not by flat out telling someone they’re wrong, but instead gently leading them to think about the science. And by all means, do not refer people to YouTube! “YouTube is a big part of the problem,” Gondola says. Content creators promoting conspiracy theories stand to gain from book deals, video views, and subscribers. Ultimately, Gondola argues, conspiracy theories happen when people believe what they experience from limited human perception and gain validation from outside sources; but, by using science as a way to move beyond limited perceptions, people can conduct simple experiments and research that reveal scientific truths.

Follow in the footsteps of the Apollo 11 astronauts when our APOLLO exhibit re-opens in November!

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