The Math of Conspiracy Theories

By Shannon Bohman ’19


Fig. 1 Almost everyone has heard of or even bought into a conspiracy theory.

A conspiracy, or the idea that certain groups secretly manipulate important events and power structures, can be political, scientific, or even supernatural. Some conspiracies involving the innate belief that vaccines are dangerous have serious allegations and have sparked great public interest for the truth. Dr. David Robert Grimes of the University of Oxford, recently developed a number of equations that determine the time it would take for a conspiracy to fail as a function of the number of conspirators. The vaccine conspiracy, for instance, has a failure time of 34.78 years if the Center for Disease Control (CDC) and the World Health Organization (WHO) are involved. If the drug companies are also privy, which is likely, the failure time drops dramatically to 3.15 years. Challenging anti-science by finding the failure time of conspiracy theories suggests that people may change their beliefs about certain ideals. With lesser failure time on the vaccine conspiracy if drug companies, WHO and the CDC were not involved, it is likely that most people would be more lenient about receiving vaccinations.  Grimes acknowledges that the mathematical proof is not likely to change the minds of staunch conspiracy theorists. Still, he hopes his findings serve as an intervention to those willing to listen with an unbiased point of view.



  1. R. Grimes, On the viability of conspiratorial beliefs. PLOS Science Journal (2016).


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