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17 facts about conspiracy theories

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From how long a "hoax" like the Apollo 11 moon landing could actually stay a secret to the conspiracy theory involved Queen Elizabeth I, check out some fascinating facts about conspiracy theories, adapted from an episode of The List Show on YouTube.

1. Buzz Aldrin once punched a conspiracy theorist in the face.

In 2002, a man who believed in the conspiracy theory that the 1969 Apollo 11 moon landing was faked by the government confronted astronaut Buzz Aldrin about it. As Aldrin walked outside a hotel in Beverly Hills, the man thrust a Bible at him and demanded that the septuagenarian spaceman swear on it that he had, in fact, gone to the moon.

Having risked his life and sacrificed much to achieve his mission, Aldrin was understandably annoyed. He handled it pretty well until the stranger called him a coward, a liar, and a thief. At that point, the then-72-year-old Aldrin socked his sidewalk interrogator in the face. The Los Angeles County District Attorney's office declined to press charges against Aldrin.

2. There's an equation that calculates how long a conspiracy could stay a secret.

Speaking of the Apollo 11 moon landing "hoax": To keep a secret of that magnitude would have been pretty difficult — even more difficult than you probably imagine. Physicist and cancer biologist David Robert Grimes published a mathematical equation that estimates how many people it would take to keep a conspiracy secret, and how long it would take before that conspiracy was exposed to the public. The formula takes into account the number of conspirators, how much time has passed, and the probability of a whistle-blower. He used three real-life conspiracies to hone his results: the Edward Snowden NSA scandal, the Tuskegee syphilis experiment, and an FBI forensics scandal that ultimately revealed pseudoscientific evidence being used to detain a large number of innocent people.

Using his formula, if the moon landing had been a hoax, it would have required 411,000 people to keep quiet — and by his math, someone would have spilled the beans in less than four years.

3. There's a difference between a conspiracy theory, a myth, a rumor, and a falsehood.

While there's no universally accepted definition of what a conspiracy theory is, a good guideline is that a conspiracy — and thus a conspiracy theory—involves a group of people doing secretive things that infringe on the rights of others or put them at a disadvantage.

4. Conspiracy theories are not a new thing.

Even Queen Elizabeth I was dogged by a conspiracy theory: that she was actually a man. Nicknamed "The Virgin Queen," Elizabeth rejected every marriage proposal that came her way. Though there are many, many reasons she might have avoided marriage, her staunch refusal made tongues wag, even centuries later. One explanation that was offered up was that she was a man the whole time. "Dracula" author Bram Stoker became a prominent believer of this theory after visiting the village of Bisley in England, where — according to local lore, anyway — Elizabeth I had died while visiting as a child.

As we know, Elizabeth's father, King Henry VIII, loved to behead people — one estimate says more than 70,000 people lost their heads during his reign (although the real number is more likely measured in the hundreds). According to the legend, rather than face the king's wrath and possibly lose her noggin, Elizabeth's governess found a little boy who looked a lot like the future queen, dressed him as a girl, and had him stand in for Elizabeth. Not only did this supposedly explain the never-married thing, it was also supposed to explain........

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