Occam’s Razor and Scalia Conspiracy Theories

 

hand-of-conspiracy2Justice Scalia’s funeral is scheduled for Saturday, but the man was hardly declared dead before conspiracy theories started circulating to the effect that he was assassinated. There’s no point in addressing specific claims because we’re still in the innuendo stage. But more importantly, any hint of a conspiracy collapses with the slightest application of skepticism.

In order for any assassination conspiracy to work, the first question is “Cui bono? Who benefits? Who would go to the trouble of murdering a Supreme Court justice? When you’re playing the election-year conspiracy innuendo game, there’s only two choices: red team or blue.

What would be the point of a Republican conspiracy to murder Justice Scalia? The only suggestion I’ve heard is that it would be a rallying point for Republicans. They must, must, must win the White House back to be able to pick a replacement Supreme Court justice.

This runs headlong into two problems: Barack Obama is still President. So he gets to nominate a replacement. But supposing Senate Republicans can block an appointment for an entire year (which necessitates enormous fortitude on the part of Senate Republicans), that still requires (1) a Republican to be elected in November, and (2) the new President to nominate a conservative justice to replace Scalia. Even then, why kill a man hailed as a conservative legal hero to risk another David Souter? There’s just too much chaos, too much that can go wrong with that plan.

Ah, but what about the Democrats? If they assassinated Scalia, Obama would get to make the appointment. It would be a rallying point for Democrats, who must, must, must win the White House to appoint a progressive hero to the Court. After all, those people are capable of anything, aren’t they?

Yes, Obama would get to nominate a replacement. But there’s a better-than-even chance the Republicans will block any Supreme Court appointment. As a rallying point, it would be slightly bigger for Republicans. Conservatives control the Court, so they have more to lose. And if you’re going to go so far as to murder a Supreme Court justice, why do it now? Why not do it in 2009 before Citizens United was decided? Or in 2014 before Burwell was decided? (Or any other major case that could go the other way.) Of all times, why now, when it would guarantee a very bloody and chaotic nomination fight?

We are bound to hear these conspiracy theories. We’re already seeing the beginnings of it. These people said this. What about that. Those theories will continue to build, because like any death, there will be unanswered questions. Conspiracy theorists will engage in anomaly-hunting and exploit any unknown to generate innuendo.

No doubt, some Republican candidates will play the innuendo game (or outright conspiracy monger), just like Democrats did with 9/11 while George W. Bush was President, only to forget their pet conspiracy theories after their team gets back the White House. Shame on Republicans who do. They should know better. (Well, most of them anyway.)

What really damns any and all Scalia conspiracy theories is Occam’s Razor, the principle that the hypothesis that contains the fewest assumptions is most likely to be correct. So to anyone who thinks Justice Scalia may have been murdered, I ask ask this: Which is more likely? That a 79-year-old man with multiple health problems, who complained of discomfort before going to bed, died in his sleep? Or that a complex conspiracy killed him at a nonsensical time to create an uncertain outcome?

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  1. Zafar Member
    Zafar
    @Zafar

    Can we put up another suspect? Because I’m trending ISIS did it.

    • #1
  2. James Gawron Inactive
    James Gawron
    @JamesGawron

    Fred,

    Just for the sake of argument, if an autopsy was performed and his body had residuals of a lethal poison, what would you and your razor say then.

    Regards,

    Jim

    • #2
  3. Max Ledoux Coolidge
    Max Ledoux
    @Max

    Nice post, Fred.

    • #3
  4. Valiuth Inactive
    Valiuth
    @Valiuth

    Oh Fred, you fail to grasp the true conspiratorial mind. A true conspiracy theorists, would know that it is never the obvious conspirators or motives at play. The purpose of conspiracies is to mask more obscure and nefarious intents. Let me give you a true example of what a Scalia murder conspiracy will look like. He was killed by a third party that has acted secretly for many years, either out in the open under false pretenses or in the shadows out of public sight. Their goal is the enhancement of their power. Scalia death leads to this because it gives them a chance to advance one of their own on to the bench while also distracting people from their existence or true agenda. Also given the nature of conspiracies it will probably boil down to “the Jews”, because 9 time out of 10 that’s how these things go. Also a true conspiracy theory will link this to past conspiracies.

    • #4
  5. Sabrdance Member
    Sabrdance
    @Sabrdance

    Maybe some people just have a higher opinion of the movie than I do?

    • #5
  6. Larry3435 Member
    Larry3435
    @Larry3435

    Valiuth:Oh Fred, you fail to grasp the true conspiratorial mind. A true conspiracy theorists, would know that it is never the obvious conspirators or motives at play. The purpose of conspiracies is to mask more obscure and nefarious intents. Let me give you a true example of what a Scalia murder conspiracy will look like. He was killed by a third party that has acted secretly for many years, either out in the open under false pretenses or in the shadows out of public sight. Their goal is the enhancement of their power. Scalia death leads to this because it gives them a chance to advance one of their own on to the bench while also distracting people from their existence or true agenda. Also given the nature of conspiracies it will probably boil down to “the Jews”, because 9 time out of 10 that’s how these things go. Also a true conspiracy theory will link this to past conspiracies.

    I was expecting to hear “the donor class,” but now I’m wondering if “the donor class” is (for at least some people) a euphemism for “the Jews.”

    • #6
  7. Tom Meyer, Ed. Contributor
    Tom Meyer, Ed.
    @tommeyer

    Ever since the news broke, I’ve assumed it was done by the same team that got Diana:

    • #7
  8. Tommy De Seno Contributor
    Tommy De Seno
    @TommyDeSeno

    One can scratch their head about procedure, toward no other end than procedure is important, without an assumption that Scalia was murdered.

    Laugh, scoff, play high and mighty. When you are done, tell me if diagnosing a heart attack by a sheriff is best practice, not for this case- for the next one.

    • #8
  9. Guruforhire Inactive
    Guruforhire
    @Guruforhire

    Never underestimate malice as a motive.

    The never ending hatestorm after his death has me thinking that there is a 25% chance of hate driven murder.

    • #9
  10. The Dowager Jojo Inactive
    The Dowager Jojo
    @TheDowagerJojo

    I don’t think it’s all that common that people just die instantly, without a chance to show distress (Scalia’s bedclothes were not even disturbed, reportedly) but it does happen.  Most likely that’s what happened here.  However, foul play is certainly not impossible either and there’s no basis whatever to scoff about it as if it requires crazy thinking.

    • #10
  11. Percival Thatcher
    Percival
    @Percival

    Isn’t refuting a conspiracy theory engaging in conspiracy theory? Can’t have a thesis without an anti-thesis.  I thought about refuting the refutation, but that would be engaging in conspiracy theory too, and there was a ball game on.

    But now I find the refutation promoted to the front page! How could this happen? No mere member would be treated thus. It becomes clear that this “Fred Cole” is merely a sockpuppet for the Sinister Powers behind Ricochet – a fictive entity driving the nefarious machinations of the Arch-Squish himself!

    Rob Long, j’accuse!

    Now I gotta run. Sam’s Club is running a special on pallets of aluminum foil; the good kind that’s shiny on both sides.

    • #11
  12. Tom Meyer, Ed. Contributor
    Tom Meyer, Ed.
    @tommeyer

    Percival:But now I find the refutation promoted to the front page! How could this happen? No mere member would be treated thus. It becomes clear that this “Fred Cole” is merely a sockpuppet for the Sinister Powers behind Ricochet – a fictive entity driving the nefarious machinations of the Arch-Squish himself!

    If anything happens to Percival, you all will know why. ;)

    • #12
  13. Tenacious D Inactive
    Tenacious D
    @TenaciousD

    Has anyone considered Illuminati involvement?

    The Illuminati symbol is a triangle. A triangle has three sides. Three times three is nine. There are nine justices on the Supreme Court.

    Nine times nine is eighty-one. Justice Scalia passed away in February, the second month, when he was seventy-nine. Seventy-nine plus two is … [drumroll] … eighty-one!!!!!!!!!

    (/parody)

    • #13
  14. Fred Cole Inactive
    Fred Cole
    @FredCole

    @Percival:

    I hesitated in posting this because of that.
    I did what any member should do: When in doubt, consult the Code of Contact.
    I literally did that to determine the propriety of posting this. The CoC says that the following is a violation:
    “Anything that makes the Ricochet Community look like a bunch of radical fruitcakes. This includes 99% of conspiracy theories.”
    Based on that, I consider this within the bounds of Ricochet.

    • #14
  15. Danny Alexander Member
    Danny Alexander
    @DannyAlexander

    SurveyMonkey CEO Dave Goldberg (husband to FaceBook COO Sheryl Sandberg) was — official explanations notwithstanding — in all probability murdered in a botched robbery attempt while he was purportedly all alone in the exercise salon of a Baja California resort just the other year.
    Coming right out and saying that Mexican thugs bashed in her husband’s head over chump change was likely too much to bear for the strongly liberal Democrat “Lean In” authoress — and she probably got a lot of additional persuasion on this from her boss, Mark Zuckerberg, self-styled immigration floodgates-opener.

    Just by way of saying, some pretty significant matters get reported on as willed by those with the means to bend the reportage, particularly when said matters have no witnesses.

    If a drunken Travis County prosecutor can throw a wrench in an ex-governor’s presidential bid, a fanatical environmentalist billionaire can find someone in Texas willing/able to poison a hated US Supreme Court justice, and perhaps also find someone in Marfa-area law enforcement willing to do a “sloppy” job.

    Interrogate the ranch staff, the LEOs, and the 40-odd guests.

    The straw man of an Oliver Stone-scale conspiracy may be fun for an OP such as this.
    But a lethal plan involving at most 4-6 people in total is not to be laughed off so easily.

    • #15
  16. iWe Coolidge
    iWe
    @iWe

    Fred Cole: What really damns any and all Scalia conspiracy theories is Occam’s Razor, the principle that the hypothesis that contains the fewest assumptions is most likely to be correct.

    Occam’s Razor is not a determinant about which hypothesis is more likely to be correct: Among competing hypotheses, the one with the fewest assumptions should be selected.

    Why? Because it is a rule of thumb, nothing more or less.

    I doubt Scalia was murdered. But Occam’s Razor has no place in an argument that seeks to establish logical proof.

    • #16
  17. Claire Berlinski, Ed. Editor
    Claire Berlinski, Ed.
    @Claire

    iWe:Occam’s Razor is not a determinant about which hypothesis is more likely to be correct: Among competing hypotheses, the one with the fewest assumptions should be selected.

    “because it is most likely to be correct.” That part is implicit. It’s not because it’s simplest and thus more elegant. It’s because it’s more likely to be correct. It’s not logical proof, but the principle asserts something about probability, and is thus testable.

    • #17
  18. James Gawron Inactive
    James Gawron
    @JamesGawron

    Fred Cole:@Percival:

    I hesitated in posting this because of that.
    I did what any member should do: When in doubt, consult the Code of Contact.
    I literally did that to determine the propriety of posting this. The CoC says that the following is a violation:
    “Anything that makes the Ricochet Community look like a bunch of radical fruitcakes. This includes 99% of conspiracy theories.”
    Based on that, I consider this within the bounds of Ricochet.

    Fred,

    I am perhaps the worst believer in conspiracy theories ever.  I was alive for the Kennedy assassination and always found the Warren Commission convincing. For instance, I find the suggestion that the Bush administration knew for sure that Sadam didn’t have WMD (do we actually know that he didn’t or are we just unable to confirm that he did) to be a stupid obsession of the cheapest kind of left-wing smear tactics.

    Now that we have got conspiracy theories out of the way. You know, an autopsy isn’t like a new manned Martian mission. It is done very quickly using standard procedures. If done and showing no signs of foul play, I wouldn’t really spend another microsecond thinking about it. It is out of the ordinary for a public figure of this level of importance to die and it not be known for a day because no one was with him. That doesn’t mean that there was any foul play. Yet, it leaves an area of doubt.

    As is always, your post is about pre-empting all discussion on this issue by starting with a strawman, extending the strawman through strawman alternatives, and finishing with a strawman conclusion. That’s just marvelous as I have come to expect no less from you.

    I have a confirmation bias in favor of facts. So sue me.

    Regards,

    Jim

    • #18
  19. Fred Cole Inactive
    Fred Cole
    @FredCole

    Dude, did you really just use a straw man to attack me for allegedly using a straw man?

    • #19
  20. James Gawron Inactive
    James Gawron
    @JamesGawron

    Fred Cole:Dude, did you really just use a straw man to attack me for allegedly using a straw man?

    Fred,

    If a desire for easily attainable facts that would quickly and completely remove reasonable doubt is a straw man argument then I plead guilty as charged.

    Regards,

    Jim

    • #20
  21. Fred Cole Inactive
    Fred Cole
    @FredCole

    Which easily attainable facts?

    • #21
  22. James Gawron Inactive
    James Gawron
    @JamesGawron

    Fred Cole:Which easily attainable facts?

    Fred,

    A standard autopsy!

    Regards,

    Jim

    • #22
  23. Richard O'Shea Coolidge
    Richard O'Shea
    @RichardOShea

    James Gawron:Now that we have got conspiracy theories out of the way. You know, an autopsy isn’t like a new manned Martian mission. It is done very quickly using standard procedures. If done and showing no signs of foul play, I wouldn’t really spend another microsecond thinking about it. It is out of the ordinary for a public figure of this level of importance to die and it not be known for a day because no one was with him. That doesn’t mean that there was any foul play. Yet, it leaves an area of doubt.

    There was no autopsy because the family requested there be no autopsy.  I’m confident his children knew about his health issues.

    An eighty year old overweight guy dying in his sleep of a heart attack describes almost every older male on my mother’s side of the family……

    • #23
  24. Fred Cole Inactive
    Fred Cole
    @FredCole

    Yeah. What Richard said.

    A 79 year old man with multiple health problems dying in his sleep with no indications of foul play doesn’t warrant an autopsie, especially when the family prefers otherwise.

    • #24
  25. Valiuth Inactive
    Valiuth
    @Valiuth

    Larry3435:

    Valiuth:Oh Fred, you fail to grasp the true conspiratorial mind. A true conspiracy theorists, would know that it is never the obvious conspirators or motives at play. The purpose of conspiracies is to mask more obscure and nefarious intents. Let me give you a true example of what a Scalia murder conspiracy will look like. He was killed by a third party that has acted secretly for many years, either out in the open under false pretenses or in the shadows out of public sight. Their goal is the enhancement of their power. Scalia death leads to this because it gives them a chance to advance one of their own on to the bench while also distracting people from their existence or true agenda. Also given the nature of conspiracies it will probably boil down to “the Jews”, because 9 time out of 10 that’s how these things go. Also a true conspiracy theory will link this to past conspiracies.

    I was expecting to hear “the donor class,” but now I’m wondering if “the donor class” is (for at least some people) a euphemism for “the Jews.”

    Everything is a euphemism for Jews. Especially considering that most conspiracy theorists tend to be antisemitic. Possibly because antisemitism is itself the based on a conspiracy theory about Jews and their intentions and plans.

    • #25
  26. Quake Voter Inactive
    Quake Voter
    @QuakeVoter

    I am disappointed by the circumscribed minds of my fellow Ricochetti. Can’t you see the big picture?  Have none of you read David Icke?

    (You and I scoff.  But think about it.  Trump/reptilian?)

    • #26
  27. Valiuth Inactive
    Valiuth
    @Valiuth

    Percival:Isn’t refuting a conspiracy theory engaging in conspiracy theory? Can’t have a thesis without an anti-thesis. I thought about refuting the refutation, but that would be engaging in conspiracy theory too, and there was a ball game on.

    Well to conspiracy theorists the absence of proof is proof of the level to which the conspiracy has penetrated society.

    • #27
  28. Manny Member
    Manny
    @Manny

    I agree that it’s unlikely for it to have been an assassination.  But I have to take issue with your appeal to “Occams Razor.”  The reasoning that the most likely scenario should be the fall back position is flawed.  In engineering I come across failures all the time where the most likely scenario is not the cause.  I would bet in legal cases that the most likely guilty party or scenario is not what happened also happens all the time.  Occams Razor is meaningless.  You have to look at the evidence itself and perform a root cause failure analysis which will lead to an investigation of all possibilities.  Fall back reasoning is superficial.

    • #28
  29. Quake Voter Inactive
    Quake Voter
    @QuakeVoter

    I also doubt Occam’s Razor had anything to do with the death of Justice Scalia, who was no doubt a Harry’s Shave client (using the foam gel, of course, like a good Italian).

    • #29
  30. Manny Member
    Manny
    @Manny

    I wrote my comment above before reading the other comments.  I see others have also jumped on the Occams Razor fallacy.

    • #30
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