Graduation Year


Document Type

Campus Only Senior Thesis

Degree Name

Bachelor of Arts



Reader 1

Brian Keeley

Reader 2

Yuval Avnur

Rights Information

2019 Desiree M Santos


Conspiracy theories have been present within American culture for hundreds of years. In the hyper-visibility provided by online spaces within the past few years, however, it now feels as if conspiracy theories are everywhere. This proliferation means that, more than ever, it’s imperative that we are equipped to evaluate which conspiracy theories are worth believing in. This paper will explore the qualities of conspiracy theories that should affect how we perceive their credibility. I’ll highlight some similarities shared between conspiracy theories and gossip, and then subsequently apply epistemic concerns relating to gossip to our understanding of conspiracy theories. Two of these concerns – irrelevant influences and the composite hypothesis – will be explored in depth. Although the effects of irrelevant influences and the composite hypothesis are not necessarily defeating for belief in all conspiracy theories, I will highlight the specific ways in which these two features may operate to reduce the credibility. Despite conspiracy theories’ tendency to have these epistemically concerning factors, I am not in favor of an approach that assumes all conspiracy theories are bunkum. Instead, I will argue for an approach in favor of analyzing conspiracy theories on an individual basis and following the evidence in order to assess credibility.

This thesis is restricted to the Claremont Colleges current faculty, students, and staff.