Counterknowledge – Assessment


Review student team’s responses to the questions about the conspiracy theory they were assigned. As answers will vary, accept all reasonable responses. Lead a full class discussion of each scenario, using the questions provided on the handout. Ask students to describe the strategies they used to find the information reflected in their responses. Does each team that worked on the same conspiracy theory agree on their answers?


Answers will vary. Accept all reasonable responses.

Conspiracy Theory 1—Holocaust Deniers

Responses may include:

1. Fears: Holocaust denial appeals to people’s fears about anyone who is different from them or who might present a danger to them. The Final Solution was designed to exterminate all Jews and other ‘undesirable’ people living in Europe and other locations.

2. Information that is true: Some atrocities did take place. Jews and other ‘undesirables’ died during the war due to disease and starvation. The Nazis were meticulous about keeping records during the war.

3. Information that is not true: The Nazis did not intend to exterminate people. The number of Jews and other ‘undesirables’ killed has been exaggerated. Hitler did not know about the Final Solution.

4. Media distortions: Some media outlets imply that Holocaust denial is a legitimate side of the story. Publicizing statements that neo-Nazis may not be as bad as people think they are.

Important takeaway from this discussion: The Holocaust did happen. Millions of people died as a result of the Final Solution. There is ample documentation to prove this.

Conspiracy Theory 2—UFOs

Responses may include:

1. Fears: People want to believe in mysterious forces outside their control. Sometimes this is empowering, but often (as in the case of alien invasion or alien abduction) this is frightening. Additionally, belief in UFOs is often grounded in a distrust of the government. Withholding of information about the existence of space aliens is upheld as an example of why the government is not trustworthy, which is also scary. Finally, people often fear others who are different from themselves and space aliens are safe targets of that fear.

2. Information that is true: People have seen strange objects in the sky. The military has investigated UFO sightings in the past. There are things about our universe that we do not understand.

3. Information that is not true: There are verified alien artifacts being held by the government. Our government is in regular communication with space aliens. Nazis did not intend to exterminate people. In 1948, a pilot named Thomas Mantell was killed by a space alien.

4. Media distortions: Tabloids newspapers frequently report UFO sightings or interactions with humans as though they were credible. In 2017, there were televised and print reports that, “We may not be alone.” The headlines were actually misleading as there was no proof that actual UFOs had been identified.

Important takeaway from this discussion: While there is no way to know if there are other inhabited planets in the galaxy, there is no proof to date that our government (or anyone else) has interacted with space aliens.

Conspiracy Theory 3—Bigfoot

Responses may include:

1. Fears: Stories about hairy, giant creatures that live in the wilderness abound. They reflect human fears and concerns about safety in remote places, as well as fears about living beings that are different from us.

2. Information that is true: American culture abounds with Bigfoot stories. In 2008, three men claimed to have found a Bigfoot body; however, it was a hoax. Professional Bigfoot hunters do exist.

3. Information that is not true: Bigfoot has been seen numerous times. There is a film of Bigfoot taken in 1967 that proves it exists. Bigfoot hair and blood samples have been collected.

4. Media distortions: Adventure magazines like Argosy and True have published stories about Bigfoot as though it was a real creature. In the late 1950s, the Humboldt Times published articles about large footprints found by loggers and attributed to Bigfoot. A television show, Truth or Consequences offered $1000 to anyone who could find Bigfoot.

Important takeaway from this discussion: Given the lack of concrete, verifiable evidence it is highly unlikely that Bigfoot actually exists.

Conspiracy Theory 4—Flat Earthers

Responses may include:

1. Fears: Originally, people had little experience with the world right outside their own environment. As a result, they feared the unknown beyond their own living space. These days, mistrust or fear of authority figures often lies at the bottom Flat Earthers’ beliefs. For example, they think that NASA has gone to great lengths to fake photos and other evidence that the Earth is round and that GPS systems are rigged to make airline pilots believe they are flying in straight lines around a sphere.

2. Information that is true: When walking around, the Earth looks and feels flat. Many American celebrities say they think the Earth is flat. Photographs and videos are easy to manipulate given technology today.

3. Information that is not true: The logo for the United Nations is actually a flat Earth map. The Bedford Level Experiment proves that the Earth is flat (because the level readings don’t change during long distance travel). Stories about space travel and exploration are hoaxes.

4. Media distortions: Conventional news outlets continue to give the flat Earth theory air simply by reporting on the fact that it is disproven. Social media provides a place for flat Earthers to publish their ideas and widely distribute videos and articles using platforms like YouTube.

Important takeaway from this discussion: Educated people have accepted that the Earth is a sphere since the 3rd Century BC.