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Monday, November 12, 2007

 

The surest evidence there is no conspiracy: They haven't sent me an invitation to join them

Last week I made a post about the ridiculous budget a popular conspiracy theory - that Big Oil is bribing the auto makers to keep some Big Secret to fuel efficient cars off the road. The large budget isn't the only problem with this conspiracy theory, however, or necessarily the biggest. The biggest problem with such a conspiracy existing in real life is the incredible number of people who would need to be in on it. And it's interesting that you don't see an ex-conspirator step forward; instead, the people alleging such a conspiracy are usually those furthest from the people who would need to be on the inside.

In fact, if there was such a conspiracy, they'd probably want to recruit me for it. I've corresponded with designers aiming to enter all sorts of gas mileage contests, from the Shell Eco-Marathon (I wonder where that fits in oil conspiracy theories?) to the Automotive X Prize. If there were actually a big secret out there for effortless fuel economy gains, I'm one of the people who could potentially be in a position to have heard about it and passed it on. But I've never had some shadowy group of THEM show up and offer me either bribes or threats.

Most of the versions of the secret fuel economy device conspiracy either come from people who are clearly outsiders, or occasionally claim their source was someone who temporarily had the device in his car. But how often have you heard a version of the rumor that claimed to originate with someone on the inside? In the myth, the shadowy character who makes Uncle Joe a million dollar offer for that 100 mpg Chevy Caprice that Joe accidentally drove off with never has a last minute conscience attack and spills the beans.

Tom Clancy once said that the probability of a secret being blown is proportional to the square of the number of people in on it. Given how many people this urban legend would need to have acting together, it seems very unlikely that any conspiracy could have put such a thing together without having to deal with someone who both has the strength of character to blow the whistle on such a scheme and enough sanity to not be dismissed by the press as some sort of lunatic.

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