A Beginner's Guide To Spotting Cranky Websites

The fear that the world will end (or that the end will begin) on December 21st, 2012 isn't the first baseless scare in the age of the Internet, and it won't be the last. That said, there are countless websites run by all kinds of people, from paranoid kooks who genuinely believe they're doing the world a favor, to hucksters aiming to capitalize on peoples' fear.

Having been keeping an eye on these types over the years, I've come to notice that they tend to have certain traits in common (aside from failing to actually predict anything except the incredibly obvious). So to help other people avoid falling prey to mindless fear and panic, here's a list of signs that you may be dealing with a crank site.

  • The site claims that some major Earth-changing event is just around the corner.
  • The site ultimately blames all (or almost all) of society's and/or the world's problems on just one cause or source (EG, some group of people or other, a religion or just religion in general, one particular mindset or ideology, etc.), and seems to be wholly convinced that if this one cause or source was tackled, pretty much everything would be fixed.
  • The site offers you the "truth" or the "facts" about some impending disaster, sinister conspiracy, or impending world change... if you order the book and/or video it's advertising.
  • The site has ads for gold, silver, or survival supplies, or devices to "put your energy in balance" or "clear negative energy."
  • The site implies or outright states that logic and/or science is bad and should be suppressed in favor of "intuition" or some form of emotion-based form of decision making. At that point, it's essentially telling you to stop thinking and learning for yourself if you want to be a good or worthy person.
  • The site is full of buzzwords, buzzphrases, and boogeymen: eg, "indoctrination," "coverup," "the gay agenda," "the global warming conspiracy," "the Illuminati," "the New World Order," "the global elite," "Nibiru," "planet X," "depopulation," "ascension," "Nostradamus," "polar shift," "disclosure," "prophecy," "consciousness shift," "quantum," etc.
  • The site implies or outright states that the only real reason anyone expresses different opinions or views is because they've been brainwashed or indoctrinated by their boogeyman or boogeymen of choice, and/or that the people who argue against them are deliberately trying to brainwash, deceive, or gaslight them and others.
  • The site implies or outright states that the reason that people (particularly scientists or academia) disagree with the views and ideas presented is because their worldview simply does not permit them to even consider the possibility of such ideas.
  • The site implies or outright states that the reason you haven't heard of what it's claiming before is because academia, the government, or some other boogeyman is trying to keep it all covered up or just ignores it because it doesn't jive with "their accepted worldview," or because they have an agenda to oppress them, or somesuch.
  • The site claims there's a supermassive coverup, period. For example, in 2011 people were claiming that comet Elenin was actually a brown dwarf that was going to destroy us that autumn and that its name was actually an acronym for "Extinction Level Event Nibiru Is Near," but that They were just covering it up for some reason.
  • The site treats others as if they're a single, monolithic entity operating on a hivemind - for example, if a liberal somewhere says something completely outrageous (EG, "Conservatives shouldn't be allowed to vote on anything!") they act as if all liberals everywhere must hold the same belief and go trumpeting about how they've "uncovered the secret liberal agenda" or such.
  • The site describes scenarios that sound like they're straight out of a Hollywood disaster, dystopia, or science fiction flick. If it sounds like something Roland Emmerich might make into a summer blockbuster, it's probably fake or the author really has no sense of how anything works.
  • It's implied or outright stated that the site's boogeyman/boogeymen of choice want to suppress or do away with the author's own group as soon as possible - for example, a site with heavy right-wing leanings claiming that conservative white middle-class-or-better Christians will soon be massively, drastically persecuted (for example, rounded up and stuck into concentration camps), or a site promulgating New Age or neopagan philosophies claiming that "the Vatican" is actively plotting some kind of neo-Inquisition.
  • The site cites ancient (or just old) beliefs and predictions (which may or may not be genuine ancient/old beliefs and predictions) as evidence for what it's trying to convince you of.
  • The site claims that a bunch of different ancient cultures all predicted the exact same event. (This is always based on gross misinterpretations, massive cherry picking, or even outright fabrications of ancient belief systems.)
  • Native Americans are invoked, period - eg, the site brings up an "old Hopi prophecy" or is run by a curiously pale/European-looking person claiming to be a real Native American insert-title-here.
  • For Internet videos: the video has background music that puts you into a nervous, tense, or anxious mood, eg, music similar to the background music in The X-Files or any Hollywood action/suspense scene. A spooky BGM is fine for pure entertainment, but not for anything trying to be academic or informative.

Further Reading

If you have the time, these are some excellent resources on spotting cranks and kooks for yourself:
Seven Warning Signs of Bogus Science
The Woo-Woo Credo
Propaganda and Debating Techniques

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