Jim:

An outfit called "Public Policy Polling" took a poll earlier this month regarding 20 widespread and infamous conspiracy theories. Here's some of what they came up with:

1 37 percent of voters believe that global warming is a hoax. Fifty eight percent of Republicans believe this.

2. 21 percent believe a UFO crashed in Roswell, New Mexico, in 1947 and Uncle Sam covered it up.

3. 28 percent believe Saddam Hussein was involved in the 9/11 attacks, while 44 percent think that George W intentionally misled us about the existence of weapons of mass destruction in Iraq in 2003. 72 percent of Democrats believe he lied to us. Only 13 percent of Republicans think so. 11 percent believe the federal government allowed 9/11 to happen.

4. And - no surprise - 51 percent of all voters polled believe that John Fitzgerald Kennedy's assassination was the product of a larger conspiracy. Only one in four think Oswald acted alone.

I feel my age when I recall that the 50th anniversary of JFK's murder is looming in November. It's often said that, as with the 9/11 attacks, those Americans any older than infants at the time will always remember where they were, when they heard. I certainly can: St. Mary's Catholic School in Coaldale, where Marian High conducted its junior and senior classes up until the new central high building opened a year later. I guess I was a "Shallow Hal," because Kennedy's killing didn't cause me to cancel that night's hot date. But, when we went "parking" after the movie, Fran and I talked about the assassination. I didn't get any that night.

A half-century later, I'm planning a course on the assassination, called "Fiftieth Anniversary of JFK's Assassination: Whodunit?" The assigned, central text is "JFK and the Unspeakable: Why He Died and Why It Matters," published by a peace activist and writer named James W. Douglass in 2008.

In his preface, Douglass claims three out of four Americans believe conspirators killed Kennedy. Whether the right number is half or three quarters, a heck of a lot of us think something or someone much bigger than Lee Harvey Oswald whacked the President on November 22, 1963. Douglass agrees, laying the blame on the CIA.

In sharp contrast, just a year earlier, famous lawyer and best-selling author Vincent Bugliosi (of "Helter Skelter" fame) published his massive (1,600 pages) "Reclaiming History: The Assassination of President John F. Kennedy." He meticulously sifts through the evidence, the major conspiracy theories, and the tomes that espouse those theories. He firmly concludes that Lee Oswald acted alone. Agreeing that 75 percent of Americans buy into one or another conspiracy theory, Bugliosi's self-styled mission is to shift opinion. At 1,600 pages, his book could not have had many readers who made it all the way to the back cover. On the other hand, maybe the "mere" 50 percent in Public Policy Polling's study reflects some success for Bugliosi's one-man anti-conspiracy campaign.

My Fall 2013 course will try to lead 20-25 students through the maze, testing Douglass's theory by studying and discussing his arguments and his evidence. I'll let you know how my class breaks on the question at the end of 13 weeks of investigation.

Meanwhile, I've been hearing some talk of a new conspiracy theory: the Newtown shootings are a hoax concocted by Washington liberals to pass a gun-control law. Well, if so, that one sure hasn't worked.

Claire:

Yes, the Boston bombing conspiracy theorists have already reared their heads – on the Internet, of course. For better or for worse, we live in an age where anyone can post his boneheaded opinion online for the masses to discuss. Luckily, though, the Internet has also provided us with some tools for quickly and quietly debunking the most ridiculous theories. Some of these include:

1. The bomb squad knew of the attack in advance, and carried it out as a false flag operation in order to achieve political goals.

2. Someone made a Facebook page about the bombing before it occurred.

3. Deceased Sandy Hook principal was seen at the site of the bombing.

4. The Tsarnaev brothers were double agents hired by the U.S. who went rogue.

If these theories don't immediately ring false to you, you need only do a few minutes of digging online in order to debunk them yourself. The "false flag operation" was actually a bomb drill that happened to coincide with the real bombing. The "prophetic Facebook page" can be chalked up to the fact that any page name can be changed after it's been created, and thus there's no way to prove that the page had anything to do with the Boston bombing on the day it was made. As for the alleged sighting of the Sandy Hook principal who died months earlier defending her students? I only feel sorry that her name has been unconscionably dragged through this mess.

But you get my point: bad information disseminates and dissipates a lot more quickly with the Internet at our constant disposal. For every halfwit spouting off the latest theory, there are several other, more rational people pointing out the flaws in that theory. It's a curse and a blessing – much like anything else on the Internet.