From the moment Neil Armstrong took his one small step for [a] man in 1969, a small faction has claimed the moon landing was faked. An Oxford University physicist is looking to put the kibosh on the conspiracy theory once and for all with a simple mathematical equation that calculates how many people need to keep mum to maintain a cover-up over time. 

David Robert Grimes developed a way to calculate the viability of a given conspiracy theory based on how many people are necessarily involved in a supposed cover-up. He looked at theories surrounding climate change, vaccinations, NASA’s moon landing, and the idea that there's a cure for cancer being hidden from the public by pharmaceutical companies. His study was published last week in PLOS One.

The main takeaway is an obvious one: The more people involved in a plot, the quicker it’ll get out. According to The Telegraph, "For a plot to last five years, the maximum number of plotters turned out to be 2521. To keep a scheme operating undetected for more than a decade, fewer than 1000 people could be involved, while a century-long deception had to include fewer than 125 collaborators."

If NASA had indeed faked the moon landing, around 411,000 people would have had to keep tight-lipped about it, and as such, the secret would have gotten out in under four years, according to Grimes's formula. A climate change conspiracy would require about 405,000 individuals plotting together and similarly would have been exposed long ago.

The equation takes into account not only the number of conspirators, but also the nature of the betrayal: Does it involve simply silence or continual maintenance? Grimes also considered the lifespan of those involved (and whether they’d die from old age or something more nefarious). In each case, Grimes overestimated to achieve odds that were a "best case scenario" for the schemes—around a four in 1 million chance of a purposeful or accidental revelation.

In a release, Grimes said: "This will of course not convince everyone; there's ample evidence that belief in conspiracy is often ideological rather than rational, and that conspiracy theories thrive in an echo chamber. This makes challenging the more odious narratives much more difficult. If we are to address the multitudinous difficulties facing us as a species, from climate change to geopolitics, then we need to embrace reality over ideologically motivated fictions.”

[h/t The Telegraph]