Perhaps the most contentious aspect of a conspiracy theory is the problem of settling a particular theory's truth to the satisfaction of both its proponents and its opponents. Particular accusations of conspiracy vary widely in their plausibility, but some common standards for assessing their likely truth value may be applied in each case:
- Occam's razor - does the alternative story explain more of the evidence than the mainstream story, or is it just a more complicated and therefore less useful explanation of the same evidence?
- Logic - do the proofs offered follow the rules of logic, or do they employ fallacies of logic?
- Methodology - are the proofs offered for the argument well constructed, i.e., using sound methodology? Is there any clear standard to determine what evidence would prove or disprove the theory?
- Whistleblowers - how many people – and what kind – have to be loyal conspirators? The more wide-ranging and pervasive the conspiracy is alleged to be, the greater the number of people would have to be involved in perpetrating it - is it credible that nobody involved has brought the affair to light?
- Falsifiability - would it be possible to determine whether specific claims of the theory are false, or are they "unfalsifiable"?
Noam Chomsky, an academic critical of the United States establishment, contrasts conspiracy theory as more or less the opposite of institutional analysis, which focuses mostly on the public, long-term behaviour of publicly known institutions, as recorded in, e.g. scholarly documents or mainstream media reports, rather than secretive coalitions of individuals.