I originally asked this on Facebook: What's so terrible about conspiracy theories?

I think I can now elaborate a little. I had always taken the term "conspiracy theory" to mean "the idea that a particular set of observed results is best explained as the result of a conspiracy of some kind".

I have also seen it used to mean "any event-explaining hypothesis which differs in significant ways from an official explanation of that same event".

What I'm hearing, though, is that the popular understanding of the term might mean something more like "a theory that the world is controlled by some group about whom very little is known and for which there is very little conclusive evidence".

If that is how most people understand the term, then (1) I can understand the avoidance, and (2) what the heck do we call either of the first two things?
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