Saturday, 8 September 2018

Conspiracy Theorists LESS Sane than Average

In 2014 I wrote an article entitled Conspiracy Theorists more Sane than Average because of a study done by a research psychologist called Prof. Karen Douglas. It appeared to come up with the amazing conclusion that conspiracy theorists are more logical and reasonable than skeptics in online debate, see: I met Prof. Douglas at the ASSAP Serious Suspicious conference in 2016 and she told me that there was indeed more aggression in the tone of 9/11 official story believers than conspiracists, see: However I met her again last Tuesday at Greenwich Skeptics in the Pub, see here for my HPANWO TV reportage: This time she told me it was actually not the case that conspiracists were more rational. She pointed me to the results of research carried out by, a skeptic website that fact checks urban legends. They mention a conspiracy theory website that drew a "series of baseless or incorrect conclusions from a study that looked at the online comments of 9/11 truthers." I wondered in they meant HPANWO, but they were actually referring to Natural News. They say that the claim made by Natural News, and myself, is based on a flawed interpretation of the evidence. The full conclusion of Prof. Douglas' study reads thus:
1. We found that conspiracist commenters were more likely to argue against the opposing interpretation and less likely to argue in favour of their own interpretation, while the opposite was true of conventionalist commenters.
2. Conspiracist comments were more likely to explicitly put forward an account than conventionalist comments were.
3. Conspiracists were more likely to express mistrust and made more positive and fewer negative references to other conspiracy theories.
4. Conspiracists were largely unwilling to apply the "conspiracy theory" label to their own beliefs and objected when others did so, lending support to the long-held suggestion that conspiracy belief carries a social stigma.
5. Conventionalist arguments tended to have a more hostile tone.
We had therefore taken number 5 on its own and assumed a hostile tone always comes from somebody lower on the sanity scale. Source:

Obviously we did misunderstand what was implied by Prof. Douglas' study; however Snopes is being premature in their celebration of avoiding what they call "a rather harrowing notion". Firstly, a project I've spoken about before by Gallup indicates that when taken as a whole conspiratorial ideas are held by a large proportion of the population. In the case of the Kennedy assassination we are the majority. As for the others; we are a minority, but a fairly sizable one. This means that hardcore firebrands like me are actually a very small vocal tip of a huge silent iceberg. Number 1 is not the case in my experience; for example Dr Judy Wood has put forward an entire account of how the World Trade Centre was destroyed, see: Number 2 sounds like a contradiction to number 1. Number 3 is what you would expect with what Michael Barkun calls "the Cultic Milieu", and I don't deny that, see: Prof. Douglas made a similar point in Greenwich; that if you believe 9/11 was an inside job you're more likely to believe in ghosts and UFO's etc. I obviously do not go along with number 4, even though I'm aware that the term has been used as a stick to beat us with; it is still factually true. My own experience of online debates is that they tend to be brutal and usually involve very scathing personal criticism. This can escalate into abusive attacks and threats. I see the skeptic side as being the worst, but that might be because it's the side for which I am a target. I know my own side can almost as bad, or even equally so. Facts are the key here and evidence is what matters; I make this point in my HPANWO TV reportage above. Are the things conspiracy theorists say true or false? Prof. Douglas regards this as outside her remit, but if any conspiracy theories are proven true, and many many have been verified in the past, then would she switch her research to social psychological studies of skeptics?


Anonymous said...

I think it's much simpler than it's made out to be, people (from all sides) interpret anything in a way that bolsters their own world view, once they confirm their world view the ego steps in to protect it. Those who have - for one reason or another - had at least one road to damascus moment are much more likely to deal with cognative dissonence in a posative way, holding two or more possibilities until further research makes one possibility the most likely.

Saying that I see just as may researchers on each side perform their research in such a way that it's an exercise in confirmation bias. It's not surprising skeptics do this, their whole thing is about protecting a certain world view, but too many alt researchers (considering they must have had at least one Damascus moment) suffer from confirmation bias too, as evidenced by the many ego driven fallings out.

I very much doubt Prof. Douglas is as firmly on the fence as she claims to be regarding 'conspiracies', how can one study the people saying something without taking in anything they actually said? Her cognative dissonence shines through her subjective conclusions IMO, but then, her whole field of study is subjective so it's not really surprising.

Maybe we all lack the level of empathy required to really put ourselves in anothers shoes and view a particular subject from their perspective, maybe it's just that it takes so long to research a given subject to the required depth (while fighting our own cognative bias) it is too difficult to focus on the exact same evidence without coming to a conclusion before an argument erupts. PP.

Ben Emlyn-Jones said...

Interesting comment, PP. Thanks. No doubt Prof. D would deny what you said. I've heard it said from several people in the scientific community that psychology is a pseudoscience. I think that's not fair, but it is certainly not an exact science. The same parameters may act very differently on different people, as opposed to, say in chemisty where every drop of water on earth boils at 100 degrees. What psychology definitely is, is a terrible weapon. Not that Prof. Douglas is using it as such, but there are many others who do.

Anonymous said...

Water does not always boil at 100 degrees Celsius it depends on atmospheric pressure. Liquid boils at temperature when partial pressure of liquid becomes equal to atmospheric pressure.

Ben Emlyn-Jones said...

Point taken, Einstein. I should have added "at sea level pressure". It's amusing to read the complaints from tourists about catering in high altitude ski resorts: "The tea was cold!" When you're that high up there is no way to get it any hotter.

Anonymous said...

People argue against the official 9/11 story because it's largely open to interpretation how it was done & all you can say as a fact is it was done. People who believe the official story. Can argue their own case because they think they've got all the facts. That doesn't make them more sane or less aggressive.

Ben Emlyn-Jones said...

Anon, we DO know how at least part of the 9/11 attacks were done. I know there are other factors, but I do find levels of aggression are inversely proportional to the solidity of one's argument. As Socrates said: "When the debate is lost, slander becomes the weapon of the looser."