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Conspiracy theories: From the Stuff We Sort of Knew desk

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File:A small cup of coffee.JPG But never realized it was science.

At PNAS Science:

The research indicates that people who hold more extreme political beliefs are more likely to believe in a conspiracy theory than those with more moderate stances. The scientists suggest that, for some, believing in conspiracy theories is easier than accepting a complex and nuanced version of reality.

Sure. Twenty years ago, a beer company that advertised on the Toronto transit system thought their customers should award themselves a beer just because they did NOT claim to have seen Elvis in a donut shop. The ad featured such an awful ceramic bust of Elvis, I have to say, I had not seen the like in the previous thirty years, not since the cigar store in a small Ontario town closed.

This one isn’t nearly as bad as theirs, and could be worth the money to someone who cares.

But when—just curious—did plain common sense start having to be dressed up as science? Who do we think believes in conspiracy theories?

Note: Yes, there are real conspiracies out there, but they are typically small and short-lived, like 9-11 (the conspirators almost all died, right?). Once people are talking about a vast left-wing conspiracy or vast right-wing conspiracy, pardon me, they sound off their respective nuts. They have mistaken possible confluence of interests for secret plots, and it might make a B movie but …

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15 Replies to “Conspiracy theories: From the Stuff We Sort of Knew desk

  1. 1

    Look, just because you don’t believe in conspiracy theories doesn’t make you smart. Calling something a conspiracy doesn’t make it less true. Just because you are paranoid doesn’t mean that they aren’t out to get you.

    This whole business of belittling the opposition by calling them a conspiracy is really just another version of ad hominem. Why not just itemize all the hypotheses in a purported conspiracy theory, and compare it to the number of hypotheses in the non-conspiracy theory, and then invoke Occam’s razor. Surely this can be done without calling each other names. The vast number of conspiracy theories I’ve heard have an inordinate number of hypotheses in them, which make them easy targets for William of Ockham.

  2. 2
    News says:

    Agreed, Robert Sheldon at 1! It could be a conspiracy. But the formula I find most useful (possibly, you have used it too) is: Drop everything from consideration that *would just happen anyway*. For example:

    = Almost all local used car dealerships want to get used cars off the lot at a price that enables them to stay in business

    = The public is willing to buy used cars, but is not fond of being taken advantage of

    = The local government consists largely of people who like to grandstand, to demonstrate their usefulness, but it is not otherwise very dangerous, or not intentionally so

    So, correctly (I hope!) invoking the memory of William of Ockham, I would say to someone who thought there was some conspiracy involved with law reform proposals: Prove to me that it would not have happened this way anyway, given the actors involved?

    To identify a conspiracy, I would need evidence of a higher level of organization of actors and events than would have just happened anyway, due to the recognition of a confluence of interests.

    Note: I did not say, due to chance, but due to the recognition of a confluence of interests. That raises the bar a bit.

  3. 3
    News says:

    A friend who can’t remember his sign-in name asked me to post this for him:

    Recently we have been looking for top-down conspiracies among Muslims in Europe. The question is being asked: Did X, Y and Z take orders from someone in Yemen/Saudi Arabia/Isis take your pick.

    But maybe they just did it on their own. That makes them more dangerous, surely. Not less.

    My response: Confluence of interests and beliefs is always a more serious matter than conspiracy, precisely because it does not need to be organized in any laborious way. If a large number of men in a given culture cannot imagine women or non-members of their religion having civil liberties, they will batter or kill these types of people without anyone organizing them from some sort of command post. It’s just what they would naturally do.

  4. 4
    Axel says:

    As Hilary said, it was a Republican coalition against Bill, rather than a conspiracy.

    When you are that powerful, you don’t need to be particularly covert.

    Incidentally, from the reviews of the smash, box-office hit, American Sniper, I gather it was an impressive showcase of that fabled, finely-calibrated, moral compass of Republican values.

    If I had to make one criticism, it would be that if black hats and white hats had been worn by the respective combatants, it would have enhanced the already elevated level of sophistication of the film even more. It’s an imperfect world. How Maggie Thatcher, Baroness, Lady Sparta and Cardboard, would have loved to have played a hand in it!

    Funny thing is, I lap up Clint’s spaghetti westerns! But then, they’re parabolical, rather than diabolical, and Leone was a genius.

  5. 5
    velikovskys says:

    Axel :
    Incidentally, from the reviews of the smash, box-office hit, American Sniper, I gather it was an impressive showcase of that fabled, finely-calibrated, moral compass of Republican values.

    Everyone loves the story arc of hero having to overcome obstacles,revenge, Bradley Cooper without a shirt and a tragic ending.

    If I had to make one criticism, it would be that if black hats and white hats had been worn by the respective combatants, it would have enhanced the already elevated level of sophistication of the film even more

    If you want subtlety perhaps you should try ” The Green Berets”,

    Funny thing is, I lap up Clint’s spaghetti westerns! But then, they’re parabolical, rather than diabolical, and Leone was a genius

    Horses and Morricone always make it a better movie, but best Leone is without Clint, ” Once Upon A Time In The West” and ” My Name Is Nobody”

  6. 6
    Learned Hand says:

    But when—just curious—did plain common sense start having to be dressed up as science?

    That’s one of the purposes of science, isn’t it? It’s easy to believe something because it’s “common sense,” but at some point we should probably test it and see if it’s actually true. That’s going to result in unexciting research that confirms what we all believed anyway, but it’s an important part of making sure we’re disproving common-sense claims that aren’t actually true.

    For example, in another thread I just posted some research showing that there’s no particular connection between anti-vaccine beliefs and political affiliation or beliefs about evolution or climate change, which is contrary to at least two “common sense” beliefs (since people on both sides of the aisle tend to ascribe anti-vax beliefs to the other side).

    Yes, there are real conspiracies out there, but they are typically small and short-lived, like 9-11 (the conspirators almost all died, right?). Once people are talking about a vast left-wing conspiracy or vast right-wing conspiracy, pardon me, they sound off their respective nuts. They have mistaken possible confluence of interests for secret plots, and it might make a B movie but …

    Agreed on all points.

  7. 7
    Axel says:

    Thanks for the tips, Vel. God’s a strangely human, uber human, chap, isn’t he ? Imagine Him getting Leone and Morricone together for those films – my favourite is For A Few Dollars More.

    I’ve had that YouTube film of One Upon A Time in the West on my Favourites for a long time, but never got round to watching it. Must do so now, though I can’t imagine that Terry character or Charles Bronson being better than Clint, though. Though Bronson was good in the clip I saw at the railway stop in the wilds, playing his mouth-organ! Then shooting all the villains – who were obviously up to no good – deeeed!

    Another hilarious scene was when Monco told the chief baddy with the price on his head, flanked all around by his men, to deal him a hand of poker – which they were playing. Mysteriously, he did and then dealt him some more and, while the head villain ended up with a running flush, Monco had five aces or something crazy like that!

    Apparently, Henry Fonda was cast against type for Once upon a Time in the West, but one of the joys of the classical Leone Spaghetti Western trilogy was the hilariously over-the-top type-casting. Especially, for instance, of the barber in one of them. And of course, ‘Angel Eyes’ Lee Van Cleef!

    Then there was the inbred-looking peasant in that hamlet, Agua Caliente, when Monco shot the apples from the tree. I thought Agua Caliente (Hot Water) was a hilariously made-up name, but apparently there is a place with that name, I think in Mexico. Even Agua Fria!

    God also seems to take a keen interest in sports, particularly at the highest levels : the Grand National, Cup Finals (soccer), etc. A lot of ‘fairy-story’ kinds of results.

  8. 8
    Jerad says:

    Velikovskys 5

    Horses and Morricone always make it a better movie, but best Leone is without Clint, ” Once Upon A Time In The West” and ” My Name Is Nobody”

    My Name is Nobody is brilliant although Leone only directed a couple of scenes. But he was the main creative force behind the film. Highly recommended, especially the closing monologue.

  9. 9
    Axel says:

    With both of you recommending it, I must watch that one, too.

  10. 10
    Learned Hand says:

    If you were going to start someone off with their first Western on Netflix or Amazon streaming, what would you pick?

  11. 11
    Jerad says:

    Learned Hand #10

    If you were going to start someone off with their first Western on Netflix or Amazon streaming, what would you pick?

    High Noon? Stagecoach? Shane? Later I’d go for films like The Shootist, The Wild Bunch, Unforgiven, For a Fistful of Dollars, Cat Ballou,

    I do like the funny ones: They Call Me Trinity, Support Your Local Gunfighter, Dirty Dingus McGee, etc.

  12. 12
    kairosfocus says:

    News, I more believe in agendas, marches of folly — in my more cynical moments, too much of history fits that — ideological blindness, incompetence, plato’s cave conventional wisdom, a dash or two of ill will and incompetence, and the like. But, there ARE conspiracies out there . . . if it succeed, none dare call it treason. KF

    PS: Axel, where I hail from, there is a gimme me bit, a look behind, even a porus [= poor us]. And here I used to live in Trials. There’s no accounting for unusual place names.

  13. 13
    velikovskys says:

    Lh:

    If you were going to start someone off with their first Western on Netflix or Amazon streaming, what would you pick?

    Easy, The Searchers. You have Monument Valley and John Wayne and directed by John Ford

  14. 14
    velikovskys says:

    Axel:
    Thanks for the tips, Vel. God’s a strangely human, uber human, chap, isn’t he ?

    Too convenient for my taste

    Imagine Him getting Leone and Morricone together for those films

    I find a thirty year old Claudia Cardinale to be a greater accomplishment

    I’ve had that YouTube film of One Upon A Time in the West on my Favourites for a long time, but never got round to watching it.

    For both movies be sure to watch the full version, both movies have terrible shortened versions.

  15. 15
    LauraKnight says:

    If our brains are “wired” to see patterns, then it should not be surprised that we create conspiracies to make sense of the world even if they do not exist in reality. This also demonstrates how trust once lost may never be restored. The lies put out by governments lead to doubt about any of their pronouncements. Plus, there may well be conspiracies out there. Thanks, Laura the direct lender offering online loans.

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