Conspiracy theory/Academic research

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Concept.png Conspiracy theory/Academic research
(Cover up,  deep state denialism)Rdf-icon.png
Like "terrorism research", this is long on assumptions and short on empirical investigation (especially of the historical record). It is part of a project to demonize any criticism of official narratives and promote deep state denialism.

The academic study of "conspiracy theories" is modern part of an larger project to undermine criticism of government. This has been ongoing since at least the 1960s when the CIA used its Operation Mockingbird to try to sure up the findings of the Warren Commission. The research makes some key (generally implicit) assumptions to try to equate suspicion of official narratives with mental illness and confine it to a small set of the population subject to repressive measures such as censorship.


Popularity

The first burst of research into "conspiracy theories" was in the 1990s.[citation needed] A 2018 paper reported that the "scientific study of belief in conspiracy theories has developed rapidly in the past decade."[1]

Official narrative

Western democracies may occasionally deceive people, but the existence of a "free press" makes it is impossible that this could be anything more than an isolated few bad apples. Widespread systemic corruption is unthinkable.

In the 21st century, increasing numbers of marginalised people are mistrustful of their "democratic" governments. They are "susceptible"[2] to material on the internet which advocates false and misleading "conspiracy theories", which are psychologically appealing even without credible evidence.

Academic study of the psychological flaws of "conspiracy theorists" could potentially help:-

  • Identify factors which psychologically predispose people to the deluded "conspiracy mindset";
  • "Inoculate" of such people against suspicion of official narratives;
  • Re-engage such people into the political process.
  • Automate "fact checking" to detect/remove incorrect or misleading material from the internet .

Assumptions

The academic study of "conspiracy theories" makes a range of often hidden assumptions, most importantly that these theories are incorrect and therefore pernicious. For example, a 2018 paper thated that “they are emotional given that negative emotions and not rational deliberations cause conspiracy beliefs... One limitation... is that the field is lacking a solid theoretical framework that contextualizes previous findings, that enables novel predictions, and that suggests interventions to reduce the prevalence of conspiracy theories in society.” [3]

The Third Rail

Academic research on "conspiracy theories" almost never[If ever?] reflects on the truth or falsehood of particular theories. While rare papers concede that conspiracies do happen and that theorising about them can assist correction of the historical record, the general pattern is to include under the label "conspiracy theory".

“Work in online misinformation details how alternative media intentionally fabricate conspiracy theories, spreading false allegations ranging from reptilian presidents to staged terrorist attacks” [4]

Historical inaccuracy

Research into "conspiracy theory" appears sometimes almost determinedly uninformed by historical research into conspiracies. The phrase "conspiracy theory" was launched in the 1960s by the CIA to try to undermine criticism of the Warren Commission's report.[5] Few [If any?] academics in the field have acknowledged this essential piece of background, an ommission indicative of either woeful ignorance or willful deception.


Minority status

Generally unspoken is the assumption that only a small minority subscribe to "conspiracy theories", notwithstanding evidence to the contrary. This is often implicit, as when Roland Imhoff and Pia Karoline Lamberty argue that “a small part in motivating the endorsement of such seemingly irrational beliefs is the desire to stick out from the crowd, the need for uniqueness” [6]. They state in their conclusion that “[Conspiracy beliefs] are — almost by definition — not shared by the majority of people.” [7] This compares with the majority of the US population believing that the JFK assassination was carried out by a conspiracy]], and a 2017 estimate of 60% of the US and UK population believing in at least one conspiracy theory.[8]

"Conspiratorial mindset"

Full article: Conspiratorial mindset

Most of the research papers presuppose the existence of a "conspiratorial mindset" which is predisposed to believe accusations of conspiracy. They then attempt to characterise it in some way.[6] This is often regarded as independent of the nature of the conspiracy.

Conspiracy research

It appears to be taboo for research into "conspiracy theory" to review the available evidence for such beliefs. There are however a few authors who have published academic papers which look at the evidence of conspiracies (for example Amy Baker Benjamin, Lance deHaven-Smith or Peter Dale Scott).

Projection

Full article: Conspiracy theories/Academic study/Projection

Cass Sunstein and Adrian Vermeule's work is an example of projection. It advocates "cognitive infiltration".[citation needed]

Purposes

The stigmatisation of those who doubt official pronouncements is accompanied by growing efforts to censor their self-expression on the internet.

Very little academic research about "conspiracy theories" considers the content, or makes more than a token reference to the fact that they are sometimes proven correct. A rare except to this a 2017 paper which, although concluding that "it is possible... that conspiracy belief is a self-defeating form of motivated social cognition", does note in passing that “history has repeatedly shown that corporate and political elites do conspire against public interests. Conspiracy theories play an important role in bringing their misdeeds into the light.” [4]



References