Conspiracy Theorists Respond to Evidence They're Conspiracy Theorists With More Conspiracy Theories

This is a partial re-post from The Huffington Post.  For the full article, click the link below.

In 2012, cognitive scientist Stephan Lewandowsky and his colleagues surveyed more than 1,000 climate blog readers and observed a link between science denial and conspiracy theorizing. People who denied scientific propositions such as the link between AIDS and HIV or climate change and human activity were more likely to subscribe to conspiracy theories like Princess Diana was murdered or AIDS was created by the government. How did climate deniers respond to evidence associating science denial with conspiracy theorizing? With more conspiracy theories, of course!

The conspiracy theories directed toward the "moon landing paper" began small-scale, but grew in scope and intricacy. Now to social scientists, such a public response can mean only one thing. Data! I collaborated with Lewandowsky in documenting the various conspiracy theories and tracking their evolution over time. The analysis has now been published in the paper "Recursive fury: Conspiracist ideation in the blogosphere in response to research on conspiracist ideation."

Conspiracy theorists exhibit a number of tell-tale characteristics. Almost ubiquitous is the accusation of nefarious intent. After all, people never conspire with benevolent intent (unless planning a surprise party). One theory promoted by climate deniers focused on the experiment design used for the "moon landing paper." The scientists emailed survey invitations to a range of climate blogs -- some endorsing the scientific consensus that humans are causing global warming and others denying the consensus.

Climate deniers accused the scientists of lying about contacting denial blogs. A flood of bloggers came forward to say they hadn't received the invitation. Amusingly, five of those bloggers were the five who had actually been contacted. Irony overload was reached when one of those contacted went so far as to provide the email address of the lead author's university, encouraging readers to send allegations of misconduct.

Another trait of conspiracy theorists is the mentality that "something must be wrong." If a theory is shown to be demonstrably false, the conspiracy theorist can smoothly shift to another theory while maintaining an unshaken belief that "the official account must be wrong." After the names of the five contacted bloggers were released, conspiracy theorists transitioned to a spin-off theory: "obviously they never intended for the skeptic blogs to respond." New theory, same accusation of nefarious intent.

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Posted by John Cook on Tuesday, 26 February, 2013

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