Thursday, May 23, 2013

Why Rational People Buy Into (read: create) Conspiracy Theories

I haven't talked about it much here, but I spent last semester teaching the first edition of a class on the theme of distrust in communication, about half of which dealt with conspiracy theory.  One of the biggest misperceptions about conspiracy theory (including in some scholarly literature) is that it's the realm of deluded idiots.  In fact, it's more accurate to say conspiracy theory appeals mostly to people with a moderately sophisticated skepticism, but without either the training in citation and information management to find reliable alternative sources, or perhaps even without the basic faith that there is such a thing as 'the truth.'

The New York Times explores these issues in a new blog post from Maggie Koerth-Baker.  The comments section is well worth scanning - not a single one of the first dozen responses comes down on the side of information-based rationalism.  They all defend conspiracism as somehow a positive model for 'questions that need to be asked.'  Or they say that left-wing conspiracism are okay, it's right-wing conspiracies that are harming democracy.  It's really mind-boggling and scary that this is the audience for the New York Times.

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