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Moderator: Flyin'Dutch'

I want to discuss the psychology and Science surrounding conspiracy theories and will do so by citing some examples some of which are political or Brexit related. However, they are used merely as a springboard.... Please can we try not to get this thread locked by wandering back to our favourite subjects :-) Thanks.

So.... Brexit. Nearly all informed commentators believe that a no-deal Brexit will be very bad for the whole of the UK and NI in particular. The Government published a paper setting out those risks. Despite this, there are many people, some highly intelligent who simply deny any evidence put in front of them.

Similarly, Tommy Robinson was in the news yesterday. To some he's a far right extremist, but his followers refuse to believe that preferring to believe that any anti-Robinson comment is part of a greater conspiracy. Trump has a similar (in his case sizeable) devoted following that deny anything bad said about him.

Finally, despite overwhelming scientific evidence, there are still those who believe that vaccines contain mercury and are therefore poisonous, or cause autism (they don't.... that story was a demonstrable medical fraud) or are otherwise bad.

In all those cases, the evidence and science are clear and demonstrable, but the nay-sayers just flatly deny it. Consequently, throwing yet more evidence or science at them will have no effect.

So the question is, what do you do? I guess rather than a scientific or evidence based approach, we need to use a psychological approach. What approach might that be?

How do we do that when Twitter and Facebook (and other places) are allowing these people to stoke their own fires and confirm their (we would say) mistaken beliefs.
Reality is a illusion brought on by a lack of alcohol.

I once tried to help a woman who was struggling with her case on steps at Euston Station. She was grateful for a moment and then turned to me and said I was part of the conspiracy.

I wonder if other animals are constantly trying to interpret their world, and making mistakes in perception along the way, to the extent that we do. Maybe our lack of understanding of reality, and constant attempts at interpretation, is a core part of our humanity and of our ability to learn.
Flyin'Dutch' liked this
Real life is messy, scary and difficult to understand. Things don't go to plan. Believing that clever people are behind the scenes masterminding things; things that look messy and scary, is in an aarse about face kind of way, reassuring.
Similarly belief in aliens - they are cleverer than us, so will pull us out of the more.
JoeC, Flyin'Dutch' liked this
As lobstaboy says, it can be scary to admit that the universe is chaotic and that bad stuff just happens. It feels safer to believe that somebody is in control. That accounts for most conspiracy theories.

The OP is not really talking about conspiracy theories, though. What you're talking about is, I think, largely confirmation bias. Looking for information which matches the decision you've already made - particularly if you've committed to it publicly - and ignoring or rubbishing anything which does not fit.
I think there’s a lot of truth in that. Many debates follow exactly the same pattern as if you were to look at any “console war” discussion going back. 20+ years.

There seems to be a human search for a single truth for most situations when the world and life are far more complicated. It should be fine to say “we don’t know”, it’s not perfect but” and “let’s compromise”.

Maybe but feeling and belief lead us to a single view where rationality gives us shades and choices. To make a decision we all have the blend the two. The extent to which we do so depends on our personalities, experiences and the strengths of our beliefs. Evidence also forms a key part, but can often be overridden.

There’s a further factor - the ability to write off evidence and impact in favour of some wider goal that meets, sometimes unspoken, criteria. I think this latter one is part of the reason why people feel patronised or written off if given a an evidence-based counter student to their decision. They know the evidence, or at least that it exists,, but have rationalised it out of their decision process.

I enjoy debate as a learning process and because. It allows me to test my own views and also be educated in where they are wrong and where I am mistaken. It also helps me to understand and other people’s points of view - that is particularly important when big events are happening as it is part of a way of rationalising what I might see as negative consequences by understanding why they are happening or, even, why they may need to happen.

Debate can also give you a level of control where you might otherwise be helpless. It can enable you to make small decisions in your own life to prepare for the possibilities - or at least give the illusion of doing so!
JAFO liked this
I am not a psychologist, but I observe that most people seek simple understandable answers to the problems of the world. Those answers will usually reinforce existing prejudices or the desired model of their world. If bad things are happening some of this will be reinforced by the need for comfort through finding scapegoats.

As others have said if there's an inability or lack of inclination to analyse and understand properly in detail, then a conspiracy is an easy get out.

It's particularly interesting because in my experience cock up is more likely than conspiracy and things happen due to mistakes or neglect of action rather than because of orderly control.
JAFO liked this
spaughty wrote:Another problem is that official bodies are not always as rational as they should be. The sorry history of the American Heart Association and dietary cholesterol is an example, as reported by this US NIH document.

Could that be because science doesn't know everything and knowledge increases over time? ... holesterol

Back to conspiracy theories, I tripped over this since posting my OP. The mon landings are definitely a conspiracy theory across, and there's definitely peer pressure and confirmation bias involved. ... inds-82514
PaulB wrote:Could that be because science doesn't know everything and knowledge increases over time?

But that would be rational! These guys ignored the evidence for decades.

I think over-confident advice from expert bodies subverts their authority and feeds the scepticism of conspiracy theorists.
spaughty wrote:But that would be rational! These guys ignored the evidence for decades.

Says the paper written by the guy from the egg council? :-)
Sure, but the paper is on the NIH website, which is not best known for spreading medical conspiracy theories :-)

How exactly did the medical evidence differ between the US and the UK, who reacted much earlier?

Anyway, one example like this was just to illustrate the more general point, I think we have beaten this one to death!
I don't think most of the examples you mention are 'conspiracy theories'. They are beliefs and those such as yourself, who have a different set of beliefs are no more informed. You just think a different way.

If we are talking about real conspiracy theories such as fake moon landings, chemtrails and 9/11 didn't happen etc. then as said, people find comfort in the fact that they can blame any perceived shortcomings or lack of personal attainment on 'them' and the fact there is a hidden secretive element that works against them achieving more in life. This is why most of the theorists are 40+ year olds still living at home who spend most of their time on the computer in their bedroom.
Colonel Panic, JAFO liked this