Oct 24 2016

The Conspiracy Theory Label

As skeptics we apply various labels to certain kinds of intellectual behavior. Perhaps the big three are pseudoscience, conspiracy theory, and denialism. There are many specific subtypes of these three big categories, however. Quackery, for example, is medical pseudoscience. Tooth Fairy science, a term coined by Harriet Hall on SBM, refers to a certain type of crank pseudoscience in which many studies are done but they never challenge the core assumption of a claim.

These terms are useful because they have operational definitions. One of my first major pieces of skeptical writing was a dissection of exactly what makes a pseudoscience, and I have spent the last 20 years refining my understanding of this definition. I have done the same for denialism and conspiracy thinking. These are actual phenomena that need to be understood by any critical thinker. They are, I would argue, legitimate philosophical concepts.

Like all philosophical concepts, they often get abused when translated into the popular culture. What I have found is that these terms are mostly properly understood and used by those trying to be genuinely skeptical. There are varying levels of nuance, and all of these concepts are fuzzy around the edges, but in general people get what a conspiracy theory is, and when someone is denying established science.

Problems arise mainly with those who are the target of these labels – with those who believe in a particular pseudoscience or conspiracy theory or engage in denialism. They bristle at the application of these concepts to their beliefs, and often push back.

Their pushback takes a few forms. They of course can simply deny the specific accusation, and argue that creationism is legitimate science, or that global warming denial is just proper skepticism. Conspiracy theorists are fond of arguing that some conspiracies are demonstrably real, and therefore all conspiracy theories are somehow legitimate or at least plausible. This argument misses the point that it is the necessary size of an alleged conspiracy that makes it implausible.

Another strategy, however, is to go at the root concept, to deny that pseudoscience, conspiracy theories, or denialism even exist. They argue that these terms were invented by skeptics as pejorative labels to dismiss ideas they don’t like out of hand. In order to defend this position, however, they have to invent and attack skeptical straw men. If you read popular skeptical writing you will find that most thoughtful skeptics do not reject ideas out of hand, but go into great detail about exactly why a particular claim is not backed by credible science.

It is, in fact, often ironic that proponents of pseudoscience are often dismissive of skeptical arguments when they claim that skeptics are being dismissive. They often fail to address the details and meat of our analysis and the basis for our position.

For longer discussions of why these concepts are valid read the articles linked above, but here is a quick summary:

Pseudoscience is a process of supporting a particular claim that pretends to be scientific but is not being true to a valid scientific process. The core feature of pseudoscience is that it begins with a desired conclusion, and then works backwards to seek any supporting evidence. It relies upon poor scientific methodology, special pleading, cherry picking only supportive evidence, and making claims that go far beyond the evidence.

Conspiracy thinking uses the alleged existence of a conspiracy to explain the absence of evidence for a claim, and the existence of apparently contradictory evidence. In the extreme there is nothing that can, even in theory, disprove the conspiracy theory. In order to accomplish this, the conspiracy has to become larger and deeper with each new bit of contrary evidence that has to be explained away. Further, the conspirators need to be given incredible power, influence, and foresight in order to pull off the conspiracy, but also blatant stupidity to allow the conspiracy theorists to see through their machinations. Everyone who does not agree with them is dismissed as naive, or part of the conspiracy.

Denialism is the flip side of pseudoscience, where similar techniques are used to deny established science rather than promote a specific claim. They also begin with their conclusion, and engage in cherry picking, post-hoc reasoning, and special pleading. They rely heavily on the fallacy of moving the goalposts – no evidence is sufficient to convince them of the scientific claim they deny, so they keep moving the bar for what constitutes sufficient evidence.

When skeptics and scientists spend their time examining a belief, concluding that it is a pseudoscience of some sort, and then carefully arguing why they came to this conclusion, believers will often claim that they are being mean-spirited and closed-minded. They use as evidence for this characterization the mere fact that the skeptic applied some pseudoscience label to the belief, as if using such concepts is inherently biased.

Believers argue that by applying the label “conspiracy theory,” for example, people will be immediately prejudiced against it. Even if this were true, I find that argument irrelevant. You should be skeptical of something that can be legitimately labeled a pseudoscience or denialism, as long as that label is justified by detailed arguments. The label helps understand what is happening as part of a recurring phenomenon. There are commonalities among pseudosciences or conspiracy theories that justify lumping them under one conceptual label.

Further, the claim of prejudice may not even be true. A recent study looked at the effect of labeling a claim a “conspiracy theory” vs just calling it an “idea” or a “corruption allegation.” They found no difference is acceptance of the claim regardless of the label. The “conspiracy theory” label had no negative effect on the attitude of the participants toward the claims.

The authors speculate that this may be due to the fact that the conspiracy theory label has been used so much that its effect is diluted. The label itself is applied to even mundane accusations of corruption, and not reserved for the grand conspiracy theories that skeptics mean.

It also may be that enough people read the details of the claims and decide for themselves if they constitute a conspiracy theory or not. That may be overly optimistic, but I don’t think so. People are used to reading all sorts of claims on the internet, and most people do treat such claims as they would those of a used-car salesman. Yes, some people are just credulous, but I think most people are suspicious of claims they read on the internet.

That is – unless those claims are in line with their existing beliefs and ideology. That is what the psychological research shows – people are generally skeptical of claims unless those claims support their existing beliefs. The more emotionally invested they are in those beliefs, the more they engage in motivated reasoning to support them, to deny evidence, to accept pseudoscience, and to engage in conspiracy thinking.

What is perhaps even more interesting, is that there are subsets of people for whom each of these phenomena are their belief system. People tend to accept conspiracy theories whey they are in line with their political ideology, for example. If you are conservative you are much more likely to accept that global warming is a hoax. If you have an anti-corporate or anti-government ideology, you are more likely to deny the science of GM foods and believe that scientists are part of a conspiracy.

But if you are a conspiracy theorist, if the existence of conspiracies is your ideology, then you believe all conspiracies.

Likewise there seem to be those who like to deny all conventional science. They fancy themselves skeptics but they are really contrarians engaged in denialism.

There are also those whose ideology is anti-scientific, who reject that science can distinguish among claims that are likely to be true or not be true, and so routinely accept any pseudoscience.

Most people, however, are opportunistic pseudoscientists, deniers, and conspiracy theorists. They engage in such thinking when convenient in order to maintain their ideological belief systems.

And of course, being a true skeptic means understanding the nature of pseudoscience, of denialism and of conspiracy thinking. It means being vigilant for these cognitive pitfalls in your own thinking, and weeding them out as much as possible. It means trying really hard to accept what the science says, regardless of the implications for your existing beliefs.

Skepticism is a real thing also. It is a valid philosophical concept, and it is the antidote to pseudoscience, denialism, and conspiracy thinking.

32 responses so far

32 Responses to “The Conspiracy Theory Label”

  1. chikoppion 24 Oct 2016 at 9:15 am

    Pfft! You would say that. You’re clearly in the pocket of ‘big skepticism.’ Anyway, there’s no such thing as conspiracy theories. These are all just false-flag propaganda operations perpetrated by the neo-literati to distract sheeple from the plot to do the thing. Obviously!

  2. MaryMon 24 Oct 2016 at 9:40 am

    I do sometimes use the term “conspiracy theory” as shorthand, to describe the sort of fill-in-the-gaps leaps of logic that people take on stuff like vaccines and GMOs. But it’s not so much an overt conspiracy but the vague idea that “they are hiding the real data and harm”. Or the kinds of bizarre threads that someone like Stephanie Seneff constructs from random scientific literature to make a case that looks superficially like science to people who don’t know better. Looking at the definitions though–Seneff’s case fits all of the them: pseudoscience, conspiracy thinking, and denialism of the actual science.

    “Conspiracy thinking” is probably a better way to describe that. Putting all of that in a tweet is too hard, though.

  3. NotAMarsupialon 24 Oct 2016 at 10:13 am

    MaryM, I’m curious why you wouldn’t consider the “hiding the real data and harm” of GMOs and vaccines” an overt conspiracy. I suppose if it goes no further than that one statement it would be in a bit of a grey area, but any question posed from that point on would have to draw in some sort of conspiracy. “Why are they hiding the data?” “What do they have to benefit in hiding the data?” “Who are the ‘they’ that you speak of?” “Why are they allowing people to be hurt?” The answer to those questions quickly turns scientists into some sort of moustache twirling pantomime villain tying a maiden to train tracks.

  4. Ivan Groznyon 24 Oct 2016 at 10:14 am

    It’s a bit ironic that Steve Novella’s “scepticism” for the most part amounts to attacking scepticism, i.e. defending whatever he thinks is the “established science”, irrespective of the level of certainty and quality of research on which the current consensus is based.

    Of course, sometimes this is justified, sometimes it is not, depending on the character of the science in question, so no general template is useful here. In hard sciences such as chemistry, medical science, biology, let alone physics or pure mathematics, most of the claims peddled by “mavericks” are simply nonsense. Yet, in “soft sciences” such as economics, political science, psychology and also climate “science” very often the mavericks are right. I can assure you that this has historically been the case in economics. In climate “science” it’s even worse because the basic claims about what constitutes the scientific consensus are very unclear or dubious: what is usually marketed as such, including Novella, is either trivially true so everyone agrees, “sceptic” or not (eg. ”CO2 is a greenhouse gas causing global warming”) or is speculative and very poorly defined, or includes a real salad of scientific truths (more often half-truths and falsehoods) and normative and ideological judgements smuggled as scientific statements (“climate change is a planetary crisis- 97%, 99%, 103% of scientists agree”).

    The very terms Novella uses are typical psychobabble and invoke scepticism, rather than reassuring: it could not be simply that some people are wrong or ignorant about this or that: they have always to be “in denial” or to spread “conspiracy theories”. They are always dangerous and very active villains trying to subvert the fragile edifice of Science…And here comes Steve Novella and his fellow Sceptics, the High Priests of Divine Science (sorry for mixing the metaphors) to stamp out the Devil in the forms of Denial and Conspiracy Theorising. It does not look good, it looks rather silly…

  5. Steven Novellaon 24 Oct 2016 at 10:19 am

    Mary – I could have made this more explicit, but the three general categories are not mutually exclusive. People often use conspiracy theories and pseudoscience in order to deny established science, for example.

    Ivan – thanks for your timely straw man absurd characterization of skepticism and my own positions, combined with a general contrarion position, to nicely demonstrate exactly what I was discussing above.

  6. Ivan Groznyon 24 Oct 2016 at 10:23 am

    Steve, you forgot to include at least one Latin phrase for “logical fallacies” I committed. “Straw man” sucks, it’s too prosaic 🙂

  7. ccbowerson 24 Oct 2016 at 10:29 am

    And HN should be here any moment now to one-up Ivan on being a contrarian that fancies himself as a true skeptic, but is just blind to his own motivated reasoning.

  8. steve12on 24 Oct 2016 at 10:31 am

    Oh, Ivan…

    “Of course, sometimes this is justified, sometimes it is not” depending on whether it conforms to Ivan’s libertarian philosophy.

    That’s the world I wanna live in. Not one based on reason and empricism, but one where what is allowed to exist or not has to be consistent with some idealist’s conception of how the world OUGHT to work.

    Enlightening stuff….

  9. steve12on 24 Oct 2016 at 10:41 am

    It’s funny too because I’d been going back and forth w/ Jill Stein supporters this weekend who commit all the same errors as Ivan but for their pet issues: GMOs, cell phones causing cancer, and vaccines. (Stein’s take on vaccines is debated precisely because she’s purposefully vague on the issue).

    Same nonsense. My lefty political philosophy says X, so X has to be true. Science be damned.

    I asked them why the accept the scientific consensus on climate change but not GMO when realistically they don’t understand either sufficiently to have their own opinion mean anything.

    The best part: their answers are exactly the same as Ivan’s. The difference b/w Ivan and a communist is just about 0.

    They get so bent out of shape when you tell them that 🙂

  10. MaryMon 24 Oct 2016 at 11:06 am

    @NotAMarsupial: in my experience, that vague claim is as far as it goes. Occasionally a specific set of actors is named–like the CDC folks in the Vaxxed drama. But typically there’s only handwaving around Big Pharma or Big Food. These are vague bogey-man ideas rather than some kind of coordinated data hiding like the Vaxxed sort of claim. It’s hard to call it a conspiracy of human individuals. It’s more of a gestalt.

  11. MosBenon 24 Oct 2016 at 2:09 pm

    Steve, could you elaborate on the distinction you’re making between “mundane corruption” and conspiracy theories? Coming at this from the perspective of an attorney, it seems like any agreement between parties to engage in corruption would seem to fit the definition of conspiracy, but again, I might be using my lawyer brain too much on that one. Thanks in advance for any extrapolation that you provide.

  12. Damloweton 24 Oct 2016 at 3:10 pm

    @Ivan

    “It’s a bit ironic that Steve Novella’s “scepticism” for the most part amounts to attacking scepticism, i.e. defending whatever he thinks is the “established science”, irrespective of the level of certainty and quality of research on which the current consensus is based.”

    At some point Ivan, (as The true sceptic that you are) you will probably have to ask your self (as a proper sceptic would) why do ‘I’ generally disagree with everything a well versed skeptic (Steve Novella) actually says about skepticisim?
    If you were to address this legitimate conflict, you should probably come to assumption that you have a skewed understanding of what being a skeptic actually is, and not a chricature that you have assembled in your own mind.
    Have another read of the above including the more detailed links and TRY to find yourself described in the text.

    Damien

  13. hardnoseon 24 Oct 2016 at 7:17 pm

    [It’s a bit ironic that Steve Novella’s “scepticism” for the most part amounts to attacking scepticism, i.e. defending whatever he thinks is the “established science”, irrespective of the level of certainty and quality of research on which the current consensus is based.]

    Novella is seldom, or never, skeptical of the mainstream scientific consensus on any subject. His faith in the scientific establishment is irrational, and is really a kind of religion, complete with priests and mythologies.

    Real skeptics are seen as heretics and contrarians, because we do not accept everything that experts and authorities claim.

    But we are not just trying to be difficult! We are trying to understand things. We care about evidence and logic, and we know that all human institutions, including scientific ones, are political.

    The scientific method is just an ideal. It is very naive to think just because an organization, university, publication, etc., calls itself scientific, that its opinions are likely to be true.

    Climate change is a typical example. I have no opinion at all on climate change. I think we are causing terrible damage to the planet and there will be consequences, whether or not there is climate change.

    But I did notice that recently James Lovelock, the scientist who first began warning about climate change decades ago, no longer thinks there is good evidence for it.

    The climate change debate is NOT about evidence, it is about politics. There is no clear evidence one way or the other, and the expert consensus is more political than scientific.

    This is also the case with GMOs, the mainstream theory of evolution, and many other things.

    No, I am NOT saying that science has not accomplished anything. And I am NOT saying the scientific method has no value. I AM saying that we should be skeptical of things that are called scientific, because very often they are not.

    And we SHOULD be skeptical of the big drug companies and the big food companies. Their goal is, naturally enough, to make as much money as possible. And pretending to be scientific is a great way to convince people that they can be trusted.

  14. roadfoodon 24 Oct 2016 at 7:56 pm

    My head is going to explode. How does someone settle the cognitive dissonance between believing that they are trying to understand things but yet engaging in nothing but saying how wrong others are?

  15. Ivan Groznyon 24 Oct 2016 at 9:21 pm

    Damlovet,
    I don’t know who is “true sceptic” and what is “true scepticism” (as opposed to I guess, ‘false’ or fake ‘scepticism’). I was referring to the curious fact that Novella is spending 99% of his time defending the mainstream positions in ALL sciences against critiques from minority viewpoints. That’s simply awkward. It could be more properly described as deification of current majority viewpoint in science

    Just as in many other cases, the devil is indeed here in the details, which is completely lost to Novella and his followers here: for him there is no difference at all between a physicist defending quantum mechanics against attacks by some crackpot, and a climate “scientist” castigating anyone who points to the consensus studies of climate sensitivity as consistent with there being no problem. The only thing he cares about what the existing science establishment in any given fields say: that’s true, and whoever denies or challenges that is a denier or conspiracy theorist. The problem is that in many cases this is really true, in hard sciences, as I said. But in some other areas, among which belong social sciences and climate change this is far from being true. If I were just tell you what kind of preposterous nonsense was said by Nobel Prize winning economists that would have been really hilarious. It’s beyond belief in its stupidity and almost obvious falsity. Yet, many eminent economists believed or still believe in cosmic nonsense. Is anyone who is bucking the current consensus in economics a “contrarian” and “science denier”? Novella does not have a clue about economics (or climate science), or political “science” – he knows medical science and few related fields and generalizes from these with no justification whatsoever.

  16. bachfiendon 24 Oct 2016 at 9:30 pm

    Hardnose,

    ‘I have no opinion at all on climate change’.

    Well, you’ve just confirmed my impression of you – you’re completely ignorant of the evidence and the facts.

    The climate of the Earth has obviously changed in the past, ranging from hothouse conditions to an iceball, so climate change is a definite absolute fact. You should have been perfectly capable of forming an opinion as to whether climate change happens (obviously it does).

    James Lovelock hasn’t actually changed his opinion regarding AGW – as to whether it’s happening – but he’s adopted a more nuanced view, which isn’t the same thing.

  17. ccbowerson 24 Oct 2016 at 11:03 pm

    “Same nonsense. My lefty political philosophy says X, so X has to be true. Science be damned.”

    The difference is that the lefty conspiracy thinking is pretty fringe-y, while the right has made this type of reasoning more of a mainstream position. Look at who is representing the GOP for president and his position. None of those issues you mention are big issues on the left (Jill stein is polling at 2% BTW and that is with candidates with high dislikability). Fortunately the GMO issue seems to be slowly improving, and amongst the general public, the distrust is similar for liberals and conservatives. Vaccine denialism and cell phone cancer are both pretty fringe-y and again not specific to the left.

  18. ccbowerson 24 Oct 2016 at 11:23 pm

    “Steve, could you elaborate on the distinction you’re making between “mundane corruption” and conspiracy theories? ”

    Mosben – I know I’m not Steve, but I’ll take a shot at your question anyway. The sentence in which he says “mundane corruption” is actually contrasting to grand conspiracy. The difference is scale and plausibility. Even before we get to any evidence, the difference is huge.

    “it seems like any agreement between parties to engage in corruption would seem to fit the definition of conspiracy”

    Yes, that type of conspiracy is not in question, as it is obvious how a couple, or even a few, parties whose interests align can agree to and maintain such a conspiracy. The problem is that large conspiracies that require many different parties made up of many people with many diverging interests and motivations strain plausibility the larger the conspiracy must be. These are like: ‘they cured cancer in the 1950s but they are covering it up for profits’ or ‘NASA faked the Apollo moon landings and the footage was created in Hollywood by Stanley Kubrick.’ Not all examples are that ridiculous, but you can see there is a spectrum there.

  19. Maj-Majon 25 Oct 2016 at 5:27 am

    “The difference is that the lefty conspiracy thinking is pretty fringe-y, while the right has made this type of reasoning more of a mainstream position. Look at who is representing the GOP for president and his position.”

    ccbowers,
    I largely agree with you, but i am not sure if “right” and “left” are necessarily helpful badges.

    There appears to be a wave of anti-intellectualism in the Western world: conspiracy theorists are surfing on it, sometimes with political goals.

    The reason why I resist the “right” and “left” designations is that it ends up giving the Alex Jones’ of this world too much credit. It encourages tribal thinking.

  20. Steven Novellaon 25 Oct 2016 at 7:19 am

    Ivan – more straw men. Please point me to an article I have written about economics. I don’t remember a single one.

    I often take a nuanced position with respect to sciences that are less solid or established. I suspect you are engaging in massive confirmation bias to confirm your narrative. The copious data on this blog directly contradicts your narrative.

    The criteria I use when deciding what to accept or reject are logic and evidence. No one, however, gathers all the evidence directly themselves. You have to rely upon others who do research, evaluate the research, and explain the research, especially in highly technical fields. This is not worship of the mainstream, it is practical. But I still apply my own skeptical filter.

  21. NotAMarsupialon 25 Oct 2016 at 9:29 am

    I’m guessing that hardnose is on his way to a chiropractor to fix his back pain caused by excessively patting his own back.

  22. Teaseron 25 Oct 2016 at 4:52 pm

    I think I am not understanding what defines a person as a conspiracy theorist as described in this blog post. There has to be room in this world for thoughtful analysis of events by individuals. Individuals should be capable of vetting information and independently reaching conclusions.

    I know people in the FBI that start with a hypothesis and have to feel their way through to get to a likely perpetrator or make sense of evidence. They take disparate strings of evidence and have to sometimes “fill in the gaps” to proceed with the case. In a way, they create a conspiracy theory based on the available facts to zero in on a likely suspect. There can be disagreement amongst the team as to where the evidence leads. Some agree with the hypothesis and others will not.

    I also think of wikileaks. The release of material over the years have confirmed many “conspiracy theories” across a wide range of topics. Certain journalists present information that confirms activity that was formerly in the conspiracy theory realm. So again where is the line when a person crosses into foil hat wearing conspiracy theorist? There are ex post facto details that bear out a persons suspicions. Before those facts came to light you are a conspiracy theorist. After the facts are known you are no longer a conspiracy theorist.

    I think conspiracy thinking occurs at many different levels of society on a wide range of topics. Children are taught that Santa Claus is real. They run around for years actively believing this guy lives in the North Pole and rides a sleigh around delivering presents. One day they realize it was a big fat lie perpetrated by all the trusted adults in their world.

    I am also thinking about news outlets that willfully distort the truth to the extent that their adherents are brainwashed. These brainwashed people internalize these distorted truths and present as a conspiracy theorist to people who have not been subjected to that news stream. In this case I am referring to FOX News, Rush Limbaugh, et al and their 24/7 propaganda blast…i.e. Obama is a muslim, Obama is a kenyan, Sandyhook was a redflag op to confiscate guns from citizens, etc etc. Are these people actually conspiracy theorists?

    Were the people who voted for the Brexit in England engaging in conspiracy thought?

  23. Fair Persuasionon 25 Oct 2016 at 6:45 pm

    Could pseudoscience, conspiracy theory, and the culture of denial be hiding under Trump’s tin foil hat filled with anti-political rhetoric?

  24. roadfoodon 25 Oct 2016 at 6:52 pm

    “I know people in the FBI that start with a hypothesis and have to feel their way through to get to a likely perpetrator or make sense of evidence. They take disparate strings of evidence and have to sometimes “fill in the gaps” to proceed with the case. In a way, they create a conspiracy theory based on the available facts to zero in on a likely suspect. There can be disagreement amongst the team as to where the evidence leads. Some agree with the hypothesis and others will not.”

    If I may, I think the most telling difference is what the person does when evidence is found or presented that contradicts the current hypothesis. Sure, the FBI and police will start with (or at some point develop) a hypothesis that X committed the crime. But if they then find, say, reasonable evidence that X was not in the vicinity of the crime at the time it happened, the good ones will scrap that hypothesis and either form a new one or continue to look for more evidence. The bad ones will ignore that evidence, find some tortured reason to discount it, or even actively suppress it. Just so, a true conspiracy theorist, when presented with evidence that contradicts the conspiracy theory, will ignore it, poke tiny holes in it, or find some way to weave it into the conspiracy. Let’s say you believe that the moon landing was faked. Then you hear testimony from the men who were there. If your reaction is, “Hmm, maybe it was real after all,” then you’re not a conspiracy theorist. But if you say, “See? they’re lying, that proves it’s a conspiracy!” then you are.

  25. Sylakon 25 Oct 2016 at 7:17 pm

    Yeah they are pure “conspiracist”, like you point out, their ideology and belief system is all conspiracy. I know a few, that famous “silver colloidal”, Guy I used to worked with and hat I alreayd talk about, is one extreme example. He believe everything that is Grand Conspiracy or alternate crank “science”. And I mean stuff that contradict each other too and not just one things. And that guy is brilliant, I respect him still. He’s Funny, was awesome to work with. We had couple of “discussion” on Facebook when I play devil advocate with mutual friends facebook posts, he always dismiss me as “I believe everything on tv” ( despite some of the stuff he believe come from tv…). Like massive strawmens. Unfortunately, even if most of what he said are dismissed by people, but not everything, some stuff partly stick in peoples mind ( like people mostly skeptical but buying his home man Silver crap), little by little these kind of dangerous belief can change someone.

    I like how Hardnose and Ivan are right on time to completely prove your point. They are living evidences of exactly what you are saying. And yet, they are completely oblivious to it. Reading Ivan, your see he is a clever guy and while you are reading him, your waiting for the “sacred cows” and then BANG: “[…]Yet, in “soft sciences” such as economics, political science, psychology and also climate “science”[…]”.

    *sound of my face-palming*

    Thank guys, your are useful, despite you being hard to read without the rational part of our brain wanting to commit suicide, you are useful reminder of exactly what not to do. We must remains humble, unlike you 2.

    Speaking of which, I just read the 243 signal articles, yep Egnor right on cue too.

  26. grabulaon 25 Oct 2016 at 11:50 pm

    Ivan Grozny: ” In climate “science” it’s even worse because the basic claims about what constitutes the scientific consensus are very unclear or dubious:”

    Actually, there’s a lot of solid science to support it, that’s why the consensus is so large. That’s not hard math unless you’re trying not to see it.

  27. grabulaon 25 Oct 2016 at 11:52 pm

    @roadfood: “My head is going to explode. How does someone settle the cognitive dissonance between believing that they are trying to understand things but yet engaging in nothing but saying how wrong others are?”

    Ask hardnose, he’s somehow survived that issue for way too long.

  28. grabulaon 26 Oct 2016 at 12:03 am

    @Ivan Grozny:”I was referring to the curious fact that Novella is spending 99% of his time defending the mainstream positions in ALL sciences against critiques from minority viewpoints”

    Ivan, you assume a motive here I think only you are seeing. Dr. Novella isn’t defending mainstream science against critiques in most cases. He’s examining the claim from a rational point of view and whenever he can, applying accepted science and rational thought to put these claims to the test. that’s the difference between “real skepticism” and “not-real skepticism”. Many Woo peddlers, true believers and the like claim to be questioning the party line when in actuality they’re mostly just defending their misunderstanding of reality from the natural confrontation it achieves when it’s questioned by anyone who actually knows what they’re talking about.

    @Teaser:”There has to be room in this world for thoughtful analysis of events by individuals”

    Of course, but the difference in general, at least to me – is that a ‘conspiracy theorist’ is someone who steps away from thoughtful analysis in order to misrepresent data (either consciously or not) in order to confirm their belief that someone is trying to hide something somewhere. As skeptics we can all agree conspiracies by the strict definition exist, and there are plenty of examples to show this. However we don’t fall into the trap of using those examples to support more spurious and unsupported claims when the evidence doesn’t support it.

    I tend to view most conspiracy theorist, and other believer/woo types on a spectrum. I like to use bigfoot believers as an example. On one hand you have people who don’t believe bigfoot exists. On the other you have people who have gone so far as to claim bigfoot is a spiritual or alien or extra dimensional entity that gives him extraordinary powers. In between you have people who believe he might exist, believe he exists as a natural occurrence and so on and so on. With conspiracies I find there are always those types who’ll buy any theory they hear, but they also tend to be a little nutty. In between are people who hold on to some conspiracy theories while dismissing others. for example I find many of the conspiracy theorists I’ve run into have moved on from 9/11 as an inside job, but still tend to believe JFK was murdered by our government, or bigfoot, whatever.

  29. Kabboron 26 Oct 2016 at 8:59 am

    Let’s show how easy (and stupid) it is to create a conspiracy theory by making one up on the spot!
    Here’s my crack at it:

    Isaac Newton did not exist. He was contrived by the mathematical experts in London to present their theories in a unified manor so they would not receive any backlash should there be any from the church, state, etc.
    My evidence:
    1. How could one person be responsible for so many physical laws, AND gravity AND calculus? And all the other stuff he worked on, didn’t do much research for this. (And that’s kind of the point)
    2. No children. Surely if he existed he would have had children. An acclaimed genius and master of his field would have had unlimited options for potential wives.
    3. The portrait of him when he is older shows him pointing. Pointing to what you might ask? Pointing to the fact that he doesn’t exist.
    4. Math is hard.

    Now anyone who disagrees with the obvious fact that he didn’t exist are clearly sheep or in the pocket of big history.

    Any other takers?

  30. mumadaddon 26 Oct 2016 at 10:51 am

    Kabbor,

    I can’t believe I never looked at it like that! Thank you for finally opening my eyes!

  31. SteveAon 26 Oct 2016 at 11:08 am

    Kabbor,

    Close, but no cigar.

    Isaac Newton was real, but he was a stooge of the government who wanted to hide the fact that all his ‘discoveries’ were really the work of African slaves (because that would have blown people’s minds!). This lackey was then rewarded with a cushy job in the Royal Mint. Because, I mean, how ELSE would a thing like that happen?

    Anyway, we’re now ‘conspiracy buddies’ and will always stick up for each other, despite the fact that our crackpot theories contradict each other…

  32. Kabboron 26 Oct 2016 at 1:16 pm

    SteveA,

    Well yes of course we will stick up for each other. Everything you said is completely 100% true, just like everything I said was completely 100% true. We just have so much… knowledge, it overflows reality.

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