Rob Ager writes:
At this technologically sophisticated point in human history the scope for ordinary citizens to monitor power institutions and spread awareness of corruption is greater than it has even been. The average citizen has access to printers, email, DVD players and a multitude of other information distribution outlets. This has become a major problem for power institutions. The big brother surveillance society swings both ways and so now governments are having a major problem with what they consistently call “conspiracy theories”.
A few major difficulties have emerged with this new public monitoring of power institutions.
- Poor research has been widely disseminated on many conspiracy subject due to the limited investigative skills or personal bias of those doing the research.
- Conspiracy theory dissemination has developed a commercial edge; with some films and books being sold for higher prices than would be expected in high st retail stores.
- In some instances individuals may vindictively fabricate conspiracy theories to bring disrepute to some other individual, organisation or government.
- In some instances conspiracy theory dissemination may be part of a cognitive infiltration tactic designed to discredit more convincing versions of the same conspiracy, or to discredit conspiracy theories in general.
- In some instances conspiracy theories may be covertly disseminated by one government or power institution to demonize another.
These complex interactions of conflicting agendas and informational one-up man ship can quickly turn a simple conspiracy theory into a vast puzzle. However, much of the information can quickly be disregarded if we’re applying reliable perceptual filters.
The following is a list of information filtering and organising principles that you can use to assess any given conspiracy theory. I’m not going to make reference to specific conspiracy theory examples because to do so would run the risk of my indirectly swaying you into believing or disbelieving them.
- Reserve judgement at the information gathering stage. If you start out by assuming a conspiracy theory to be true or false while your information is still minimal then your pursuit of informational will be biased. You’ll be likely to disregard facts that don’t match up with the judgement you’ve made. Now matter how absurd or convincing the theory, begin with an attitude that it could turn out to be anywhere from wholly true to completely false.
- Gather as much information as you can. This is essential and, if done thoroughly, will make the process of reaching a conclusion quick and easy. If your conclusion is weak and uncertain then you probably didn’t gather enough information. Generally, information gathering will be the most time consuming stage of your research.
- Double check each detail. The slightest misrepresentation of a matter through choice of words or a slight variation in dates can completely alter the validity of a conspiracy theory.
- Use multiple, preferably unrelated, sources. Sometimes a particular detail may seem conclusive based upon a single source, but exploring other versions of that same detail from different sources will unveil important variations. If you find consistency of detail from unrelated sources then a particular factoid can be deemed near enough conclusive.
- Delete repetitions of the same information. Regurgitations of information aren’t just limited to verbal hearsay, internet chat rooms and blogs. They’re very frequent in the mainstream media too in that reporters often save themselves a lot of leg work by copying and rewording stories already being covered by rival media sources. One of the dangers of second and third hand information is that those repeating the information will often alter its presentation – in other word they distort it (though sometimes they can do this for the better by cross-referencing the information with contexts that the original source neglected). Where possible try to get to the original information source. See my article / video Choose Your News for more on media repetition.
- Pay equal attention to purveyors and debunkers, regardless of their character traits. Wise, intelligent and well-adjusted people sometimes get their facts wrong and at the same time people who appear to be disorganised and impulsive sometimes get their facts straight. If a schizophrenic witnesses a real car crash and tells you about it the fact that he is schizophrenic doesn’t discredit his “a car crash occurred” theory. All claims must be considered and investigated on the possibility that they may be true or false.
- There’s no such thing as a reliable source. The term “reliable source” is generally used to refer to academic researchers / institutions, governmental organisations, and “reputable” media sources. We generally use the “reliable source” filter to avoid double checking claims because it basically saves us time and effort. But when investigating a crime or conspiracy theory this luxury of assuming something is true based upon our personal trust of a source is unwise. There are many historical examples in which reputable researchers and even entire academic and media empires have gotten their facts severely wrong. And in those contexts the “reliable source” filter can prevent mass-knowledge correction for many years…
Read more here.