Tag Archives | Conspiracy Theories

Why Americans Are Suckers For Conspiracy Theories: The Country Was Founded On Them

463px-Lee_Harvey_Oswald_being_shot_by_Jack_Ruby_as_Oswald_is_being_moved_by_police,_1963So claims Cambridge University Professor Sir Richard Evans speaking at Britain’s Hay Festival, as reported by the Daily Mail:

A British academic has said conspiracy theories are built into American culture because the country was founded on them.

Professor Sir Richard Evans, of the University of Cambridge, is leading a project into conspiracy theories and is Britain’s leading authority on the subject matter.

Speaking at the Hay Festival yesterday, he said conspiracy theories are more common in the United States compared with other countries.

‘There is an argument that conspiracy theories are built into American culture because that is how America started. The United States was founded on conspiracy theories: the London government was conspiring to deprive America of their liberties.’

Mr Evans cited the JFK assassination, the 9/11 attacks and even campaigns which claim President Obama is not American.

He also believes the internet has not led to an increased belief in such theories.

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It’s All a Conspiracy

JFK limousineJesse Walker discusses the limitations of research into paranoia and conspiracy theories at Slate:

In the run-up to last year’s Italian elections, the country’s senate did not—I repeat: did not—pass a bill giving legislators 134 billion euros “to find a job in case of defeat.” But a satiric story along those lines spread on social media, and not everyone who passed it along understood that it was a spoof. In just one day, 36,000 people signed a petition against the alleged law. Soon it was being invoked at anti-government protests.

Their confusion caught the eye of a quintet of scholars, who were observing how a large sample of Italian Facebook users engaged with different sorts of stories: articles from the mainstream media, articles from alternative outlets, articles from political activists, and fake news crafted by satirists and trolls. In March, MIT’s Technology Review covered the researchers’ work in a piece headlined “Data Mining Reveals How Conspiracy Theories Emerge on Facebook.” The article began with the tale of that imaginary Italian bill and the people who believed it was real, wrapping up the anecdote with the line, “Welcome to the murky world of conspiracy theories.”

This was an odd way to frame the issue.

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Will We Miss HAARP When It Shuts Down This Summer?

Yes, you read that right, the U.S. military installation in Alaska known as HAARP is going to be shut down this summer. What will conspiracy theorists blame weird weather anomalies on now, one wonders. From io9.com:

Can a facility that has inspired global conspiracy theories be designated a World Heritage Site? If so, that might be the only way to prevent the shutdown of the High Frequency Active Auroral Research Program (HAARP) in Alaska, which studies the ionosphere—or creates lethal hurricanes—depending on whom you talk to.

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The HAARP installation, not unlike the Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory, is a peculiar hybrid of military and civilian science. It was conceived during the mid-1980s, but found itself without a clear mission by the time construction began in 1993 and the Cold War had ended. Jointly funded by the Air Force, Navy, DARPA and the University of Alaska, the $290 million facility’s principal instrument is an array of 180 crossed dipoles that are spaced over an area of about 30 acres.

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The Plots to Destroy America

newsweek coverThe title above is from this week’s cover story of that rare beast, the print edition of Newsweek (see image at right). Subtitled “Conspiracy Theories Are A Clear And Present Danger,” it’s essentially another mainstream media attempt to ridicule Agenda 21 activists:

In Baldwin County, Alabama, an award-winning plan to provide guidance for private-sector developers was spiked—it was, constituents complained, part of a United Nations plot to end property rights, impose communism and force locals onto rail cars heading to secret camps. When the blueprint was voted down, residents cheered and sang “God Bless America.” Every member of the zoning commission resigned in disgust.

A federal proposal that would have paid physicians for time spent discussing elderly patients’ medical and personal priorities in their final days of life was shelved. Some conservatives, led by former Alaska governor Sarah Palin, slammed the idea as creating “death panels” of bureaucrats to decide who would live and who would die.

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The Birth of a Conspiracy Theory

Deep Ellum - Conspiracy Bar sign 01Watch LIVE as a conspiracy theory is born (courtesy of Andrew Rosenthal in the op-ed section of the New York Times):

If you spend enough time on the Internet you’ll eventually encounter a conspiracy theory. If you watch closely enough, sometimes you can actually see one being born.

For years now some on the right have speculated that the Obama administration is trying to politicize the national census. Yesterday, Noah Rothman argued on Mediaite that the theory was proven correct by a New York Times article about changes in the way the Census Bureau plans to ask about health insurance coverage.

The idea is that the new questions will show a reduction in the number of uninsured people starting in 2014, which may make it seem as though the Affordable Care Act is working better than it really is. The change in questions will also produce a “break in trend” within the census surveys and thus make it impossible to statistically compare 2013 and 2014 with earlier years.

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Fareed Zakaria: Why We Believe Conspiracy Theories

CNN‘s Fareed Zakaria thinks he’s cracked the enduring appeal of conspiracy theories:

For those of you tired of the coverage of Malaysian Airlines Flight 370, I want you to try an experiment.

When you’re with a group of friends – whose eyes might roll over when you even bring up the issue – ask them what they think happened to the plane. Very quickly you will find yourselves in the midst of a lively discussion – with many, different, competing theories, each plausible, each with holes.

The plane was hijacked, someone will say. But then why were there no demands? It was an accident, someone else will say. But then why were there no distress signals? This mystery of what actually happened is at the heart of the fascination with this story. And the mystery has now morphed into an ever increasing number of conspiracy theories about what actually happened that fateful day last month when the aircraft disappeared.

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Half Of All Americans Believe In At Least One Medical Conspiracy Theory

OuchFlintGoodrichShot1941If you believe that the CIA deliberately infected African Americans with the HIV virus or another medical conspiracy theory, you have plenty of company: about half of all Americans, reports Reuters:

About half of American adults believe in at least one medical conspiracy theory, according to new survey results.

Some conspiracy theories have much more traction than others, however.

For example, three times as many people believe U.S. regulators prevent people from getting natural cures as believe that a U.S. spy agency infected a large number of African Americans with the human immunodeficiency virus (HIV).

J. Eric Oliver, the study’s lead author from University of Chicago, said people may believe in conspiracy theories because they’re easier to understand than complex medical information.

“Science in general – medicine in particular – is complicated and cognitively challenging because you have to carry around a lot of uncertainty,” Oliver said.

“To talk about epidemiology and probability theories is difficult to understand as opposed to ‘if you put this substance in your body, it’s going to be bad,’” he said.

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How Misinformation Spreads on Facebook

RIAN archive 988824 Facebook social network's pageSarah Gray reports for Salon (via AlterNet) on research about how people on Facebook interacted with “trolls” posting false information; she says the results are depressing:

From the steady roll of theories on what happened to Malaysian Arlines Flight 370, to Sarah Palin’s “death panels” panic, to Donald Trump’s birther theories, misinformation spreads like wildfire in the age of Facebook.

In 2013, professor Walter Quattrociocchi of Northeastern University along with his team studied how more than 1 million Facebook users engaged with political information during the Italian election. During that election a post appeared titled: “Italian Senate voted and accepted (257 in favor and 165 abstentions) a law proposed by Senator Cirenga to provide policy makers with €134 billion Euros to find jobs in the event of electoral defeat.”

The post was from an Italian site that parodies the news. According to  MIT Technology Review it was filled with at least four major inaccuracies: “[T]he senator involved is fictitious, the total number of votes is higher than is possible in Italian politics, the amount of money involved is more than 10% of Italian GDP and the law itself is an invention.”

Despite the blatant falsehoods of this  parody news post, the story went viral — shared over 35,000 times in less than a month.

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Malaysia Air Flight 370: Usual Conspiracy Theories Emerge

Boeing 777-200 (9328013793) (2)Is there no tragedy involving loss of human lives that certain conspiracy theorists can resist deeming a false flag attack or other nonsense? Fast Company reports on the usual suspects crawling over the story of the missing Malaysia Airlines jet:

…Naturally, conspiracy theories are already flying left and right on social media. One theory suggests the plane’s sudden disappearance is a “false flag” operation intentionally planted by CNN. Another claims that some relatives of the passengers onboard have even reported hearing their phones ring–but no one is answering.

Other tin foilers have gone so far as to suggest that the plane simply vanished. “If we never find the debris,” writes one theorist, “it means some entirely new, mysterious and powerful force is at work on our planet which can pluck airplanes out of the sky without leaving behind even a shred of evidence.”

Another, just as bizarre conspiracy theory suggests terrorists hijacked the plane, and have parked the plane intact in an abandoned hanger to use as “a weapon of mass destruction” in the future:

[continues at Fast Company]

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