Tag Archives | Skeptics

Why Do People Believe in Conspiracy Theories?

Michael Shermer wiki portrait4.jpg

Michael Shermer. Photo by David Patton (CC)

Scientific American gives Michael Shermer, founder of The Skeptics Society and its magazine Skeptic, a platform to ridicule conspiracy theories and those who believe in them:

President Barack Obama has been a busy man while in office: he concocted a fake birth certificate to hide his true identity as a foreigner, created “death panels” to determine who would live and who would die under his health care plan, conspired to destroy religious liberty by mandating contraceptives for religious institutions, blew up the Deepwater Horizon offshore drilling rig to garner support for his environmental agenda, masterminded Syrian gas attacks as a pretext to war, orchestrated the shooting of a tsa agent to strengthen that agency’s powers, ordered the Sandy Hook school massacre to push through gun-control legislation, and built concentration camps in which to place Americans who resist.

Do people really believe such conspiracy theories?

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The Myth of Consistent Skepticism

Skeptical Pug is skeptical

Skeptical Pug is skeptical

Todd C. Riniolo and Lee Nisbet writing in the June 2007 Skeptical Enquirer:

Many readers of the Skeptical Inquirer (the authors included) have labeled or referred to ourselves as “skeptics,” which implies objectivity in our approach to evaluating various claims. However, we all have limitations and built-in biases that hinder our ability to apply the methods of skepticism objectively and consistently. Nonskeptics and professed skeptics alike are equally vulnerable to developing beliefs that have not been subjected to rigorous skeptical inquiry. Furthermore, skeptics (like nonskeptics) may refuse to change their viewpoints even in the face of substantial discrediting evidence.

Thus, skeptics would be well served to realize that we are selectively skeptical. Our purpose here is to (a) make clear why no consistent skeptic exists, (b) review the major biases that obstruct our ability to apply skepticism consistently, (c) provide a concrete example of selective skepticism in a great mind (Albert Einstein), and (d) challenge skeptics to reevaluate their own ability to apply the methods of skepticism consistently.

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Psychology Professor Issues Call for Informed Discussion Regarding ESP

Pic: Magnus Manske (CC)

Pic: Magnus Manske (CC)

Etzel Cardeña of Lund University, Sweden, issues a call for a more open discussion regarding psi phenomena.

Via Frontiers in Human Neuroscience:

Science thrives when there is an open, informed discussion of all evidence, and recognition that scientific knowledge is provisional and subject to revision. This attitude is in stark contrast with reaching conclusions based solely on a previous set of beliefs or on the assertions of authority figures. Indeed, the search for knowledge wherever it may lead inspired a group of notable scientists and philosophers to found in 1882 the Society for Psychical Research in London. Its purpose was “to investigate that large body of debatable phenomena… without prejudice or prepossession of any kind, and in the same spirit of exact and unimpassioned inquiry which has enabled Science to solve so many problems.” Some of the areas in consciousness they investigated such as psychological dissociation, hypnosis, and preconscious cognition are now well integrated into mainstream science.

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The Fascinating Psychology of People Who Know the Real Truth About JFK, UFOs, and 9/11

9.11.11Sept11Attacks10thAnniversaryByLuigiNovi24William Saletan suggests that conspiracy theorists aren’t really skeptics, at Slate:

To believe that the U.S. government planned or deliberately allowed the 9/11 attacks, you’d have to posit that President Bush intentionally sacrificed 3,000 Americans. To believe that explosives, not planes, brought down the buildings, you’d have to imagine an operation large enough to plant the devices without anyone getting caught. To insist that the truth remains hidden, you’d have to assume that everyone who has reviewed the attacks and the events leading up to them—the CIA, the Justice Department, the Federal Aviation Administration, the North American Aerospace Defense Command, the Federal Emergency Management Agency, scientific organizations, peer-reviewed journals, news organizations, the airlines, and local law enforcement agencies in three states—was incompetent, deceived, or part of the cover-up.

And yet, as Slate’s Jeremy Stahl points out, millions of Americans hold these beliefs. In a Zogby poll taken six years ago, only 64 percent of U.S.

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The Reason Stick: “The Venn Diagram of Irrational Nonsense”

Picture: Crispian Jago (C)

 

Blog The Reason Stick (Header: A blunt, shit-stained instrument wielded indiscriminately to bludgeon pseudoscience, superstition, blind faith and common or garden irrational bollocks.”) has issued a handy Venn Diagram to classify varieties of “woo”.

When you’re done with the Venn Diagram, you might also enjoy Reason Stick proprietor Crispian Jago’s “Multi-Faith Blasphemy Generator“.

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