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Gustavo Moreno

June 30, 2021

Image by Ben Neale

"Facts don't cease to exist just because they are ignored."

- Aldous Huxley

Why are conspiracy theories so appealing?


Before trying to answer this question, and even before explaining what a conspiracy theory is, let's begin this deepening, conceptualizing critical thinking.



In one of its many definitions, critical thinking "has seven critical characteristics: being inquisitive and curious, being open-minded to different sides, being able to think systematically, being analytical, being persistent for the truth, having confidence in one's critical thinking and, lastly, be mature." (Facione PA, Falcione NC, 1993).  



Critical thinking is a powerful ally in both the process of innovation and the process of avoiding "falling into" conspiracies.  



From 1993 to 2021, concepts such as creativity, discovery, reflection, empathy, knowledge connection, ambiguity and inclusion were added to the definition of critical thinking.



Speaking of critical thinking, if the question we have here is "why do conspiracy theories appeal so much?", the question we're really looking for an answer to should be "why do people believe anything?"  



The answer to this question, of course, goes for different and different reasons. There is not just one reason that makes a person believe in something. It would be very easy if we could put this responsibility on one factor account, like, whatsapp's family group is all to blame. Either Globo is to blame, or the main culprit is that particular party.  



An article entitled "Conspiracy theories: how are they adopted, communicated and what are their risks?", sought to answer the question that gives the title of this edition of Passeio, from a political, sociological and psychological point of view.  



In summary, the authors tell us that a variety of psychological factors predict the extent to which individuals will endorse conspiracy theories. Specifically, existential needs (eg, need for power and control), personality traits (eg, narcissism and Machiavellianism), cognitive factors (eg, cognitive biases and intelligence), and an underlying tendency to distrust and perceive conspiracies, all predict conspiracy belief.  

Some demographic factors such as education level (lower education level is linked to higher belief conspiracy) also predict belief in the conspiracy. Another aspect is identification with the group itself, which can bring suspicion about the actions of other groups.  


Last but not least, political extremism (and in particular right-wing ideology) is consistently associated with conspiracy belief. People tend to believe in new conspiracy theories that align with their pre-existing political leanings. Other variables​​ ideological, such as authoritarianism, orientation of social domination and justification of the system, are traits that predict the belief in conspiracy theories.


This same article, published by the Center for Research and Evidence on Security Threats, defines conspiracy theories as the attempt to describe socially and politically relevant events through the covert actions of powerful groups. Conspiracy theories can be measured using surveys through different methods, such as surveys (polls) or also through the analysis and programming of archived data, such as online comments, for example.

Have conspiracies always been part of humanity?

Believing in conspiracy theories and being suspicious of the actions of others is, in a way, a very adaptive trait to do for survival. Human beings do not necessarily want to trust everyone and everything that is happening around us. Therefore, conspiracies have always been with us and, to some extent, people are all, without exception, bound to be considered conspiracyists, depending on how that term is used.  


Cutting to the chase, yes, conspiracies have always been - and always will be - among us. In humanity, there have always been people who believed in some (or a few) conspiracy theories. Since the world is the world, people share these conspiratorial beliefs and have these suspicions about certain collective actions taken by individuals that are considered threatening. This is our way of being.


I believe that at this point in the championship, each and every one on the planet - given the limitations of their own context - has already realized, in one way or another, that society is becoming more complex every day. New services, products, content and  information is generated and shared between us. The objective here is not to go deeper into how we got here, Leozito (Leonardo Chiodi) has already done this in the second edition of Passeio.


This time, we will explore the complexity of social relationships focusing on the trust we have about information (and data) and especially the distrust we have about some.  

Are there real conspiracies?


According to the "Conspiracy Theories Handbook" for audiences outside the scientific community, published by researchers Stephan Lewandowsky of the University of Bristol School of Experimental Psychology and John Cook of the University's Center for Climate Change Communication George Mason helps us understand why these theories are so popular and explains how to identify the signs of  conspiratorial thinking, in addition to presenting a list of effective strategies  of demystification.


Real conspiracies do exist. Today we know, for example, that Volkswagen spoofed the emission tests of its diesel engines, that the US National Security Agency secretly spied on internet users, that the tobacco industry deceived the public about the harmful effects from cigarettes to health.  


We are currently aware of these conspiracies from internal industry documents, government investigations, and whistleblowers. Conspiracy theories, on the other hand, tend to persist for a long period, even when they lack conclusive evidence. These theories are based on a series of thought patterns known to be unreliable tools for tracking reality. Typically, conspiracy theories are not based on evidence that will stand up to scrutiny, but that doesn't stop them from gaining prominence. For example, the widespread belief that the 9/11 terrorist attacks were an “inside job” persisted for many years.

Conventional Thinking vs. conspiratorial thinking


According to this same manual, real conspiracies not only exist, but they are rarely discovered through the methods used by conspiracy theorists. Instead, real conspiracies are uncovered through conventional thinking—healthy skepticism of official versions, carefully considering the available evidence, and committing to consistency of information. Conspiracy thinking, on the other hand, is characterized by being hyperskeptical of all information that does not favor the theory, by overinterpreting evidence in support of a preferred theory, and by inconsistency.

We have a provocation to do  on the next Peak.

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