The Truths are Out There – Tom

Irrationality of the day! This is a quite readable academic paper about conspiracy theories, building on the already known finding that people who believe in one conspiracy theory (that 9/11 was an inside job, for instance) are more likely to believe in another one (that the authorities are covering up the existence of aliens).

Irrationality is two obscenely attractive FBI agents

This paper shows that the effect also applies even when two conspiracy theories cannot possibly both be true. For instance, if you agree that Princess Diana was murdered by MI5, you are ALSO more likely to agree that Princess Diana faked her own death.

As the authors point out, intuitively this might seem unlikely: after all, if you strongly believe in one conspiracy wouldn’t you react against a belief in another one which contradicts it? What seems to be going on is that the belief the two theories have in common – that the authorities are lying – is powerful enough to override contradiction in the specifics of said lies.

What does this tell us? People are irrational, duh – but they have framing beliefs which can smooth over possible contradictions. In the conspiracist’s mind, the frame that a conspiracy exists is the important thing but once that’s accepted the exact details can change. It’s similar to what we’ve seen in our EthOS studies, where the frame “I am eating healthily” overrides the reality of what’s actually being eaten.


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