Guardian

The Conspiracy Theory Mindset and its Contribution to the Guardian/CiF World View


A guest post by Mitnaged

Background

I recently attended a conference in London about conspiracy theories, the academic research done into them, the personality characteristics of the type of people who tend to hold them and why they are so impervious to change or amendment even in the light of rigorous evidence which introduces doubt about their veracity.

The conference was run on a shoe string budget but was well attended.  The speakers were acknowledged and in most cases widely published experts in this new and growing field.  All shades of opinion were represented in the audience, including “troofers” – those who believe that 9/11 and 7/7 and other phenomena were put up jobs and conspiracies by our own governments against us.

I attended because I am interested in the psychological functions which conspiracy theories serve for the people who hold them and why they might be so persistent and resistant to change or the new evidence which refutes them.   One psychological definition of these manifestations of rigid thinking would be that the “troofers” hold over-valued ideas about powerful others’ roles in causation and effect of events, to the exclusion of almost every other point of view which contradicts them.  In this they have much in common with the repetitive, perseverative and one-track minded views of many of the commenters about Israel below the line on CiF.

The “troofers” in the audience tended for the most part to be vociferous and extremely single-minded.  Although all but one of the speakers took great care to stay within the parameters of their own research findings and not to personalise them, the “troofers” misconstrued almost everything these speakers said and over-personalised the research findings, opinions and statements invariably negatively, and as being directed deliberately at them. 

Correspondingly, the speakers had to take care, respectfully and often, to remind the audience that they were indeed talking of research findings, rather than about particular people or their views.  

(The “troofers” also set up a stall at the back of the  hall from which they sold copies of DVDs which purported to tell us the real story about the events of 9/11 and 7/7.  I paid £1.00 and got a DVD pack, but had great difficulty taking seriously anything on the 7/7 disc, from the time it started with a message from Muad’Dib (a fictional character from Frank Herbert’s Dune), until it told its viewer, with great seriousness that the Muslim suicide bombers had been duped, and were given their final instructions from the offices of an Israeli-owned company in Luton; that Bibi Netanyahu had said that 9/11 was a good thing, and implied that the London training exercise in case of terror attack, held a year previously, was a rehearsal for the attack itself.  None of these was triangulated with other, disinterested material which could be from sources reliable enough to constitute hard and fast proof, all of it was a mix of conjecture, mixed with a hefty dollop of self-serving bias).

However, two of the speakers (Jamie Bartlett and Carl Miller, the authors of a pamphlet about conspiracy theories for Demos)  whilst being respectful and professional, said that they would not be unduly careful about not giving offence since as a result of their own research, offence would be taken no matter what they said.  Although almost all the speakers were very good these two were like a breath of fresh air.

I say “almost all” the speakers. The only one who left me feeling distinctly uncomfortable/exasperated, because he expected us to believe everything he said unquestioningly, was one Ian R Crane, a self-styled “geopolitical researcher” a late stand-in for David Aaronovitch, who was ill. The organisers admitted that they did not know what he was going to talk about, but believed it to be fair to invite a nominated person who held an opposing point of view to address us.

The speakers and what they said

I shall now go on to give a brief outline of what each speaker told us:

Dr Chris French and Robert Brotherton outlined the difficulties of arriving at a universally acceptable definition of what constitutes a conspiracy theory and summarised the components as follows:

Everything is evil – there is invariably an assumption of malign intent (whereas, commonsensically, some conspiracy theories may be benign);

They reach far beyond the everyday – they are invariably over the top.

They evidence indiscriminate distrust – of the government, of other allegedly powerful groups (the audience was told that there were even conspiracy theories about the meeting we were attending!)

Every official explanation is a lie – “That’s what they want us to believe” and theorists do not believe evidence-based consensus. 

Everything is intended – there is the  assumption of hyper-competence on the part of conspirators who are perceived to be all-powerful – and that nothing happens by accident.

Everything is significant – inherent grandiosity of any theory.  (Real conspiracies are, by contrast, limited in scope)

Heroic strivings to seek out evidence – in the absence of positive objective proof

Small anomalies are imbued with crucial significance.

They are self-insulating and therefore very resistant to change, and are sealed off from impartial examination of the evidence, and they arise even before the full facts are known.

French and Brotherton’s research has found that the strongest predictor of belief in conspiracy theories is that the person has previously been inclined to endorse other conspiracy theories.  Another finding was that racial marginalisation had an effect on the inclination towards conspiracy beliefs, as did perceptions of powerlessness and low self-esteem. Also noteable were the over-inclination toward belief in the paranormal, superstitiousness and religiosity.   Conspiracy theorists tended towards emotional reasoning, they tended to possess an external locus of evaluation/control, and to be victims of post-hoc (inverted) cause/effect reasoning.

Dr Karen Douglas spoke about why conspiracy theories were so popular.  Her own research indicated that people who held them had little interpersonal trust even in some cases towards their own families,  that they often felt that they had little control and that the world was in chaos; that the world is unjust.  They were also inclined to believe that “big” events necessitated “big” explanations rather than simple ones.

Many lacked information to evaluate conflicting explanations for phenomena and, rather than sit with the discomfort of “not knowing”, filled in the missing pieces themselves, often by paranoid projection and confirmation bias.  Douglas, surprisingly, found that people believed conflicting conspiracy theories and endorsed both as true.  Her findings echoed those of French and Brotheron – that “Authority” is generally involved in the cover up, that “Authority” is “hiding something”, that they feel mistrustful and uncertain and powerless (and are less likely to vote in order to change things, so they are in fact less powerful), have a heightened sense of injustice, feel under threat.

Conspiracy theories undermine people’s autonomy and they are often unaware that this is happening.   The resulting sense of powerlessness can lead to despair and insularity and the tendency only to interact with like-minded others (“echo chamber” effect).

Next came Dr Carl Miller, whose research into the role of the internet in conspiracy theories found that terrorist ideology correlated highly with tendency to believe in conspiracy theories.  His paper, co-authored with Prof Jamie Bartlett, also argued that extremism tends to demolish trust between the community and the state.  The paper caused considerable discussion when it was published online.  Among its findings:

In-group v out-groups dominated in web-based discussion, with very few dissenting voices.

Ad hominem insult levels were very high where these were in evidence.

Hardened received wisdoms went unquestioned.

Evidence of overvalued/delusional ideas* among conspiracy theorist groups on-line

Self-aggrandisement of members and lack of reality-testing of points of view

Entrenched rigid world views and extremely tight construing

*(overvalued ideas – false or exaggerated beliefs sustained beyond reason or logic but with less rigidity than a delusion, also often being less patently unbelievable. Source: Dorland’s Medical Dictionary for Health Consumers, 2007;

Delusional ideas: Beliefs held in the face of evidence to the contrary, that are resistant to all reason Source: Collins English Dictionary)

Prof Jamie Bartlett was next and argued for the careful, thoughtful and sceptical evaluation of the evidence presented by conspiracy theories and indeed of everything on-line.  He suggested that there is a “foul-smelling legacy” of conspiracy theories on-line, of thoughts presented as facts which the uninformed take as true.  In this respect, and from the behaviour of the “troofers” in the audience, which I have deliberately not addressed here, I remember thinking of the dialectical behaviour therapy theory that rigid thinkers tend to make lemons out of lemonade (ie attribute cause and effect in reverse order and often see correlations between random events as being cause/effect).

Bartlett also argued for the inclusion of the teaching of critical thinking skills in school curricula, so that students could more effectively evaluate the information they are given on-line and, interestingly for our purposes, also suggested that the main stream media had a role in the control and manipulation of narratives which may inform conspiracy theories.

The final speaker was Ian R Crane, a “geopolitical researcher” the quality of whose contribution, when compared with the others was the most disappointing.   He presented many opinions about 7/7, 9/11 and the death of Princess Diana all of which showed, (according to him, and his supporters in the audience judging by their applause), that conspiratorial machinations were afoot in all three, but none of which constituted what could be called rigorous scientific evidence let alone proof.  He presented no research findings, rather he came across more like a preacher than an academic researcher, and almost invariably generalised from the particular without providing his rationale other than he believe what he said and many others did too.  Crane believes many things, apparently.

In the final plenary session all the speakers answered questions from the floor, some interesting, some of which exhibited the woefully restricted, almost paranoid “troofer” mindset when it collides with reasoned argument.  Academics are as capable as anyone else of backbiting in private but there is an unwritten professional rule that they treat each other at least politely when sharing a public platform.  I was sorry but not at all surprised when Ian Crane, put on the spot by one question, referred to Dr Karen Douglas’ research, published in reputable, peer-reviewed journals, as “shallow” because Crane has no equivalent academic publications record.  The reader is invited to refer back to what Carl Miller said about the raised level of ad hominem insult when “troofers” are disagreed with.

Relationship to CiF?

How, then, does any of this relate to CiF?  Regular lookers-on and posters to CiF may well link some of the one-track-minded personality characteristics of regular posters there to the personality traits mentioned above. Conspiracy theories about Zionists, Jews and their power are rife throughout the Middle East and the inclination towards them is also evident above and below the line on CiF.  It is also easy to make connections between the putative mindsets of the posters of some of the “Zionist/Jewish plot” tropes repeated ad nauseam, often by the same posters there too.  This is particularly so in the case of the organ theft libels resurrected once more on CiF and written about on CiFWatch .  

We know that mindless hatred of Israel and/or Jews and/or Zionism itself represents CiF’s own overvalued/delusional idea and that this attracts the disaffected, half-baked and often floridly bizarre views and overvalued/delusional ideas of the regulars below the line in their turn.   There is one important difference between the two parties, however: 

The posters who hold these views find it immensely threatening to climb down from them and cling to them like drowning men to a life raft, perhaps for the reasons given by Dr Karen Douglas set out above.   In this, although they are immensely annoying, they are arguably harmless enough for the most part.

 CiF however seems to deliberately manipulate the challenged who hold such views, by providing a virtually sealed environment (by virtue of its biased moderation policy) whereby these lies, in the relative absence of disagreement, grow and take on a life of their own and are notoriously difficult to undermine.  In order to do this CiF controls and manipulates the narratives which inform those conspiracy theories, as Prof Bartlett said, and adds to them and beds them in.

64 replies »

  1. Absolutely fascinating read, Mitnaged!

    The Guardian provides a wonderful if disturbing view into this netherworld, specially in its obsession with Israel (but also anything to do with US or UK politics).

    For example, we can see the endless posts accusing people commenting of being paid by the Israeli government or the world Zionist conspiracy to comment there, the bizarre acceptance of the overwhelming power of the “Jewish lobby” in the US and UK while ignoring the hundreds of other lobbies that deal with everything from manure to Saudi oil to special tax-breaks for corporations. etc. The latest round, of course, is revival of the ancient anti-Semitic blood-libel via articles and comments about “organ trafficking”.

    The one thing firmly believed by the conspiracy nuts I am always grateful for is the belief, spread in the Guardian and far beyond, of a “hypercompetent Mossad”. That is truly Israel’s secret weapon!!

  2. Thanks, AKUS. I believe that the illustrious speakers might have found enough material to write second theses from CiF alone over time. As I have written, Jamie Bartlett said that the MSM has control over and manipulates the narratives which inform conspiracy theories, which is one of the factors which “feeds” them. Perhaps the answer is to force them to change the narrative:

    NOTE: The following is HYPOTHESIS ONLY:

    Supposing, for example, we and others were to begin to write here and elsewhere about the fact that there may well be an increasingly powerful Muslim lobby in the West which, given what we know about the declared intentions of, say, Qaradawi and the Muslim Brotherhood (the latter of which is being made very welcome in the UK, together with Hamas and its fellow travellers), it seems reasonable to suppose. Were we to argue this, we would need to research carefully and patiently and triangulate all the information we get with disinterested sources and it would be a slow job, but why should we not at least mention it, with all the sensible caveats where we have no hard and fast proof? Note: we would merely be raising questions about such a lobby which, after 7/7, exerted far too much influence on the government and for its own ends, rather than, like died-in-the-wool conspiracy theorists insisting that this was the case and without providing rigorous proof.

    The MCB, for example, niggles away, when it isn’t shouting at the top of its lungs, about the Jewish influence in the UK. It’s reasonable to wonder (note: rather than “assume”, which is the typical conspiracy theorists’ attitude), I think, about its influence on successive governments which have bent themselves out of shape in the name of a specious political correctness to accommodate sharia law and bow to Muslim hypersensitivities at the expense of the rest of the population. It would be very good to know, for example, how many Muslims are in the Home and Foreign Offices, and what their political affiliations are, particularly after the Mockbul Ali fiasco.

    • It would be very good to know, for example, how many Muslims are in the Home and Foreign Offices, and what their political affiliations are, particularly after the Mockbul Ali fiasco.

      This doesn’t sound like a hypothesis.

      • OK Pretzelberg, have you heard of a two-tailed hypothesis? Look it up. Suppose this were to be phrased along the lines of “an enquiry to find out whether more Muslims are employed by the Home and Foreign Offices who have known and documented sympathies towards Hamas, Hezbollah, than Muslims with no particular political affiliation”?

        Is that better?

  3. Mitnaged’s reference to the hypercompetence of conspirators puts me in mind of CiF’s poster boy, Berchmans who clangs on and on about the powerfulness of the IDF which, according to his feeble brain, means that Israel has nothing to fear from its warlike neighbours.

    “Israel pretends to be weak to throw us off the scent but is really very strong” seems to be that twerp’s contribution to the conspiracy theory soup, and he’s not short of company on CiF

  4. You write, ‘The only one who left me feeling distinctly uncomfortable/exasperated, because he expected us to believe everything he said unquestioningly, was one Ian R Crane’. As the recording of my presentation will show this is a classic example of the ‘Skeptics’ hearing exactly what they want to hear, regardless of the reality. In the opening minutes of my presentation, I stated, I would be mortified if anyone took anything I said at face value … the purpose of my work is to stimulate intellectual curiosity and to encourage people to reach their own conclusions.’ I repeated this sentiment during the Q&A. I have rarely been in the presence of such advanced mass myopia as I was on Sunday. By the way, if you have any contact with Jamie Miller, would you please remind him that I am still awaiting the conclusive photographic evidence of a Boeing 767 hitting the Pentagon, which he emphatically insisted was in the public domain!

    • <By the way, if you have any contact with Jamie Miller, would you please remind him that I am still awaiting the conclusive photographic evidence of a Boeing 767 hitting the Pentagon, which he emphatically insisted was in the public domain!

      Without ever having met you but reading your comments here, I deduce that any acceptable evidence would never convince you because your mind is locked against ever being persuaded that 9/11 was what it was presented to have been.

      Do you have any friends?

  5. Ian, from what you said, and looking at your site, it seems that you are projecting your construing (ie that people there were hearing what they wanted to hear) onto me and others. Psychological projection is not reality-based.

    With all respect, at no time in your presentation did you convince me with triangulated, scientifically rigorous evidence or proof that what you argued was objectively true. Rather, yours was a presentation of what you believed was the case (as of course you had every right to) which it seemed to me you confused with what actually WAS (or more realistically MIGHT HAVE BEEN) the case. In the light of that, I did indeed come to my own conclusions and wrote as you see above.

    If I say to you, for example, that the very poor “evidence” you presented that Princess Diana was murdered, meant that the jury was still out for me about it, that I would have to hear a lot more and (again) triangulated evidence that this was indeed the case before I could say that I believed it, would you still argue that I was hearing what I wanted to hear? I would like to ask you why, in the absence of such evidence, (which, if it exists, you didn’t share with your audience) YOU choose to buy into that conspiracy theory as well as the others we can read about on your page?

    Was the “mass myopia” you felt your presentation was met with the result of other people as well as me not agreeing with your takes on these things? For they are “takes”, aren’t they, since you gave no rigorous proofs there and your firm belief alone does not qualify as proof. Why is it so important that we agree with what you believe and don’t question it?

    I thought that the make-up of the audience was fair and your views seemed to me to have a fair amount of support from quite a few people.

    I have never met Jamie Miller personally, Ian, nor am I in touch with him. I am sure that you can contact him far more easily than I can and I suggest that you do so.

    And I believe that Dr Karen Douglas deserves an apology from you for your insult to her scholarship, which was unworthy of you.

  6. It is becoming apparent that the author of this blog was not actually ‘present’ for my presentation … as can be determined by any discerning viewer, when it is broadcast on Edge Media (Sky Channel 200) within the next few weeks. The programme schedule can be found at http://www.emtvonline.co.uk

  7. This is very interesting, Mitnaged, and I agree that what you describe has a certain resonance with the antics of the conspiracy-minded below the line on CiF.

    Wish you could have written more about how ideas can become facts in these people’s minds with the very minimum of evidence that they are true. Doubtless there wasn’t enough space.

    Chag same’ach to you and all here, and shana tova

    Ian, have you ever investigated a conspiracy theory which you later concluded was untrue? If so, it’d be good if you could share the details with us.

  8. Ian, if you want to believe I wasn’t present, that’s perfectly fine with me (I know that I was) but why not just post the link here without all the fuss so that people here can indeed make up their own minds about what you said, as you wish them to do?

  9. I was at this conference and found all the speakers to be relatively interesting, although it did get a bit bizarre when the supposed sceptics (French, Bartlett…) started theorising at the end as to what would constitute a sensible terrorist attack. ‘Why bring building 7 down when…blah’, ‘why use bombs, as well as planes when….blah’ etc…. pure theory? surely they can see that the whole point of the 9/11 & 7/7 truth movement is to get new, independently chaired enquiries, in light of ludicrously flimsy official stories which crumble under the lightest of touches. Instead we got supposed ‘sceptics’ who, by their own admission, hadn’t done any research on these topics, being sceptical about a sceptic who had? Very telling.

  10. Ben, what would constitute “independently chaired” for you? Where might such an appropriately independent body be found? It’d be a good idea and might put the matters to rest, but given what Mitnaged has described above, that conspiracy theories are self-insulating and very resistant to contradictory arguments, do you think it’d be successful?

  11. that’s a fair point sarah – but who cares about what the so called conspiracy theorists think? on the whole, this is a phrase that relates to faceless internet commentators, who might i add, were given way too much air time at this conference. selecting fringe quotes from online strangers to make blanket judgements on a whole section of society who are rightly sceptical about stories the government + main stream media feeds them.. its weak at best. they would need be open trials for the benefit of the public at large – televised, like the murdoch trial. in regards to who would chair it? i dont know, some representatives of the victims families would be a good start. follow the money trail, address wtc building 7, the cancelled train on 7/7….pull larry silverstein into court, pull peter power into court.. i mean, there are so many fundamentally dumb omissions from both the warren commission + lady justice hallets 7/7 report, its no wonder the victims families feel so cheated.

    • How about bringing in the “alive” hijackers of the 9/11 attacks?

      Wouldn’t that be a great place to start your trials ben?

        • ben, Any videos of any of the “alive” 9/11 hijackers?

          Any interviews with any of the “alive” 9/11 hijackers on Al Jazeera?

          Any interview of any of the “alive” 9/11 hijackers with alexi jones or yourself?

          osama bin laden made loads of videos. Surely if any of the “alive” 9/11 hijackers were still alive they would make videos.

          • you seem to give this whole ‘alive hijackers’ thing a fair bit of credence, why dont you tell me? …and lets say they were still alive, something i have no clear knowledge about whatsoever, on what basis are you assuming they would want to make themselves known?

            sounds like more unfounded, subjective theory to me – but im all ears…

            • ben, I don’t give the claim.credence. I QUESTION the claim and need to see evidence that they are alive.

              Should be easy if the claim is true.

              Let the “alive” hijackers do interviews with journalists on Al Jazeera or PressTV or the BBC.

              If the hijackers, the PERPETRATORS are ALIVE would that not blow the cover off the 9/11 “conspiracy”

              or

              DESTROY the 9/11 troofer claim.

              Here is a link to the FBI website.
              http://www.fbi.gov/news/pressrel/press-releases/the-fbi-releases-19-photographs-of-individuals-believed-to-be-the-hijackers

              Which of them are still alive?
              .

              • ha! ok, but why do you care about this unsubstantiated claim one way or another? what has this got to do with this conversation? if someone you know personally holds this point to be some kind of litmus test in regards to 9/11 truth, then why not take it up with them? the internet is full of these, what is it about this one that fascinates you and what has it got to do with me?

              • TGIF – By demanding to see the survivors you invite the next step in the conspiracy theory – either the picture of the hijackers passing through security in Boston were faked, or they are alive in a secret CIA site in …. somewhere … probably where they keep the survivors of the Roswell UFO …

    • Methinks you have a fair point, Ben, about who cares what conspiracy theorists think (except I am assuming that the echo chamber in which they talk to each other reflects that they themselves care).

      I wasn’t at this conference (although I wish I had been, it sounds as if it was very entertaining) but from Mitnaged’s account and Ian Crane’s response (overly defensive) and having looked at his web page, I know whose views I’d set greater store by.

      Having read Ian Crane’s lame attempt here to squirm his way out of Mitnaged’s points to him, viz that he wouldn’t expect anyone to take anything he said at face value, which to me figures among the other impossible things he might expect me to believe before breakfast, it’d be a hiding to nowhere to convince him and others of his ilk.

      I agree with you that, given the omissions you mention, it’s little wonder that the victims and their families feel cheated, but I suspect the difference between you and someone like Ian Crane would be that you would be looking for parsimonious explanations for the phenomena, whereas he would not.

  12. Thanks Mitnaged. This is an area of great interest to me.

    “Bartlett also argued for the inclusion of the teaching of critical thinking skills in school curricula”

    This comment really stood out for me. It is of such importance.

    Several years ago I spent 3hrs on the phone with a terrified acquaintance who had been a member of one of the larger, well-known conspiracy forums. She had fallen for one of their many predictions and was ready to take her small children and flee to a forest. The ‘theory’ was so, so easily de-constructed and of course, the following month (the time scale given in this doom-ridden theory) proved that it was utter nonsense.

    Intrigued – and alarmed – by the impact conspiracy theories appear to have, I did a little personal research and visited several of the larger, well-known forums. New theories arose almost daily and in every single case were elicting fear and mistrust to the extent that some people were making quite drastic changes to their lives by planning to ‘go off the radar’ so that the ‘powers-that-be’ couldn’t find them. Yet there was barely a single theory that couldn’t have been de-constructed had the forum members applied a little critical thinking. Occasionally, I would post a comment, pointing out the obvious flaw(s) and the response was either angry or, more often, I was called a ‘misinformation agent’ – a spy pretending to be a member in order to spread lies, confuse or even elicit personal details so that members could be tracked by these ‘powers-that-be’. .

    With regard to the label, ‘misinformation agent’ I also noticed that it didn’t take too long to reach a stage whereby trust had eroded to the degree that members began suspecting other members and eventually, the forum owners themselves, and/or the big ‘names’ in the business. The fear, mistrust, anarchy and paranoia evident on these forums is extremely sad and worrying.

    A few years ago the LibDem Mayoral candidate and former Deputy Assistant Commissioner of the Met Police, Brian Paddick, spoke on TV about his concern regarding conspiracy theories. He felt that they were causing real harm. I agree. The young – who don’t have the skills or life experience – can be affected as can the genuinely mentally ill. The acquaintance I mentioned in my opening paragraph was just the first of several. There have been others drawn in by the numerous ‘leaders’ who, let’s face it, are now so well-known for their theories that it is not in their interests to stop peddling nonsense.

    • Penny, although I don’t know your friend, what you write about your friend and others you know who are susceptible to falling for conspiracy theories rather confirms what I describe above, that there seems to be a constellation of personality factors which predispose. (Of course I couldn’t say whether this was true of your friends but in my opinion it bears thinking about).

      I believe that among the most important things one can teach one’s children or pupils or students is a questioning approach (which is grounded in reality rather than in the imagination, or based on disagreement for disagreement’s sake or because it must be wrong because it’s an “official explanation”), and can therefore be reality-tested. “Why? Who says so?” is a useful place to begin to question what one is told, although some, perhaps even many, “official” explanations for phenomena, are eminently plausible and parsimonious.

      The comments you describe are indicative of the paranoid-schizoid stage of cognitive/emotional development, whereby people are not able to synthesise conflicting ideas into a coherent whole. Things are either one thing or the other for such people; there is little or no sense of their being able to reason, “On the one hand, this, but on the other thus” and consequently such people tend to throw the baby out with the bathwater. Once they disagree with one idea put forward, tend to write off all the arguments by that person as having no merit. This is classic dichotomous thinking.

      For myself, I am willing to admit that, not knowing everything there is to know about 9/11 and 7/7, there may be some things that I am missing, but that does not mean that the respective governments are implicated in planning and executing both of them.

      The most disturbing aspect of a conspiracy theory, for me, is the ease with which, if a person buys into it he/she does so wholeheartedly and seemingly loses contact with his/her critical thinking skills, and consequently is very much at risk of being sucked into believing others.

      • Mitnaged – the people I knew who believed the ‘they’re out to get us’ theories – which go beyond 9/11 and 7/7 – were pretty average folk in their late 30’s. If there were any common factors then they would best be described as having their fair share of worries and possibly being a bit isolated, both with their troubles and via their locations. Other than that they seemed just like anyone else. One became very into New Age philosophies along with the 2012 stuff.

        The forums were home to a mixed bunch but there were an unusual number of anarchists. Some were clearly lonely and vulnerable, at least one was mentally ill. (It was troubling to see his statement that aliens had taken over his family”s bodies and trashed his life result in page after page of supporting comments) By contrast, newcomers arrived and appeared to have practical, questioning attitudes but quite a few lost them as they became involved in this world.

        There was very little disagreement and very little critical thinking. One example stands out for me and this was when the owner of the forum – a well-known name in the ‘business’ – announced that these ‘powers-that-be’ were aware that the population were on to them and were going to crash the internet within six weeks. A month later this same chap announced that he was going to introduce a small membership fee! Even more amusing was the fact that he offered an annual subscription. Not a single person asked why a fee of any description – much less an annual option – was even worthwhile given the intentions of this shadowy cabal. This is why I believe critical thinking skills matter so much.

        This stuff is much, much wider than 9/11 and 7/7 and utterly bizarre. But no matter what the theory is about, it will inevitably link back to a government and in every case that government is either the USA, UK or Israel or all three in concert. Never Portugal or Sweden or the Phillipines!

        The ‘leaders’ – like Icke, Jones and Ryan, pump out stuff on a daily basis
        and again, no one seems to stop and think that these men have built a name, a reputation and a fan base out of fear-driven theories such that they have to keep pumping out more of the same.

  13. sarah – i hadnt heard ian speak before this event on sunday and i personally thought he held himself really well. he raised some really interesting points and i’ve since looked further into some of things he talked about – zbignew bresinski’s role through the decades, wtc7 anomalies, ian farrell’s dismissal (his special guest).. and from what i gather, the princess diana note he showed was clip from a new keith allen film called unlawful killing, which i’m really intrigued to see. his request that people dont take what he says at face value came across as a genuine plea for people to look into some of these things for themselves, which to me sounds like an entirely noble request. how do you ‘know’ anything you know? you dont automatically believe the bbc, or wikileaks, or history as written by the winners, or evangelical science etc .. its all subject to spin + bias, so it makes sense to look at these things from different angles.. regardless of whats on ians site, it makes no difference to me, his talk raised some important points that so called journalists in the mainstream should be raising. i dont understand this sweet spot where people cant pick up an individual point, study it and then put it down, without letting all kinds of unrelated nonsense cloud it?

    • ben said:

      “history as written by the winners”

      Perhaps you prefer history written by the losers.

    • Ben I wasn’t there, as I said, but although Ian may well have held his arguments it seems from Mitnaged’s account that he blew it when he insulted the scholarship of one of the speakers. That’s a real no-no so far as I am concerned and smacks of pettiness and spite and, curiously enough from what Mitnaged reports, illustrates the too-ready resorting to ad hominem when the conspiracy theoriser’s views are disagreed with.

      I wasn’t there, but did Ian Crane give a broad list of sources, where people might look for information?

      I absolutely agree with you that all phenomena should be looked at from as many different angles as possible. However, it seems to me that the possible resulting confusion has led to the premature “shutting down” of examining more than very few options for those inclined to buy into conspiracy theories.

  14. We should all take whatever we are told, read or hear with an air of skepticism. Both sides are riddled with people dogmatically believing whatever they are told. Unfortuantely this tends, in my experience, to be more those that swallow the rubbish told to them by the mainstream media.

    What I am saying here is look outside the box whatever side of the fence you stand on before you criticise the other.

  15. I still have come away wondering what a conspiracy theorist actually is, despite listening to goverment funded studies that have taken years to compile.
    What i took away from the conference is that the opinion of people is generally dictated by the information they are exposed to. For instance a nation hoodwinked in to a illegal war due to supposed weapons of mass destruction. It seemed to be unfashionable in this age for one to question or think for themselves. Critical thinkers are being given the convienient label of conspiracy theorist in order to undermine any point they make however credible. We are in dangerous teritory when we assume that anyone who does not take as gospel the government/mass media stance on the truth is a crack pot. Although in their infantcy i believe that these studies will be the blue print that ends up criminalising free thought and expression or indeed outlining the blueprint for a new psycological disorder. The world is full of injustice and generally those that speak out againt it are the casualties., so question this, what is the agenda of those who have sacrificed their reputations and careers in order to do so?

    • Tracy Thorndike, I can understand that.

      I agree with you that people’s opinions are generally dictated by what they are exposed to but what about those who are exposed to alternative opinions, sometimes perhaps too many alternatives, which constitute scientific proof and yet still cling to their own half-baked notions of what “really happened?” I would imagine that part of the reason these people do so is because they are uncomfortable with “not knowing” (which is a realistic life position for most of us, since there are many things that we are “not knowing” about).

      I agreed with the presenters about the character traits of such people – the dichotomous thinking, the predisposition to construe opinion as fact, and the unswervingness with which they held such opinions which smacked of almost religious zealousness. It’s my own bag, but I find emotional argument very off-putting in an academic forum.

      Do you not think, Tracey, that much depends upon how critical thinkers express themselves? If they come across as calm and measured rather than angry and overemotional, back up their assertions with reliable and triangulated proofs from disinterested sources rather than supposition and “many people agree with me” sort of arguments, cope with disagreement by an “OK, back to the drawing board to rethink how I might convince you” attitude rather than doing the equivalent of stamping their feet, then might not people be more inclined to listen to them?

      No-one with a grain of sense should take as gospel things told them by governments just because they are in government, but taking what we are told with a pinch of salt and trying to find out more and not being credulous about important things is a beginning of a long process of trying to verify. So too is an acceptance of being “not knowing”, of accepting that there are things we cannot know, and most importantly that these things need not always be malign.

      As for the agenda of those who sacrificed their careers in order to question, I cannot possibly say – I would have to know a great deal more about them as people about their family circumstances, and how they had been in the world and in their jobs before this happened.

    • Tracey, just one point, what precisely do you mean by “critical thinkers”?

      From your post it seems to me, although I am very ready to be put right if I am not correct, that you define it as anyone who espouses viewpoints critical of those given out by a government, official group or whatever.

  16. “Critical thinkers are being given the convienient label of conspiracy theorist in order to undermine any point they make however credible”

    Tracey – the trouble with some of the theories is that those espousing them haven’t applied any critical thinking whatsoever. They’ve watched a documentary or looked at various internet sites and taken the information on trust. That is, they seem to accept that whoever has presented the information is knowledgable in a related field. That isn’t always the case.

    Some of the theories would be very easily proved – and yet those presenting them never even attempt to do so. Most of those well-known conspiracy theorists aren’t broke. They could commission an independant scientific / psychological team to investigate the chem trails they bang on about and the ‘depressive’ effects they have on the local population – but they never do. Yet they are believed.

    • On the positive side: two obviously intelllectually challenged idiots have thumbed down my post – which suggests it’s probably worth reading the link!

      Do we have two troofers on this site? Perhaps they’d care to explain their thoughts …

    • A similar view was offered by David Aaronovitch, Pretzelberg. He didn’t use the word ‘paperwork’, of course, but the basic point is the same. Hundreds, if not thousands, of people would have to have been a part of the operation, and the degree of trust required to ensure every one of them kept quiet in the decades to come wouldn’t encourage a bookie to accept a bet!

      • Then there’s the horrible “the Jews knew what was coming!” line, i.e. staying away from work without telling anyone else.

        Absolutely beyond belief.

  17. Conspiracy theorists like Alison Wier should be reported to Ofscum – the new regulatory body set up to patrol deranged media outlets of the Guardian ilk.

    Here is Zoe Williams introducing Ofscum – she is sufficiently befuddled to get the newspaper wrong:

    Quote: You cannot fault the Daily Mail here, they are like a regulatory body, checking the land registry every time somebody is leftwing to make sure they’re poor enough: Ofscum, they call themselves. endquote

    http://www.guardian.co.uk/commentisfree/2011/sep/28/rory-weal-planet-mail-leftwing

  18. Conspiracy theorists like to think that only one conspiracy is required to destroy heaven. Those that run heaven shrug for it is well known that heaven is the impossibility of conspiracies.

    And a happy new year to Gilad Atzmon that one-man conspiracy theory industry – here writing in the Guardian: ‘An antisemite used to be someone who hates Jews; nowadays an antisemite is someone Jews hate.’

  19. Fatah Central Committee Member Abbas Zaki Calls Netanyahu, Lieberman, and Obama “Scumbags” and Says: “The Greater Goal Cannot Be Accomplished in One Go”, Al-Jazeera TV Arabic (Qatar) – September 23, 2011
    http://www.memritv.org/clip/en/3130.htm

    http://www.memritv.org/embedded_player/index.php?clip_id=3130

    Transcript:

    Abbas Zaki: “The settlement should be based upon the borders of June 4, 1967. When we say that the settlement should be based upon these borders, President [Abbas] understands, we understand, and everybody knows that the greater goal cannot be accomplished in one go.

    “If Israel withdraws from Jerusalem, evacuates the 650,000 settlers, and dismantles the wall – what will become of Israel? It will come to an end.

    […]

    Who is nervous, upset, and angry now? Netanyahu, Lieberman, and Obama… All those scumbags. Why even get into this? We should be happy to see Israel upset.

    […]

    If we say that we want to wipe Israel out… C’mon, it’s too difficult. It’s not [acceptable] policy to say so. Don’t say these things to the world. Keep it to yourself.

    “I want the resolutions that everybody agrees upon. I say to the world, to the Quartet, and to America: You promised, and you turned out to be liars.

    […]

  20. @Pretzelberg : I attended the Sunday conference, and I think your report and analysis is marvellous, a very accurate summary of what was said.
    However, I think you were a bit hard on Ian Crane.
    For one thing, Crane came at very short notice, and never pretended to present a talk on a scientific paper or sociological theory, or the mindset of conspiracy theorists. His talk was simply a defence of those theorists. For another thing, he showed considerable courage in entering the lions den. And he’s appeared here to defend himself, also.
    It’s been said above that he told the audience not to believe what he said. In fact, what he meant in context was, that the audience should apply critical thinking, and to ask us to doubt received wisdom.
    As you pointed out, he presented no coherent conspiracy theory on this occasion. But then, he didn’t try to. He simply tried to introduce doubts into the official versions of various events, and (excuse the emphasis) it’s inherently IMPOSSIBLE TO REFUTE THESE DOUBTS WITHOUT EXAMINING THE EVIDENCE, which is, as a practicality, inconvenient or even impossible to do.
    The crucial point then, is whether to reject the conspiracies merely on grounds of their improbability, or to allow ourselves to doubt the official narrative of something so important as 9/11, or JFK. I should add at this point, that I’m not a Truther.

    You criticise Crane for his dismissal of Karen Douglas’ research. Certainly, he was unpardonably rude. Certainly, her work is peer reviewed. But, to a layman in the audience like myself, it had crossed my mind already that much of her talk was a pretty basic statistical analysis of people’s answers to a questionnaire, and that correlation does not necessarily mean causation. She would probably agree that her work was in its early stages;- that it was shallow. In addition, it must be remembered that her talk, while pretty interesting, could be seen as essentially labelling conspiracy theorists as delusional or mentally ill. It must be pretty galling to sit patiently through all that for 6 hours, before being allowed your say. And you’re pretty selective in taking offense; after all, Ian Crane’s presentation came in for some criticism itself.

    Finally, Crane was energetic, intelligent and entertaining. He was also challenging for someone like myself, who dislikes conspiracy theory.

    • Hello cbfrmTH. As regards Karen Douglas’ research, can you define what you yourself mean by “shallow”? Scientifically rigorous, peer-reveiwed research is hardly that, even if it is an initial study preparatory to a deeper one.

      You are being more than a tad disingenuous here, I think, by trying to argue that Crane meant what you meant when he himself said it. Crane used the connotative, pejorative meaning of “shallow”, didn’t he, and consequently was, as you yourself agree, “unpardonably rude.” His views had been disagreed with, hadn’t they, and rather than address the nuts and bolts as to how he had come to his conclusions, he copped out – “you’ll all have to do your own research” (of course we do, if we are not to be led by the nose, but he actually provided little and no references other than a book which supported his take as to how he had come to the conclusions he had, other than mentioning a bad experience he had had in Kuwait). Douglas and others, on the other hand, were far more transparent as to how they had come to their conclusions, whether you agree with those or not.

      I remember someone in the audience asking the whole panel whether they had ever begun to research a conspiracy theory which they later found out to have been untrue and someone asked him the same question here. That was an excellent question, and the questioner invited him to share the details here, but Ian Crane waffled when it was his turn at the conference, and he hasn’t replied to the questioner here either.

  21. It’s often assumed that conspiracy theorists are those who doubt the truths presented to them by authority.
    But what about people who live in authoritarian dictatorships? In these countries, governments peddle conspiracy theories to delude the people into loyalty. A modern day example might be Iran, where the government attempts to control its peoples access to the media, and continually puts forward anti-semetic, anti American and anti-British conspiracy theories. It projects these ideas abroad as part of its foreign policy. It’s reasonable to assume that, in Iran (or formerly the Soviet Union, or Nazi Germany) it’s not the anti-authority types who believe conspiracy theories, as it is in the West, it’s the most loyal, credulous and trusting of souls – the very people who here in the UK would have tended to trust the official version of events.

    Should these conspiracy theorists be classed differently to the anti-government types in the West? Or are they ultimately the same personality type, or the same problem? Is the real problem lack of critical thinking? Or too much of it?

    I myself am someone with an innate trust in authority and, usually, in other people. And Ian Crane’s description of me is largely correct : I DO resist looking at his evidence for fear that I’ll be “converted”, & I find myself easily swayed by other people’s points of view, if I can’t easily debunk it, and, indeed, was somewhat on this occasion.

    Are most non conspiracy theorists like myself, mere deniers by personality, or do a fraction truly belong to some superior group which can critically analyse information? If so, THEY MUST BE A VERY SMALL GROUP, based on the people I meet every day.

    This experience I have had, of being easily swayed by the force of another’s belief, is why I think channels like PressTV and Russia Today are such a threat. They use our freedoms to destroy us.

    Incidentally, it seems to be the case that people who live under authoritarian governments tend to believe in conspiracies more often – it would be interesting to see if this is the case for Eastern Europe. It’s certainly true of the Arab world.

    • Hello again, cbfrmTH

      Since you mention it, I believe that the problem IS the lack of critical thinking skills. Islam has forbidden Muslims to think critically, for fear presumably that they will realise that their leadership is corrupt and threaten revolt.

      As for too much critical thinking, that depends on what you mean. If a group habitually disagrees because decisions are made by a government, even if they are good decisions, then this can not be put down to “too much” critical thinking, but rather to oppositionalism for its own sake.

      It’s very difficult to tread the fine line between opposition for its own sake and/or because you might lack trust in authority, and adopting the stance of the intelligent sceptic. My rule of thumb is derived from observation of opposers for its own sake compared with those who are sceptical. The former seem by and large to be overly invested in making emotion-based arguments which become more and more heated the more they are challenged. It’s often as if these arguments have far too much personal significance and to be disagreed with is perceived as a personal threat. The latter tend to be much calmer and to rely on reason-based argument rather than emotion-based and are much less defensive (perhaps because they feel less threatened personally) if they are disagreed with or proven wrong.

      You are correct that authoritarianism and belief in conspiracy theories are positively correlated. The Arab world is rife with them from the sublime to the utterly ridiculous.

    • 1. “Israel’s relationship with america benefitted from the 9/11 attacks”

      2. “9/11 was a good thing”

      One of these statements describes what was reportedly said and one does not is not.

      Are you incapable of distinguishing between them or a youjust a nasty little shit?

    • sencar:
      “Netanyahu did actually say….” and the evidence you cite for this is a newspaper report quoting a report in another newspaper. Not an original source or even a second-hand source, but at best third-hand.
      As I’ve come to realise in the Twilight Zone you inhabit if it’s in a newspaper, and it supports your prejudice, then it must be true.

      • Here’s a relevant quote from another source – the answer to a direct question from a New York Times journalist:
        “Asked tonight what the attack meant for relations between the United States and Israel, Benjamin Netanyahu, the former prime minister, replied, ”It’s very good.” Then he edited himself: ”Well, not very good, but it will generate immediate sympathy.” He predicted that the attack would ”strengthen the bond between our two peoples, because we’ve experienced terror over so many decades, but the United States has now experienced a massive hemorrhaging of terror.”
        http://www.nytimes.com/2001/09/12/us/day-terror-israelis-spilled-blood-seen-bond-that-draws-2-nations-closer.html

        No one suggests that Netanyahu thought it a good idea to crash into the twin towers. What is certainly true is that, perhaps in an unguarded moment, he described the attack’s effects as ‘good’, exactly as I noted in my post.

        • sencar, really you are now trying to move the goalposts.
          In your earlier post you alleged, wrongly, that Benjamin Netanyahu said it would encourage the USA to join in opposing Hamas and Hezbullah as part of the ‘war on terror’.
          In your later post you cite a New York Times article as quoting Benjamin Netanyahu saying it would strengthen the bond between two peoples who have experienced terror. Not the same thing at all!
          Are you really suggesting that the USA was not opposed to Hamas and Hezbullah before 11th September 2001?
          I also note that you had to read down to the ninth paragraph to find the quote from Benjamin Netanyahu, but conveniently skipped over the third papragraph which quoted people who did support the attacks and said they were a good thing. Which was this;
          “Most West Bank towns were quiet today. But in Nablus, big crowds of Palestinians marched in celebration, chanting ”Beloved bin Laden, strike Tel Aviv!” Some waved the flag of the terrorist organization Hamas. ”Let the Americans know the meaning of death,” one marcher said. “

  22. You lied, and so did Haaretz. Careful reading shows that Bibi said 9/11 benefited Israel, not that it was a good thing.

  23. Just stumbled across this website for the first time while googling variations on the theme of ‘conspiracy theories’ and ‘Guardian’.

    Interesting web site and discussions, although it’s a bit of a shame that it’s focussed on discussion of Israel-bashing and antisemitism. I say it’s “a shame” because conspiracy theorist / denialist posts seem to infest and undermine almost every discussion on CiF, and a general widening of the discussion to include conspiracism and denialism more generally (as the article above starts to do) might provide very useful insights into the attitudes, motivations, and methods of anti-semitic obsessives.

    It’s also worth bearing in mind that there are conspiracist / denialist trolls of seemingly every political persuasion on CiF (including plenty of anti-muslim trolls as well as anti-semites), although the dominant world view of the trolls there seems to be politically right wing. But my reading of that is that the dominance of right-of-centre trolls is because the political right finds the Guardian very provocative and so those who need to ‘oppose’ it tend to gravitate towards it.

    My username on CiF is SynchromisedDogmas (a handle that is deliberately ironic, I should point out), and a skim through my various posts there will, I hope, and if anyone resents anything I have said here, show that paranoid conspiracism, and it’s perverted handmaiden denialism, are among my pet hates, regardless of motivation and political slant.

    It is extremely irritating that the Guardian is completely unwilling to address the issue of trolling below the line on CiF. My most recently deleted / ‘moderated’ post on Cif (“IPCC chief braced for storms of denial over extreme weather report” 18 November 2011 2:53PM) seems to have transgressed solely because it rather forcefully challenged the Guardian / CiF editorial team to get to grips with the issue.