Thursday, February 21, 2013

Recursive Conspiracy Theories

From Justin Gills at the New York Times (via):
Dr. Lewandowsky’s survey results suggested that people who rejected climate science were more likely than other respondents to reject other scientific or official findings and buy into assorted fringe theories: that NASA faked the moon landing, that the Central Intelligence Agency killed Martin Luther King Jr., that the AIDS virus was unleashed by the government, and so forth.

This piece of research appeared in a specialized journal in psychological science, but it did not take long to find its way onto climate skeptics’ blogs, setting off howls of derision.

A theory quickly emerged: that believers in climate science had been the main people taking Dr. Lewandowsky’s survey, but instead of answering honestly, had decided en masse to impersonate climate contrarians, giving the craziest possible answers so as to make the contrarians look like whack jobs.

So, a paper about a tendency among this group to believe in conspiracy theories was met by … a conspiracy theory.
Words fail me.

But one further wrinkle occurs to me.  This is all a secondary finding of the initial study.  The primary finding was "that ideological belief in an unregulated free market tended to be a predictor of someone’s willingness to reject the findings of mainstream climate research." As Gills says, "no surprises there"; after all, that's a straightforward ideological pairing in a country where beliefs are more and more partisan (and the right has an echo-chamber devoted to spreading falsehoods).

But how do other conspiracy theories fit in?  Are they part of the right-wing nonsense machine somehow?  Does getting one's news from that machine simply predispose one to believing other conspiracy theories?  Are they somehow in sync with right wing beliefs?  Or are these two different groups -- a big group that deny climate science because of right wing beliefs, and another group that denies them because they believe other conspiracy theories?

Damn. Now maybe I'll need to read the #$%^& papers.  (Oh, and by the way: here's a link to the first paper, which spawned the conspiracy theories, and here's a link to (a preliminary draft of) a second paper, written about the response to the first one.)

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