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I read the Fortean Times…

Climate change. It’s big news at the moment, mostly due to the Climate Change Skeptics who either think that there isn’t climate change going on or that it is occurring but we can’t say for sure that it’s the result of human endeavour. I suspect that a lot of the skepticism comes from a misunderstanding of consensus in the Natural Sciences and that as scientists themselves are so specialised these days that it is possible for someone who is qualified in one area to be absolutely unqualified in another (but act otherwise). Still, this is the first paragraph and thus it is about to turn out that climate change is the ephemera of today’s post.

No, today it’s a slip into the weird and the wacky (well, okay, I think climate change skepticism is weird and wacky, but that’s not the point). It’s to do with reports; especially reports that support anomalous conclusions.

It all started with my usual reading of the Fortean Times and a piece on ghosts. The writer supported his main point (the presence of a spectre) with reference to a report that showed that this kind of ‘presence’ has been reported on before. My only problem with it was that the current report and the reference were separated by over one hundred years. Whilst it was nice to show that some time in 1898 someone had written on just these kinds of happenings it is also true that the kind of psychical research the Victorians were doing probably isn’t quite the standard to which we apply today’s anomalous events.

Which got me thinking. A lot of strange beliefs (Conspiracy Theories, Climate Change Skepticism, Ghosts, Intelligent Design, et al), whether they are ‘good’ or ‘bad’ are often supported by reports which either go against the consensus (itself an interesting topic of discussion) or belong in a different paradigm. Yet the appeal to an authority seems to make the supporter not just happy in their beliefs but convinced that these beliefs should be held by others as well. It is a move that fascinates me; it also scares me.

I am fascinated because I suspect that it’s a good example of compartmentalisation; in this area the ‘believer’ will take non-consensus views as good support for their claims but, I would expect, will be as critical as I when it comes to people making the same move in another area.

It scares me because people do the above. Also, it scares me because I probably do it in at least one area of belief. As to what that area is I really should try hard to find out and then make moves to correct this behaviour. More on my plans to ‘rectify’ my thinking as news comes to hand.


About Matthew Dentith

Author of "The Philosophy of Conspiracy Theories" (Palgrave Macmillan), Matthew Dentith wrote his PhD on epistemic issues surrounding belief in conspiracy theories. He is a frequent media commentator on the weird and the wonderful, both locally and internationally. On occasion he can be caught dreaming about wax lions but, mostly, it is rumoured he works for elements of the New World Order.