On having no dominion over posts about conspiracy theories

On the 23rd of June of this year there was a series of articles about conspiracy theories that appeared in the Dominion Post, the local newspaper for the city of Poneke (Wellington).

I am not mentioned in any of them. One is even about a course on the philosophy and psychology of conspiracy theories, the former of which is something I could well be considered to be an expert in.

I have been told I should be outraged about this1; I do have a recent PhD dissertation on the topic and surely, having past history as a commentator on conspiracy theories in the media, I should just be the default “go-to guy” when it comes to a quick comment about these things (I have been told). However, I’m failing to feel outrage or even disquiet about this; I’m an expert, to be sure, in the field of conspiracy theories, but it’s not like I’m the only expert nor am I a senior one. There are other voices, and other voices in different fields, who will have quality opinions worth noting on the topic of conspiracy theories and belief in them.

Indeed, reading the article (I’ve yet to find a link to an online version of the piece), it’s mostly about a course being taught by Stuart Brock (Philosophy) and Marc Wilson (Psychology) down here in Pon?k? (where I happen to be holidaying) and if I had been asked to comment it would likely have been reduced down to:

Matthew Dentith, who recently completed a PhD on the philosophy of conspiracy theories, said he had heard the course had been taught before and that it seemed like a very good course indeed.

The writer of the piece probably wouldn’t have continued with:

Further, he said, he wish he had been asked to contribute to it last time and hoped that someone would be in contact with him about it for this current iteration. Matthew’s face sunk slightly. “You see, I just want to be loved for what I am.”

So, best no one had asked, really.

If I am at all perplexed by what’s happened its because I knew the article was coming out and I was expecting to hear from the journalist in question. Vicki Hyde, of the New Zealand Skeptics, suggested to her that I would be someone good to talk to on these matters and passed my contact details on. It would have been, to quote Bertie Wooster (a character I sometimes model my life on), the “work of a moment” to get in contact but, well, who knows. Maybe they had enough material or maybe time was short. It doesn’t matter; there is no outrage and no slight has been made or even, I think, intended.

As for the article itself, it seems pretty much what you would think such an article would be; a slightly perplexed “Look at what those silly academics teach at uni these days!” piece which is rather out of date. As you probably noted with my pretend media commentary on the issue above, this course has been taught before, but the author of the article in question seems to treat it as if it were new. This probably explains why one of my friends is outraged on my behalf, as I’ve taught three courses on conspiracy theories at Auckland (in the Centre for Continuing Education) and I’ve given lectures on conspiracy theories to undergrads, so it’s not as if a) the course in question is new and b) there aren’t other courses in the country that teach similar material.

But, mostly, if I’m going to get outraged someone says something about conspiracy theories, then I’m going to get outraged every single minute of the day. The internet is a vast playground of conspiratorial material and references to me are slight (and sometimes slighting).

So, no outrage. Even if this post does smell slightly of “He doth protest too much.”

Notes

  1. Mostly by friends who do not have an internet presence. Make of that what you will.