Conspiracy Round-up, August 10th, 2015

#Conspiracy Round-up, August 10th, 2015

Mike Wood points out that the conspiracy theory might not be quite the scarlet letter [his words, not mine] people think. I know a little bit about this paper, having heard Mike speak to it at the Miami conference, and I think his conclusion shows he wants to have it both ways:

It’s possible that the label only works under some specific circumstances that these experiments didn’t cover, but even then it seems the label’s hardly as powerful as it’s been given credit for. On the other hand, maybe people in general just don’t have a negative view of conspiracy theories – maybe the intellectual stigma around the term simply doesn’t exist outside of academia (this is what Lee Basham, a philosopher from Wabash College, thinks). I’m not so sure.

Mike’s survey results shows that labelling something a conspiracy theory (and the experiment he did is really quite interesting) seems to have no effect on how people assess the merit of the explanation on offer. However, he wants to stick with some kind of academic orthodoxy that conspiracy theories are typically considered bunk, rather than go “Hmm, maybe our intuitions are wrong in this case.” Anyway, whatever the case, the results certainly are interesting (even if they are not exactly surprising).


Glenn Greenwald writes about how Western intelligence agencies are ruining the internet. Think of this as part of the wealth of information which shows that the prior probability a conspiracy is on-going here-and-now is higher than many people would like to think; conspiracies are just more independently likely than most people tend to think. and this is evidence for that supposition.

Now, I know several people who think that Edward Snowden (from whom Greenwald gets the elements of this story) might be a plant who is still working for the NSA. If that’s true (and I am of the view – given the damage the Snowden revelations have caused for relations with the U.S. abroad, as well as the on-going reviews of intelligence agency work outside America – that’s it not), whatever endgame the NSA and the U.S. State are working towards, they certainly are making it harder on themselves.


Talking about Snowden, the White House continues to say it won’t countenance pardoning him. Talk about the potential pardon or punishment of Snowden is incredibly confusing, given the morass of conflicting legal accounts as to what might happen to him, and whether there is any kind of public good defence he could mount, given the way in which the 1917 Espionage Act works (really, America, you probably need a new espionage act).


Meanwhile, in the U.K., the Police are still investigating reporters involved in the leak. Possibly the best bit of this story (if we ignore the icy chills in our spines) is the fact that an element of it is the “Plebgate Affair”. Plebgate!


Is Donald Trump really working for the Clinton campaign? Probably not, although I also think it’s clear Mr. Trump is not working for the Republicans. I think he might just be working for himself…


Donald Trump likes to question the sitting President’s natural-born status; here’s an attempt to trace the origin of the Birther Movement.


Lithuania is not just erasing the ugly period of Nazi collaboration, but it’s going out of its way to punish those who fought against the occupying Nazis.


Fun story: the title of this story in the French version is “Conspiracy theories kill!” It’s a piece on both our fascination with conspiracy theories and how sometimes they aren’t just views we should be laughing at. I get name-dropped in it, mostly because, as the author points out, Australasia seems to be the place where a lot of the philosophical work on conspiracy theories is getting done at the moment. David Coady, Charles Pigden, Steve Clarke, me… What is with Australians and New Zealanders being interested in these things? Must be the fluoride.


Old news by now, but Mullar Omar is dead for the fourth time and this time he died two years ago.


Forget 9/11 Truth; let’s talk Pluto Truth! (Also, here and here) Yes, the Pluto flyby is, apparently, a fake, and those super new high-res photos of our closest dwarf planet were likely filmed on a Disney soundstage.


Finally, in news that most people will cheer about but should give us some grounds for concern, Google is playing around with ranking pages on their truth. I’m in two minds about this; certainly, the trial programme – in which Google is using a lite version of its truth rankings with respect to searches about medicine – is good; ranking pages on their popularity when it comes to medicine seems like an awful idea. Yet I can also see how this might pervert some information online, because we’re not really talking about a truth-ranking but, rather, an expert-consensus ranking. Whilst I’m largely optimistic about how consensus works over the long term sometimes the consensus of experts gets it wrong here-and-now (for example, with the idea that there is something wrong with conspiracy theories).


I said “finally” but I lied. This is our last link; why expressing an opinion doesn’t mean you can’t be called out for being wrong. Opinions are, as Prince George probably say, like socks. “There’s lots of them about, but I’m not getting why people think they are important.”


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.