The Rise of the Conspiracy
With England cricketer Andrew Flintoff recently naming himself as a “flat-earther” the question we might want to ask ourselves is: why are conspiracies on the rise?
Conspiracy – in at least one of its insidious forms – has been around for as long as human civilisation. We’re all familiar with the big conspiracies of recent-times: JFK, 9/11, the falsification of the moon landing – the list goes on. There are some peculiar ones too, such as the theory that Paul McCartney died in 1966 and was replaced by a doppelganger, and the unsettling idea of ‘Last Thursdayism’ – which suggests that last Thursday the entire universe (along with our memories) came into existence1. ‘Last Thursdayism’ relates to the Omphalos hypothesis, which is a pseudoscientific argument as it is impossible to disprove (if something appears older than last Thursday, it could be an illusion) but it’s certainly an interesting idea to read more about.
However, some theories are more troubling and could have the potential to undermine science and democracy. Human-caused climate change is a threat to life currently on Earth, and is related to the increase of anomalous weather seen in 20172. Somehow, many are still in denial of its existence, including the President of the United States of America who intends to withdraw from the Paris Agreement – a global initiative to tackle climate change. It’s also concerning that a 2015 survey found over 50% of British people felt the government were hiding the truth about the number of immigrants living in the UK3, a paranoia that may have played a role in the outcome of the Brexit referendum.
In an age of fake news, disengagement with the political class and a mistrust of experts, there has been an increase in the number of people being misled by conspiracies. If we want to challenge problematic conspiracies, it’s important to look at the factors that lead to them and to counter these invalid arguments in a way that is not immediately dismissive. Additionally, financial and social exclusion provides ample ground for the proliferation of conspiracy theory belief, in times of austerity this is only set to escalate. The Internet can perpetuate these ideas too, due to the echo chamber effect: solely reading up on ideas that you agree with and disregarding evidence that challenges your beliefs. Entire websites and forums exist with falsified ‘evidence’ to support different conspiracies, allowing falsehoods to spread under the guise of truth. The Anti-Vax movement (against vaccination due to the unfounded fear that it is harmful) has websites containing seemingly accurate data that would be easy to believe to the untrained eye. Even more worryingly are Holocaust denial websites, riddled with anti-Semitism to its core.
In these turbulent political times, we need to protest ideas that put public health at risk or validate hate-crime. With claims that expert-opinion undermines free-speech due to a fear of technocracy, it’s difficult to strike a balance.
Next time you hear a conspiracy, it’s worth asking yourself if you understand some of the science that refutes it before writing it off entirely. Do you know the evidence that rebukes flat-earth theory or did you scoff at England cricketer Flintoff just because it’s what you’ve always been told? Don’t get lost in an echo-chamber and be sure you get your research right.
Learn more at http://conspiracyanddemocracy.org/. A great blog with a vast array of articles about conspiracy theories!
Edited by Richard Murchie