This article is in reference to the following study…
Article: Dead and alive: Beliefs in contradictory conspiracy theories.
Authors: Wood, M., Douglas, K. M., & Sutton, R. M.
Subject of Study: Social Psychological and Personality Science.
Funding By: School of Psychology, University of Kent
A 2011 study by students at the School of Psychology – Keynes College, University of Kent begins with the premise that belief in a given conspiracy theory increases the likelihood of belief in another. This has been shown to be statistically true in many previous studies. However, these authors wanted to learn whether these beliefs remained even when the theories were mutually exclusive. Despite some elements of the study being less than optimal, I didn’t find many false or misleading statements and thought the work was generally good. Although, the most revealing conclusion contained in the study was probably not intended to be thought of as such by the authors.
What was more revealing to me than the conclusions of the study itself was this statement, elaborating on their conclusions…
Almost any account of events which accords with the broader beliefs in question is likely to garner some endorsement by adherents of a conspiracist worldview.
Does that sound like the analysis of someone who has at least some suspicions that run counter to traditional views of an event? I doubt it! I question whether the point of this study was really to reach the conclusion that it did. Maybe the authors were confident in the stupidity of the participants and knew that, given certain study criteria and constraints they would respond accordingly. With that data as the foundation, the authors could have set out to explain the results in a manner that supported their own “worldview.”
Academia Disregard Conspiracy Theories Except as the Subject of Research to Marginalize their Proponents
I suspect that the authors of this study share the general view in academia that, to spend ones time considering the merit of conspiracy theories is trite and utterly ridiculous. After all, universities are the birthplace and nest of nothing less than logic, reason and truth. Escaping the influence of facts and proper methodology as you are instructed and based upon which your work is judged can’t be easy. Even if ones method of conducting a study is flawless, an unconventional analysis or conclusion is certain to draw criticism from superiors having spent more time in the nest.
Not having spent much time in institutions of higher learning, I’m not limited by mandated methods in my analysis of this study. In fact, I would likely have structured it differently in the first place. To begin, I wouldn’t have allowed any vagueness in what I was asking of the participants. In reference to how the questions were presented to the participants, the authors state…
They were then asked about their opinion of the official story, followed by 3 conspiracy items.
The study employed a 7-point Likert scale (1 = “strongly disagree”, 7 = “strongly agree”) to “ascertain participants’ agreement…” How would the results have differed if the options were simply True or False? This is a total setup. The instructions to the participants are to share their “opinions”, the options given are an array of 7 vague orientations none of which corresponds to the truth, and claim the resulting responses are good indicators of agreement with the conflicting theories as presented.
Would it surprise you then to learn that, the resulting conclusions are then said to reflect the participants’ “beliefs?” If that were a legitimate statement, wouldn’t the scale of options at least have been something like (1 = “strongly disbelieve“, 7 = “strongly believe“)?
I concede that nearly all of the statements presented by the authors as underlying causes for conspiracy theorist tendencies are very likely true for a subset of their population. One area where I think the conclusions fail is in their assumption that the participants knew that their answers were to reflect beliefs and not suspicions. Secondly, the authors’ scope of reference research and personal views seemed clearly to lack a wide enough spectrum to account for the validity of the theories given in the first place.
Despite my hoping to find a unique view of the conspiracy theorist dynamic, sadly I have to rate this study as biased against the existence of conspiracies and therefore intentional or unintentional disinformation designed primarily to paint people with uncommon theories as unintelligent and to further shift the interest away from examination of the theories themselves.