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Concept: Conspiracy theory

725

Conspiratorial ideation is the tendency of individuals to believe that events and power relations are secretly manipulated by certain clandestine groups and organisations. Many of these ostensibly explanatory conjectures are non-falsifiable, lacking in evidence or demonstrably false, yet public acceptance remains high. Efforts to convince the general public of the validity of medical and scientific findings can be hampered by such narratives, which can create the impression of doubt or disagreement in areas where the science is well established. Conversely, historical examples of exposed conspiracies do exist and it may be difficult for people to differentiate between reasonable and dubious assertions. In this work, we establish a simple mathematical model for conspiracies involving multiple actors with time, which yields failure probability for any given conspiracy. Parameters for the model are estimated from literature examples of known scandals, and the factors influencing conspiracy success and failure are explored. The model is also used to estimate the likelihood of claims from some commonly-held conspiratorial beliefs; these are namely that the moon-landings were faked, climate-change is a hoax, vaccination is dangerous and that a cure for cancer is being suppressed by vested interests. Simulations of these claims predict that intrinsic failure would be imminent even with the most generous estimates for the secret-keeping ability of active participants-the results of this model suggest that large conspiracies (≥1000 agents) quickly become untenable and prone to failure. The theory presented here might be useful in counteracting the potentially deleterious consequences of bogus and anti-science narratives, and examining the hypothetical conditions under which sustainable conspiracy might be possible.

Concepts: Scientific method, Mathematics, Epistemology, Hypothesis, Theory, Logic, Social psychology, Conspiracy theory

631

The wide availability of user-provided content in online social media facilitates the aggregation of people around common interests, worldviews, and narratives. However, the World Wide Web (WWW) also allows for the rapid dissemination of unsubstantiated rumors and conspiracy theories that often elicit rapid, large, but naive social responses such as the recent case of Jade Helm 15–where a simple military exercise turned out to be perceived as the beginning of a new civil war in the United States. In this work, we address the determinants governing misinformation spreading through a thorough quantitative analysis. In particular, we focus on how Facebook users consume information related to two distinct narratives: scientific and conspiracy news. We find that, although consumers of scientific and conspiracy stories present similar consumption patterns with respect to content, cascade dynamics differ. Selective exposure to content is the primary driver of content diffusion and generates the formation of homogeneous clusters, i.e., “echo chambers.” Indeed, homogeneity appears to be the primary driver for the diffusion of contents and each echo chamber has its own cascade dynamics. Finally, we introduce a data-driven percolation model mimicking rumor spreading and we show that homogeneity and polarization are the main determinants for predicting cascades' size.

Concepts: Scientific method, United States, World Wide Web, Web 2.0, Oregon, Social media, Facebook, Conspiracy theory

321

The large availability of user provided contents on online social media facilitates people aggregation around shared beliefs, interests, worldviews and narratives. In spite of the enthusiastic rhetoric about the so called collective intelligence unsubstantiated rumors and conspiracy theories-e.g., chemtrails, reptilians or the Illuminati-are pervasive in online social networks (OSN). In this work we study, on a sample of 1.2 million of individuals, how information related to very distinct narratives-i.e. main stream scientific and conspiracy news-are consumed and shape communities on Facebook. Our results show that polarized communities emerge around distinct types of contents and usual consumers of conspiracy news result to be more focused and self-contained on their specific contents. To test potential biases induced by the continued exposure to unsubstantiated rumors on users' content selection, we conclude our analysis measuring how users respond to 4,709 troll information-i.e. parodistic and sarcastic imitation of conspiracy theories. We find that 77.92% of likes and 80.86% of comments are from users usually interacting with conspiracy stories.

Concepts: Scientific method, Sociology, Web 2.0, Social information processing, Social media, Social network aggregation, Facebook, Conspiracy theory

283

Recent research into the psychology of conspiracy belief has highlighted the importance of belief systems in the acceptance or rejection of conspiracy theories. We examined a large sample of conspiracist (pro-conspiracy-theory) and conventionalist (anti-conspiracy-theory) comments on news websites in order to investigate the relative importance of promoting alternative explanations vs. rejecting conventional explanations for events. In accordance with our hypotheses, we found that conspiracist commenters were more likely to argue against the opposing interpretation and less likely to argue in favor of their own interpretation, while the opposite was true of conventionalist commenters. However, conspiracist comments were more likely to explicitly put forward an account than conventionalist comments were. In addition, conspiracists were more likely to express mistrust and made more positive and fewer negative references to other conspiracy theories. The data also indicate that conspiracists were largely unwilling to apply the “conspiracy theory” label to their own beliefs and objected when others did so, lending support to the long-held suggestion that conspiracy belief carries a social stigma. Finally, conventionalist arguments tended to have a more hostile tone. These tendencies in persuasive communication can be understood as a reflection of an underlying conspiracist worldview in which the details of individual conspiracy theories are less important than a generalized rejection of official explanations.

Concepts: Truth, Sociology, September 11 attacks, Conspiracy theory, The X-Files, The Protocols of the Elders of Zion, Conspiracy theories, Conspiracy?

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Among American Conservatives, but not Liberals, trust in science has been declining since the 1970’s. Climate science has become particularly polarized, with Conservatives being more likely than Liberals to reject the notion that greenhouse gas emissions are warming the globe. Conversely, opposition to genetically-modified (GM) foods and vaccinations is often ascribed to the political Left although reliable data are lacking. There are also growing indications that rejection of science is suffused by conspiracist ideation, that is the general tendency to endorse conspiracy theories including the specific beliefs that inconvenient scientific findings constitute a “hoax.”

Concepts: Scientific method, Political spectrum, Greenhouse gas, Democratic Party, Conspiracy theory

184

Widespread misperceptions undermine citizens' decision-making ability. Conclusions based on falsehoods and conspiracy theories are by definition flawed. This article demonstrates that individuals' epistemic beliefs-beliefs about the nature of knowledge and how one comes to know-have important implications for perception accuracy. The present study uses a series of large, nationally representative surveys of the U.S. population to produce valid and reliable measures of three aspects of epistemic beliefs: reliance on intuition for factual beliefs (Faith in Intuition for facts), importance of consistency between empirical evidence and beliefs (Need for evidence), and conviction that “facts” are politically constructed (Truth is political). Analyses confirm that these factors complement established predictors of misperception, substantively increasing our ability to explain both individuals' propensity to engage in conspiracist ideation, and their willingness to embrace falsehoods about high-profile scientific and political issues. Individuals who view reality as a political construct are significantly more likely to embrace falsehoods, whereas those who believe that their conclusions must hew to available evidence tend to hold more accurate beliefs. Confidence in the ability to intuitively recognize truth is a uniquely important predictor of conspiracist ideation. Results suggest that efforts to counter misperceptions may be helped by promoting epistemic beliefs emphasizing the importance of evidence, cautious use of feelings, and trust that rigorous assessment by knowledgeable specialists is an effective guard against political manipulation.

Concepts: Scientific method, Critical thinking, Truth, Epistemology, Science, Knowledge, Religion, Conspiracy theory

170

Abstract. The Schistosomiasis Consortium for Operational Research and Evaluation (SCORE) includes communitywide treatment in areas with ≥ 25% prevalence of schistosomiasis along the shores of Lake Victoria using community health workers (CHWs). The CHWs are key drivers in community-owned mass drug administration (MDA) intervention programs. We explored their experiences and perceptions after initial MDA participation. Unstructured open-ended group discussions were conducted after completion of MDA activities. Narratives were obtained from CHWs using a digital audio recorder during the group discussion, transcribed verbatim and translated into English where applicable. Thematic decomposition of data was done using ATLAS.t.i. software. From the perspective of the CHWs, factors influencing MDA compliance included drug side effects, food supply stability, and conspiracy theories about the “real” purpose of treatment. The interest of CHWs to serve as community drug distributors stemmed from both intrinsic and extrinsic factors. Feedback from CHWs can promote more effective MDA in rural Kenyan communities.

Concepts: Health care, Motivation, Community, Kenya, Digital audio, Perspective, Lake Victoria, Conspiracy theory

59

Although nearly all domain experts agree that carbon dioxide emissions are altering the world’s climate, segments of the public remain unconvinced by the scientific evidence. Internet blogs have become a platform for denial of climate change, and bloggers have taken a prominent role in questioning climate science. We report a survey of climate-blog visitors to identify the variables underlying acceptance and rejection of climate science. Our findings parallel those of previous work and show that endorsement of free-market economics predicted rejection of climate science. Endorsement of free markets also predicted the rejection of other established scientific findings, such as the facts that HIV causes AIDS and that smoking causes lung cancer. We additionally show that, above and beyond endorsement of free markets, endorsement of a cluster of conspiracy theories (e.g., that the Federal Bureau of Investigation killed Martin Luther King, Jr.) predicted rejection of climate science as well as other scientific findings. Our results provide empirical support for previous suggestions that conspiratorial thinking contributes to the rejection of science. Acceptance of science, by contrast, was strongly associated with the perception of a consensus among scientists.

Concepts: Scientific method, Carbon dioxide, Science, Global warming, Federal Bureau of Investigation, Conspiracy theory, Free market, Martin Luther King, Jr.

35

The current studies investigated the potential impact of anti-vaccine conspiracy beliefs, and exposure to anti-vaccine conspiracy theories, on vaccination intentions. In Study 1, British parents completed a questionnaire measuring beliefs in anti-vaccine conspiracy theories and the likelihood that they would have a fictitious child vaccinated. Results revealed a significant negative relationship between anti-vaccine conspiracy beliefs and vaccination intentions. This effect was mediated by the perceived dangers of vaccines, and feelings of powerlessness, disillusionment and mistrust in authorities. In Study 2, participants were exposed to information that either supported or refuted anti-vaccine conspiracy theories, or a control condition. Results revealed that participants who had been exposed to material supporting anti-vaccine conspiracy theories showed less intention to vaccinate than those in the anti-conspiracy condition or controls. This effect was mediated by the same variables as in Study 1. These findings point to the potentially detrimental consequences of anti-vaccine conspiracy theories, and highlight their potential role in shaping health-related behaviors.

Concepts: Vaccine, Vaccination, Conspiracy theory

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Belief in conspiracy theories has been associated with a range of negative health, civic, and social outcomes, requiring reliable methods of reducing such belief. Thinking dispositions have been highlighted as one possible factor associated with belief in conspiracy theories, but actual relationships have only been infrequently studied. In Study 1, we examined associations between belief in conspiracy theories and a range of measures of thinking dispositions in a British sample (N=990). Results indicated that a stronger belief in conspiracy theories was significantly associated with lower analytic thinking and open-mindedness and greater intuitive thinking. In Studies 2-4, we examined the causational role played by analytic thinking in relation to conspiracist ideation. In Study 2 (N=112), we showed that a verbal fluency task that elicited analytic thinking reduced belief in conspiracy theories. In Study 3 (N=189), we found that an alternative method of eliciting analytic thinking, which related to cognitive disfluency, was effective at reducing conspiracist ideation in a student sample. In Study 4, we replicated the results of Study 3 among a general population sample (N=140) in relation to generic conspiracist ideation and belief in conspiracy theories about the July 7, 2005, bombings in London. Our results highlight the potential utility of supporting attempts to promote analytic thinking as a means of countering the widespread acceptance of conspiracy theories.

Concepts: Psychology, Redox, Cognition, Cultural studies, Syntax highlighting, Conspiracy theory, Conspiracy theories, Conspiracy?