Are we entering a golden age of the conspiracy theory?

Why, in the face of all available evidence and despite apparent public consensus to the contrary, would a person believe that the moon landings were faked? Photograph: Swann Galleries,/Swann Auction Galleries

‘Post-truth’ society provides the perfect conditions for dubious theories to flourish. But are some people more susceptible to conspiracy theories?

“I want you all to know that we are fighting the fake news. It’s fake, phoney, fake. A few days ago, I called the fake news the enemy of the people. And they are. They are the enemy of the people …”

Donald Trump’s assault on “terrible, dishonest” journalists (“the lowest form of life”) has become one of the hallmarks of his fledgling administration. But as many have noted, this posturing echoes developments closer to home. It was Michael Gove, of course, who claimed during the Brexit campaign that “people in this country have had enough of experts”.

Scott Pruitt, the new chief of the US Environmental Protection Agency, certainly seems comfortable dismissing scientific consensus: “I believe that measuring, with precision, human activity on the climate is something very challenging to do, and there’s tremendous disagreement about the degree of impact. So, no, I would not agree that it’s a primary contributor to the global warming that we see.”

From a certain perspective, this is knockabout political theatre. And a little scepticism is prudent, for sure. Blithely accepting whatever we’re told is clearly unwise. Information can be unreliable; cover-ups do occur. But if we dismiss everything we hear in the media, if we assume that scientists and scholars are untrustworthy, we leave ourselves vulnerable to manipulation, misinformation, and rumour. This makes us wonder: are we entering a golden age of the conspiracy theory?

Not that this type of cognitive error is new, of course. The idea that individuals or groups have conspired to commit some crime and then cover it up reaches back centuries — witness, for example, the belief that Jews were poisoning wells and killing Christians or that Roman Catholics were secretly plotting to undermine the Protestant English state. However, if we’re now living in a “post-truth” society, with traditionally trusted sources of information routinely undermined and informal communication possible like never before via the Internet, one of the dubious fruits of this febrile climate may be a growth in the power and reach of conspiracy theories.

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Source By https://www.theguardian.com

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