Conspiracy Theories

One problem with the focus on speculation is that it tends to promote the growth of the great intellectual cancer of our times: conspiracy theories.– Gary Weiss”

As a society (regional and global) we have all endured the brunt of conspiracy related theories to explain or rationalize events (at any level) throughout our history. AIDS, Titanic, JFK assassination, Roswell, the Moon landings, Challenger explosion, an even September 11th.
In his ‘Political Misinformation and Conspiracy Theories’ course, Professor Brendan Nyhan (Dartmouth University) asks the question; Why do people hold false or unsupported beliefs about politics and why are so those beliefs so hard to change?
Studies have been conducted (before the Trump era) of the psychological factors that make people vulnerable to political misinformation and conspiracy theories and the reasons that corrections so often fail to change their minds. One major factor that comes up is how the public is exploited by societal elites and some social institutions (e.g. political elites, the wealthy, business groups, the media, and even civic leaders).
Current research that people’s belief in conspiracy theories is driven by three motives; a) the degree of understanding one’s environment, b) feeling safe and in control of one’s environment, and c) maintaining a positive image of self and within various social groups.
Conspiracy theories are related to propaganda and have had (and will probably always have) a major influence on all of us, no matter if we subscribe or not. Here are a few of the techniques that are used by both to gather or garner our attention; Bandwagon, Assertion, Lesser of two evils, Scapegoating, Transfer, Diversion, Misrepresentation of the facts, and Playing to your emotions (Nyhan, 2017).
With this Deep Dive, you will research two conspiracy theories (please don’t go for the usual/popular ones). Pick an interesting case and then categorize it as (social/political/religious/ scientific ). You will then need to focus on;
Think about what makes these misperceptions surprising or puzzling.
What implications does this conspiracy theory have?
What approaches would you use to conduct effective fact-checking?
How could we better counter misperceptions?
Make sure to ground your assessment in the readings from the course or other relevant readings from academic literature.

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