Dispelling Conspiracy Theories

Caught this link from Johnny’s last post. In addition to exploring the autism/vaccine issue, it’s an interesting exploration of the psychology behind conspiracy theories in general and how hard it is to successfully influence someone once they’ve gone down that road. Here’s a couple of key passages on the latter topic:

People who study irrational beliefs have a variety of ways of explaining why we cling to them. In rational choice theory, what appear to be crazy choices are actually rational, in that they maximize an individual’s benefit—or at least make him or her feel good.

Another explanation for the refusal to face facts is what cognitive scientists call confirmation bias. Years ago, when writing an article for the Washington Post Magazine about the Tailwind affair, a screwy piece of journalism about a nonexistent attack on American POWs with sarin gas, I concluded that the story’s CNN producers had become wedded to the thesis after interviewing a few unreliable sources. After that, they unconsciously discounted any facts that interfered with their juicy story. They weren’t lying—except, perhaps, to themselves. They had brain blindness—confirmation bias.

Slate Magazine


One Response to “Dispelling Conspiracy Theories”

  1. JohnnyB Says:

    I think the author might have a point with the vaccination hypothesis, but I think there is room for debate as to whether autism is an epidemic or not. My guess is that increased diagnosis is a big part of the autism picture, but certain developmental factors in modern society may be nudging the diagnosis rates upward.

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