Not every one, but far too many advocates of conspiracy theories believe everything their favorite pundits tell them. They don't question what they are told, they just accept it, as if their pundit is some sort of god who can never be wrong. This is both dishonest and lazy. Dishonest because they don't really care if something is actually true, only if they can cleverly fool as many unthinking people as possible. Lazy because they have no interest whatsoever in taking the time and effort to investigate whether the claim is true or not. Their resulting opinions are uninformed and not valid, rather than informed and valid. For those who are honest and not lazy, below is an excellent tool for asking the right questions in evaluating whether a conspiracy claim is true or false.
----How reliable is the source of the claim? All scientists make mistakes, but are the mistakes random, as one might expect from a normally reliable source, or are they directed toward supporting the claimant's preferred belief?
----Does the claimant often make similar claims? Conspiracists have a habit of going well beyond the facts, so when individuals make numerous extraordinary claims, they may be more than just iconoclasts. What we are looking for here is a pattern of fringe thinking that consistently ignores or distorts data.
----Have the claims been verified by another source? Typically, conspiracists will make statements that are either unverified or are verified by a source within their own belief circle. We must ask who is fact-checking the claims, and even who is checking the fact-checkers.
----How does the claim fit with what we know about how the world works? An extraordinary claim must be placed into a larger context, to see how it fits. For example, when people claim that the Egyptian pyramids and the Great Sphinx were built over 10,000 years ago by a super-advanced civilization of humans (or by extraterrestrials, in the 'ancient aliens' scenario), they are basing this entirely on unexplained anomalies in the current paradigm and presenting no additional evidence for that earlier civilization. Where are the works of art, weapons, clothing, tools and trash of this lost civilization?
----Has anyone gone out of the way to disprove the claim, or has only confirming evidence been sought? Confirmation bias - or the tendency to seek confirming evidence and reject or ignore disconfirming data - is powerful and pervasive. This is why the methods of science that emphasize checking and rechecking, verification and replication, and, especially attempts to falsify a claim, are so critical. Conspiracists are notorious for cherry-picking examples and only presenting evidence that supports their conspiracy theory. We must also ask: "What would falsify the conspiracy theory?"
----Does the preponderance of evidence converge on the claimant's conclusion, or on a different one? For example, JFK assassination conspiracy theorists ignore all the evidence that leads to the conclusion that Lee Harvey Oswald acted alone in killing Kennedy, and none of the evidence points to any other person or agency. Instead, they focus on anomalies that don't seem quite right, and fragments of possibilities that converge on nothing or no one.
----Is the claimant employing the accepted rules of reason and tools of research, or have they been abandoned in favor of others that lead to the desired conclusion? UFOlogists suffer from this fallacy in their continued focus on a handful of unexplained atmospheric anomalies and visual misperceptions by eyewitnesses, while conveniently ignoring that the vast majority of UFO sightings are fully explicable. This is called anomaly hunting, or looking for anything unusual, especially if it is unexplainable, and then focusing onto that anomaly as "evidence" for one's conspiracy theory. Anomalies do not a theory make.
----Has the claimant provided a different explanation for the observed phenomena, or is it strictly a process of denying the existing one? This is a classic debate strategy - criticize your opponent but never affirm what you believe, in order to avoid criticism of your own position. For conspiracists, this is the "I'm just asking questions" ploy, and it is an unacceptable stratagem in science.
----If the claimant has proffered a new explanation, does it account for as many phenomena as the old one does? For a new theory to displace an old one, it must explain not only what the old theory did, but also the anomalies not covered by the old theory. Conspiracy theories always fail on this front. For example, 9/11 Truthers offer no new explanation to counter the government's theory that al-Qaeda did it, short of the nebulous and untestable "the Bush administration". We must always ask of the conspiracists "Who exactly did it - name names and provide specifics".
----Do the claimant's personal beliefs and biases drive the conclusions, or vice versa? All scientists hold social, political and ideological beliefs that could potentially slant their interpretation of the data, but at some point (usually during the peer review process), such biases and beliefs are rooted out, or the paper or book is rejected for publication. A good question for conspiracy theorists is, "What would it take to change your mind?" This usually stops them in their tracks, because most have never thought about that question.
Michael Shermer, Conspiracy: Why The Rational Believe The Irrational, Johns Hopkins University Press, 2022
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How To Form Opinions That Are Accurate & Intelligent (Part Two) https://www.mybestbuddymedia.com/2022/02/how-to-form-opinions-that-are-accurate.html
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Inside The Sensitive, Disillusioned, Bewildered Heart Of Conspiracy Theorists https://www.mybestbuddymedia.com/2019/05/exposing-sensitive-disillusioned.html
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