In a research paper released by University of Chicago Law School in 2008 scientists concludes that most conspiracy theories are harmful for the society and are security risks to be taken serious by governments. The two professors, Cass R. Sunstein and Adrian Vermeule, suggest that the authorities should produce more conspiracy theories rather than trying to prove the old ones wrong.
“Government can minimize this effect by rebutting more rather than fewer theories, by enlisting independent groups to supply rebuttals, and by cognitive infiltration designed to break up the crippled epistemology of conspiracy-minded groups.”
Cass R. Sunstein/Adrian Vermeule
“Some conspiracy theories create serious risks. They do not merely undermine democratic debate; in extreme cases, they create or fuel violence. If government can dispel such theories, it should do so. One problem is that its efforts might be counterproductive, because efforts to rebut conspiracy theories also legitimate them,” the two U.S. scientists concludes in a preliminary research paper published in early 2008.
“Our goal here has been to understand the sources of conspiracy theories and to examine potential government responses. Most people lack direct or personal information about the explanations for terrible events, and they are often tempted to attribute such events to some nefarious actor. The temptation is least likely to be resisted if others are making the same attributions. Conspiracy cascades arise through the same processes that fuel many kinds of social errors. What makes such cascades most distinctive, and relevantly different from other cascades involving beliefs that are both false and harmful, is their self-insulating quality. The very statements and facts that might dissolve conspiracy cascades can be taken as further evidence on their behalf. These points make it especially difficult for outsiders, including governments, to debunk them,” Sunstein and Vermeule writes.
Part I of the research paper explores some definitional issues and lays out some of the mechanisms that produce conspiracy theories and theorists.
Part II discusses government responses and legal issues, in light of the discussion in Part I.
It’s The Economy, Stupid!
About the people who believe in conspiracy theories:
“Members of informationally and socially isolated groups tend to display a kind of paranoid cognition46 and become increasingly distrustful or suspicious of the motives of others or of the larger society, falling into a “sinister attribution error.”47 This error occurs when people feel that they are under pervasive scrutiny, and hence they attribute personalistic motives to outsiders and overestimate the amount of attention they receive. Benign actions that happen to disadvantage the group are taken as purposeful plots, intended to harm.48 Although these conditions resemble individual-level pathologies, they arise from the social and informational structure of the group, especially those operating in enclosed or closely knit networks, and are not usefully understood as a form of mental illness. The social etiology of such conditions suggests that the appropriate remedy is not individual treatment, but the introduction of cognitive, informational, and social diversity into the isolated networks that supply extremist theories. We take up the resulting policy problems in the next Part.”
Governments Making Up Stories?
About how the authorities and governments should deal with “dangerous” conspiracy theories:
“In one variant, government agents would openly proclaim, or at least make no effort to conceal, their institutional affiliations. A recent newspaper story recounts that Arabic-speaking Muslim officials from the State Department have participated in dialogues at radical Islamist chat rooms and websites in order to ventilate arguments not usually heard among the groups that cluster around those sites, with some success.68 In another variant, government officials would participate anonymously or even with false identities.”
“Some conspiracy theories create serious risks. They do not merely undermine democratic debate; in extreme cases, they create or fuel violence. If government can dispel such theories, it should do so. One problem is that its efforts might be counterproductive, because efforts to rebut conspiracy theories also legitimate them. We have suggested, however, that government can minimize this effect by rebutting more rather than fewer theories, by enlisting independent groups to supply rebuttals, and by cognitive infiltration designed to break up the crippled epistemology of conspiracy-minded groups and informationally isolated social networks.”
And if you missed Friday’s market commentary by UBS trader Art Cashin on CNBC – watch it here.
”There are all manner of conspiracy theories floating around: is the Fed putting on a fake mustache and a raincoat and coming in as an indirect buyer?”
Here’s a copy of the full research paper from University of Chicago.
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