The psychology of crankery

ResearchBlogging.orgOur recent discussions of HIV/AIDS denial and in particular Seth Kalichman’s book “Denying AIDS” has got me thinking more about the psychology of those who are susceptible to pseudoscientific belief. It’s an interesting topic, and Kalichman studies it briefly in his book mentioning the “suspicious minds”:

At its very core, denialism is deeply embedded in a sense of mistrust. Most obviously, we see suspicion in denialist conspiracy theories. Most conspiracy theories grow out of suspicions about corruptions in government, industry, science, and medicine, all working together in some grand sinister plot. Psychologically, suspicion is the central feature of paranoid personality, and it is not overreaching to say that some denialists demonstrate this extreme. Suspicious thinking can be understood as a filter through which the world is interpreted, where attention is driven towards those ideas and isolated anecdotes that confirm one’s preconceived notions of wrong doing. Suspicious thinkers are predisposed to see themselves as special or to hold some special knowledge.
Psychotherapist David Shpairo in his classic book Neurotic Styles describes the suspicious thinker. Just as wee see in denialism, suspiciousness is not easily penetrated by facts or evidence that counter individuals’ preconceived worldview. Just as Shapiro describes in the suspicious personality, the denialist selectively attends to information that bolsters his or her own beliefs. Denialists exhibit suspicious thinking when they manipulate objective reality to fit within their beliefs. It is true that all people are prone to fit the world into their sense of reality, but the suspicious person distorts reality and does so with an uncommon rigidity. The parallel between the suspicious personality style and denialism is really quite compelling. As described by Shapiro:

A suspicious person is a person who has something on his mind. He looks at the world with fixed and preoccupying expectation, and he searches repetitively, and only, for confirmation of it. He will not be persuaded to abandon his suspicion of some plan of action based on it. On the contrary, he will pay no attention to rational arguments except to find in them some aspect or feature that actually confirms his original view. Anyone who tries to influence or persuade a suspicious person will not only fail, but also, unless he is sensible enough to abandon his efforts early will, himself, become an object of the original suspicious idea.

The rhetoric of denialism clearly reveals a deeply suspicious character. In denialism, the science of AIDS is deconstructed to examine evidence taken out of context by non-scientists. The evidence is assimilated into one’s beliefs that HIV does not cause AIDS, that HIV tests are invalid, that the science is corrupt, and aimed to profit Big Pharma.

The insights offered by Shapiro are that denialists are not “lying” in the way that most anti-denialists portray them. The cognitive style of the denialist represents a warped sense of reality for sure, explaining why arguing or debating with a denialist gets you nowhere. But the denialist is not the evil plotter they are often portrayed as. Rather denialists are trapped in their denialism.

Psychologically, certain people seem predisposed to suspicious thinking and it seems this may be true of denialism as well. I submit that dienialism stems from a conspiracy-theory-prone personality style. We see this in people who appear predisposed to suspiciousness, and these people are vulnerable to anti-establishment propaganda. We know that suspicious people view themselves as the target of wrongdoing and hold persecutory ideas.

I agree that this certainly represents a portion of denialists, but not all. I think others, for example creationists and global warming denialists, tend to have a different motivation and style, due to ideological extremism that warps their worldview. Ideological and paranoid denialism can co-exist within denialist camps, or even within an individual, but there are areas where the overlap is incomplete. Still, the issue of the suspicious personality style is important.

We all know this person. If you don’t, maybe you know Dale Gribble (AKA Rusty Shackleford).

i-eca7a089974f18961e4073138eeda24c-dalegribble.jpg

I just know Mike Judge has met the suspicious personality style and encapsulated the extreme of this personality in this character. Dale inevitably sees every event as tied to some bizarre government/alien conspiracy, and inevitably the other men in the alley ignore his interjections or Hank simply says, “that’s asinine”. Hank is a wise man. To argue with a Dale would only make you look like the fool.

Some anti-denialists sites have recently brought to my attention a growing body of work trying to understand how people become conspiracy theorists. Two papers in particular are of interest, the first Unanswered Questions: A Preliminary Investigation of
Personality and Individual Difference Predictors of 9/11 Conspiracist Beliefs
[1] is an interesting study because it provides some explanation for crank magnetism.


So, how was this study done and what did this study show?

For one, I enjoyed reading this study because, as with all well-written papers, they had a nice introduction into the literature behind the psychology of belief in conspiracy theories. This is something I’m becoming more familiar with, but feel that it’s also a relatively crude approximation of what is happening. There are several hypotheses about what causes conspiratorial beliefs, and they cite a number of previous studies that attempt to explain the phenomenon. These explanations range from feelings of political powerlessness feeding into conspiracism, to cultural or group understanding of events, to psychological explanations like the need to preserve self-esteem, express feelings like anger at disliked groups, or be individualistic, and some hypotheses which focus on specific deficiencies in cognition.

It’s a small study (n=257) of British men and women who were given surveys to analyze their “Support for Democratic Principles”, an inventory to assess their belief in conspiracy theories (15 items allowing them to show relative support for common conspiracy theories – with the exception they had to drop the question about Elvis being alive since it was too far out even for conspiracy theorists), a “big five” questionnaire (which assess the five personality factors of openness, conscientiousness, extraversion, agreeableness and neuroticism), a “9/11 conspiracist beliefs scale”, a inventory assessing feelings about authority, one for cynicism, and one for exposure to 9/11 conspiracy beliefs.

The researchers then took the data from these surveys, loaded them into matrices and then tried to fit it to various models to create significant linkages between 9/11 beliefs and various personality factors. This is not research in which I have any expertise, so if anyone would like to provide any criticisms of how they did it that may impact results I’d be happy to hear it. I am trusting the peer-reviewers in this case to have done a good job vetting their technique for obvious flaws.

What did they find?

Well, in general 9/11 conspiracy beliefs were low prevalence, but interestingly they felt 9/11 conspiracy beliefs could be predicted from a few personality indicators, and, consistent with crank magnetism, belief in 9/11 conspiracies was part of a general conspiratorial attitude with belief in multiple conspiracy theories being common according to their general conspiracism scale. The authors explain their findings thusly:

The results of this preliminary examination of 9/11 conspiracist theories can be predicted by a number of personality and individual difference variables, which together explained just over half of the variance in the former. As shown in Figure 1, General Conspiracist Beliefs had the strongest effect on 9/11 Conspiracist Beliefs, which not surprisingly was also affected by 9/11 Conspiracist Exposure. Of the more distal predictors, only Political Cynicism, Attitudes to Authority and Agreeableness had significant effects on 9/11 Conspiracist Beliefs when the less distal predictors were taken into account; however, there were several significant effects of the more distal on the less distal predictors, namely Attitudes to Authority and Openness on 9/11 Conspiracist Exposure, and Political Cynicism, Support for Democratic Principles and Openness on General Conspiracist Beliefs. Age and sex differences were found for Agreeableness and Support for Democratic Principles, though age also affected 9/11 Conspiracist Exposure when the more distal mediators were taken into account.
The finding that exposure to 9/11 conspiracist ideas was positively associated with holding 9/11 conspiracy beliefs is perhaps not surprising. It seems likely that coming into contact with such ideas (either directly or indirectly) increases an individual’s understanding and, consequently, acceptance of such ideas (alternatively, it is also possible that individuals who already believe in 9/11 conspiracy theories seek out such information). More interesting was the finding that General Conspiracist Beliefs was positively associated with 9/11 conspiracist ideas, a result that fits with Goertzel’s (1994) assertion that conspiracy beliefs form part of a monological belief system, in which each conspiratorial idea serves as evidence for other conspiratorial beliefs. For example, believing that John F. Kennedy was not killed by a lone gunman, or that the Apollo moon landings were staged, increases the chances that an individual will also believe in 9/11 conspiracy theories. As Goertzel (1994) highlights, monological belief systems provide accessible explanations for new phenomena that are difficult to comprehend or that threaten existing belief systems (Goertzel, 1994).
Moreover, Goertzel (1994) points out that, often, the proof offered as evidence for a conspiracy is not specific to one incident or issue, but is used to justify the general pattern. That a government is covering-up its involvement in the 9/11 attacks, for instance, goes to show that it is also covering-up the fact that extraterrestrial life has visited Earth, or that national governments are involved in political assassination. Thus, the more conspiracy theories a monological thinker agrees with, the more she or he will accept and assimilate any new conspiracy theory that is proposed.

I’m going to have to read some more by this Goertzel cat. This is an interesting study though because it correlates these two behaviors that we ourselves have observed so frequently. It is limited by size, and that it was done on British subjects, but somehow I suspect it isn’t unfair to generalize from British cranks to American ones or cranks worldwide. I would like to see their findings replicated on a larger scale, as even though their findings were significant, they were looking at a small subset of a relatively small number of subjects.

The second paper I’d like to talk about Paranormal Belief and Susceptibility to the Conjunction Fallacy[2], approaches a similar problem from the point of view that maybe people who believe in such obvious nonsense have difficulties with basic reasoning skills.

These authors begin with a discussion of a more developed literature that describes the common cognitive deficits encountered in people who believe in the paranormal. Basically, what has been found, again and again, is that people who believe in paranormal events have certain cognitive deficits and in particular have problems with probabilistic reasoning.

It is widely recognised that most people are poor at judging probability and that under conditions of uncertainty, will rely on heuristics–cognitive ‘rules of thumb’–to simplify the reasoning process so as to make quick, easy and proximate, but ultimately flawed, judgments (e.g. Gilovich, Griffin, & Kahneman, 2002; Kahneman, Slovic, & Tversky, 1982; Shaifi, 2004; Sutherland, 1992). Further research suggests a person’s pre-existing or a priori beliefs can have a significant influence on these heuristical judgements (e.g. Watt, 1990/1991). Blackmore and Troscianko (1985) were first to test whether paranormal believers were especially prone to probabilistic reasoning biases. They had paranormal believers and non-believers answer questions relating to the generation of random strings (i.e. list 20 numbers as if drawn from a hat), randomness judging (i.e. indicate whether various boy/girl mixes were biased or unbiased), coin tossing outcomes (i.e. indicate whether the number of heads scored from 20 throws was biased or unbiased) and sampling decisions (e.g. indicate which is more likely to be drawn from a given number of red and blue sweets). Whilst no group differences were found for the random string generation or randomness judging tasks, Blackmore and Troscianko found that those who believed in the possibility of extrasensory perception1 made more coin tossing and sampling errors than non-believers. These data suggest paranormal believers underestimate the likelihood of a chance outcome and ‘look beyond’ coincidence in search of causal–usually supernatural–
explanations. According to Blackmore and Troscianko (1985), this underestimating of chance expectations–termed the ‘chance baseline shift’–may strengthen one’s belief in psi even when there is no evidence that psi actually exists.
Subsequent work examining believers’ tendency to misunderstand chance offers mixed
results. Henry (1993) found most people believe intuition (71%) and psi (64%) are the best
explanations for ‘everyday coincidence experiences’ (see also Henry, 2005) whilst Bressan
(2002; Study 1) found paranormal believers reported having more frequent ‘meaningful
coincidences’ than non-believers. Likewise, Tobacyk and Wilkinson (1991) found those
with a more pronounced belief in the paranormal (specifically, in superstition, psi and
precognition) had a higher preference for games of chance and were more prone to
developing illusory correlations between statistically unrelated events (see also Vyse,
1997). Marks (2002) goes further by suggesting believers misperceive chance events as
somehow being related because their a priori beliefs in the paranormal demand such a
relationship and thus, that they are especially prone to making ‘subjective validations’.

It’s an interesting discussion, as many of the findings seem to be subject to general cognitive ability, and there have been mixed results in identifying the “believers” specific problems with understanding randomness and probability. There’s a saying in medicine, the questions stay the same, it’s just the answers that change. Well, the question remains, why do believers in paranormal events impute more significance to random events than non-believers?

These authors are interested in studying the problem from the point of view that the heuristics, or cognitive rules of thumb that people use to make decisions, in believers are off with regards to the conjunction fallacy. This refers to a tendency, that is very common overall, to ascribe a higher probability of an event occurring if it is associated in the individuals mind with another event, even if the probabilities of the two events are independent.

Conjunction biases have been demonstrated in a wide variety of hypothetical contexts where, in most cases, the proportion of individuals violating the conjunction rule ranges
from between 50 and 90% (Fisk, 2004; Tversky & Kahneman, 1983). Given previous claims that paranormal believers’ susceptibly to reasoning biases may be context or domain specific (e.g. Gray & Mills, 1990; Merla-Ramos, 2000; Wierzbicki, 1985; although see Lawrence & Peters, 2004; Roe, 1999), it seems reasonable to expect believers will be more prone to the conjunction fallacy, particularly when conjunctive events appear to reflect paranormal phenomena. Take the common example of when one is thinking about an old friend just at the moment he/she unexpectedly calls (e.g. Rhine-Feather & Schmicker, 2005). Here, the two constituent events–namely (a) thinking about the friend and (b) that friend unexpectedly calling–may not be unusual in their own right. One may have thought about the same friend many times before or alternatively, many other friends may have unexpectedly called in the past; neither would be particularly surprising (cf. Fisk, 2004). It is only when these two constituent events co-occur in close temporal proximity that this conjunction is deemed too unlikely to be a simple coincidence. In such cases, many experients will dismiss chance and look for a causal, often paranormal, explanation (cf. Blackmore & Troscianko, 1985; Bressan, 2002; Marks, 2002). Similar logic can be applied to other aspects of the paranormal including the apparent accuracy of psychic predictions where the co-occurrence of two constituent events–namely (a) the prediction and (b) the predicted outcome–seems too unlikely to be just a coincidence. Given previous claims that paranormal believers often misunderstand chance and randomness (e.g. Bressan, 2002), it seems reasonable to suggest believers may be especially prone to the conjunction fallacy. Evidence that believers tend to adopt an intuitive (heuristical) as opposed to an analytic thinking style (Aarnio & Lindeman, 2005; Irwin & Young, 2002; Lester, Thinschimdt, & Trautman, 1987), which in turn is associated with more conjunction errors (Fisk, 2004; Toyosawa & Karasawa, 2004), adds further support to this assertion. Moreover, given that personal experience of alleged paranormal phenomena is the single biggest predictor of paranormal belief (Blackmore, 1984), a tendency to misjudge conjunctive events as having some underlying causal relationship may help explain the maintenance, and perhaps even the development, of such beliefs

So, what did they do? They constructed a series of vignettes that test people’s tendency to fall for the conjunction fallacy, and then simultaneously tested them for the presence or absence of paranormal beliefs. Importantly, in addition to testing for paranormal beliefs, the researchers controlled for achievement in psychology, statistics, and mathematics.

They found their hypothesis was correct. The relatively common conjunction bias was even more common in those who believed in paranormal phenomena. Problems with the study again included small size and worse, this was performed on a relatively homogeneous population of college students in England.

So what do these studies mean for our understanding of cranks? Well, in addition to providing explanations for crank magnetism, and cognitive deficits we see daily in our comments from cranks, it suggests the possibility that crankery and denialism may be preventable by better explanation of statistics. Much of what we’re dealing with is likely the development of shoddy intellectual shortcuts, and teaching people to avoid these shortcuts might go a long way towards the development and fixation on absurd conspiracy theories or paranormal beliefs.

Viren Swami, Tomas Chamorro-Premuzic, Adrian Furnham (2009). Unanswered questions: A preliminary investigation of personality and individual difference predictors of 9/11 conspiracist beliefs Applied Cognitive Psychology DOI: 10.1002/acp.1583

Rogers, P., Davis, T., & Fisk, J. (2009). Paranormal belief and susceptibility to the conjunction fallacy Applied Cognitive Psychology, 23 (4), 524-542 DOI: 10.1002/acp.1472

Comments

  1. #1 eddie
    June 8, 2009

    You quoted;

    Most conspiracy theories grow out of suspicions about corruptions in government, industry, science, and medicine, all working together in some grand sinister plot.

    and it seems very true of the general populace of denialism. But this who feed thos fears and seek to exploit them are of a much more serious stripe.

    Over on Dawkins’s site there is a video lecture by Sapolski on the psychology of religion and other delusions which you and your readers will find appropriate in this context also.

  2. #2 eddie
    June 8, 2009

    “But this who feed thos fears…”

    Huh?

    Try “But those who feed these fears…”

  3. #3 AgnosticNews
    June 8, 2009

    I’ve noticed this in many discussions with and observations of denialists (Kent Hovind comes to mind). I’ve found that if you get a mix of September 11 conspiracy/antichrist is here, you can predict that aliens will be in there somewhere. All of these being largely interchangeable in order.

    It reminds me of a fellow I met on campus named Cecil. He began with the “I used to be a lawyer, but the police burned down my house,” hopped over to a discussion about the secret surviving ancestors of Atlantis, and I only needed to say, “and what about the aliens?” to find a common strand that tied almost every other conspiracy theory in the book into a wondrously poetic work of nonsense, all verified, of course, by a rather novel interpretation of Quantum Mechanics.

  4. #4 Matt Platte
    June 8, 2009

    The way this is written

    That a government is covering-up its involvement in the 9/11 attacks, for instance, goes to show that it is also covering-up the fact that extraterrestrial life has visited Earth, or that national governments are involved in political assassination.

    …would lead one to believe that governments are not involved in political assassination. If that’s truly the case, someone forgot to tell the U.S. and Syria, to name just two.

  5. #5 David Zhavah
    June 8, 2009

    Declassified documents outlined in James Bamford’s book, Body of Secrets prove that in Operation Northwoods, innocent people were to be shot on US streets all to be blamed on Castro, justifying the invasion of Cuba. US Joint Chief of Staff Lemnitzer’s plan was cancelled by President Kennedy. View the original scanned documents detailing this murderous plan signed by Lemnitzer. Don’t take my word for it, look right at the actual scanned documents at the URL I’ve provided. This is a true conspiracy and proves that the highest levels of the US government will consider murdering their own citizens to further particular goals such as war. The fallacious apriori argument suggesting that conspiracy theories are false beliefs that cluster in individuals would be laughable if it weren’t for the fact that such “research” seriously undermines democracy.

  6. #6 David Zhavah
    June 8, 2009

    Just a clarification: the URL for the scanned documents of Operation Northwoods is:

    http://whatreallyhappened.com/WRHARTICLES/northwoods.html

  7. #7 Alan Miller
    June 8, 2009

    Before jumping to too many conclusions about 9/11 conspiracy beliefs, I would recommend the authors of the study interview several of these 41 U.S. Counter-terrorism and Intelligence Agency veterans who also question the official account of 9/11.
    http://patriotsquestion911.com/#Articles

  8. #8 MarkH
    June 8, 2009

    Ahh, the 9/11 cranks have already shown up. And repeating the absurd operation Northwoods nonsense – a BS idea that rapidly went into the circular file, never actually implemented. It’s not evidence of anything, except that at the height of the cold war someone had a shitty idea that everyone rejected.

  9. #9 Charles Gaulke
    June 8, 2009

    Comment above touches on an interesting note in the discussion of suspicion and conspiracy theorists – often their beliefs are bolstered by overly broad counter-arguments or dismissals. Even the derogatory or dismissive use of “conspiracy theory” to refer specifically to theories which are implausible or rooted in paranoia rather than fact can have this effect, for example I’ve heard many 9/11 Truthers point out that there is a whole area of law devoted to dealing with conspiracies, and so hypothesizing their existence isn’t inherently crazy.

    Of course, no one really means that it is – it’s short hand, or oversimplification, just like no one really means that national governments couldn’t possibly be involved in assassinations, but rather that such involvement, or the existence of a conspiracy, or my ability to predict who’s about to call me on the phone, should be a conclusion to be reached (or not) after examining evidence rather than a given upon which to build an argument. But that takes a lot longer to say than, “You’re a conspiracy theorist,” and since WE generally know what we mean, we take shortcuts.

  10. #10 Charles Gaulke
    June 8, 2009

    Ah, posted to slow. By “Comment above” I mean Matt Platte’s comment, #4. Though I guess #5 squeezes it in at the end there too, but I hadn’t read it when I wrote mine.

    And, now I have to wait again to post this… I guess I should sign up for TypeKey.

  11. #11 AgnosticNews
    June 8, 2009

    #5 – The fallacious apriori argument suggesting that conspiracy theories are false beliefs that cluster in individuals would be laughable if it weren’t for the fact that such “research” seriously undermines democracy.

    No, conspiracy theories are NOT automatically false, and yes it would be naive to assume that this is the case. There are genuine conspiracies which have been verified. BUT, the same inductive caution needs to apply to conspiracy theorists who cite “You can’t trust the government” (which I would partially agree with, though I wish to disavow myself of the usual extent of the same reification fallacy) as though it were evidence of a completely different conspiracy theory.

    As for the 9/11 truthers out there, I would recommend Noam Chomsky:

    http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=BzGd0t8v-d4

    There’s a reason why the 9/11 conspiracy (even if you were right) is completely unimportant. Might the administration have been negligent? Certainly. Might the administration have taken advantage of it? They certainly did. Were there explosives at the base of the towers? There is no reason to think that.

    Also, before you start pasting me links to your pseudoscience, been there, dealt with that, not interested. I’ve had enough physics and I know enough about steel from personal experience (and material science studied just for this reason) to know that the official story, at least in the area of the science, is solid.

    As for an active conspiracy, I find it rather absurd to try to infer intent over what could easily be coincidence.

  12. #12 James Sweet
    June 8, 2009

    I think that there’s another, much milder motivation/psychology behind those who tend to fall for denialist claims (not so much the denialists themselves, who I agree have pretty whack personalities). I know a lot of people — and I have a hint of this in my own personality — who have what I would probably term an “alternative ethic”, i.e. they are interested in anything outside the mainstream. In the case of food, music, and pop culture, I would argue this is very much a GOOD thing (unless you think MacDonald’s is just great, Linkin Park are brilliant musicians, and the sitcom is the highest form of art…) There are other times when the “alternative ethic” is neither a good thing nor a bad thing, e.g. having a really oddball hobby or something. And you know what, I’ll tell you that in my experience, people who have this “alternative ethic” tend to be more interesting.

    The problem comes in when this “alternative ethic” becomes compulsive. Sometimes I like to refer to this as “indiscriminate dissent”. It’s great to want to find your own way outside of the mainstream… but not if the alternative to the mainstream is dangerous or fraudulent or just plain insane.

    Unfortunately, I’ve seen far too many folks where anti-vax or alternative medicine is just an extension of their general lifestyle, a lifestyle that in and of itself is perfectly healthy.

    Like I say, I don’t think this describes the true denialists, but I think it does describe a lot of people who get suckered in by denialists.

  13. #13 PhilB
    June 8, 2009

    I’d add an additional motivations to the mix:

    A deep desire to feel that random violence in the world at large is somehow within our control. If 9/11 was a government conspiracy then all we need to do is expose it and an event like it won’t happen again. It’s difficult to accept that something like an Oklahoma, 9/11, or Columbine could happen to us and we (as individuals) are powerless to prevent it.

  14. #14 rfall
    June 8, 2009

    @James(12):

    Sort of like those for whom any medicine labeled “alternative” is always better–never mind no proof–than “conventional” medicine?

    And, now that I think about it, items labeled “natural” as opposed to those labeled…well, whatever else.

  15. #15 James Sweet
    June 8, 2009

    @rfall(14): Exactly.

    In a lot of areas of one’s life, particularly those dealing with aesthetics, this kind of systematic bias is no problem… and maybe even a good thing sometimes (as with the examples I gave regarding pop culture). It’s just that you probably don’t want to be making medical decisions based on the same philosophy you use to make aesthetic decisions…

  16. #16 MarkH
    June 8, 2009

    James, I think that’s a great healthy attitude. One of the root causes of denialism is the natural tendency of people to want what they believe to be true – their ideology, their politics, their personal choices – to always be rooted in fact. Sadly, most of us, including myself, have our thinking clouded time to time by our personal biases. I, for instance, am willing to believe anything bad about vegetarianism.

    It’s helpful to step back every once and a while and be introspective, think about why you believe something and whether or not the facts actually support it.

    Luckily, 9/11 conspiracies seem to be slowly dying. The fact that the leaders of the movement are such pathetic morons doesn’t help, but pathetic morons have started religious movements that have lasted eons before. Good ideas come and go, but bad ones last forever. Just about anyone with any sense at all (even those without it like Bill Maher) can smell the BS. Let’s hope the trend is ever downwards and maybe in the future we can educate people to innoculate them against this style of suspicious thinking.

  17. #17 Klem
    June 8, 2009

    From the forum of OneBigTorrent.org:
    —-
    by Aldrian on Sat Apr 05, 2008 7:15 pm
    I wish some people could look at it from a more Global point of view. It seems 99% of the “censorship” complaints we get stems from America and american “conspiracy theories”. UFO’s, black helicopters, Alex Jones, zeitgeist: It’s all a culture thing. Just like Rome happens to be the place to go for excorcisms or Romania for a date with Dracula.

    It’s time for America to sober up and deal with the reality that doesn’t top the charts at youtube. You don’t see soldiers killing kids there – do you? The whole notion that American citizens are not responsible for anything but rather victims of some topsecret evil religious government jewish banking conspiracy taking place at area 51 just makes me sick.

    “The devil made me do it”.
    The Government is the shadow the Corporations cast over society. The essence of Corporate propaganda lies in directing the peoples anger towards the shadow, rather than towards the Substance. Para – Noam Chomsky
    —-

  18. #18 Chris Noble
    June 8, 2009

    James,
    individualism, at least in moderation, is a positive characteristic. It can, however, become pathological when taken to extremes. Peter Duesberg is a good example of a contrarian. He seems to take great pleasure in going against the mainstream. I get the impression that if he ever managed to convince the scientific community that HIV doesn’t cause AIDS he would simply swap sides and argue the exact opposite just so he could hold onto his maverick status. The idea that everybody else are stupid sheep blindly following the dogma while you are a free thinker is extremely appealing and enticing.

    Likewise, suspicion in moderation is a positive characteristic. We’ve definitely evolved to have a healthy suspicion of other people. Sometimes they really are out to get you. Grand conspiracy theories are just pathological over-development of healthy suspicion.

  19. Your post couldn’t be more timely for me. I spent the weekend covering Conspiracy Con 9, which is held every year in Santa Clara and it left me with an lunacy hangover, groping my way back to sanity.

    An aside – I was disappointed to learn that the reason was pretty much the same as why the 49ers football team want to build a stadium here — easy access, good transportation, lower prices — and not because we have a vortex of Reptiloid energy or the Bilderberg Group’s home away from home. (And what do 4 and 9 add up to? 13. The 13 Illuminati families. Clearly it’s just a matter of time before thousands of children will be sacrificed in Luciferian ceremonies — or snuff films produced by Diane Feinstein and directed by Sister Wendy — in that stadium. You see what I mean?)

    What I thought was that I’d get some (personal) laughs and some local color; the stock and trade of community journalism is humanizing and I’ve even found people to like in the Silicon Valley Conservative Club that meets here, and come away from their events feeling like we had made some progress in mutual understanding, and without a fear that should some hideous catastrophe of history put them in charge that it was only a matter of time before the midnight knock on the door came and I would be “no more seen.”

    Not so with the conspiracy folks. This journalistic encounter — and I made no challenges, just asked people to tell me their stories — left me feeling the way I did after a brief dalliance at 19 with the Progressive Labor Party and a more recent outing covering the Church of Scientology: namely, that many of these people would murder me without blinking an eye should the revolution require the making of that particular omlette. I listen to Russell Means and I hear echoes of Pol Pot and the Khmer Rouge. I listen to Anthony Hilder and I hear echoes of Hitler.

    Maybe I’m paranoid, too. All I know is that it left me deeply troubled. I’ve been blogging my immediate reactions at http://www.aroundsantaclara.com and I’m not sure what story I’ll write for the paper.

  20. #20 Dunc
    June 9, 2009

    and repeating the absurd operation Northwoods nonsense – a BS idea that rapidly went into the circular file, never actually implemented.

    Well, it hung on long enough to get JCoS approval… But if you look at it closely, it’s nothing like the typical 9/11 conspiracy theory anyway. It’s a phased plan consisting mainly of media manipulation, with various escalation checkpoints, which aims to produce the desired effect with the minimum of covert action. While plans for false-flag terrorist actions against US citizens are in there, they’re in the “absolute last resort after everything else has failed” section. If we take Operation Northwoods as the canonical example of what the crazier elements of the US government will consider, it’s pretty good evidence against a 9/11 conspiracy plot: if they were going to do something like that, they wouldn’t do it by slamming a bunch of commercial airliners into high-status targets as step 1. There are far easier ways to achieve whatever objective you want to impute to them.

    Bay of Pigs was a pretty bloody lousy idea too, but they implemented that one. Same goes for Iran-Contra. The US government does get up to some truly nasty stuff – but they’re not (generally) stupid about it.

  21. #21 LanceR, JSG
    June 9, 2009

    IMHO, the deeper point about conspiracy theories is not that the US government doesn’t do bad things, but that we are *terrible* about keeping it quiet. The Bay of Pigs and Iran-Contra were out in the public eye relatively quickly. If the conspiracy theorists are to be believed, a 9/11 plot the size of D-Day took place, and nobody involved said anything. No little whispers to a friend. No pillow talk. No drunken boasting…

    We’re good at doing stupid sh*t, but really bad at keeping our mouths shut about it.

  22. #22 Julius
    June 9, 2009

    Carolyn: 1) Your link won’t load for me.

    2) A convention of conspiracy theorists? That’s hilarious, and I’m not entirely sure what it says about them – it seems to imply that they don’t really believe all of their crackpottery. Because if there really was a New World Order/Illuminati/Lizard Overlords, surely They wouldn’t allow that sort of event to happen – or They’d send the SWAT teams in there and arrest the lot in one fell swoop. It’d certainly save Them the hassle of tracking them all down individually…

  23. #23 Ed
    June 9, 2009

    This “one-size fits all” pigeonholing of “denialists” is insultingly simplistic, in spite of its use of sophisticated-sounding jargon.

    For example:

    I do not doubt the reality of the Apollo moon landings.

    I do not doubt the reality of global climate chaos (“global warming” is a misnomer).

    I do not doubt that HIV leads to AIDS.

    I do not doubt evolution.

    I do doubt a lone gunman was responsible for JFK’s assassination, particularly because of the absurd official “magic bullet” explanation.

    I do doubt the official conspiracy theory that the three WTC steel-frame buildings could have exploded and collapsed into their own footprints at free-fall speed due to the collisions into two of them by jet airliners and their consequent fires, while the most advanced air defense system on the planet was “distracted” by numerous war games scheduled for that same day.

    And the reasons I hold all these views are the same: knowledge of science as well as history, especially politics: we now know that Cheney & Bush used torture of detainees to force lies supporting false claims of links between 9/11 and al-Qaeda & Saddam Hussein in order to justify their unnecessary, illegal war of aggression on Iraq, a war Bush said he would wage in an interview with his ghost writer, Mickey Hershkowitz (see Two Years Before 9/11, Candidate Bush was Already Talking Privately About Attacking Iraq, According to His Former Ghost Writer http://www.commondreams.org/headlines04/1028-01.htm) before Bush was even (s)elected by his five Supreme Court friends.

    Those who claim ‘science’ to deny what science and history both prove are guilty of a special kind of denialism: denialism in the service of corrupt power.

    It’s not “crankery” to question authority, specially authority which has so much to gain or lose by its assertion and exploitation of power, including manipulation of media; it’s wisdom born of experience. To not question such authority is true denialism.

  24. #24 LanceR, JSG
    June 9, 2009

    Ah, yes. The classic “Nuh-uh! You’re the denialist” trope. Wins no points from the judges. They’re looking for originality and creativity… this is just the same garbage all over again.

    Score: 0.00

    Do feel free to try again.

  25. #25 AgnosticNews
    June 9, 2009

    23 – This “one-size fits all” pigeonholing of “denialists” is insultingly simplistic, in spite of its use of sophisticated-sounding jargon.

    You seem to be missing the distinction between tendency and always.

    I do doubt the official conspiracy theory that the three WTC steel-frame buildings could have exploded and collapsed into their own footprints at free-fall speed due to the collisions into two of them by jet airliners and their consequent fires, while the most advanced air defense system on the planet was “distracted” by numerous war games scheduled for that same day.

    Well, the towers didn’t explode. They did not collapse at free-fall speed (which would have put it at about 9 seconds, and the towers took about 15 seconds and 22 seconds). They collapsed in a nearly vertical manner, but in no way a particularly unlike manner.

    while the most advanced air defense system on the planet was “distracted” by numerous war games scheduled for that same day.

    The scheduling of exercises is a rather regular event (I live near an air-base, so I see it all the time). Further, if you look up other plane hijacking scenarios, the perpetrators are usually looking for ransom and/or freeing prisoners or political demands. “Shoot down the planes” would not have been the first solution to come to mind, not to mention being a very bad decision under most circumstances, the exception (this case) being a rather novel one.

    And the reasons I hold all these views are the same: knowledge of science…

    Oh good, you know science! Excellent. I’ll give you a (brief and rough) outline:

    1. Find the approximate tensile strength of steel (there are different types, the mainstay in construction is ‘mild steel’) at temperatures close to the temperature of burning kerosene. You can skip this step, since you seem to mainly have a problem with the vertical nature of the collapse (as though it were somehow unlikely). This only serves to demonstrate why buckled, highly heated steel (even if not molten) can fail rather easily, particularly under the weight you will approximate in step 2.
    2. Find the approximate weight of the upper structure that first collapsed.
    3. Calculate the approximate energy of the upper structure upon reaching floors (largely) unaffected by temperatures. From this, you can find the amount of energy transferred by the falling structure.
    4. Approximate the carrying capacity of those unaffected floors and see if you would expect for them to hold.
    5. If not, add that mass to the falling structure.
    6. Rinse, repeat.

    This is simplified and not exact, but when you start even playing with the rough numbers, it’s fairly easy to find the reasons why the towers fell the way they did, requiring no help from hidden explosives. If your calculations demonstrate that the vertical collapse is impossible, please let me know and I’ll review them.

    …history, especially politics: we now know that Cheney & Bush used torture of detainees to force lies supporting false claims of links between 9/11 and al-Qaeda & Saddam Hussein in order to justify their unnecessary, illegal war of aggression on Iraq, a war Bush said he would wage in an interview with his ghost writer, Mickey Hershkowitz (see Two Years Before 9/11, Candidate Bush was Already Talking Privately About Attacking Iraq

    Did Bush obviously have a hankering for Iraq? Certainly. Did he use 9/11 to justify his policies? Of course. Have the attacks, in general, been used to advantageous? YES. Does that mean there was a conspiracy to plan the attacks themselves? No. Politicians can do just as well with opportunism as a conspiracy. Did they lie about links between Al-Qaeda and Saddam? Yes.

    Those who claim ‘science’ to deny what science and history both prove are guilty of a special kind of denialism: denialism in the service of corrupt power.

    The science behind the WTC attacks themselves is solid. Does that mean that there could not have been a conspiracy? No. Could the administration have been negligent? Yes. But please, really, if you want to draw attention to governmental abuses, then emphasize why we should not allow ourselves to give in to fear tactics and render false-flag ops useless. That’s the only step that matters after the event.

    And really, if you’re going to imply that anybody who does not buy in to conspiracy theories is committing denialism in the service of corrupt power, then please realize that you are doing more to convince people to trust the government than the government could ever hope to do itself.

    It’s not “crankery” to question authority, specially authority which has so much to gain or lose by its assertion and exploitation of power, including manipulation of media; it’s wisdom born of experience. To not question such authority is true denialism

    You’re so very right and so very wrong at the same time. Yes, we should actively question authority. Yes, we should be just as skeptical of the “official story” as we are the “alternative explanations.” But the point of skepticism is the suspension of judgment and rigorous evaluation of evidence, not taking up the banner of the opposite position and describing anybody who disagrees as deluded governmental slaves, because that would be pseudoskepticism, not skepticism. In this case, it involves pseudoscience, not science. By methodology, it is denialism, not open inquiry.

    Honestly, if you want to investigate and become an activist against the actions of our government (and there are some foul ones), I would recommend researching Kissinger’s involvement in Chile and the story behind Pinochet, or our arms sales and support to Indonesia as they slaughtered the East Timorese. I would recommend the story of our entrance into Vietnam (not Gulf of Tonkin, but from the beginning of our involvement years earlier and the reasons for doing so). I would recommend researching the civil rights record of the FBI. I would recommend researching COINTELPRO.

    But seriously, I can hardly think of any event less important than a JFK conspiracy theory. And if there was a 911 conspiracy, it didn’t require explosives in the towers to achieve its ends. You don’t need conspiracy theories to highlight problems and abuses in the government and industry, since the biggest crimes lie in plain sight.

    Really, these stories just make genuine activism much, much harder. It makes it easy to dismiss a genuine activist as a nut, because we’re used to nuts. So please, stop, because you’re not doing anybody any good, even if you were right. And if you were right, nobody would believe you because of repeated falsehoods about “free-falls” and other patent nonsense.

  26. #26 Ed
    June 9, 2009
  27. #27 Anonymous
    June 9, 2009

    26: Yes, I’m aware that there are websites of 9/11 Truthers. And you can go to http://www.debunking911.com/ which addresses the “controlled demolition theory” in detail.

    Or, you could actually address the content of my post instead of wasting my time with links. I could send you to http://www.timecube.com to prove that Dr. Gene Ray is the world’s wisest human and cubism is truth.

  28. #28 LanceR, JSG
    June 9, 2009

    I could link to http://www.smurf.com to “prove” that little blue creatures infest our forested areas. So what?

    Smurf. Satanic Minions Undermining Religious Faith.

    Long story… late night after a debate tournament…

  29. #29 AgnosticNews
    June 9, 2009

    I suppose I should elaborate on the trouble with linking to sites as substitution for argument (as well as actually signing into typekey).

    Ed, like other Truthers, tend to repeat the same set of assertions (usually as listed by these sites, depending on if the denialist is propounding “no plane-er”, “aliens”, or a “controlled demolition” conspiracy).

    Responses to refutations of the content from those links is often met by, gasp, another link saying the same thing. The counterarguments are rarely addressed in detail, but instead receive a link to a truther site. Even then, the link is not usually to a refutation of the counterargument in question so much as to the overall site or a repetition of the original proposition.

    Back to the psychology, I think the link serves (to the denialist) as a substitute for argument (in addition to prolonging and frustrating productive exchange). In short, the denialist can think “this point has been refuted” even if the point itself was never even addressed. Holes in the “alternative theory” are glazed over, much like the invocation of other, unrelated conspiracies as evidence for the one in question. In short, linking may serve as reinforcement in absence of counterargument, even if the link in question does nothing to address the point. This has been a frequently repeated experience of mine in dealing with 9/11 truthers, creationists, and believers in psychic power.

    A link is great if you need a source, but I have had far too many frustrating experiences sorting out irrelevant links. After pointing this out, my original counterargument is ignored and a different piece of “evidence” is presented, and the cycle repeats. The bad evidence seems to be strongly associated. If you go through a point by point refutation (and it’s a very long process which, even if you have the patience, will usually be cut off by the denialist), the previous points will be repeated even after receiving (ignored) refutation.

  30. #30 Chris Noble
    June 9, 2009

    It’s not “crankery” to question authority, specially authority which has so much to gain or lose by its assertion and exploitation of power, including manipulation of media; it’s wisdom born of experience. To not question such authority is true denialism.

    You seem to have missed the fact that HIV Denialists, Evolution Denialists and Global Warming Denialists all use exactly the same justifications for their denial. They all claim to have science on their side. How many times do you think I have heard the “They lied about weapons of mass destruction. Why do you believe them about HIV?” argument?

    And yes, as LanceR noted, the “No, you’re a naughty boy” argument is used by Denialists of all flavours (and four year olds).

    If your aim was to argue against a common psychological pattern in Denialism then you have failed. You yourself list two separate Denials which indicates that, yes, subscribing to one form of Denial means that you are likely to believe in another.

  31. #31 AgnosticNews
    June 9, 2009

    Let’s play with conspiracy logic.

    1. You can not trust X.
    2. X asserts Y.
    3. Therefore, Y is false.

    Let’s play a variable assignment game.

    Let X = The government; and
    Y = “the official WTC collapse explanation”

    But, we could just as easily do:

    Let X = Conspiracy theorists; and
    Y = “the WTC towers fell as a result of a controlled demolition”

    So, Ed and other conspiracy theorists out there will understand why I do not accept the logic of validating 9/11 or JFK conspiracies with other conspiracies (regardless of their truth value), unless they want to assert that you can always trust conspiracy theorists (a premise falsified by the existence of mutually contradictory conspiracy theories), and why it’s rather annoying to have “you trust the government too much” or “you have faith in the government” repeated incessantly.

  32. #32 Liz D
    June 9, 2009

    Aside: The post by jordan shoes at #32 is almost certainly spam.

    I’d like to see a similar study on anti-vaccination cranks, both the “vaccines cause autism” flavor and the “vaccines are eeeeeevil” flavor.

    There’s a lot of conspiracy thinking there — the “government will cover up any link between vaccines and autism” and general suspicions of government-mandated medicine such as vaccines.

  33. #33 Joshua Zelinsky
    June 9, 2009

    Two remarks: There are other common elements to many forms of crankery. One very common issue appears to be not liking counterintuitive results. One sees this more so with anti-relativity people and creationists. There’s a clear preference for a simpler, easier to understand universe. One sees this also with anti-Cantor cranks in math.

    Second, I’m not sure there’s any substantial monological belief issues. I haven’t read Goertzel but the other results here seem to demonstrate that there are common cognitive biases at play. So it shouldn’t be that surprising that someone who was more vulnerable to certain sorts of cognitive errors would engage in those same errors across the board.

  34. #34 Carolyn Schuk
    June 10, 2009

    Julius – let me try the link again:

    http://aroundsantaclara.blogspot.com

  35. #35 John M 307
    June 10, 2009

    I would like to see some kind of similar analysis of the mentality of those who automatically dismiss anything a 9/11 “Troofer” says. In my observation, once the “conspiracy theory” label is attached regarding 9/11 in particular, the brain of the anti-conspiracy-theorist turns off. You can’t get them to read and comprehend a single sentence.

    For example, how many of them recognize the obvious idiocy in the following quote from Popular Mechanics? (Two howlers in a single sentence!)

    When the hijackers turned off the planes’ transponders, which broadcast identifying signals, ATC had to search 4500 identical radar blips crisscrossing some of the country’s busiest air corridors.

    http://www.popularmechanics.com/technology/military_law/1227842.html?page=3

    Or what about this blood libel of the FAA in the 9/11 Commission Report?

    The Secret Service was getting this information directly from the FAA. The FAA may have been tracking the progress of United 93 on a display that showed its projected path to Washington, not its actual radar return. Thus, the Secret Service was relying on projections and was not aware the plane was already down in Pennsylvania.

    http://govinfo.library.unt.edu/911/report/911Report_Ch1.htm
    http://govinfo.library.unt.edu/911/report/911Report_Ch1.pdf

    (In the section of Chapter 1 labeled “United 93 and the Shootdown Order”, p.41 of the PDF version’s Chapter 1)

    The note to this paragraph cites an interview with Tim Grovack. Nothing can be found about the interview or Grovack.

    The official stories are infested with lies, incompetence, and propaganda. One only has to look, and think with a grain of intelligence. As a simple physics exercise, I present the information about AA 77 in the NORAD 9/18/01 press release (the 2nd official story of NORAD’s response), and ask students to estimate how fast the fighter jets were flying according to that story. (The answer is around 200 mph. Langley AFB is about 130 miles from DC.)

    http://web.archive.org/web/20020615115751/www.norad.mil/presrelNORADTimelines.htm

  36. #36 julius
    June 10, 2009

    Carolyn – thanks, that’s some fantastic reporting :-)

    And AgnosticNews, #25 – fucking hell, that’s an excellent post. Not that it’ll do any good for any truthers reading it, but oh well…

  37. #37 AgnosticNews
    June 10, 2009

    Carolyn@35: Thanks for the updated link! I was trying to get to that as well.

    Julius@36: Thanks! I do not think that truthers will change their minds (particularly at this point) from reading it, but I think that it is better to approach the broader, underlying cause of the doubt than the evidence itself (since that’s the point of denialism, it doesn’t do much good to work with evidence).

    I’ve actually had luck with a few Young Earth Creationists by first addressing the cultural accusations (evolution = atheism, evolution = holocaust, and other items). If you first clear the fear tactics and ill-founded consequentialism from the waters, you can start to discuss the science and have a (small) chance at winning somebody over.

    With conspiracy theorists and truthers, I try to redirect them to better and more important forms of activism concerning the government.

    With PETA activists (who tend to be preteen girls), I inform them about PETA’s record and goals concerning euthanasia and direct them to the ASPCA.

    I view denialism and ill-founded fringe ideologies as a symptom. There are the flat-out crazies who are better left undisturbed. There are the blatant frauds who should be exposed publicly. But, the bulk are normal (or close to normal) people who will not be convinced by evidence or exposure of contradiction, and for these people, the best tactic is to start at the root of the problem.

  38. #38 Snout
    June 10, 2009

    It’s not “crankery” to question authority…

    No, but it’s crankery to refuse to listen to the answers.

    It’s crankery to assume a priori that any answers will be invalid because of your rigid preconceived ideas of conspiracy and maleficence on the part of those you are posing your questions to.

    It’s crankery when you don’t even understand the question you are posing, let alone the answer.

    It’s crankery when you pretend that your question is seeking an answer, but in fact it is simply a rhetorical device for the benefit of an audience you are trying to deceive.

    Source: extensive experience “debating” with HIV/AIDS denialists.

  39. #39 Feivel
    June 10, 2009

    But Snout,

    Couldn’t your argument that “it’s crankery to refuse to listen to the answers” be used by both sides in any such debate?

    And this is the difficulty as both sides of any of these issues can turn the tables of accusations.

    When determining if those who disagree with us are in fact denialists or cranks, how do we know that we ourselves are not the denialist cranks?

    Simply believing we are correct is insufficient, as that also describes both sides of any issue.

    The fact that any belief is also backed by consensus is also inherently dangerous as many times in history consensus has been shown to be incorrect. A striking example of this is nazi Germany, wherein nearly the entire country fell under the spell of believing anti-Jewish beliefs.

    I don’t know that you’d want to draw any direct parallel to hiv/aids denial, but it is awfully interesting that a similar panic about infection helped motivate Germans to isolate and exterminate 6 million Jews in the 1930s and 40s. Jews were literally thought to be a public health problem. It was said that Jews, by their very presence, spread typhus and other contagious diseases. Schoolkids were marched through exhibitions that compared Jews to rats, lice and germs. Removing Jews from the healthy German body politic and then eradicating them was seen, James M. Glass writes in “Life Unworthy of Life”, as “a problem in sanitation management.”

    Think about that: the Holocaust as a public health scare. Jews, the SARS or HIV/AIDS of the 1930s. A panic whipped up not just by Goebbels’ loony Nazi propaganda machine, but also by supposedly sane, humane German health care workers and medical scientists.

    Falling into denial on a topic can be just that easy. So, therein the question begs of just how do we know that we ourselves are not in denial?

  40. #40 J Todd DeShong
    June 10, 2009

    You wrote:
    “But the denialist is not the evil plotter they are often portrayed as.”
    That may be true in most instances. However, I have learned a dire lesson regarding engaging some of these deniers, as they can be quite dangerous as I found regarding an Ex LAPD cop named Clark Baker who is quite aggressive in pushing the HIV/AIDS agenda. A few months ago he sent me an email threatening me and my family with violence, and me specifically with extortion. He made good on the extortion threat last week by calling my employer and lying to them (I am still employed, as their investigation proved his lies). But the most disturbing thing is he called my mother and threatened a lawsuit to take her house.
    This has given me pause that perhaps if I want to continue proving the lies of these people, perhaps I should be using a pseudonymn.
    Sincerely,
    NOT J. Todd DeShong

  41. #41 AgnosticNews
    June 10, 2009

    Zelinsky@33: Yeah, pseudomathematics is even more odd than pseudoscience in many ways, but yeah, the defining factor seems to be ideological comfort/intuition. It must meet the heuristic to be correct, etc.

  42. #42 J Todd DeShong
    June 10, 2009

    James Sweet,
    I have to differ with you. Above you implied that the sitcom is not the highest form of art. Come on. Haven’t you ever seen The Simpsons? D’OH!
    J. Todd DeShong

  43. #43 J Todd DeShong
    June 10, 2009

    OOOPS, at #42 I meant to write that Clark Baker pushes the
    HIV/AIDS DENIALIST agenda!
    Sorry,
    JTD

  44. #44 Feivel
    June 10, 2009

    As described by Shapiro:
    A suspicious person is a person who has something on his mind. He looks at the world with fixed and preoccupying expectation, and he searches repetitively, and only, for confirmation of it. He will not be persuaded to abandon his suspicion of some plan of action based on it. On the contrary, he will pay no attention to rational arguments except to find in them some aspect or feature that actually confirms his original view. Anyone who tries to influence or persuade a suspicious person will not only fail, but also, unless he is sensible enough to abandon his efforts early will, himself, become an object of the original suspicious idea.

    Is it possible, Doctor Hoofnagle, that in diagnosing others as denialists, that you are actually diagnosing your own self?

    If you were in denial, just how would you yourself know?

    The answer to that is that you yourself would not know. That is the nature of denial. Those who are in denial do not know they are.

    As for any solution, one would have to ask, “How could you find out if you yourself are in denial?

    First of all, you yourself would need to summon the willingness and summon the intention to intend to find out, and this would require something that most find difficult to impossible, to find sufficient humility and courage to look deeply within, would it not? And then, if one discovered they might be in error, it would take an even greater courage to admit ones error to ones self let alone to admit it to others, or to make a public confession, would it not?

    Do you, Dr. Hoofnagle, possess such humility or courage?

  45. #45 Judge Whipple
    June 10, 2009

    Mr. DeShong,

    I have just read many of the postings on your blogsite. In looking over the site, I find countless instances where you have lashed out at Mr. Baker and called him many and various derogatory names and insults.

    And now, after you have done this rightly or wrongly for many months, you now complain that he has finally called your mother and employer.

    This is a situation that you have obviously brought about yourself, yet you seem to be quite enamored with playing the role of an innocent victim.

    Judging from what derogatory words and insults you have publicly called Mr. Baker on your website, you are not so innocent, and you are not a victim of anything but what you yourself have surely created.

  46. #46 MarkH
    June 10, 2009

    Hey, no sockpuppeting Feivel/Judge Whipple. It will result in banning.

  47. #47 Feivel
    June 10, 2009

    Agreed, Dr. Hoofnagle.

    I am wondering if you have considered my honest question to you.

    How do you know that you yourself are not in denial on any given subject. After all, it is obviously exceedingly easy for any of us mere mortals to fall under the sway of mistaken beliefs and fail to pay attention to the rational arguments of others when they are presented.

    So, again, I am very interested to hear your opinion as this cuts to the heart of what this blog is about, ie; denialism.

    So, just how do you know, good sir, that you, yourself, are not in denial on any given subject?

  48. #48 AgnosticNews
    June 10, 2009

    So, again, I am very interested to hear your opinion as this cuts to the heart of what this blog is about, ie; denialism.

    So, just how do you know, good sir, that you, yourself, are not in denial on any given subject?

    Feivel, that’s the point. I know your question is for MarkH, but I think that it is important to address. We are all capable of being incorrect and it would be absurd to think that we are somehow exempt from the biases we recognize in others. I catch myself falling into these traps occasionally and as far as I know, we all do it. IMHO, the most important difference between adhering to scientific methodology and denialism is tentativity. You can make judgments, but you have to actively remind yourself that your previous judgments could very well be mistaken.

    Further, it helps to treat disagreement as a dialogue and a discussion as opposed to an argument/debate. In science, the deciding factor is evidence, providing an objective standard by which we may assess the validity of a theory. In denialism, the evidence largely ceases to become a factor. That’s the difference. You can’t treat the entirety of life like a double-blind study, but on topics of significance and importance, you make an active effort to examine the evidence dispassionately.

    This is more easily said than done, particularly when topics like HIV/AIDS denialism and Anti-Vax come up. I and others believe that these people are getting people killed, but the awful weight of what I think are the consequences have to be grounded in evidence. True, I could be biased, so I compare and contrast the evidence on a topic such as HIV/AIDS denialism anew, which is frustrating due to often times dishonest and shoddy sophistry on the part of the denialists (especially frauds and willing ignoramuses like Ken Ham or the former Henry Morris). In most topics, I find myself coming to the same or similar conclusions but with new insights. In others, I change my mind (or at least find some merit in the opposition). When I call a topic “denialism”, it implies that the weight of evidence is severely stacked against them (if not entirely against them) that I can no longer even locate any reason to hold the position outside of ideology, fraud, religion, or deep-seated biases.

    If your position depends on the frequent committal of academic dishonesty to defend it, then it needs a fresh look.

    Academic consensus is not the arbiter of Truth with a capital T, but academic consensus is usually not coincidental, either. But, don’t mistake denialism for debate, because you find that it is not a debate nor discussion. It’s rather like attempting to convert a street preacher to theological Satanism or trying to *hint* that maybe Hell is metaphorical or a bad translation/amalgamation of original meaning… You recognize it by the very futility of progress. For myself, if I find my own positions stagnating (right or not), I like to reexamine them.

    You can ask this question to regress until you’ve reestablished that mankind is not omnipotent and fallible, but you won’t be bringing anything new to empirical thought.

    TL;DR Everybody is biased, and honest skepticism requires the assumption of personal bias and endeavors to account for them.

  49. #49 AgnosticNews
    June 10, 2009

    Oh, since this is relevant to earlier mentions of the holocaust and this post:

    http://tpmmuckraker.talkingpointsmemo.com/2009/06/james_von_brunn_a_profile.php

    A mix of anti-semetic/Illuminati/NWO conspiracism seems to have been behind a shooting today at the Holocaust Museum in DC. The shooter was wounded and a security guard was killed.

    (Thanks to comment on the Pharyngula post)

  50. #50 MarkH
    June 10, 2009

    Read the primer first on what denialism is, I’m not going to argue over what you think denialism is, which is apparently “anything that disagrees with me”.

    Denialism is composed of non-parsimonious conspiracies, cherry-picking data, fake experts, moving goalposts and logical fallacies. I am asserting no conspiracies. My experts are real scientists like those at NIST, who described a scenario inconsistent with CD and other paranoid (and absurd) theories, not radio personalities and theology professors. I didn’t cherry pick results, and in this discussion we actually included some overview of the literature of this problem. I There is no goalpost moving, because truthers have never provided any evidence of any unifying explanation of the events. Just nitpicking and obstructive idiocy. No logical fallacies either as far as I can detect.

    Denialism isn’t disagreement. It’s the use of rhetorical tactics to give the appearance of a debate, when in reality one of the parties is not a honest broker interested in dialogue. They are only interested in one thing, the overvalued belief which they have sacrificed rationality to maintain.

  51. #51 Chris Noble
    June 10, 2009

    Feivel sounds uncannily like Michael Geiger. Perhaps they just share the same delusions.

    Trying to turn the argument on its head is a typical crank tactic. Intelligent cdesign proponentists will try to argue that evolutionary biologists are motivated by a religious devotion to the revelations of Saint Darwin.

    Anybody who has children will probably see the same tactic when they try to convince you that you and not they are being naughty.

  52. #52 AgnosticNews
    June 10, 2009

    cdesign proponentists

    Typical Darwinist materialism-mongering church burners, always messing up the transitional form between creationism and ID. It was actually ‘cdesign proponentsists’, which you only do not believe because of your presuppositions. I’ll put this in the “evidence for ID” file…

    Which reminds me, I better start that file at some point.

  53. #53 J Todd DeShong
    June 10, 2009

    Judge Whipple,
    If you had read the actual blogs, you would have known that Baker has a history of violence way back when, and he admits this, he beat up a JAY WALKER who was in custody and cuffed!!
    I know many people whom Baker has done exactly what he has done to me, but I refuse to back down to a bully like Baker.
    I have right and truth on my side, he has anger, which of all the emotions, will ultimately betray you.
    JTD

  54. #54 Snout
    June 10, 2009

    Michael asked:

    So, again, I am very interested to hear your opinion as this cuts to the heart of what this blog is about, ie; denialism.

    So, just how do you know, good sir, that you, yourself, are not in denial on any given subject?

    …As for any solution, one would have to ask, “How could you find out if you yourself are in denial?

    Denialism describes not so much a position, as a set of processes by which you arrive at, or argue that position. So if you want to know whether a position is likely one of denial or not, you can interrogate its antecedent processes, and the rhetorical devices used to argue it. The primer that Mark has linked above provides a useful framework for such interrogation. There are numerous other common devices and cognitive distortions that are red lights indicating denialist thought processes, but those five or so on the “What is denialism” page are an excellent introduction to the phenomenon for the layman.

    And yes, with some insight and humility you can even apply them to scrutinise your own beliefs, too.

  55. #55 Chris Noble
    June 11, 2009

    There are other common elements to many forms of crankery. One very common issue appears to be not liking counterintuitive results. One sees this more so with anti-relativity people and creationists. There’s a clear preference for a simpler, easier to understand universe. One sees this also with anti-Cantor cranks in math.

    This is the appeal to “common sense” where common sense is in scare quotes.

    “Common sense” says that the Earth is flat, that the Sun orbits the Earth, that electrons can’t be in more than one place at a time and that my grandfather wasn’t a monkey.

    “Common Sense” is making a guest appearance on ERVs blog if want to see him in action.

  56. #56 Clark Baker
    June 11, 2009

    Gallo’s defenders created the specter of AIDS-Denialists and Denialism, epithets designed to marginalize those who questioned Gallo’s opinions as somehow denying the existence of AIDS itself. Because rational Gallo skeptics never questioned the existence of AIDS, this allegation is false. The fact that malnutrition, septic water, disease, environmental conditions, irresponsible drug use and self-destructive behavior can degrade a body’s ability to protect itself from infection and cause death is undeniable.

    What is in question is Gallo’s scientifically unsupported assertions that retroviruses cause leukemia, cancer, and AIDS.

    When used around casual observers, the denialist/denialism epithet dehumanizes Gallo skeptics as flat-earthers, ufologists, Klansmen, Eugenicists, racists, homophobes, and other socially unacceptable groups. Because most people fear the stigma that comes with those associations – and are socially, politically, and professionally unprepared to defend themselves against this slur, they politely scatter and change the subject like Gallo’s debutants.

    As a career criminal investigator who is familiar with criminal behavior, the fact that these people use Soviet tactics to dehumanize skeptics as “mentally degranged” to obfuscate legitimate questions reveals much more about Hoofnagle and his motives than his subjects.

  57. #57 LanceR, JSG
    June 11, 2009

    Shorter Clark Baker:

    “Wah! He called us a name!”

    Only those without an actual argument whine about what they’ve been called. Especially when the “epithet” is accurate and fitting.

  58. #58 Clark Baker
    June 11, 2009

    By the way Dr Hoofnagle, what does it say when Robert Gallo hires a security guard to investigate and publish the history of Gallo, HIV and AIDS in the so-called non-fiction “Dissecting a Discovery?” If Gallo wasn’t a fraud, he would have hired a real investigator. The fact that Gallo hired a low-achieving relative of IHV “researcher” Tony Kontaratos (a doctor like you) to conduct a three-year “investigation” says as much about Gallo’s defenders than those who ask legitimate questions.

  59. #59 John M 307
    June 11, 2009

    Question: Is Popular Mechanics considered a mainstream reasonable authority or a phony expert publication? Or something in between? Would one expect it to write something like this?

    When the hijackers turned off the planes’ transponders, which broadcast identifying signals, ATC had to search 4500 identical radar blips crisscrossing some of the country’s busiest air corridors.

    http://www.popularmechanics.com/technology/military_law/1227842.html?page=3

    Popular Mechanics is telling us that Air Traffic Control would have to search the entire US for a plane that has disappeared in (say) New York a few minutes earlier. They’re also telling us that ATC can’t tell the difference between a plane broadcasting a transponder signal and one not broadcasting a transponder signal.

    When I comment about Popular Mechanics’s idiocy around anti-Troofers, the most common response is dead silence. I’ve also been called a nutcase. And once or twice, I get a non-sequitur of a response. (And no, it’s not just that quote. Popular Mechanics’s article is full of such disinformation.)

  60. #60 Chris Noble
    June 11, 2009

    As a career criminal investigator who is familiar with criminal behavior, the fact that these people use Soviet tactics to dehumanize skeptics as “mentally degranged” to obfuscate legitimate questions reveals much more about Hoofnagle and his motives than his subjects.

    You are doing an excellent job at appearing mentally deranged all by yourself. Keep up the good work.

  61. #61 J Todd DeShong
    June 16, 2009

    Clark Baker,
    I do not understand your rational regarding this security guard you keep putting down with zero proof, such is your way. However, even if he is a lowly security guard in your opinion, at least he has never beaten up a jay~walker who was defenseless in hand cuffs the way you have, Clark Baker.
    I would more trust a security guard with integrity than a cop who abuses his power, and then when he is stripped of power, goes around the internet threatening and intimidating people the way you have and do. You know I have the proof posted at my site, so do not cry about proof Mr. Bully Child!
    JTD

  62. #62 tanabear
    June 21, 2009

    This is another website that appears not to be devoted to the promotion of scientific inquiry, but merely calling people names, “denialist, crank, conspiracy theorist etc.” Nevertheless, if I’m wrong then these questions should be easy to answer.

    1) What experimental data supports any aspect of the official explanation for the collapse of WTC1,2 and 7?

    2)Zdenek Bazant and Yong Zhou had their first paper ready for publication on 09/13/2001, only two days after the attacks. What facts and evidence did they have at this point?

    3) What experiments can be created to verify the validity of Bazant’s crush-down crush-up hypothesis?

    4) NIST, in their Draft/Final Report of WTC7, discovered a new phenomenon that can cause the complete collapse of a steel-frame high-rise, thermal expansion*. Can we expect this principle to be used to demolish buildings in the future?
    *Thermal expansion is not a newly discovered phenomenon, but the fact that it can lead to the complete progressive collapse of high-rise is.

    5) Some proponents of the official story have promoted the pancake collapse hypothesis, others have promoted the pile-driver explanation. What explanation does the visual(i.e. video tape, photographic record) evidence support?

  63. #63 tanabear
    June 22, 2009

    MarkH: “My experts are real scientists like those at NIST.”

    Please, explain to me the difference between a “real” scientist and a scientist who isn’t “real”? What makes NIST scientists more real than the now 700 plus scientists/architects/engineers that make up Architects & Engineers for 9/11 Truth?

    MarkH: “who described a scenario inconsistent with CD and other paranoid (and absurd) theories”

    NIST stops their explanation at what they term “collapse initation.” NIST states their investigation “does not actually include the structural behavior of the tower after the conditions for collapse initiation were reached…” In this sense, the report is merely a pre-collapse analysis.

    Which theories are referring too as absurd and paranoid? The 9/11 Truth Movement believes that explosive charges can destroy buildings and other structures. Is this an absurd, paranoid theory? I believe the evidence that explosive charges can blow stuff up is well-established.

    MarkH: “because truthers have never provided any evidence of any unifying explanation of the events.”

    But neither have those who defend the official conspiracy theory. The goal of the 9/11 Truth Movement is to have an actual investigation that would explain these events.

  64. #64 Monado
    July 4, 2009

    I wonder if, psychologically, this is related to the reluctance of the religious to point out that there’s no reason to believe the scriptures of other religions or believers in one kind of new-age mysticism or magical healing to believe in all of them. It’s as if some people have their Suspect-O-Meter turned ‘way up and others have it turned ‘way down.

  65. #65 Monado
    July 4, 2009

    In my limited experience, “distal” is the opposite of “proximal” and refers to position on an organism further from the center of the body. What does it mean for variables in an attitude study?