One of the characteristics of defective thinking, particularly of cranks (see theHOWTO) that we’ve discussed on scienceblogs is their poor ability to process information that is contradictory. Last week there were some interesting reports on a study which suggested those who believe in conspiracy theories can hold two seemingly contradictory pieces of information in their heads and not see the conflict. For instance:
“The more people were likely to endorse the idea Princess Diana was murdered, the more they were likely to believe that Princess Diana is alive,” explained Douglas. People who thought it was unlikely she was murdered were also unlikely to think she did not die.
This study is great because it’s direct confirmation that people who buy into conspiracy theories have fundamentally defective thought processes that allow them to believe things that are logically inconsistent. Just like we’ve been saying for years.
Now, examine instance the Fox News reaction to the improving jobs numbers from the last month.
The right has struggled with the news. Mitt Romney went into denial; his supporters desperately tried to convince people not to give President Obama credit; GOP leaders on Capitol Hill found themselves at a loss for words; and Fox News spent much of Friday going to comical lengths to pretend the jobs report wasn’t newsworthy at all.
And then, there are the conspiracy theorists.
Rep. Allen West (R-Fla.) came first, arguing on Friday there’s “something suspicious about the job numbers.” He did not elaborate.
On Fox News’ “Fox & Friends” this morning, the cast went down this road with more enthusiasm. Here’s what Eric Bolling told viewers:
“So are they playing around with the numbers? Look, it’s the Bureau of Labor Statistics, it’s supposed to be non-partisan, but that’s the Department of Labor. Hilda Solis heads the Department of Labor, Hilda Solis works directly to Obama. I’m, you know.”
Steve Doocy raised the question of whether the Obama administration is “cooking the books,” while Gretchen Carlson emphasized the fact that this is “an election year.”
The reality of the numbers isn’t what they want to hear, it conflicts with their overriding ideology that Obama is doing a terrible job to matter what, so it must be false. How could it be false? It’s a conspiracy! The department of labor statistics is cooking the books for Obama (but they didn’t cook it any other time in his presidency when it made him look bad or for any other president). Next month, if the numbers sour, they will again attain legitimacy, as long as the evidence is supportive of the overriding principal of Obama being the devil, it’s true, if it conflicts, it’s a conspiracy.
This is the classic cognitive dissonance of the crank. They’re fixated on an idea, and when the data supports their belief it’s true, when it’s not, it’s false. There’s a conspiracy to manipulate the data because there can never be data that proves the crank is wrong about their overvalued idea.