What PressTV doesn’t tell you

Conspiracy Theory Overlap Diagram
Conspiracy Theory Overlap Diagram (Photo credit: Vince_Lamb)

The propaganda TV station of the Iranian theocratic regime, PressTV, has been taken off air in the UK because it refused to respect the laws passed by the country’s democratically elected parliament. But the website is still available and now carries an article which states which claims to be a review of a recently published learned paper on conspiracy theories:

The most recent study was published on July 8th by psychologists Michael J. Wood and Karen M. Douglas of the University of Kent (UK). Entitled “What about Building 7? A social psychological study of online discussion of 9/11 conspiracy theories,” the study compared “conspiracist” (pro-conspiracy theory) and “conventionalist” (anti-conspiracy) comments at news websites …

PressTV’s columnist, in the pay of the Iranian regime remember, says:

The authors were surprised to discover that it is now more conventional to leave so-called conspiracist comments than conventionalist ones

In fact no surprise is expressed at all. Instead the authors’ report that they would expect conspiracists to actively comment:

In spite of, or perhaps because of, the lack of mainstream public acceptance for their theories, many conspiracists, both prominent and otherwise, appear to see themselves as having a duty to spread their views to the public at large. They often exhort the unthinking masses to “wake up” (e.g., Crane, 2008Byers, 2009Icke, 2012). This is a reasonable reaction: given a belief that people’s lives are being manipulated by malevolent forces beyond their control, most would probably agree that trying to spread the word about that fact is a good idea.

PressTV claims:

it turned out that the anti-conspiracy people were not only hostile, but fanatically attached to their own conspiracy theories as well. According to them, their own theory of 9/11 – a conspiracy theory holding that 19 Arabs, none of whom could fly planes with any proficiency, pulled off the crime of the century under the direction of a guy on dialysis in a cave in Afghanistan – was indisputably true. The so-called conspiracists, on the other hand, did not pretend to have a theory that completely explained the events of 9/11: “For people who think 9/11 was a government conspiracy, the focus is not on promoting a specific rival theory, but in trying to debunk the official account.”

In fact the article states:

The data were generally consistent with our predictions. Conspiracist comments expressed more favorable opinions about unrelated conspiracy theories than conventionalist comments did. This serves as a conceptual replication of previous findings indicating that beliefs in conspiracy theories tend to be correlated: if someone agrees with 9/11 conspiracy theories, they are also more likely to agree with other conspiracy theories (e.g., Goertzel, 1994Swami et al., 20102011Wood et al., 2012). Further, in accordance with previous work on the role of trust in conspiracy theory beliefs (e.g., Wright and Arbuthnot, 1974Abalakina-Paap et al., 1999;Simmons and Parsons, 2005), conspiracist comments were more likely to contain expressions of mistrust than were conventionalist comments.

PressTV states:

Perhaps because their supposedly mainstream views no longer represent the majority, the anti-conspiracy commenters often displayed anger and hostility: “The research… showed that people who favoured the official account of 9/11 were generally more hostile when trying to persuade their rivals.”

In fact the report states:

We also found that hostility was higher in persuasive arguments made by conventionalists than in those by conspiracists. As 9/11 conspiracism is by and large a minority viewpoint in the West (WorldPublicOpinion.org, 2008), this makes sense: conventionalists, rather than focusing on presenting novel information, instead attempt to enforce conformity to the majority viewpoint (Latané, 1981). While the inter-rater reliability for hostility was good, there is a risk that we may not have captured the full spectrum of responses, as we specifically excluded comments that consisted solely of threats, insults, or ridicule. As such, although we cannot say with certainty that conventionalist comments are more hostile on average than conspiracist comments, we can say with some confidence that this is true among comments that also contained some amount of persuasive content.

PressTV states:

In short, the new study by Wood and Douglas suggests that the negative stereotype of the conspiracy theorist – a hostile fanatic wedded to the truth of his own fringe theory – accurately describes the people who defend the official account of 9/11, not those who dispute it.

In fact, the report states:

Conspiracy theories, defined as allegations that powerful people or organizations are plotting together in secret to achieve sinister ends through deception of the public (Abalakina-Paap et al., 1999Wood et al., 2012), have long been an important element of popular discourse. With the advent of the Internet, they have become more visible than ever. Although the psychological literature on conspiracy belief has a relatively short history, with most of the relevant research having been conducted only within the past twenty years, it has revealed a great deal regarding individual differences between those who generally believe conspiracy theories (whom we call “conspiracists”) and those who prefer conventional explanations (whom we call “conventionalists”). Conspiracy beliefs have been shown to be positively correlated with mistrust of other people (Goertzel, 1994) and authorities (Swami et al., 2010); feelings of powerlessness and low self-esteem (Abalakina-Paap et al., 1999); superstition, beliefs in the paranormal, and schizotypy (Darwin et al., 2011); a perceived lack of control (Hamsher et al., 1968Whitson and Galinsky, 2008); a Machiavellian approach to social interaction (Douglas and Sutton, 2011); and openness to experience (Swami et al., 2010; but seeSwami et al., 2011) …

And concludes:

The observed tendency of conspiracy theory advocates to argue against conventional narratives rather than in favor of particular alternatives closely resembles this description of anomaly hunting, and also parallelsKeeley’s (1999) observation that conspiracy theories rely heavily on “errant data” rather than on crafting coherent alternative explanations (p. 117). We argue that in fact, anomaly hunting, or a fixation on errant data, is a manifestation of the way conspiracism is structured as a worldview. In general, conspiracy belief is not based around specific theories of how events transpire, though these may exist as well. Instead, conspiracism is rooted in several higher-order beliefs such as an abiding mistrust of authority, the conviction that nothing is quite as it seems, and the belief that most of what we are told is a lie. Apparent anomalies in official accounts seem to support this, even if they do not point to a specific, well-defined alternative. For many conspiracists, there are two worlds: one real and (mostly) unseen, the other a sinister illusion meant to cover up the truth; and evidence against the latter is evidence for the former.

 

Judge for yourself as to who is really involved in a conspiracy here – the propaganda station of a regime that deals with internal dissent by accusing enemies of “sorcery” or the governments of countries where politicians have to win votes and persuade people in societies with free media before they get power.

 

 

 

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