Tuesday, August 28, 2018

"Conspiracism Is Like Creationism" : Poor Research Predicated On A Bogus Definition

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The carelessness of so-called "conspiracism" researchers whereby they often conflate actual nuts (like Alex Jones- left) with serious analysts like Mark Lane, is self-defeating and counter productive.

"Fundamentally, the difference between a genuine and a specious conspiracy comes down to power. The genuine conspiracy,  however brief or limited, is able to project it and alter events for good or ill in clearly manifest ways." - Anonymous author, July 2016

According to a piece recently appearing in the magazine ZME Science,
"if you ask people why some phenomenon happens, two dominant and diametrically opposite schools of thought emerge: one is scientific reasoning, which uses a series of deductions and reasoning to reach a logical conclusion. The other is teleological thinking. A teleological thinker, for instance, makes propositions such as “the sun rises in order to give us light” or “the Earth was created for humans” — whereas a scientific thinker will go crazy at the mere thought."
This is true, of course, including the Aristotelian version of dynamics which insists heavier bodies must fall faster because well, they "want to".  I.e. they have a teleological or purposeful basis for moving more rapidly to Earth than lighter objects given they have a greater "affinity" for Earth.
The piece goes on, quoting  Sebastian Dieguez of the University of Fribourg:
This type of thinking is anathema to scientific reasoning, and especially to evolutionary theory, and was famously mocked by Voltaire, whose character Pangloss believed that ‘noses were made to wear spectacles.’ Yet it is very resilient in human cognition, and we show that it is linked not only to creationism, but also to conspiracism,”

Whereby we are informed Dieguez and his colleagues have studied conspiracism,   which neologism (actually evidently been around since the 1980s)  is defined by the Oxford online English dictionary:

"The belief that major historical and political events are brought about as the result of a conspiracy between interested parties,"

Which boggles the mind because, truth be told, that is actually how many major global or national events actually transpire!  With every passing day and the new revelations to do with charges for corruption and financial crimes on Cohen, Manafort et al we are learning the extent to which Trump was catapulted into office by yes - a conspiracy!  As blogger- writer Joe Conason has noted: "In pleading guilty to felony violations of federal campaign finance statutes, Cohen has said that he paid off Stormy Daniels and another woman in a criminal conspiracy with Trump."  This conspiracy with the explicit purpose to influence the outcome of the 2016 by concealing the hush money payouts, including using the Trump Foundation as a conspiracy conduit. As we learned via a lawsuit brought by NY DA Barbara Underwood: 

"In 2016, the Board knowingly permitted the Foundation to be co-opted by Mr. Trump's presidential campaign. Mr. Trump's political committee extensively directed and coordinated the Foundation's activities. The Foundation ceded control over the grants to the campaign, making an improper, in-kind contribution of no less than $2.823 million. The contributions made the Foundation look charitable and increased the candidate's profile to primary voters. Mr. Trump's wrongful use of the Foundation to benefit his campaign was willful and knowing".

The preceding conspiracy - not "conspiracism" bunkum - can't get more in your face than that.  Not convinced? Then read Neal Kaytal's NY Times piece:

Opinion | This Conspiracy Theory Should Worry Trump - 

So why do so many - like WSJ columnist Kimberley Strassel -  skate over it?  A conspiracy not only between and among his homegrown gangster thugs and Russian cronies, but between them and GRU agents as well. Look at Mueller's indictments for cripes' sake!  

The incredible ignorance of the preceding definition also appears oblivious to how effective the conspirators were in Iran-Contra. They succeeded in transferring an immense cache of weapons to the Iranians as well as eliciting illegal support for the Nicaraguan Contras. As summarized  (p. 338) in Lawrence E. Walsh's Iran-Contra Report:  "The Iran and Contra operations were merged when funds generated from the sale of weapons to Iran were diverted to support the Contra mission in Nicaragua. "


"Using government resources, the conspirators conducted an unauthorized covert program in support of the contras.  North and Poindexter used their Government positions to create a hidden slush fund under the exclusive control of the conspirators

The key point? To the extent it lasted, the Iran-Contra conspiracy succeeded. To the extent it lasted the BCCI banking conspiracy - based on a nest of dummy accounts in 73 countries - also succeeded. (Sadly, many ordinary citizens in Barbados paid the price, see e.g.
Meanwhile, 73 Cubans paid the price when a conspiracy to blow up Cubana Airlines Flt. 455 and hatched by a Venezuelan terrorist Luis Posada Carriles 
succeeded, e.g.
These facts are germane and important because they disclose the extent of the conspiracy as well as the people involved and - in some cases- the dire effects. .  But this is the essential nature of all real conspiracies in the political realm - to somehow leverage power to the advantage of those seeking to impose their own agenda. It was applicable in the Iran-Contra conspiracy as it was in the Kennedy assassination conspiracy - the objective in the latter to implement a much larger national security state and permanent war state.

Leave out the flatus inherent in "conspiracism", it is far more useful to treat conspiracy as a real concept, say as defined by Webster's Encyclopedic Dictionary: 

treacherous, surreptitious plan formulated in secret by two or more persons

This definition is simple, as well as operational and also - to its credit- doesn't prejudge a conspiracy as non-existent or "teleologically based" (or flawed)  if its effects or plans are not manifested. All that is necessary is that a "plan is formulated" and it's done by "two or more people".   By contrast,  conspiracism is a bogus concept - as so defined- if it excludes real conspiracies and real conspiracy effects.  My point is that one must be crystal clear on the definitions of objects of inquiry else one ends up investigating or examining pure rubbish

Author Michael Parenti ('Dirty Truths')  offers an insight (p. 174) into the sort of phobic mind that engenders this type of useless rubbish:

" Those who suffer from conspiracy phobia are fond of saying: 'Do you actually think there's a group of people sitting around in a room, plotting things?' For some reason that image is assumed to be so patently absurd as to invite only disclaimers.  But where else would people of power get together - on park benches or carousels?"

Parenti averred that conspiracy "is clearly a way to get things done", mainly at the political level for which the media was often an accomplice in impeding disclosure of full information, or invoking the usual "tin foil hat" mockery. Parenti's further salient point was that even if conspiracies failed, as in the case of the Watergate conspiracy, BCCI, and Iran-Contra, that doesn't mean a conspiracy never existed. Even Operation Northwoods which never even came to partial manifestation (thank goodness!) was still a conspiracy. Plus, we have the documents to verify the fell plan existed and the carnage and chaos it sought to inflict on Cubans, e.g.

The question arising from examples like these is how to square them with the authors' perspective, i.e. of a similarity of conspiracy to creationism. So that one has:  "a related but not identical belief: the idea that some events in the world are actively and purposely fabricated — that some things are meant to be, driven by an external force. Sounds familiar? That’s also the core of religious thinking."
Here the authors wade a tad too far when they conflate the "purposely fabricated" with "some things are meant to be."  If we exclude the latter as typical of religious ideation, i.e. "souls are meant to be saved or damned" then we can get on firmer cognitive ground.   We then can grasp that because an event can be purposely and actively fabricated toward an objective, that doesn't ALSO mean "some things are meant to be".  The point? The conflation is what leads to mixing up creationism and conspiracism.

A related serious mistake I've referenced in previous posts  is critics' invocation of "Ockham' Razor" (the simplest hypothesis is usually the correct one). The mistake too many make is assuming simplicity along the same theoretic lines as for physical theories. Thus, the widespread presumption that any viable conspiracy theory - like a physical theory -  needs to be a hallmark of simplicity,  not complexity. 

But let's be realistic here: human beings are not inanimate, unconscious objects like planets and moons in defined orbits.  Nor are they like billiard balls - say that collide according to Newton's 2nd and 3rd laws of motion- making their future paths predictable. Humans by their nature possess the capacity for duplicity, formulation of self-determined agendas and concealed motives as well as the ability to misdirect others toward their (hidden) agendas. In any conspiracy of any magnitude (say like assassinating a President), therefore, one fully expects such devious capacities to overwhelm straight line logic - given the conspirators already know any would-be investigators would start off with that form of approach.
For clarity and to fix ideas, recall it was Barbadian psychologist Dr. Pat Bannister who invoked the idea of  a "conspiracy research community"  to distinguish it from base conspiracy ideation or what Dieguez and co-authors call "conspiracism" .    The latter encompasses the whole gamut of mnot only whackdoodle drivel (such as Jones' Sandy Hook false flag idiocy) but also quasi- paranoid  conjectures  which didn't  advance adequate evidence or documents to  support them. Or, if such were advanced, they didn't meet elementary scientific standards for acceptance, including consistent data selection. For example, the nincompoops who claimed no men actually landed on the Moon and it was all filmed on a Hollywood lot. 

By contrast the conspiracy research community was comprised of educated, rational adults who brought their scientific, quantitative and other aptitudes to bear on real, fact-based conspiracies.  These people put in real man hours as well as intellectual "sweat equity" - whether applied to the BCCI banking conspiracy or the JFK assassination conspiracy,  The discrimination was crucial and led Prof. Bannister to the following classification system:

1- Conspiracy analysts

2- Conspiracy theorists

3- Conspiracy crackpots or cultists

At the top of the hierarchy were conspiracy analysts, such as Mark Lane, Peter Dale Scott, Harold Weisberg, Richard Charnin and others (like yours truly).  These were serious people possessing some measure of intellect who brought their scientific, mathematical and other aptitudes to the investigation of multiple aspects of a putative real conspiracies like Iran-Contra and the JFK assassination.  These people put in real man hours and actually published their work in authoritative media (e.g. BOOKS - real books!) and respected forums as opposed to spreading bunkum through half-assed posts in the lowest dreg regions of the net, like 4chan and 8chan.

By contrast, the "conspiracy theorist" puts forward conspiracy conjectures - some highly elaborate -  but doesn't  advance adequate evidence, quantitative reasoning or documents to  support them. Or, if such were advanced, they didn't meet elementary scientific standards for acceptance, including consistent data selection.  The 9/11 truthers are an example of this lot.  They have generated compendiums of work but none of it fully taking into consideration the physics of force balance and progressive collapse. See e.g. this excellent physics explanation which the "truther theorists" need to address:


Pay attention to the force balance and progressive collapse computations!  The 9/11 truther would do well to show similar computations that instead supports their case. (If any truther has such, I will happily publish his or her work as a guest post on this blog.)

hat Dieguez and his co-authors have done by their sloppy work is to paint so wide a brush in their criticism of anything smacking of "conspiracism"  that actual conspiracies (e.g. BCCI, Iran-Contra etc.) become conflated with Bannister's bottom rung (category 3) conspiracy crackpots - say like the QAnon rubbish.  

In order to test their hypothesis, they recruited 150 college students in Switzerland, and then an additional 700 people online. The participants were asked to complete a questionnaire which included teleological claims and "conspiracist" statements, as well as measures of analytical thinking, esoteric and magical beliefs, and a randomness perception task.

They found a strong correlation between creationism and conspiracism. They also found that the relationship was mostly independent of other variables such as gender, age, analytical thinking, political orientation, education, and agency detection. 
According to Dieguez, quoted in the ZML Science piece:
"By drawing attention to the analogy between creationism and conspiracism, we hope to highlight one of the major flaws of conspiracy theories and therefore help people detect it, namely that they rely on teleological reasoning by ascribing a final cause and overriding purpose to world events.  We think the message that conspiracism is a type of creationism that deals with the social world can help clarify some of the most baffling features of our so-called ‘post-truth era.'” 
That's fine and dandy except the authors have proven no such link, not at all.  We read, for example, a summary of the work in Science Daily:
"It's not uncommon to hear someone espouse the idea that "everything happens for a reason" or that something that happened was "meant to be." Now, researchers reporting in Current Biology on August 20 have found that this kind of teleological thinking is linked to two seemingly unrelated beliefs: creationism, the belief that life on Earth was purposely created by a supernatural agent, and conspiracism, the tendency to explain historical or current events in terms of secret conspiracies or conspiracy theories."
But Dieguez et al seem not to grasp the enormous chasm separating the two.  Belief in a supernatural agent to originate the cosmos is not at all similar to explaining historical events in terms of "secret" conspiracies - IF said conspiracies are verified by documents or actual events. I already went through a number of verified conspiracies earlier.  Note again, no one is insisting or claiming a la the ubiquity of teleology peculiar to creationism that ALL historical events are driven by conspiracies.  BUT - a fraction of them are-   such as those specific examples I already described.  
Is Dieguez then going to argue that Operation Northwoods wasn't real, despite the fact the planning documents, files exist? (Such as I showed)?  Is he going to claim it wasn't real because it didn't manifest? This commits the logical error Parenti referred to.  What about Iran- Contra? Is he prepared to argue that conspiracy wasn't real because it was eventually found out? (Despite the fact over 1,000 TOW missiles were delivered to Iran and arms dispatched to the Contras in violation of the Boland Amendment)  
What about the conspiracy by Luis Posadet al to detonate a bomb and blow up Cubana Airlines Flight 455 off the southwest coast of Barbados?   Is he going to claim that conspiracy wasn't real - a mere case of "conspiracism"  - despite 73 people losing their lives in the biggest airline terror of the 20th century?
You get my point.  The problem inheres in the too broad definition. i.e. of "conspiracism",  which essentially tosses out "baby with bathwater" and ends up getting us nowhere in terms of discriminating the different expressions which are often carelessly referred to as "conspiracy theories" by the media.  The use of this too general definition also by its nature undermines the research done, and discourages others doing further work, including efforts at confirmation. Who, after all, wishes to be hamstrung by a vacuous definition in the pursuit of differentiating the objectively real from the unreal?

See also:

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