Conspiracy theorists aren’t "mad" they just have certain “intellectual character traits” that make them believe certain things, a professor has said.
Quassim Cassam, a professor of philosophy at the University of Warwick, has launched a new study into what makes people believe in certain theories – and why such theories could push people to extremes such as joining Isis.
He believes that some people are more vulnerable to “intellectual vices” such as dogmatism, gullibility and close mindedness and this in turn makes them more likely to listen to extreme "alternative" sources of information.
He told The Independent: “The other explanation is that that these people are literally mad or mentally ill but I don’t really go for that theory.
“For example take 9/11 conspiracy theorists. Why do they hold onto their conspiracy theory despite the fact that there seems to be overwhelming evidence that it wasn’t an American government conspiracy to bring down the towers?
“The answer is they are overwhelmingly receptive to certain kinds of evidence for instance of website and they are overly dismissive of other types of evidence such as engineers’ reports on the towers.”
Professor Cassam explains that psychologists have developed a theory of a “conspiracy mentality” which explains why people are more likely to be taken in by certain types of rhetoric or information that go against received wisdom.
Now he is trying to explore that idea in more depth and study the generic character traits which underpin that mentality.
In the case of terrorism and Isis, he questioned why is it that some 18 or 19 year olds can be convinced by Isis recruiters to believe their interpretation of Islam despite the people around them telling them differently.
Debunked myths and fake news stories
Debunked myths and fake news stories
1/23 Nasa releases statement over rumours that asteroid will destroy Earth
Nasa has just debunked a recent rumour of a giant asteroid due to crash into the Earth in September. Internet conspiracy theorists have been saying that an asteroid will hit our planet sometime between September 15 and 28, destroying the American continents. Acting in its role as space-news fact-checker, Nasa has issued a statement refuting the lot of it. "That’s the rumor that has gone viral – now here are the facts," it said in a press release entitled 'NASA: There is No Asteroid Threatening Earth'
2/23 Video of scorned lover who cut ex's belongings in half was actually an advert for a law firm
Revenge is a dish best served cold, or viral on YouTube as seemed to be the case for one German ex-husband who uploaded a video of himself using power tools to saw his possessions in half so he could literally give his former wife half of everything owned. The video, titled “For Laura”, quickly went viral reaching nearly 5.8 million views with the description “Thank you for 12 'beautiful' years, Laura! You've really earned half.” Although the course of true love never did run smooth, it did seem that the jilted lover was taking revenge to a whole new level with the angst-ridden video. Now, however, all has been explained. The video was not created by a jealous ex, but filmed by a media-savvy legal company looking to expand its customer base
3/23 McDonald's claims the 'secret menu' is fake
The rebuttal comes following an amusing spoof article, published by the Lucky Peach, seemingly offering a smorgasbord of hidden options for the discerning customer. Among the “delights” apparently on offer are the ‘Mommie Dearest’ (five burgers speared through with coat hangers) and the Burmese Python (complete with sock). Other options include the ‘the Derrida’ – a postmodern confection consisting of a raw potato and the remains of a few chips and a partially eaten bun
4/23 Dead shark pictures might be fake
Photographs of an enormous Tiger shark fished off the eastern Australian coast have emerged on social media. NSW newspaper The Northern Star claims the four metre catch was made by a local fisherman known only as “Matthew”. The images first emerged after Byron Bay resident Geoff Brooks posted them to his Facebook timeline. However, Mr Brooks has subsequently admitted he did not take the images – but continued to claim that the photographs are “real”. Social media users have criticised the images, with some claiming they are fake
Geoff Brooks, via Facebook
5/23 A fried rat had been served in KFC
Facebook went into full "wtfffffffffffff" mode after a man posted a picture of what he claims was a fried rat he had been served in KFC. As news of the supposed Kentucky Fried rat was reported and spread, the incident took a dramatic turn with Dixon sealing it in a bag and freezing it as evidence. KFC has denied it is in the business of plunging rats into boiling hot oil however, and claims the whole thing is a 'hoax'. A DNA test followed, and shows that the nugget, although distinctly rodent-shaped, was just chicken all along.
6/23 British scientists clone dinosaur
An extraordinary story of the world’s first cloned dinosaur got a lot of traction on Twitter and inspired alarmist comparisons to Jurassic Park in March this year. It was also, not unexpectedly, a complete fake, including completely fabricated quotations from 'experts' and a picture that is actually of a very young kangaroo.
7/23 Mohammed Islam - A boy who 'made $72m' in his lunch break
A New York schoolboy who reportedly made $72 million (£46 million) by trading stocks during his lunch breaks has admitted making the whole story up. Mohammed Islam, from Queens, originally told the New York Magazine he started dabbling in penny stocks aged just nine and developed a “life-long passion” for trading that was paying off. But in a later interview with the New York Observer, he said the whole story was fake and he had not made any money at all.
8/23 World’s oldest tree has been accidentally chopped down by loggers in Peru
Several websites carried the “news”, seemingly without realising the entire story appears to be a hoax. It first appeared on the World News Daily Report – a fake news website carrying articles including “Isis launches satellite” and “Pterodactyl sighting in New Guinea terrorises villagers”.
9/23 Ryan Gosling adopted a baby
A Father's Day Facebook post from "Ryan Gosling" detailing how he adopted an orphaned baby for a year attracted Likes from almost one million users. This was despite it having all the hallmarks of a hoax, including a link for users to "save thousands of children and meet me while doing it" actually redirecting to the purchase page for a Gosling t-shirt.
10/23 Macaulay Culkin dead hoax
How to reassure the world you’re still alive after the internet reports that you’re dead? Fake your own murder on Instagram, like Macaulay Culkin. The actor posted the above image via his band Pizza Underground’s account yesterday, following several false rumours that he’d passed away. One particularly misleading story, originally posted on MSNBC.website (not to be confused with the real MSNBC), read: “Sources are reporting that Macaulay Culkin, best known for his role as Kevin McCallister in Home Alone and sequel Home Alone 2: Lost in New York, has been found dead at the age of 34.”
11/23 'Crabzilla' - A fifty-foot crab dwelling somewhere off the English coast
A satellite picture of the so-called crab, aptly dubbed ‘Crabzilla’, has gone viral after first surfacing on Weird Whitstable, a website for the supernatural curated by illustrator Quinton Winter, which deals in “phantoms, mysteries, tall tales, and artefacts”. The shadowy figure of a colossal crustacean, apparently spotted in the murky waters of Whistable, in Kent, dwarfs boats and cars on the pier it lurks besides. The invertebrate expert Paul Clark at the Natural History Museum in London has branded the photo a hoax.
Photo courtesy of Weird Whitstable http://www.weirdwhitstable.co.uk
12/23 Ebola 'risen from the dead' zombie story
The story of dead Ebola victims rising from the dead, with the first "picture" of one of the zombies that has gone viral, (if it weren't glaringly obvious) is a hoax. The image on the article, while impressive, is in fact doctored picture of a zombie from the film World War Z. It appears to have taken an image of one of the film’s lab-zombies, and merged it with this picture of a “realistic movie sculpture” from Schell Studios, which the messageboard 8chan pointed out.
13/23 'Nasa Confirms Six Days of Darkness in December 2014'
‘Satirical news site’ Huzlers.com has been spreading fake story about upcoming six days of darkness, far and wide on the web, taking in numerous Facebook and Twitter users and encouraging them to post about what they’re going to be up to during the six days of darkness. The story on the vaguely official looking website titled “Nasa Confirms Earth Will Experience 6 Days of Total Darkness in December 2014!” claims that an incoming solar storm is to blame, causing "dust and space debris to become plentiful and thus block 90% sunlight”. This is false. Although solar storms certainly are real phenomena (they occur due to fluctuations in the Sun’s magnetic field) they’re not like terrestrial storms that can blow up dust and dirt.
14/23 Meet Thea, Norway's 12-year-old child bride
A Norwegian campaign highlighting the issue of child marriage has gained global attention after a blog seemingly written by a child bride-to-be went viral. The blog, apparently written by 12-year-old girl 'Thea', charts her thoughts and feelings towards her impending marriage to 37-year-old Geir. However, the blog was carefully created by Plan, an international aid organisation working on strengthening the girls’ rights, to bring home the issue of child brides.
Courtesy of Plan
15/23 Obsessive selfie-taking classified as a mental disorder
An article claimed that the American Psychiatric Association (a real body) had classified new mental disorder “selfitis” as “the obsessive compulsive desire to take photos of one’s self and post them on social media”. The origin of the article should have tipped off readers, however - it first appeared on a site whose owners admit that “when writing [...] we spice it up with figments of our imagination”.
16/23 Shipwrecked British woman saved by Google Earth
The extraordinary story of Gemma Sheridan, a woman from Liverpool saved by Google Earth after seven years stranded on a desert island, whipped up a storm among social media users. Aside from the fairly incredible details involved in the story, a wide range of issues showed it is quite clearly a hoax - including pictures and whole swathes of text borrowed from other (real) reports.
Digital Globe via Waffles at Noon
17/23 Dwayne 'The Rock' Johnson is dead
The Rock became the latest victim of a death hoax this month after rumours circulated that the action star had died while filming a dangerous stunt for the upcoming Fast and Furious 7 on Thursday. The bogus report was created by Global Associated News, a website responsible for some of the most outlandish recent fake celebrity deaths, and went viral on Twitter and Facebook.
18/23 Vaccines can cause autism
A serious myth, this, and one which has repeatedly been rejected by scientific studies. The latest of these came earlier this year when a study that examined brain tissue samples donated by children who had died showed autism may actually develop in the womb during pregnancy. One scientist said the findings 'call sharply into questions other popular notions about autism'.
19/23 Homeopathic remedies have medicinal properties
Proponents of homeopathy claim that it stimulates the body to heal itself, and is based on the principle of ‘like cures like’. But an Australian scientific body became the latest earlier this year to carry out a study showing that it actually works no better than a placebo. That story came after a homeopathic 'remedy' was actually recalled in the US because it contained traces of real medicine.
Peter Macdiarmid/Getty Images
20/23 Chinese child ruined father's passport
This picture of a Chinese passport apparently defaced by a four-year-old boy went viral around the world, despite the fact that it seems to clearly be a hoax. The picture was originally posted on Chinese social networking site Weibo by a person claiming to be the father, known as Chen, with a plea for help. But from the uniform thickness of the lines (which actually go off the page to the right) to the covering-up of identifying details, the 'drawing' looks a lot like an adult’s handiwork on Photoshop or MS Paint
21/23 MH370 was caused by aliens/Snowden/the Bermuda Triangle
Since the Malaysia Airlines flight MH370 vanished on 8 March with 239 people on board, the story has sparked a host of myths and conspiracy theories. While some of these theories as to how the flight could have just disappeared have not been discounted by authorities, others have tended towards the unusual, bizarre and downright ridiculous. One Malaysian politician claimed the Bermuda Triangle must have moved to Vietnam. A 'citizen reporter' said radar picked up a UFO. Another said there was a complicated link to former NSA contractor Edward Snowden. None are likely to be true.
22/23 Morrissey joined Twitter
Morrissey fans rejoiced earlier this week when the verified Twitter account @itsmorrissey posted its first tweet since joining in 2009, saying: 'Hello. Testing, 1, 2, 3. Planet Earth, are you there? One can only hope...' It seems that the Twitter blue tick seal of approval doesn’t mean as much as it used to, after Morrissey confirmed in a statement that he does not have an account on the social media site.
23/23 Chinese people ate doves at wedding, sued ugly wives and only sing numbers from takeaway menus
In November last year, the western media was bombarded by a host of stories involving Chinese misrepresentations. One involved a Chinese man suing his wife 'because he was ugly' and winning - but was later debunked by an expat magazine in Shanghai. Here, Nyima Pratten writes about how our media depict Chinese people in an unreasonably negative way.
He explained: “For example, I don’t know much about Islam but I do know that there is an absolute clear bar in Islam on suicide. So people who are told it is acceptable to be suicide bombers are ending up believing something which on the face has no foundation at all.”
He said he was not trying to prove that these character traits were the sole reason for people believing these things but they are “part of the package”.
Professor Cassam’s study, which is funded by the Arts and Humanity Research Council, will start in April 2016 and run for 18 months.
He hopes that his findings will help understand the irrational decisions made by some and be a step forward towards combating and challenging them.Reuse content