SciAm: Conspiracy Theorists are Simpletons

Scientific American’s latest Mind edition has an article called What a Hoax, and here is opening paragraphs – for the rest you need to subscribe.

Did NASA fake the moon landing? Is the government hiding Martians in Area 51? Is global warming a hoax? The answer to these questions is, “No,” yet a committed subculture of conspiracy theorists vigorously argues the opposite.

Many scholars dismiss conspiracy theorists as paranoid and delusional. Psychological data bolster their case: people who harbor conspiracist thoughts are also more inclined to paranoid ideation and schizotypy, a mild form of schizophrenia. As conspiracy theory expert Timothy Melley of Miami University has put it, these beliefs are often dismissed as “the implausible visions of a lunatic fringe.”

In those few sentences we have been told that global warming (not even climate change, the term the experts have been using for years now, but global warming) is proven fact, and that those who think otherwise are “paranoid and delusional” and more like to be schizophrenic.

Russell L. Blaylock, M.D. has complained about the article:

The article contains incredible abuses of logic. For example, Linden quotes sociologist Ted Goertzel of Rutgers University as concluding that people who have “decided that officialdom is deceptive in one case, other disturbing world events may appear to have similarly hushed-up origins.” Yet, to do otherwise would demonstrate naivety and an abandonment of logic. To believe a scoundrel, would be to fall victim of every scam artists and rouge in the universe.

Finally, the author of this diatribe concludes that conspiracy theorists are just simpletons — they need a less confusing world so they are attracted to theories that simplify world events. Otherwise, we are told, the world is fill with the complexities of spontaneously occurring events that overwhelm the minds of mere mortals.

Without seeing the full details from studies, it is always hard to tell if they were conducted with any bias – intentional or otherwise. In this instance, I would suggest they should have studied the people who spread conspiracy theories, rather than the general population.

One of the secrets to a successful and happy life is to “go with the flow” and be as normal as possible. Going against the flow has all sorts of downsides, and so most intelligent people do their best to ignore conspiracy theories. Unfortunately the less intelligent are more prone to risk being judged for their thoughts, because they are less likely to appreciate the advantages of acting “normal”.

So based on that, conspiracy theories aren’t a product of lesser intelligence, but rather those with higher intelligence avoid the topic so as to maintain a happy generic life.

According to an accompanying SciAM article, another indicator for CT acceptance is low self-esteem:

Research reveals that conspiracy theorists tend to share a core set of traits, regardless of their conspiracy of choice. Low self-esteem, for example, may characterize both those who believe that Paul McCartney died in 1966 and those who think that Britain’s royal family consists of reptilian aliens.