During a lecture on “Policy and the Media Prism” at the University of Florida a few weeks ago, 9/11 truth activist Bob Tuskin said the mainstream media had covered up evidence that Building 7 imploded in a controlled demolition. Tuskin asked Chomsky if he was finally ready to “jump on board with” 9/11 conspiracy theories.
“You’re right that there’s a consensus among a miniscule number of architects and engineers,” Chomsky replied. “They are not doing what scientists and engineers do when they think they’ve discovered something.”
“There happen to be a lot of people around who spend an hour on the Internet and think they know a lot physics, but it doesn’t work like that. There’s a reason there are graduate schools in these departments,” he continued.
Chomsky dismissed the claim that scientists and engineers hadn’t followed typical procedures because they felt intimidated by the government. He said publishing an article in an academic journal was virtually risk-free compared to other forms of political activism.
“There is just overwhelming evidence that the Bush administration wasn’t involved,” Chomsky added. “Very elementary evidence. You don’t have to be a physicist to understand it. You just have to think for a minute.”
Chomsky is advocating obtaining expertise and considering that the consensus view is most likely the right one. This is a good lesson – consider authorities who have specialized knowledge and see that it makes the most sense. Don’t rely on unrefereed stuff on Google. Anyone can publish crap on the Internet. Have some sense of reliable sources.
Michael Shermer has a piece that fits in well with this today. He talks about how people will want to subscribe to conspiracies anyway.
Why do so many people refuse to accept this simple and obvious conclusion? The answer: psychology.
There are three psychological effects at work here, starting with “cognitive dissonance,” or the discomfort felt when holding two ideas that are not in harmony. We attempt to reduce the dissonance by altering one of the ideas to be in accord with the other. In this case, the two discordant ideas are 1) JFK as one of the most powerful people on Earth who was 2) killed by Lee Harvey Oswald, a lone loser, a nobody. Camelot brought down by a curmudgeon.
That doesn’t feel right. To balance the scale, conspiracy elements are stacked onto the Oswald side: the CIA, the FBI, the KGB, the Mafia, Fidel Castro, Lyndon Johnson and, in Oliver Stone’s telling in his film “JFK,” the military-industrial complex.
A second psychological effect is the “monological belief system,” or “a unitary, closed-off worldview in which beliefs come together in a mutually supportive network,” in the words of University of Kent researchers Michael J. Wood, Karen M. Douglas and Robbie M. Sutton in a 2012 paper titled “Dead and Alive: Beliefs in Contradictory Conspiracy Theories.” A conspiracy theory, they wrote, is “a proposed plot by powerful people or organizations working together in secret to accomplish some (usually sinister) goal.” Once you believe that “one massive, sinister conspiracy could be successfully executed in near-perfect secrecy [it] suggests that many such plots are possible.”
A third psychological effect is “confirmation bias,” or the tendency to look for and find confirming evidence for what you already believe and to ignore disconfirming evidence. Once you believe, say, that 9/11 was an inside job by the Bush administration, you focus on the handful of anomalies that fateful day and connect them into a seemingly meaningful pattern, while ignoring the massive evidence pointing to Al Qaeda. JFK conspiracy theorists ignore the massive evidence pointing to Oswald while seeking deep meaning in trivial matters, such as the man with the umbrella on the grassy knoll, or the puff of smoke behind the picket fence, or the odd noises echoing around Dealey Plaza. Each become pregnant with meaning when the mind goes in search of cabals.
We are never going to not have people who believe in conspiracies. But we can make it embarrassing. There is no shame in telling people that their ridiculous conspiracy theories are RIDICULOUS NONSENSE. Belief in conspiracies take us off track and we waste our time and efforts on useless dead ends.
- Conspiracy theories: Why we believe the unbelievable (illuminutti.com)
- Conspiracy theory psychology: People who claim to know the truth about JFK, UFOs, and 9/11. (illuminutti.com)
- “There happen to be a lot of people around who spent an hour on the Internet and think they know a lot of physics,” Chomsky added, “but it doesn’t work like that … There’s a reason there are graduate schools in these departments.” (normanfinkelstein.com)
- Here’s The Video To Share With Anybody Who Still Buys Into 9/11 Truther Stuff (huffingtonpost.com)
- Noam Chomsky slaps down 9/11 truther: People spend an hour on the Internet and think they know physics (rawstory.com)
- 9/11 Conspiracy Revealed As Conspiracy By Conspiracy Experts (variouspontifications.com)