There are those among us who believe nearly everything is the result of a conspiracy. All of it.
They don’t believe Lee Harvey Oswald acted alone when John F. Kennedy was assassinated, don’t believe we ever landed on the moon, believe our own government orchestrated 9/11, and believe Bill and Hillary Clinton are murderers. They believe the food we eat, the medical treatment we receive and climate scientists are all part of grand conspiracies designed to somehow do them wrong.
More troubling is a subset of this group that has convinced themselves nearly all mass shootings are hoaxes perpetrated by shadowy, unnamed groups trying to upend the Second Amendment. They claim there are no victims, just “crisis actors” trained to pretend they’re victims.
The leader of this pack has been Alex Jones, a radio host and creator of the infamous web site, Infowars. Jones uses both platforms to spew conspiratorial nonsense about mass shootings.
He referred to Sandy Hook, where 20 first-grade children and 6 adults were massacred, as a “complete fake” and a “giant hoax.” He’s claimed the parents were actors and fakers. He’s been singing the same rancid song for years.
Now, two sets of parents whose children were murdered at Sandy Hook have had enough. After years of harassment, intimidation and even death threats generated, at least in part by Jones’ accusations, they’ve sued him and others for propagating this defamatory foolishness.
(It should be noted Jones, three days after the lawsuit was filed, finally acknowledged the Sandy Hook murders did occur. His attorney said his previous comments were “misunderstood” or “misrepresented.”)
Mr. Jones and his co-defendants will now hopefully have the opportunity to explain to a civil jury how he arrived at his conspiracy theories. It should be interesting hearing him tell us how dead people aren’t actually dead. If he could present just one of the hundreds of mass shooting victims still alive it would certainly be an eye-opener.
No such revelation is forthcoming because these horrors that keep repeating themselves are not hoaxes at all. Nobody is pretending to be dead or pretending to grieve a lost loved one. Any other notion is absurd.
Maybe some common sense is in order here.
via NeuroLogica Blog
In just about every disaster or event in which there are many deaths, such as a plane crash, there is likely to be, by random chance alone, individuals who survived due to an unlikely sequence of events. Passengers missing their flight by a few minutes can look back at all the small delays that added up to them seeing the doors close as they a jog up to their gate. If that plane were then to crash, killing everyone on board, those small delays might seem like destiny. The passenger who canceled their flight because of flying anxiety might feel as if they had a premonition.
This is nothing but the lottery fallacy – judging the odds of an event occurring after the fact. What are the odds of one specific person winning the lottery? Hundreds of millions to one against. What are the odds of someone winning the lottery? Very good.
Likewise, what are the chances that someone will miss or choose not to take any particular flight? Very high – therefore this is likely to be true about any flight that happens to crash. If you are that one person, however, it may be difficult to shake the sense that your improbable survival was more than just a lucky coincidence.
A similar story has emerged from the Sandy Hook tragedy. A mother of a kindergartener there, Karen Dryer claims that her 5 year old son was saved by his psychic powers. She reports that her son, after a few months at the school, started to cry and be unhappy at school. He was home schooled for a short time, during which the shooting occurred. Now, at the new elementary school that recently opened, he seems to be happy.
In retrospect it may seem like a compelling story – if one does not think about it too deeply. As Ben Radford points out in the article linked to above, the story as told is likely the product of confirmation bias. The mother is now remembering details that enhance the theme of the story (her son’s alleged psychic powers) and forgetting details that might be inconsistent.
via Science-Based Medicine
Any sociological question is likely going to have a complex answer with many variables that are not easy to tease apart. We should therefore resist the temptation to make simplistic statements about X being the cause of Y. We can still, however, identify correlations that will at least inform our thinking. Sometimes correlations can be triangulated to fairly reliable conclusions.
When the data is complex and difficult to interpret, however, evidence tends to be overwhelmed by narrative. The recent Sandy Hook tragedy is an excellent example. No one knows exactly why the shooter did what he did, so it is easy to insert your own preferred narrative as the explanation.
Another example is the phenomenon of so-called complementary and alternative medicine (CAM). Why has it been increasing in popularity (and is it, really?). Is it slick marketing, relaxed regulations, scientific illiteracy, a gullible media, or the failures of mainstream medicine? You can probably guess I think it’s all of these things to some degree. The most common narrative I hear by far, however, is the latter – if people are turning to CAM it must be because mainstream medicine has failed them. This version of reality is often promoted by CAM marketing.
The evidence that we have, however, simply does not support this narrative. Studies show that satisfaction with mainstream medicine is not an important factor in deciding to use CAM, that CAM users are generally satisfied with their mainstream care, and they use CAM because it aligns with their philosophy, and they simply want to expand their options.
None of this is to imply that mainstream medicine has no problems or failings – it does. We should, however, be working toward keeping and improving what works and fixing what doesn’t, not discarding science and reason to embrace fantasy as an alternative. This is often the false choice presented by CAM proponents, and is analogous to creationists pointing out alleged weaknesses in the theory of evolution as an argument for creationism as an alternative.
Hollywood celebrities have a reputation for espousing a sort of prepackaged, fast-food version of politically correct “liberal” issues, as if they buy a kit of personal convictions off the shelf at Whole Foods. It includes environmental concerns, usually exaggerated and often wrong; rejection of “all things corporate” including pharmaceuticals and biotech, with a corresponding embrace of alternative medicine, organic agriculture, and “empowered individual” philosophies like home birth. Then there are the outliers who go the other way toward full alt-right with an imagined superior insight into world affairs. They tend to reject history and science in favor of conspiracy mongering and alternative science, be it the young Earth, the flat Earth, or calling us all sheeple for believing in the standard model of the universe.
Interestingly, anti-vaccination is found in both camps. Left-leaning antivaxxers tend to reject it because it’s not a natural healing method, and right-leaning antivaxxers think it’s an evil government program of enforced mercury poisoning. It increasingly seems that a rational, level-headed, science-literate Hollywood celebrity is as rare as a truly good movie.
So here my list of top 10 celebrities, 2017 edition, who contribute to the Endarkenment by abusing their notoriety to spread misinformation far and wide:
#10 – Shaq and the NBA Flat Earthers
Former player Shaquille O’Neal and current NBA basketball players Kyrie Irving, Wilson Chandler, and Draymond Green have all expressed their belief that the Earth is flat, but I put them all the way down at #10 because it’s not clear that all four literally believe this. They may just be trolling. But whether they are or not, they do genuinely influence a huge number of young people, including some demographics where education is not necessarily a life priority. Guys, if you want to inspire kids to achieve and succeed, you’re doing it wrong.
#9 – Michael Phelps
I include him as a representative of the many athletes and celebrities who loudly and proudly promote cupping, the overtly pseudoscientific technique of suctioning great round hickeys into the skin by rupturing capillaries. A lot of trainers sell this because it costs nothing to administer, requires no training, and they can charge whatever they want for it; and since it’s unregulated, they make a vast array of claims for whatever workout benefits they say it confers. Usually, it just happens to solve whatever that athlete’s complaint of the day is. Phelps proudly shows off these ugly bruises, as do many other athletes and celebrities, and has even posted pictures of himself getting it done on his Instagram. Sellers have even come up with a sciencey-sounding name for it to impress the scientifically illiterate: “myofascial decompression”.
Radio host and outspoken conspiracy theorist Alex Jones recently lost a much publicized custody battle with his ex-wife over the fate of their children. Prior to the ruling, Jones had asked the media, for the sake of his children, to be “respectful and responsible” in their coverage of what he called a “private matter.”
It was a reasonable request. After all, going through child-custody proceedings can be a highly sensitive and emotionally trying process. And when one of the parents involved is a public figure, it can be even more painful to the family.
Yet, there wasn’t a lot of compassion to be found for Jones in the news media, especially on social media, where his hardship was widely celebrated and mocked.
One of the more popular tweets came from a man named David Masad, who wrote, “If Alex Jones loses custody of his kids, I hope someone follows him around and claims his kids never existed and were just actors, forever.”
The reference would likely be lost on people who aren’t familiar with the Jones’s history. As founder of the popular conspiracy website, InfoWars, Jones has made some incredibly outlandish statements over the years, some of which have escalated into crusades — crusades wholly believed and even participated in by some of his estimated 8 million listeners.
A lot of these conspiracies have unsurprisingly centered around the government, like the idea that the feds have weaponized tornadoes, or that they have added chemicals to our water supply to turn citizens gay, or that 9/11 was an “inside job”, or that Hillary Clinton ran a child sex ring managed out of a pizza restaurant. Others have involved alleged satanists and media figures. Jones once claimed that Glenn Beck was a CIA operative, and that the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation was a secret eugenics program.
But the conspiracy that Mr. Masad touched on is perhaps the most egregious Jones crusade of them all, and it surrounds another story about parents and the pain they’ve gone through over their children. Only, in this story, those children weren’t part of a legal case. They were murdered by a crazed gunman.
You see, Jones, over the years, has perpetuated the notion on his radio show that the Sandy Hook Elementary School shooting of 2012 was actually a hoax, created by the Obama administration, to enact tougher gun-control laws.
“Sandy Hook is synthetic, completely fake, with actors; in my view, manufactured,” Jones told his audience in 2015. “I couldn’t believe it at first. I knew they had actors there, clearly, but I thought they killed some real kids, and it just shows how bold they are, that they clearly used actors.”
More information (including sources) in the video description.
Slightly hokey, but excellent information! Enjoy 🙂
Why conspiracy theories are so popular and how our suspicious minds look for big causes for big outcomes
The speed with which conspiracy theories spread can make them seem typically modern. But, Rob Brotherton, the author of a new study on the mind of the ‘truther’, says they are as old as thinking itself and tap into our darkest prejudices.
Before the victims had been identified, before any group had claimed responsibility – before the blood had been cleaned from the streets – the “truth” about the terror attacks in Paris was already taking shape online. Just hours after the last shots, one YouTube user explained what had happened in a video that has since been viewed more than 110,000 times.
“It was a false flag event aimed at destabilising Europe into New World Order oblivion,” the anonymous man says in narration laid over shaky mobile phone footage of his laptop. The computer displays images of immigration and the Wikipedia entry for subversion. “Friday 13th is not a coincidence! – it’s an occult date of evil Illuminati satanists,” he adds.
As photographs and footage of the attacks emerged, armies of “truthers” went further, describing in dozens of similar videos and on their slick websites how, among other things, the crime scenes had been staged by the intelligence agencies. The fleeing woman filmed dangling from a window at the Bataclan theatre was an actor wearing a harness.
Terror attacks are always fertile ground for conspiracy theories, none more than 9/11, but committed conspiracy theorists find “truth” anywhere. One truther, as conspiracy theorists prefer to be known (many believe that the use of the term “conspiracy theory” is part of a conspiracy theory) was arrested in Connecticut this month after confronting the sister of a teacher who died in the 2012 Sandy Hook school shooting.