Here’s what to say to anti-vaxxers!
9-11 was an inside job. The moon landing was faked. Vaccines cause autism. These are just a few of the most well-known conspiracy theories perpetuated by otherwise intelligent, everyday people. But why do some people believe these things and others don’t? Scientists are one step closer to figuring that out, and it appears that the answer lies within the brains of the theorists’ themselves, which affects how they see they world.
Scientists had long hypothesized that conspiracy theory belief (which the researchers of a new paper define as “the assumption that a group of people colludes together in secret to attain evil goals”) was due to a phenomenon known as “illusory pattern perception” — seeing patterns where none really exist. But few studies had been done to support this. So, the British and Dutch scientists conducted a series of experiments to fill that void. Their paper was published recently in the European Journal of Social Psychology.
An interesting conspiracy theory that has grown in popularity over the last decade is the belief that the long-lasting white clouds left in the sky by aircraft are actually chemical or biological agents deliberately sprayed on the population for nefarious reasons. The people who believe in this conspiracy theory call these lines in the sky ‘chemtrails’ and feel so strongly against them that back in May of this year, they organised protests around the world. In an attempt to better understand this conspiracy and the people who believe in it, I attended one of the protests in London.
As I was working my way through the crowd I saw a young gentleman holding a cardboard sign saying “stop geoengineering” made out of print-outs of contrails pictures. Within seconds of talking to him, I was reminded of my nerdy teenage self and, for some time, was seriously considering not publishing the interview but out of all the people I met there that day what he had to say was the most interesting. In the very short time I talked to him there was a whole load of crazy that I am going to address later, but for now, I am going to concentrate on the parts centered around depopulation and Space Preservation Act that some says proves chemtrails existence.
Just created this meme, please share far and wide 🙂
Jeff Bradstreet, who has been described as a “controversial autism researcher,” has now become the center of conspiracy rumors after reports of his apparent suicide. His death is said to have followed on the heels of a raid by the US Food and Drug Administration (FDA) of his Bradstreet Wellness Center in Buford, Georgia (update 27JUN2015: the Georgia Drugs and Narcotics Agency is reported to have aided in the raid). A fisherman found Bradstreet’s body in a North Carolina river on Friday, June 19. Authorities in Rutherford County, North Carolina, state that he had a gunshot wound to the chest, “which appears to be self-inflicted,” according to the local newspaper, the Gwinnett Daily Post. The Post also reports that
“By Wednesday night, some of Bradstreet’s supporters were speculating that his death wasn’t a suicide, but a conspiracy.”
That speculation has spread like a virus through the community of people who are mourning the loss of a man whom they viewed as a courageous crusader against mainstream medicine and who believe, as Bradstreet argued, that the mercury in vaccines causes autism (the evidence emphatically indicates otherwise). According to his website, Bradstreet, whose own son is autistic, embraced a number of unproven or untested interventions for autism, including using stem cells in an overseas study he chronicles, and hyperbaric oxygen therapy, which the FDA cracked down on in 2013. He was known for his use of chelation therapy.
I’ve frequently written about the “arrogance of ignorance,” a phenomenon that anyone who’s paid attention to what quacks, cranks, or antivaccine activists (but I repeat myself) write and say beyond a certain period of time will have encountered. Basically, it’s the belief found in such people—and amplified in groups—that somehow they can master a subject as well or better than experts who have spent their entire professional lives studying the subject on their own, often just through the use of Google University and the echo chamber discussion forums that they frequent with their fellow cranks. Thus we have, for example, the rambling clown car of antivaccine bloggers over at the crank blog Age of Autism declaring that, contrary to the mountains of evidence otherwise, vaccines cause autism, “brain damage,” autoimmune diseases and all sorts of mean and nasty other conditions. Skeptics quite properly point out that (1) there is no convincing evidence from well-designed and well-executed studies to support these links; (2) there is a lot of evidence from well-designed and well-executed studies that there is no link between vaccines and these conditions given that such studies invariably are unable to detect differences in the prevalence of these conditions associated with vaccines (or, in the case of the mercury militia, thimerosal-containing vaccines); meaning (3) the most parsimonious explanation for these results is that there almost certainly no link. What is the response? Antivaccine cranks will invoke the pharma shill gambit and all sorts of dire conspiracies on the part of the CDC, big pharma, the FDA, and the World Health Organization (WHO) to “suppress” smoking gun evidence that vaccines cause autism.
This is a well-known phenomenon known as the Dunning-Kruger effect, a phenomenon whereby people who are unknowledgeable or incompetent about a topic hold an unjustifiably elevated estimate of their own knowledge base on the topic. In the antivaccine movement, the Dunning-Kruger effect tends to take the form of parents who think that their University of Google knowledge trumps the knowledge of physicians and scientists . . .