Wed, Nov 27, 2013 - Page 9 News List

Why we love conspiracy theories, and why that can be damaging

When faced with a chain of events, many people see patterns that are not really there and deduce cause and effect relationships which do not really exist

By Chris French  /  The Guardian, LONDON

In the final analysis though, does belief in conspiracy theories do any real damage? Is it not the case that such beliefs are just a bit of harmless fun? Although that may be true of belief in most conspiracy theories, the evidence shows conclusively that belief in conspiracies can cause serious harm. For example, it is estimated that unfounded conspiracy-based beliefs in the alleged dangers of treatment for AIDS has cost hundreds of thousands of lives. It has also been shown that terrorist groups use conspiracy theories to recruit and motivate their followers. Finally, belief in conspiracy theories is associated with disengagement from democratic processes making believers less likely to vote, for example.

In a democracy, it is essential that citizens examine and question the official version of events if we are to hold our leaders to account when it is appropriate to do so. However, proper skepticism does not entail the rejection of all official versions of events, but careful rational analysis using critical thinking skills to maximum effect. The assumption that all information from official sources is untrue is a dangerous road to go down.

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