“Belief in conspiracy theories is rife. But what are they and why have they become so popular?”
9/11 comes about 18 minutes in. David Icke – former Green Party spokesman, later expelled – is interviewed expounding at length on how the entire global population might be “programmed”.
At 34:19 two psychologists carry out an experiment to predict the likelihood that 30 students will believe in conspiracy theories in the absence of evidence. First they test the pyschological factors of trust, disaffection with society and quickness to make false assumptions based on partial evidence. The hypothesis is that high scores on these factors predict likelihood of believing conspiracy theories. Then they run an invented conspiracy theory past the people with the 6 highest and 6 lowest scores. The experiment confirms the hypothesis.
Chris French, one of the psychologists, takes the findings to David Icke on a beach at around 40:30. David Icke becomes cross (“gets up my nose … song-sheet science”).
Chris French (my emphases):
“OK, conspiracies take place. But it’s the nature of the conspiracies and when there is kind of overwhelming evidence against a particular conspiracy but people still cling tenaciously to it… That then moves into the realm – as far as I’m concerned – of probably trying to look at the psychology behind it.”
And a little later, as the camera operator backs away from the argument:
“I think there is a problem with the belief system in that it’s non-falsifiable – nothing could happen that could falsify it.”
As Nafeez Ahmed, author of ‘The War on Truth’ comments (around 44:25), conspiracy beliefs are born of a desire, in a state of uncertainly, for a solid way of looking at the world, but are almost religious in nature.
At 45:00, Patrick Lehman (the other psychologist involved in the experiment above):
“… and they can’t be shaken out of their beliefs. They are a bit like religious fundamentalists in the sense that their pursuing a certain dogma, they’re pursuing a certain line of attack, and I think being a conspiracy theorist is fundamental to who they are. They’re critical of government – they see government or big business as conspiring against individual freedoms or they see certain institutions as conspiring against them or against other people, so it’s a particular mindset and if you’re in that mindset, if you think “I am a conspiracy theorist” then you’re going to go out and look for conspiracy theories”.