A note on conspiracy theories

The internet has added much richness to our lives. We have access to excellent information at the click of a button. At the same time, we have access to bogus information at the click of a button. Sometimes our information gathering online devolves into an attempt to connect all the dots.  And this can lead to an obsession with conspiracy theories and a barrage of reckless accusations.

I wrote an article on this a while ago here.  This is a little followup.  I only have three points in this article.  1) Make sure your information is accurate; 2) make sure you have sufficient information; and 3) make sure you reason correctly about your information.

To make sure our information is accurate, we’ve got to do a little digging.  If you are looking at statistics, make sure the study is not a univariate analysis.  What in the world is that?  A univariate analysis is a study that tries to show that only one thing caused other things to happen while neglecting other factors.  If you suspect that one thing (such as racism) causes a lot of other things, you should dig through the social science until you have an accurate sense of what is what.  There are many studies available on the internet now, but you must search through them.  Also, you should look at the samples from various studies. Did they only use people of a particularly high socio-economic bracket?  Did they only phone people who live in Washington D.C. or San Francisco?  That can lead to faulty information.

We also have to have sufficient information to make a judgment.  The more accurate information we have, the more certain we can be.  If we have just a little information, we should only hold tentative conclusions.  Or we can be completely agnostic. A friend of mine was explaining that cell-phone towers are destroying our testosterone counts. But he didn’t know why that was true on a scientific level. I’ve seen many clips of celebrities and other commentators saying that half of America is racist for voting for Trump. How do they know that? Do they have enough information and does that information logically lead to their conclusions?  Are there alternative explanations that are more plausible?

We should make sure we are reasoning correctly. To continue to examine the racist issue, people seem to reason that racism has been a huge problem in America.  There are many historical cases, and it still occurs today. Black males get stopped more by the police.  Therefore, the American capitalist system is rampant with racism.  Wait a second.  That conclusion does not follow from the premises and neglects lots of other information. Let’s take another example.  1/5 of journalists are politically liberal.  Much of the mainstream media continually tip their hands as to their liberal bias.  Therefore, journalists are controlled by globalist-leftist leaders like George Soros.  You can see that the conclusion does not follow from the premises.

Apply this to hysteria over Trump the Russian pawn, chemtrails, vaccines, 9/11, Jews ruling the world, racist border security, liberals wanting to destroy America, that _____________ is a fascist.  What am I getting at here?  We all can do a better job of fact-finding and reasoning patiently to solid conclusions. Now it may be true that most human beings tend to interpret facts based on their pre-conceived narratives (See Jonathan Haidt’s, The Righteous Mind). But we can at least reject completely unsubstantiated ideas. This is a call to intellectual virtue, something we desperately need. And what is more, let’s not be afraid to utter those most frustrating words of all: I don’t know.