“Investigative Journalist Reveals Global Vaccine Conspiracy Orchestrated by the WHO”
(D. Samuelson, May 11, 2016, vaccine.news)
“The Big Vaccine Conspiracy: Secret Documents Confirm Vaccines Cause Autism”
(T. Paras, Sept. 7, 2016, vaccine.news)
“Another High-Profile Global Vaccine Conspiracy Exposed — This Time It’s the HPV Vaccine”
(C. Frompovich, Jan. 15, 2016, activistpost.com)
It’s true. Some of the difficulties communicating about vaccines result from the fact that they are embroiled in conspiracy theories. Indeed, it is likely that if you are on the front lines having vaccine conversations, you have probably heard, or been asked to respond to, at least one of them. You may even have been accused of participating in “the vast cover-up related to vaccines.”
Vaccines are not alone in the world of conspiracy theories. Climate change, September 11, the moon landing, elections, and the assassination of John Fitzgerald Kennedy are all hot topics. So, why do these theories exist and why do people believe them? These are the questions that Rob Brotherton seeks to address in Suspicious Minds: Why We Believe Conspiracy Theories. The author reviews the history of conspiracy theories as well as the evolution of some current theories, and discusses the state of scientific research related to the brain and psychology. Brotherton argues that, “We have innately suspicious minds. We are all natural-born conspiracy theorists.” (p. 17)
Some of the interesting points he makes include:
- People who believe one conspiracy theory are more likely to believe other ones even if they are not related.
- Someone who believes a particular conspiracy theory may be open to accepting conflicting views of that theory. For example, people who believe Osama Bin Laden was not killed by the U.S. military in 2011 are willing to entertain both the notion that he had been dead well before then and that he is still alive somewhere in hiding.
- Conspiracy-related beliefs are shaped by one’s worldview and their overarching beliefs about “how the world works.”
- Generally, the more distrusting a person is (of those around them), the more likely he or she is to believe conspiracy theories.
- People tend to seek information that supports what they already know or think they know (confirmation bias) and dismiss information that does not. Indeed, presenting information that is counter to an already held belief may make the person more certain of their pre-existing belief (backfire effect).
- Describing the different responses to the Kennedy assassination and the attempted assassination of Reagan, Brotherton describes a tendency to try to match the magnitude of an event to its cause, including personal events and experiences (proportionality bias). This tendency, Brotherton argues, makes some events more susceptible to being described by conspiracy theories than others.
In concluding, Brotherton argues that people who believe conspiracy theories should not be dismissed as fringe members of society, but that we should realize we are all more or less prone to these beliefs, and then hold ourselves accountable by evaluating whether we are being “prudently paranoid” or “allowing our biases to get the best of us.” (p. 243)
Readers will walk away with a better understanding of conspiracy theories and those who believe them. However, if there was one disappointment in this book, it was that it did not take the logical next step in addressing how to confront beliefs surrounded by conspiracy theories.
Get the book and start reading today: