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Lies, Damn Lies, and Science


When a component of the numerous 9/11 theories became untenable, it was nevertheless weaved into a larger 9/11 conspiracy. Credit: flickr/ 9/11 photos (CC by 2.0)

By Stephan Lewandowsky, Gilles Gignac & Klaus Oberauer

Conspiratorial thinking is a major element in the rejection of a broad range of scientific findings, from climate change to tobacco, vaccinations, GM foods and the moon landing. But why?

Stephan Lewandowsky is a Winthrop Professor at the University of Western Australia. Gilles Gignac earned his PhD at Swinburne University, and now specialises in statistics and psychometrics. Klaus Oberauer is Professor of Cognitive Psychology at the University of Zurich.

The full text of this article can be purchased from Informit.

Prince Phillip runs the world drug trade, the 9/11 attacks in the US were an “inside job” of the Bush administration, and US President Barak Obama’s Hawaiian birth certificate is a forgery. Oh, and climate change is a hoax perpetrated by corrupt scientists who just want more government grant money.

Conspiracy theories are part and parcel of contemporary public discourse, and some people clearly find their allure irresistible. Surveys show that 10% of Americans believe that US agencies intentionally created the AIDS epidemic and 15% believe that the evidence for a link between second-hand cigarette smoke and ill-health has been invented by a corrupt cartel of medical researchers. Our research has shown that around 20% of Americans – one in five – believe that evidence for climate change has been produced by corrupt scientists looking for more taxpayer money.

It may be tempting to dismiss conspiracy theories as obsessions of a few dysfunctional or maladapted individuals. However, such dismissal is inadvisable in light of the fact that nearly half of all New Yorkers in 2004 believed that the US government had advance knowledge of the 9/11 attacks and consciously failed to act. Among African-Americans, nearly half of respondents believed in the early 2000s that people who take medicines for HIV are guinea pigs for the government.

These observations can...

The full text of this article can be purchased from Informit.