Sunday 25th September 2011
Conway Hall, 25 Red Lion Square, Holborn, London WC1R 4RL.
9/11, alien visitation, Jewish cabals and global warming – why are people drawn to conspiracy theories, and what holds them captive? What are the warning signs of a dodgy conspiracy theory? What conspiracy theories are actually credible, and why? Spend an entertaining and informative day with some if the world’s leading experts.
10.45-11.55 Chris French and Robert Brotherton “Conspiracy Minded: The Psychology of Belief in Conspiracy Theories”
12.00- 1.10 Karen Douglas “A Social Psychological Perspective On Conspiracy Theories”
2.00-3.10 David Aaronovitch “Do Conspiracy Theories Have Common Characteristics Over Time And Space?”
3.10-4.10 Jamie Bartlett and Carl Miller “Truth And The Net”
Venue: Conway Hall, 25 Red Lion Square, Holborn, London WC1R 4RL.
Cost £10, £5 to students.
Booking in advance available at the BHA website. Remaining tickets will be for sale on the door.
Organized by Stephen Law, Provost CFI UK. Media can contact Stephen on firstname.lastname@example.org.
10.45-11.55 Chris French and Robert Brotherton, “Conspiracy Minded: The Psychology of Belief in Conspiracy Theories” This talk will introduce the topic of conspiracy theories and outline the difficulties that arise when trying to formulate a universally acceptable definition of this deceptively complex concept. Conspiracy theories have come to play a prominent role in contemporary culture. It is almost inevitable that any significant event will become the subject of conspiracy theorising, and considerable numbers of people endorse such theories. Although the psychology behind belief in unsubstantiated and implausible conspiracy theories is not yet well understood, social scientists are now beginning to address this important topic. A summary of theories and empirical findings to date will be presented.
12.00-1.10 Karen Douglas, “A social psychological perspective on conspiracy theories”. Karen will give some background on the psychological correlates of conspiracy theories (e.g., personality characteristics, motivations) before going on to discuss some of her own and her students’ research. She will talk about research showing that conspiracy theories are persuasive and change people’s opinions about what happened in major world events such as the death of Princess Diana. Karen will also explain research showing that people tend to believe in conspiracy theories when they lack information and fill in the gaps by ‘projecting’ their own moral tendencies onto the alleged conspirators, and will discuss some of the features that make conspiracy theories persuasive vs. those that are less effective. Finally, she will talk about the beginning of a research programme examining some of the consequences of beliefs in conspiracy theories. For example, she has some data showing that exposure to conspiracy theories makes people feel less powerful and therefore less likely to want to vote.
2.00-3.10 David Aaronovitch, “Do conspiracy theories have common characteristics over time and space?” Details to follow.
3.10 Jamie Bartlett and Carl Miller, “Truth and the Net”. Jamie and Carl will talk about their forthcoming (August 2011) report ‘Truth and the Net’ which examines the extent that conspiracy theories and misinformation are entering the classroom; how far young people are equipped with the digital literacy required to confront them. This is based on a large national survey of teachers on the subject. They’ll sketch out the critical thinking skills, habits and knowledge young people need.
David Aaronovitch, author of Voodoo Histories (further details to follow.
Jamie Bartlett is the head of the Violence and Extremism Programme at the think tank Demos. He researches and writes about a wide variety of extremist groups. He recently authored a major paper on al-Qaeda terrorism, which included living alongside radical Islamists. He is currently leading a research team conducting the largest ever survey of the far-right in Europe.
Robert Brotherton is a member of the Anomalistic Psychology Research Unit at Goldsmiths, University of London. He is conducting a PhD, funded by the ESRC, on the psychology of belief in conspiracy theories. He also teaches as part of the anomalistic psychology undergraduate module at Goldsmiths. Robert is currently acting as assistant editor of The Skeptic and convenes the Anomalistic Psychology Interest Group, a seminar group for academic discussion of topics within anomalistic psychology.
Dr Karen Douglas is a Reader in Psychology at the University of Kent. She is Associate Editor of the European Journal of Social Psychology and Social Psychology. Karen is also a Fellow of the Society of Experimental Social Psychology and a member of learned societies in social psychology and communication studies. She has published widely on topics such as language and communication, the psychology of the Internet, feedback, and the social psychology of conspiracy theories, and her research has been funded by the Economic and Social Research Council, the Australian Research Council and the British Academy. She is the co-author of a forthcoming social psychology text to be published by Palgrave MacMillan and the first volume on feedback to be published by Peter Lang Publishers. Karen’s research on conspiracy theories focuses on the social psychological processes and consequences of beliefs in such theories, and the factors that make conspiracy theories so appealing.
Professor Chris French is the Head of the Anomalistic Psychology Research Unit in the Psychology Department at Goldsmiths, University of London. He is a Fellow of the British Psychological Society and of the Committee for Skeptical Inquiry, as well as being a Distinguished Supporter of the British Humanist Association and a member of the Scientific and Professional Advisory Board of the British False Memory Society. He has published over 100 articles and chapters covering a wide range of topics within psychology. His main current area of research is the psychology of paranormal beliefs and anomalous experiences. He frequently appears on radio and television casting a sceptical eye over paranormal claims, as well as writing for the Guardian’s online science pages. For more than a decade, he edited of The Skeptic and his latest book, co-edited with Wendy Grossman, is Why Statues Weep: The Best of The Skeptic (London: The Philosophy Press).
Carl Miller is an Associate at Demos and a researcher at King’s College London. He is interested in extremism, dissent, the Internet and social media. In 2010 Jamie and Carl authored The Power of Unreason, about the relationship between conspiracy theories and terrorist ideology. Following this paper, both spent months debating with 9/11 Truthers.
“To lower everyone’s blood pressure for a moment, think of it like this. Imagine that two neighbors, one who happens to be Jewish, one who doesn’t, get into an argument over… any number of ridiculous things people argue about that have nothing to do with their ethnic-religious origins. Someone’s dog ripped up someone else’s flower bed, whatever. We wouldn’t say that the Jew’s antagonist in this conflict is an anti-Semite. Sometimes Jews, like everyone else, get into disputes, and those disputing with them have whatever beef anyone has with anyone. However, if a bunch of strangers to both formed a committee to support the Jew’s antagonist, while ignoring similar and worse conflicts in the town between non-Jews, we might wonder about the committee members. Now, if the Jew’s antagonist, picking up on his likely source of support, throws a ‘dirty Jew’ in there, that’s foul play and all, but that doesn’t mean the original conflict was about anti-Semitism. It was about the flower bed.”
“I remain unconvinced that “race” or “racism” is the best lens through which to understand the Israeli-Palestinian conflict as it plays out among the parties themselves. I think it’s a very useful lens for understanding why certain third parties get involved, but the Israelis and Palestinians themselves, no.”
Matt responds in agreement about distinguishing between antagonists and their cheerleaders:
“When we call a speaker racist (as opposed to their speech), it typically means that that speaker should be banned from the discourse because their presence is unproductive. If we ban too many Palestinians or too many Jews, we wind up completely disrupting the discourse in a way that is certainly unproductive, because there’s no one left to convince.”
as well as disagreement about the role of racism in the conflict:
“…why should we distinguish between the claims of different actors on that basis when the claims are identical? And while we might seek to be inclusive of a variety of perspectives and actors in our conversation, that doesn’t mean that all claims are equal in that conversation. In short, I don’t think it’s often useful to think of racism as a matter of intent or as an exercise into soul divination.”
“Often, I go back to the 1929 Hebron Massacre. (Phoebe talks about the “ultimate” cause being about land, so lets go back in time.) Palestinian leaders spread a rumor that Jews were massacring Palestinians in Jerusalem. Palestinians (enough) in Hebron chose to believe that rumor because they were willing to believe almost anything about Jews, and they chose to respond by killing Jews.”
A very interesting conversation, HT Bob.
There may be strategic reasons for those most directly involved in the conflict and its resolution to pass over racism. But if like me you agree with Matt that racism is a significant factor, you will be wary of failing to acknowledge something major by putting it to one side. I also take Phoebe’s point that racism cannot be the only lens through which to examine the conflict, but it is racism which gives the conflict its popular edge and sucks in partisans with a weird and avid intensity from all over the world. It seems these days that in engaging with the conflict, and the way the conflict is refracted in far off places like Britain, it is impossible to avoid giving an audience to racist views. Nevertheless racism should compromise the influence of those who espouse it, should have consequences which disadvantage them while they continue to espouse it, and should meet with robust but constructive rebuttal.
I visited South Africa twice in recent years, both times as the guest of the trade union movement. On my second visit, to Cape Town, I found myself walking along a beautiful beach with a leader of South Africa’s Communication Workers Union. He told me that under apartheid, if he’d be found walking on this beach, he could have been shot. This was a whites-only beach. That’s what apartheid means. It means you can be shot for walking on the wrong beach.
As for “apartheid Israel,” suffice it to say that my two sons were born in a hospital that serves the residents of the Jezreel Valley — Jews and Arabs. The staff, including doctors and nurses, were a mix of all ethnic groups and religions, as were the patients. There was no segregation, no separate facilities, no differences at all in how Jews and Arabs were treated.
Does this mean that Israel is a perfect society, a real paradise on earth for everyone? Of course not.
But if one cannot see the difference between running the risk of being shot for being on the “wrong” beach — and having your child born in a hospital full of Jews and Arabs working together — if you can’t see that difference, you understand nothing at all.
For the debate around the South African campaign for an academic boycott of Israel, with Desmond Tutu, David Newman, Neve Gordon, David Hirsh, Robert Fine, Ran Greenstein, Uri Avnery, Farid Essack click here.
“People say, don’t disgrace your father’s name by going to Israel and all these type of things,” the eldest son of the late musical icon Bob Marley said at a press conference Tuesday at the Sheraton Hotel in Tel Aviv, referring to the negative responses he saw on Facebook and other sites upon publication of his Israel tour dates. “What I tell them is that, listen, I follow nature, I follow the universe, I follow God. I’m not a part of the segregation that people put on each other … I’m a part of nature and God, and God made the sun shine for everybody.”
The boycott campaign wants to make people feel that Israel is a unique evil and it makes progress towards this goal whenever its arguments are treated as a legitimate side of a public debate.
Even when the campaign loses, therefore, it also wins, when, unlike other antisemitic campaigns, it is treated with respect.
There is a sense in which the (mis)educative function of the campaign is more important than actually excluding Israelis from the cultural, academic and sporting life of humanity.
This can lead the boycotters into the realm of the absurd. When celebrated intellectual Slavoj Zizek recently spoke in Tel Aviv, the campaign tried to spin his visit as a boycott because he spoke in an independent bookshop.
When Roger Waters, formerly of Pink Floyd, played a gig in Israel, the campaign tried to portray this as a boycott because he played in a mixed Arab/Jewish village.
Now, scientists from UJ and BGU are quietly resuming their important work together, both institutions have ratified the agreement, and UJ has, ostensibly anyway, re-doubled its commitment to academic freedom.
The antizionists are pretending that there is a boycott while the scientists and their universities carry on doing what they do, scientific collaboration.
The boycott of BGU has taken a dent but there remains enough mirage of the boycott for the campaign to carry on its work, which is to portray Israel as the pariah of humankind.
Goldsmiths, University of London