CONSPIRACY THEORY DAY
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.
DETAILS OF TALKS
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.
ABOUT THE SPEAKERS
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.