Conspiracy Theories

Conspiracy Theories June 17, 2018

I have a good friend who is very entertaining to be around…except when he gets off on certain subjects. Three in particular: Jesus, Chemtrails, and the HAARP Antenna Array. I won’t spend much time on the first one, except to note that faith-based religious beliefs demonstrate a willingness (susceptibility?) to accept fact-free assertions and stick to them even in the face of contrary evidence.

Moving on to Chemtrails, a term used to describe an alleged plot by our government to control the weather for political purposes, control our minds, sterilize us or reduce life expectancy…or even to kill a substantial number of us. The accusers claim that the contrails that you see in the sky from commercial jets are not just harmless water vapor condensations from jet engine exhaust. They insist that the planes have nozzles on their wings and tanks of toxic chemicals that they are spraying into the atmosphere! To give you an idea of their thinking, here is a link to an article on the Smithsonian web site. The article is short and to the point: Reputable scientific organizations have investigated the claims and they are nonsense. What follows in the comment thread demonstrates the level of emotional commitment some people have to this idea. Some of it is so crazy that I wonder if it’s not tongue-in-cheek. Are they are just trying to pull the chain of rational people, and then sit back grinning as they watch them try to refute the outlandish claims? But I suspect at least some of these people are true loonies. Have a look.

The part that I found almost laughable was the claim that commercial passenger jets were spraying these chemicals. Thus, United Airlines and American Airlines and all the other commercial carriers are in cahoots with our government in a secret conspiracy. That stretches the meaning of the adjective preposterous. I need a word that goes beyond that.

The HAARP (High Frequency Active Auroral Research Program) conspiracy is similar. HAARP is a research program designed to analyze the ionosphere. The program has been funded by the Air Force, the Navy, the University of Alaska and DARPA. You can read more about the research associated with HAARP and the conspiracy theories surrounding it here:

Conspiracy theorists have blamed HAARP for global warming, earthquakes, volcanic eruptions, tornadoes, landslides…you name it. It’s crazy, of course, just as crazy as the chemtrails nonsense.

Like most conspiracy theories (global warming comes to mind) the perpetrators in government are evil geniuses able to organize vast conspiracies involving thousands of people, and maintain absolute secrecy. Something our government is clearly unable to do even for something as trivial as a search of Hillary Clinton’s Emails.

Why are some people so willing to accept such preposterous claims? Confirmation bias has a lot to do with it. Here is an article that describes a study of political conspiracy theories, and it shows that both Republicans and Democrats are guilty of promoting such theories when members of the opposition party are accused.

But political gamesmanship is not directly involved with the chemtrails and HAARP conspiracies. So what kind of people believe such things? Are they influenced by their political or religious belief? I spent some time trying to research this, and finally found this:

The conclusion of the study described here is not very complimentary to either liberals or conservatives. But it does point out that distrust of government is a major motivator for most conspiracy theorists, and that is a common characteristic of many conservatives. It also observes that as liberals become better informed about government actions, they tend to become more skeptical about conspiracy theories, but as conservatives become better informed, they become MORE accepting of those theories. There is much more information in the study, and I recommend that you read it all.

Finally, to support my original assertion that belief in conspiracy theories is not unlike religious belief, here is an academic study that makes that point:

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