Phys dot Org : Why do people believe 9/11 was an inside job?

Friday, July 31, 2015

Why do people believe 9/11 was an inside job?

July 31, 2015

The reasons why some people believe bizarre conspiracy theories are set to be explored in a new project by a philosopher from the University of Warwick.

Professor Quassim Cassam has been awarded £250,000 by the Arts and Humanities Research Council (AHRC) to study what he calls 'intellectual vices'. The title of his project is 'Vice Epistemology'.

He believes his research could help to explain how certain claims -- for example that 9/11 was masterminded by the US government -- are able to gain so much traction.

His findings may also shed light on why some people are susceptible to becoming radicalised in ways that make them potential recruits for extremist organisations such as Islamic State.

Prof Cassam said: "In 2008, a global poll of over 16,000 people found fewer than half believed that al-Qaeda was responsible for the 9/11 attacks, with a significant number attributing the collapse of the World Trade Centre towers to a controlled demolition by the US government.

"We live in a world where strange conspiracy theories such as this abound, often with dire social and political consequences. But how are such beliefs to be explained?

"My project as an AHRC Leadership Fellow is about the possible role of intellectual vices in fuelling these beliefs. By intellectual vices I mean intellectual character traits such as gullibility, closed-mindedness, prejudice and dogmatism. What I call vice epistemology is the philosophical study of the nature and significance of such character traits."

He added: "There are some true conspiracy theories, such as Watergate, but the philosophically interesting ones are those that are clearly false and refuted by best available evidence. Why is it that some people continue to believe such theories?

"One way of answering is to ask the person and they will give you their reasons, but the thing that's striking is that these reasons will often be bad reasons. They have access to the evidence, but continue to subscribe to their theories. If you simply answer the question 'why do they believe these things?' by reference to the reasons they give you will have an incomplete account -- you need to go deeper.

"The thing is that these people aren't necessarily crazy or irrational but, as Harvard Law professor Cass Sunstein points out, crazy thoughts are often held by people who are not crazy at all. But if these people aren't irrational, why is it and how is it they believe the things they believe? We need an alternative explanation."

Prof Cassam's study will also consider whether intellectual vices may explain why there is sometimes a gap between the results of scientific research and the implementation of those findings by practitioners on the ground. "This gap is a major challenge facing clinical and other human services, identified by the World Health Organization," he said.

The research is due to begin in April 2016.

Independent : What turns someone into a conspiracy theorist? Study to look at why some are more 'receptive' to such theories

Thursday, July 30, 2015

What turns someone into a conspiracy theorist? Study to look at why some are more 'receptive' to such theories

New study will look at why some people are more suspectible to extremist views

Caroline Mortimer | July 30, 2015

Conspiracy theorists aren’t "mad" they just have certain “intellectual character traits” that make them believe certain things, a professor has said.

Quassim Cassam, a professor of philosophy at the University of Warwick, has launched a new study into what makes people believe in certain theories – and why such theories could push people to extremes such as joining Isis.

He believes that some people are more vulnerable to “intellectual vices” such as dogmatism, gullibility and close mindedness and this in turn makes them more likely to listen to extreme "alternative" sources of information.

He told The Independent: “The other explanation is that that these people are literally mad or mentally ill but I don’t really go for that theory.

“For example take 9/11 conspiracy theorists. Why do they hold onto their conspiracy theory despite the fact that there seems to be overwhelming evidence that it wasn’t an American government conspiracy to bring down the towers?

“The answer is they are overwhelmingly receptive to certain kinds of evidence for instance of website and they are overly dismissive of other types of evidence such as engineers’ reports on the towers.”

Professor Cassam explains that psychologists have developed a theory of a “conspiracy mentality” which explains why people are more likely to be taken in by certain types of rhetoric or information that go against received wisdom.

Now he is trying to explore that idea in more depth and study the generic character traits which underpin that mentality.

In the case of terrorism and Isis, he questioned why is it that some 18 or 19 year olds can be convinced by Isis recruiters to believe their interpretation of Islam despite the people around them telling them differently.

He explained: “For example, I don’t know much about Islam but I do know that there is an absolute clear bar in Islam on suicide. So people who are told it is acceptable to be suicide bombers are ending up believing something which on the face has no foundation at all.”

He said he was not trying to prove that these character traits were the sole reason for people believing these things but they are “part of the package”.

Professor Cassam’s study, which is funded by the Arts and Humanity Research Council, will start in April 2016 and run for 18 months.

He hopes that his findings will help understand the irrational decisions made by some and be a step forward towards combating and challenging them.