Ian Sample speaks to social psychologist Dr Daniel Jolley about why the global coronavirus pandemic is fertile ground for conspiracy theories

Source: Covid-19: the psychology of conspiracy theories | Science | The Guardian


“Conspiracy theories are bollox,” says the psychological scientist.

For the most part, I would agree but I think it is also important to unpack this claim.

First, note how the entire story is couched under the banner of “science” which most folks see as a badge of legitimacy. Science arguably has taken the place of religion in the vast majority of peoples. Even religious people defer to science or at least include it in their problem-solving.

Nothing wrong with that. It’s good. But still, we would do well to recall that science is a human activity, one not beyond bias. (This fact is made more clear with all the mixed messages we have heard from Chief Scientists about Covid-19).

So let’s put aside the “science is truth” assumption and implication which this piece promulgates. Any sane person realizes that science is just another angle on our seemingly limitless universe.

Paradigms. Paradigm shifts. Thomas Kuhn. If you don’t know what I’m talking about, please look it up. I’m not getting paid to teach Sociology 101 courses.

The second point to consider here is that, imo, it is fine to at least consider conspiracy theories. The more theories the better.

Having said that, we should try to sift through the evidence as carefully as possible. Check truth claims. Hear out opposing viewpoints. Use our logic. Also our intuition and prayer. With so many theories out there, we might begin to prioritize some and push others to the background.

Overall, one of the best things we can do is give the benefit of the doubt. If someone is scapegoating, being racist, or pointing the finger at entire nations, just stop for a moment and ask… Am I really sure this is true? *

If we are balanced and fair, we will admit that in most cases we just do not know.

So yes, I agree with a lot of what this podcast says. But being critical of any truth claim based on or backed up by conventional structures, I had to pull the pants down on psychology. Psychology is a soft science at best. And even hard science always produces competing theories.

The people who sell scientific goods and services just don’t want you to know that. From pills to magnetic pain relievers, industrial and often political forces are involved and the consumer is always faced with a cost-benefit ratio. Sometimes that seesaw swings to the plus side, and other times not.

We must educate ourselves to make the best possible choices.

* See this clear distinction between a government and its frightened, threatened people.