Wednesday, September 14, 2011

A New Book Explains The Unfruitful Emergence Of More And More Conspiracy Theories

Posted by Peter Quennell

Conspiracy theorists have dismally failed to come up with a plausible alternative theory of how Meredith died.

However, they do keep trying. So do the proponents of literally hundreds of other conspiracy theories, constituting vast amounts of effort probably better spent elsewhere - conspiracy theorists very rarely achieve very much, or do well economically, or rise to the top jobs.

The articles here and here look with skepticism on the 9/11 conspiracy theories which on the tenth anniversary of the twin towers coming down have been pushed hard by the various factions.

Now a new book “The Believing Brain” explains the mental makeup that disposes people to so eagerly believe the worst of our fellow man or our governments: One review in the Wall Street Journal..

In Mr. Shermer’s view, the brain is a belief engine, predisposed to see patterns where none exist and to attribute them to knowing agents rather than to chance””the better to make sense of the world. Then, having formed a belief, each of us tends to seek out evidence that confirms it, thus reinforcing the belief.

This is why, on the foundation of some tiny flaw in the evidence””the supposed lack of roof holes to admit poison-gas cans in one of the Auschwitz-Birkenau gas chambers for Holocaust deniers, the expectant faces on the grassy knoll for JFK plotters, the melting point of steel for 9/11 truthers””we go on to build a great edifice of mistaken conviction….

Mr. Shermer offers a handy guide for those who are confused. Conspiracy theories are usually bunk when they are too complex, require too many people to be involved, ratchet up from small events to grand effects, assign portentous meanings to innocuous events, express strong suspicion of either governments or companies, attribute too much power to individuals or generate no further evidence as time goes by.

The increasingly shrill posts appearing daily on the website Ground Report seem to mark pretty high against that list. Could the Evil Mignini have engineered even this?

Oops. Another conspiracy theory in play.


Some time ago and just for the hell of it,

I submitted a comment to Ground Report in which I stated that Knox had been questioned without food or water or bathroom breaks by 365 large policemen and women for 96 hours non-stop during which they insulted her by using pathos and logic
and using a language (swahili) which she didn’t understand.

Then they placed her naked and freezing in a cell two feet wide by 600 feet long for six years until she told them where Jimmy Hoffa was buried.

It was deleted.

So much for conspiracy theories.

This was in response to the other anal comments that can be found in Ground Report where using equally stupid statements seems to be their stock in trade.

Posted by Grahame Rhodes on 09/14/11 at 05:32 PM | #

Just downloaded “The Believing Brain” into my Kindle. Can’t wait to read it and better understand the innocentisti.

Posted by Cardiol MD on 09/14/11 at 06:49 PM | #

Peter, the above photo of the blast in Twin Towers is epic. The tenth anniversary of 9/11 was a huge deal this year. I’m happy to report that the small student group my son is in, raised $1,400 to donate to local fire and police. The Extreme Fireman’s Challenge entertained us. The raffle gifts were fun, people loved the Starbucks gift cards and Home Depot cards among others. The black leather Harley-Davidson jacket was grand prize raffle. Smiles abounded. BBQ was delicious, sunshine all day perfect weather. Local newspaper ran the story front page using photo of girl hauling a fire hose. I stayed for hours, grinning.

The NYC memorial activities with victim’s names at new waterfalls on Ground Zero and President Obama reading the Psalm, President Bush in attendance, were inspiring.
The brain as belief engine is a good theory. I guess a lot depends on what patterns a person wants to see, what he’s willing to believe. I assume the smartest people require a lot of evidence and facts before accepting a belief, while others are ready to buy into any explanation that comforts them, the least whiff of proof suffices. Maybe the fearful person needs more patterns, thinking that forewarned is forearmed, trying desperately to prepare for everything, a losing battle.

I’m still working on the “Paradigms” book, which I did order through

“Believing Brain” author has found a topic of endless potential.

Posted by Hopeful on 09/14/11 at 11:45 PM | #

Finally someone in America gets it right!

Posted by chrrypi on 09/15/11 at 01:18 AM | #

Ann Coulter gets most of it right. Still don’t understand what any of it has to do with Liberals.
Conservatives give me the willies, because they come across as pre-programmed machines who live in fear of any thought outside the box.
As for conspiracy theories, the “guilters” could be accused of proposing them, when the simplest answer to what happened is that one lone, deranged killer did it. Except that the evidence doesn’t allow for such simplicity! The “innocenti” see a vast city-wide conspiracy, with the Perugian prosecutors, Judges, police, and local busybodies all cosied up in bed together, and AK and RS hapless playthings in their cooked-up scenario. It would have been far simpler to let the lovebirds go, and continue the search for someone more sinister looking. Eventually they would have stumbled upon Guede’s fingerprints. In the meanwhile, AK and RS, in their glee at fooling everyone would have grown ever more cavalier, and let the truth slip.
The Central Park “wilders” initially claimed responsibility for the savage rape and beating of a woman, purely for the street cred value. That alone (wasting police time, and generally being a waste of space) should have earned them a sentence. The Duke lacrosse dupes may not have raped that stripper, but they got what they deserved for hiring “exotic dancers” to their drinkfest anyway.
Now, do I sound like a liberal, or a conservative? Or just someone who doesn’t suffer fools and asses gladly?

Posted by mimi on 09/15/11 at 05:55 AM | #

I think that, in some cases (not this one), conspiracy theories are the product of groups feeling disenfranchised.  We elect our (democratic) governments to represent us and serve us, but all too often, we find that their proceedings are shrouded in secrecy.  The answers we want, when something bad or threatening happens, are classified and kept away from us “to avoid panic.” That’s pretty much the premise of any crappy, big-budget sci-fi movie these days: meteorites, invading aliens, infectious diseases, etc., and no one tells the people what exactly is going on. Supposedly, it’s for their own good, because a think tank will solve the problem at the last possible second, but really because no one wants to be blamed when millions go like lambs to the slaughter.

So that’s why people make up their own stories and explanations - because they need to make sense of some scenarios in the absence of clear, trustworthy information. And possibly because creating your own narrative is empowering.

In this case, I agree with Mimi that the “innocentisti” have created a conspiracy theory to explain away something they don’t want or cannot accept: that two middle-class kids with no criminal record could have committed such an atrocity. Some of them, like the families, have a vested interest - they don’t want to see their children go to jail and live as convicted murderers.  The rest, excluding those who are paid to parrot the PR lines, believe in the conspiracy for reasons which may have little to do with Amanda or Raffaele: ignorance, ethnocentrism, the belief that other people are corrupt and uncivilized, racism, etc.

Posted by Vivianna on 09/15/11 at 06:16 AM | #

I just read in google news that a new evidence is coming. Here is the link I want to know your expert opinion. I have never heard about a burned shirt.

Posted by lulupr on 09/15/11 at 07:11 AM | #

Michael Shermer is a ‘skeptic’ in much the same way as Knox is ‘innocent’ - I wouldn’t use anything he has to say without very carefully examining his sources and arguments.

Surely we can do better than this when looking for support.

Posted by Daoud on 09/15/11 at 08:45 AM | #

The Oggi story has been referenced on PMF yesterday or today.  The big question about these “revelations” is why they are talked about in September 2011, when they date back to late 2007 or early 2008.  Obviously, the defense knew about it and, had it shown clear proof of innocence, they would have used it to their advantage during the first trial.

Let’s take Meredith’s blood-stained sweatshirt, for example.  I am not sure they are telling the truth about it, because I found this picture on PMF, which clearly shows a blood-stained, black-trimmed, blue sweatshirt next to a “V” label (not sure if it means it’s exhibit “V” of if the floor was divided into alphabetical sections).  Here is the picture (you might have to be registered on PMF to view it):

The file info doesn’t say when the picture was taken, only when it was uploaded.  I’m sure that there are people here who have chronological files, though, and who could tell us if this is the sweatshirt they’re talking about and when it was photographed.  Even if it was found and photographed 46 days later, it only corroborates the idea that whoever killed Meredith tried to clean up the crime scene and stashed her sweatshirt away from sight. 

As far as Amanda’s sweater goes, I found a picture on PMF which shows her bed, covered in some clothes.  In the upper left corner, towards the wall, you can see a tangled, striped sweater (white/gray, or light gray/dark gray).

Again, I don’t know when the picture was taken, but it seems like the sweater was there from the beginning. Now here are my problems with it:

1.  There is no way to determine what Amanda really wore that night.  She could have simply taken off her sweater prior to the crime.  She had plenty of time to wash it afterwards. Suggesting that she’s innocent because the sweater she claimed to have worn didn’t have blood on it is preposterous.  It’s not like clothes are glued to you.

2. The tabloids don’t provide evidence that the police said she’d burned that sweater.  I’d like to see a police document, court document, or video recording of that.  But just because she didn’t burn that sweater, or that sweater didn’t have blood on it, it doesn’t mean she didn’t do it.

As far as the bit about Rudy’s Skype convo, they conveniently omit the part where he gives a description of the man. Pasting here from the Skype translation which you can find on PMF (Main Board > In Their Own Words > Rudy Guede, PDF file about 1/3 down the page).  “R” is Rudy, and “G” is his friend Giacomo, who collaborated with the police.

“R. Well, firstly this person wasn’t bigger than me, I mean taller, physically, in height, he wasn’t taller than me.”

“I didn’t see his face, but I say he was Italian because he, we…we insulted each other. I insulted him. And he insulted me and he didn’t have a foreign accent”

“R. I can’t tell you, I think…brown‐haired, more brown, not blond because, well you can really see when someone is blond…
G. All right, so not exactly blond, hell do I know, say chestnut?
R. Yes, brown, like brown between…between blond and brown.”

So he’s about Rudy’s height or shorter, light-brown hair, Italian. Of course the tabloids don’t like to go into details, because their mystery man sounds a hell of a lot like Raffaele.

Tabloids don’t like it when people start asking questions, because their unsubstantiated claims “evaporate,” to use their term.  They’re claiming the case against Amanda “evaporated” during the appeal, which is clearly not true.  And then they are claiming this evidence is new and shocking, when it dates back to more than 3 years ago and there’s nothing particularly exonerating about it.  But hey, they’ve gotta make a living somehow too.

Posted by Vivianna on 09/15/11 at 09:39 AM | #

@ lulupr

The source is miss Knox’s italian loudspeaker: “Oggi no. 38” magazine. This week, Alessandro Penna and Giangavino [ma che razza nome e’ ?] Sulas explain, from page 22 to page 27,  the “10 reasons why Amanda and Raffaele have to be acquitted”.

Ah, next week, don’t miss the attachment to the next issue: their new book “Il delitto di Perugia. L’altra verita’” writtten by Maria D’Elia, only euro 4.90.

Posted by ncountryside on 09/15/11 at 09:48 AM | #

@ncountryside - seems like they took a page from Amanda’s statements with that title.  You know, there’s never just “the truth,” but “the best truth I can come up with,” “my own version of the truth,” and now, “the OTHER truth.” Er, should we stay tuned?

Posted by Vivianna on 09/15/11 at 10:06 AM | #

Whether the term is Shermer’s own or not, to call the human brain “a belief engine” is a bad metaphor.
So it’s good to have a word of caution.

Thanks for the newspaper reference but dear Heaven!, what a piece of blatant propaganda & distortion. At least the reporter had grace enough to mention the PR Knox source behind this latest to-do over nothing.
That the Knox publicity campaign might be in high gear at this point does not surprise: we shall soon have the verdict.
What would surprise (I am very serious) is an honest disclosure, a conscientious accounting of who gets paid by whom for some of these outrageous claims.

The judge’s refusal of further testing (mentioned there) means only that they’ve heard both sides. Enough!

Much recent comment showing a fairly wide expectation (among the sane) that Amanda’s long sentence may be reduced. Be that as it may, what’s important is that it won’t be overturned. It’s altogether impossible, given all that we know. Impenitent, dishonest, desperate, she will serve out years in prison.

Posted by Ernest Werner on 09/15/11 at 10:49 AM | #

I’m waiting for the explosive devastating never before released photos of knox photographed in paris on the night of meredith’s murder and witnesses swearing that they had hot chocolate in a bar with her.

Ridiculous? Just watch !

Posted by Zoff on 09/15/11 at 03:07 PM | #

Hi all, Michael Shermer’s book might well have been called “An Examination Of Irrational People- and how they come to believe the nutty things they do”

He then proceeds to retrofit psychological theories and speculation to arrive at a questionable conclusion: People who believe in God, or Ghosts, or Conspiracy Theory, do so because the brain is hard wired to make sense of what it cannot understand, and manufactures alternative realities to try to reconcile these differences.

Funny, but one can say the same about the professional sceptics, that they try to rationalize what they cannot understand, and prefer to manufacture theories about belief systems as opposed to studying the original subject or phenomena they denigrate, at second hand.

And that spiritual people literally have to feed rationalists some LSD, peyote or ayahuasca before they can let go of The Skeptical Mind:)

As someone who’s studied this 300 year old schism between the rationalists and the natural philosophers, I can only say both sides are right, both sides have reasons, quite good ones, to believe what they do, and may the debate continue with civility and respect on both sides.

I personally believe that what makes humanity unique, is that we possess a rational and an irrational brain, both of which are necessary for the process of human evolution. And yes, when that line blurs, mental illness occurs.

I would hesitate however to call people on one side of a debate about guilt or innocence in a criminal trial “conspiracy theorists”; quite a few people who call themselves “Coincidence Analysts” 😊 might really be on the side that says the defendants have received a fair trial and are guilty as charged.

Posted by Ergon on 09/15/11 at 09:38 PM | #

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