Conspiracy belief prevalence, according to Public Policy Polling is as high as 51%

And it may even be more when one considers that there is likely non-overlap between many of these conspiracies. It really is unfortunate that their isn’t more social pushback against those that express conspiratorial views. Given both the historical and modern tendency of some conspiracy theories being used direct hate towards one group or another (scratch a 9/11 truther and guess what’s underneath), and that they’re basically an admission of one’s own defective reasoning, why is it socially acceptable to espouse conspiracy theories? They add nothing to discussion, and instead hijack legitimate debate because one contributor has abandoned all pretense of using actual evidence. Conspiracy theories are used to explain a belief in the absence of real evidence. Worse, they are so often just a vehicle to direct vitriol and hate. We need less hate and partisanship. We should be able to disagree with a president without saying that he’s part of an agenda21/commoncore/obamacare/nazi/fascist/communist/North Korean conspiracy to make American citizens 3rd world slaves (not an exaggeration). We should be able to disagree with a corporation’s policies without asserting their objective is mass-murder. What is the benefit of this rhetoric? It’s just designed to poison our discourse, and inspire greater partisanship, divisiveness and incivility. Conspiracy theories are often used as a more subtle way to mask vile invective towards whichever group you hate. As you look underneath these theories you see it’s really just irrational hatred for somebody- liberals, conservatives, homosexuals, different races or religions, governments, or even certain professions. This is because at the root of the need for conspiratorial thinking is some irrational, overvalued idea, and often the open expression of the belief would result in social scorn.
I’ve found in my experience, almost everyone carries one really cranky belief that they can’t seem to shake, no matter how evidence-based their other positions are (probably because we are all capable of carrying some overvalued ideas). But it’s worth peering through PPP’s full results to see the nature of some of these associations.
For one, some of these associations I think are spurious, poorly questioned, or just reflect misinformation, rather than conspiracy. For instance:

44% of voters believe the Bush administration intentionally misled the public about weapons of mass destruction to promote the Iraq War, while 45% disagree. 72% of Democrats believed the statement while 73% of Republicans did not. 22% of Democrats, 33% of Republicans and 28% of independents believe Saddam Hussein was involved in the 9/11 terrorist attacks.

Many have questioned the inclusion of this question because, in reality, there were no weapons of mass destruction found in Iraq. So the question of whether we were “misled” or “intentionally-misled” puts us in the murky position at having to guess at the motivations of individuals like Bush and Cheney. Mind-reading is a dubious activity, and I tend to ascribe to the Napoleonic belief that you shouldn’t ascribe to malice, that which can be explained by incompetence (also known as Hanlon’s razor). Is it conspiratorial to think maybe they were more malicious than incompetent? While I think that administration really were “true believers”, of course I don’t really know for sure, and I don’t think it’s fair to describe such as conspiratorial reasoning. Instead it’s just the dubious but common practice of guessing at the intentions of others. The generally-similar numbers on the Saddam Hussein/9/11 connection, I believe, just suggests ignorance, rather than necessitating active belief in a conspiratorial framework (keeping in mind the margin of error is about 3% these aren’t huge partisan differences like over WMD).
One of the most disappointing numbers was on belief in a conspiracy behind JFK’s assassination:

51% of Americans believe there was a larger conspiracy at work in the JFK assassination, while 25% think Lee Harvey Oswald
acted alone.

That’s 51% conspiratorial belief, 24% probably showing ignorance of one of the most important events of the last century, and 25% actually informed. This is pretty sad. The movements of Oswald were so thoroughly-investigated and known, the hard evidence for his planning and involvement are so clear, the conspirators so unlikely (the mob/CIA/LBJ/KGB hiring crackpot loser communists for assassinations?), and the fabrications of the conspiracists so plain (asserting the shots couldn’t be made despite it being easily replicated by everyone from the Warren Commission to the Discovery Channel and even improved on, the disparaging of his marksmanship when LHO was a marine sharpshooter, altering the positions of the occupants of the car to make the bullet path from JFK to Connelly appear unlikely, etc.) it’s sad that so many have bought into this nonsense. The historically-bogus picture JFK, by Oliver Stone, may also play a large part in this, and is an example why Oliver Stone is really a terrible person. People that misrepresent history are the worst. If anyone wants to read a good book about the actual evidence that of what happened that day, as well as destroys the conspiracy position, Reclaiming History by Vincent Bugliosi is my favorite, as well as the most thorough.
But there is one redeeming feature of conspiracy about the JFK assassination. For the most part, conspiratorial ideas on the subject aren’t due to some dark part in people’s souls, as for many other conspiracies, but rather the very human need to ascribe more to such earth-shattering events as the assassination of a president than just the madness of a pitiable loser. The imbalance between the magnitude of the event, and the banal crank that accomplished it, is simply too much. There’s no way that a 24-year-old, violent, wife-beating, Marxist roustabout could be responsible for the death of a man like JFK right? Sadly no. The evidence shows even a man that pathetic can destroy the life of a much greater man with a cheap rifle and a simple plan.
The conspiracy theories embedded within this poll that really disturb me because I think they demonstrate the effect of irrational hate are ones such as for whether President Obama is the antichrist (although is that even really a conspiracy?). 13% of respondents believed this, 5% of those that voted for him still answered this question in the affirmative (really? you voted for the antichrist) as opposed to 22% of those that voted for Romney. Do we really need to elevate political disagreement to the level of labeling people the antichrist? Around 9% thought government adds fluoride for “sinister” reasons, and 11% believe in the LIHOP 9/11 conspiracy theory. They clearly think very little of their fellow Americans, and believe some really demonic things about our government. Our government is neither competent enough, or evil enough, to engage in then successfully cover up either of these things. Our top spy couldn’t even hide a tawdry affair.
Other conspiracy theories seem to indicate their is a baseline number of people, at about 15%, who will believe in just about anything from the moon landing being hoaxed to bigfoot. I would have actually pegged this number higher, given my pessimism about rational thought, but that seems to be what we can read from this. However, without being able to see whether or not it was the same people answering yes to each individual absurd conspiracy from reptilians to “government adds secret mind-controlling technology to television broadcast signals”, it’s possible this number is actually much larger. I would be curious to see the data on the overlap between these questions, as the phenomenon of crank magnetism is well known.
Ultimately, I read this data as saying that Americans have a big problem with conspiracy theories entering our political discourse. We should be embarrassed that as many as 37% of us believe that global warming is a “hoax”. That requires a belief is a grand conspiracy of scientists, policy-makers, journals, editors, etc., all acting together to somehow fabricate data for a single objective – often described as world-government control conspiracy to cede our sovereignty to the UN. Somehow, every single national scientific body, all those national academies, all those journals, and all those scientists, all those governments, all working in perfect secrecy according to some master plan (which I’m often accused of being a part of but I’m sure I’m missing the memo), and this is plausible how? The answer is, it’s not, unless you remain steadfastly ignorant of how science actually works and progresses.
Everyone, of any political persuasion, should be embarrassed by the conspiracy-theorists in their ranks. This isn’t healthy thinking, it isn’t rational discourse, and it only serves to divide us and make us hate. Enough of this already.

Anti-Gay Marriage Argument makes no sense

I was bewildered by this LA times article over the weekend describing the latest tactic of the DOMA defenders planning to argue before the Supreme Court, that is, that marriage is necessary for heterosexuals only because of the possibility of accidental child bearing.

Marriage should be limited to unions of a man and a woman because they alone can “produce unplanned and unintended offspring,” opponents of gay marriage have told the Supreme Court.
By contrast, when same-sex couples decide to have children, “substantial advance planning is required,” said Paul D. Clement, a lawyer for House Republicans.
This unusual defense of traditional marriage was set out last week in a pair of opening legal briefs in the two gay marriage cases to be decided by the Supreme Court this spring.

Am I taking crazy pills or does this make absolutely no sense? At the same time, I had just read (via Gawker)
this marriage announcement:

Ada Laurie Bryant and Robert Mitchell Haire were married Saturday in Hockessin, Del. Robert L. Bryant, a Universal Life minister and a son of the bride, officiated at his home.
The bride, 97, is keeping her name. She graduated from Lesley College in Cambridge, Mass.
She is the daughter of the late Ada Lee Laurie and the late Richard Laurie, who lived in Hingham, Mass.

The bride was a widow and the groom a widower.
The couple met in 2007, when Mr. Haire and his first wife, Jean, moved into Country House, a retirement community in Wilmington, Del. Mrs. Bryant had lived there since 2001 with her first husband, Leonard, who died shortly after they moved in. Mrs. Bryant and Mrs. Haire became close friends.

On Jan. 25, 2012, Mr. Haire, a hobbyist poet, slipped a sonnet vowing “friendship and affection” beneath Mrs. Bryant’s apartment door with a note that said “this represents how I feel in our relationship as a couple.” He was afraid to give it to her in person.
“I was desperately trying to strike a balance between too timid or bold. I didn’t want to mess things up,” he said about the courtship. “I can attest that it doesn’t get easier even in advanced age.”

Mrs. Bryant finally accepted his proposal on Aug. 6, and they will move into her apartment (“It’s slightly bigger,” he said) after the wedding.
She explained why she first turned him down. “There’s a great difference in our ages, as you can see,” she said. “I didn’t think it was the thing to do because I don’t have that many years ahead of me, but he said, ‘That’s all the more reason.’ I like him very much. I love him. So we’re going to be married.”

It’s all very sweet, finding love and getting married at even such an advanced age. But by the logic of the DOMA advocates, these two shouldn’t be allowed to marry because there is no chance of offspring.
Can we really defend this law by saying marriage is only for procreation when so many examples abound of how it clearly is not?

Dr. Oz is an increasingly dangerous promoter of denialism and quackery

I’m very disturbed to see the amount of exposure that Dr. Oz has credulously given to gay conversion therapy quacks. Via Ed I read Warren Throckmorton’s coverage of the disaster on Oz’s show, with the reversion therapists lying and contradicting their own previous statements about the therapy, what it accomplishes, and their philosophy of sexual orientation. Worse, those brought on to counter the misinformation were given no time to address all the falsehoods, all the while the gay conversion therapy quacks were represented as being of equivalent expertise.
It’s unfortunate that even as we’re seeing success in having gay conversion therapy banned as quackery in some states, professional cranks like Oz are undermining the process of educating people about homosexuality. Homosexuality is not a disorder, has not been considered such by legitimate professionals for almost 40 years now, and does not need treatment. It is also not the fault of the parents, the individual, or a moral failing. Attempts to “repair” people that are homosexual have been studied, they are unsuccessful and only cause harm. It is a sign of progress that California is taking steps to ban this therapy in regards to minors as forcing quackery on those who can not protect themselves from it. Reversion therapy is not legitimate medical therapy and is harmful. As stated in the CNN article:

But the psychiatric organization [the APA] — which is the world’s largest of its kind, with more than 36,000 members — determined, in fact, that reparative therapy poses a great risk, including increasing the likelihood or severity of depression, anxiety and self-destructive behavior for those undergoing therapy. Therapists’ alignment with societal prejudices against homosexuality may reinforce self-hatred already felt by patients, the association says.
“The longstanding consensus of the behavioral and social sciences and the health and mental health professions is that homosexuality per se is a normal and positive variation of human sexual orientation,” the association says.

We know that the lack of acceptance of a child who is homosexual puts the child at much greater risk of depression, other mental illness and suicide.
We should heed ERV’s warning, do not go on the Dr. Oz show, even if you think it’s to set the record straight. He won’t give fair time to the actual credible scientists or experts, he’ll just trot out the psychics, and quacks, and frauds, and maybe allow a soundbite at the end to contradict an entire hour of misinformation.
This might represent a truism in general about professionals on television. Television is entertainment, and the need to entertain routinely contaminates the delivery of factual information. Oz might have started with some actual legitimacy, but the need to put on a show, day after day, eventually will compromise your ability to maintain standards of professionalism. Oz has now sunk so low as to be irredeemable. This is homophobia disguised as medicine, and it is despicable for a medical professional to promote it uncritically on television.

Rejecting Homosexual Children Results in Disastrous Health Outcomes – An Appeal to Parents

Blogging on Peer-Reviewed Research

Not infrequently, science butts heads with culture as the data scientists collect about issues of the day may conflict with cultural perceptions and deeply-held beliefs. Attitudes and perceptions about homosexuality are, not surprisingly, a source of denialism as certain overvalued ideas about sexuality are being challenged with our deeper understanding of human sexual desire. For one, homosexuality is not a choice, despite all attempts to reprogram or suppress homosexual desires, the desires do not go away. One might even hypothesize the attempts to repress or disparage such a fundamental aspect of someone’s identity might cause harm long term and result in negative health outcomes. Sure enough, this article published in the journal Pediatrics last week suggests this is in fact the case, and I believe we must begin to view the rejection of homosexuality by parents as not just as small-minded, but actively harmful, constituting child abuse that has long term implications on their childrens’ health.

The authors identified 224 gay and lesbian youths between 21 and 25 years of age and using surveys to evaluate for high risk behaviors, mental health and levels of rejection by family, they found some startling patterns…

Continue reading “Rejecting Homosexual Children Results in Disastrous Health Outcomes – An Appeal to Parents”

The Gay Mob Gets God’s Goat

I was tickled today to see a full-page ad running in the Times (Page A13) asking readers to reject the “Mob Veto.” What mob veto? The gay mob veto! The gays are engaging in “violence and intimidation” against the Mormons because of their support for Proposition 8 (California’s gay marriage ban.)

I never thought I’d live to see a gay mob. Yes, there are many public events in San Francisco with many gay people, but they’re never violent, even when wearing scary biker gear.

Maybe I take this more seriously if the authors of this advertisement (the Catholic League and other usual suspects) would take out a full page ad against the evangelical mob, groups like the Westboro Baptist Church.

Denialist award—Andrew Schlafly, Esq.

I am giving out a previously non-existent award today to a truly great denialist. Andrew Schlafly, spawn of anti-feminist Phyllis Schlafly and some long-forgotten sperm-donor (ironic, eh?), was not content just being the legal counsel to the uber-crank Association of American Physicians and Surgeons. No, he had to take it one step further, and clog our precious intertubes with Conservaepedia, a repository of all things stupid. In fact, there is so much stupid there, an entire wiki is devoted to documenting it. I was newly enraged when a commenter over at the “blogging on peer-reviewed research” site tried to use this pile of electronic dreck as a legitimate reference.

For those of you who might have forgotten, Conservaepedia hit teh ‘tubes a little over a year ago, with a mission to counter the horrid liberal bias at Wikipedia. Well, no one is going to accuse Conservapaedia of liberal bias. In fact, the entire site is essentially a demented play book for reactionary Christian cults and denialists.

I don’t want to take you too far through the looking glass, but here are some fun examples of reactionary lunacy for you.

Continue reading “Denialist award—Andrew Schlafly, Esq.”

American Churches Offshore Homophobic Leadership

Apparently lacking sufficiently homophobic leadership in the US, some American churches are turning elsewhere for their fire and brimstone. The Journal’s Andrew Higgins reports:

MBARARA, Uganda — The Rev. John Guernsey, rector of a church in a middle-class Virginia suburb, stood early this month before thousands of Africans here on a rickety, ribbon-bedecked podium. Clutching a wooden staff in his left hand, he shouted in Runyankole, a local tribal language: “Mukama Asimwe!” — Praise the Lord!

Mr. Guernsey, 54 years old, had reason to rejoice. A defector from America’s Episcopal Church, he had just been made a bishop — by the Church of Uganda.


Mr. Guernsey represents a religious byproduct of globalization: A small but growing number of Christians in North America are turning to developing countries in Africa and elsewhere for spiritual direction. Some priests call the phenomenon “theological offshoring.” They are looking to Africa and other poor lands not just for inspiration but, in a very literal way, they are moving their theological base offshore.

Three days before Mr. Guernsey’s consecration in southwestern Uganda, the Anglican Church in neighboring Kenya minted two other U.S. bishops — one from Massachusetts, the other from Texas. Rwanda, another of Uganda’s neighbors, has said that it will elevate three more Americans to the rank of bishop by January.

None of these new bishops will work in Africa. Their new missions call for them to return home and combat what they see as growing disregard for traditional interpretations of the Bible, especially pertaining to homosexuality. The Episcopal Church, the American branch of a global Anglican movement with more than 80 million members, outraged conservatives in its own ranks and abroad when it appointed a gay Bishop of New Hampshire in 2003.


Uganda “is certainly very different” from Woodbridge, says Mr. Guernsey, who first visited Africa as a student. The average family income of around $54,000 a year in Virginia is 154 times that of $350 in Mbarara. But the African country’s church is in tune with the Bible-based spirit of his Virginia parish, says Mr. Guernsey. “This is about fundamental issues of scripture that won’t go away.” Homosexual acts, for instance, are illegal in Uganda, where politicians and priests denounce them as Satanic.

FRC wants gays out of baseball, mom’s apple pie

Sounds dirty doesn’t it? But the homobigot fake family values group, the Family Research Council, is dead serious about keeping teh gays out of baseball games.

This past Sunday, at the San Diego Padres baseball game, what was advertised as a “Free Floppy Hat Night” for kids under 14 turned out to be a double play. While the Padres management was enticing families with the giveaway for kids, it was also promoting the evening as a Gay Pride night at the ballpark. Children who received free hats were treated to the Gay Man’s Chorus of San Diego singing the national anthem prior to what one homosexual group billed as “Out at the Park with the San Diego Padres.”

The San Diego Padres organization should be ashamed that they would promote such an event on a night they specifically designed for the family. On this curveball of an evening, the Padres struck out.

Click the link below to contact the San Diego Padres and tell them that baseball is a family game that shouldn’t be used as an exhibition of homosexual lifestyles. The national pastime is just that: an opportunity for fans of the sport to enjoy a game and take respite from the daily grind. It’s not place for politics – or political correctness.

We’ve provided a short sample text you can sign or modify as you like to the Padres. Let’s tell major league baseball to leave politics aside at the turnstile.

That’s right, please, tell the Padres what you think.

After all, if children see gay people or hear them sing, it’s like a siren-song of gayosity that will convert them to the homosexual lifestyle, or something. That’s my current hypothesis. My other one is that the FRC is such a shameless coven of bigots that they feel they can intimidate business owners out of allowing gays to show their faces (and sing) at public events. They believe it is socially acceptable in this century to force gays back in the closet out of some ridiculous appeal to protecting kids. Oh won’t somebody please think of the Children!


Via Box Turtle Bulletin

A Bigot Surgeon General Nomination (part II)

Last week we discussed the nomination of Dr. James Holsinger to be Surgeon General of the United States, and our concerns considering his anti-gay views.

Now Jim Burroway has done a thorough dissection of Holsinger’s attempt to use science to advocate for homophobic policies in his church and it’s about as skewed and cherry-picked as something Paul Cameron would advocate.

This is of significant concern as the Surgeon General is supposed to be a science educator, someone who informs the public about medicine and health-related issues. The fact that this nominee has abused science previously to bash homosexuals is a sign this is yet another unqualified nominee being advanced to a scientific position for political reasons. Write your senator, call or send an email. This man should not be Surgeon General of the United States.