New ‘Conspiracy Theory Handbook’ aims to minimise harmful conspiracy theories

Given the unhelpful surge of conspiracy theories circulating regarding Covid-19, a new ‘Conspiracy Theory Handbook’ is published this week. The book summarises the scientific research into conspiracy theories: why people believe them, the traits of conspiratorial thinking, and how to counter them.

Aside from scaremongering, conspiracy theories damage society in a number of ways by decreasing people’s intentions to engage in politics or to reduce their carbon footprint. A recent analysis of tweets about the Zika virus found that the number of propagators of conspiracy theories was more than double that of debunkers of those theories.

Author, Professor Stephan Lewandowsky, Chair in Cognitive Psychology in the School of Psychological Science and Cabot Institute for the Environment at the University of Bristol, explains: “Conspiracy theories attempt to explain events as the secretive plots of powerful people. While conspiracy theories are not typically supported by evidence, this doesn’t stop them from blossoming.

“Social media has created a world in which any individual can potentially reach as many people as mainstream media. The lack of traditional gate-keepers is one reason why misinformation spreads farther and faster online than true information, often propelled by fake accounts or “bots”. Likewise, consumers of conspiracy theories have been found to be more prone to “like” and share conspiracist posts on Facebook.

“While actual conspiracies do exist they are rarely discovered through the methods of conspiracy theorists. Rather, real conspiracies get discovered through conventional thinking—healthy skepticism of official accounts while carefully considering available evidence and being committed to internal consistency.

“This handbook helps explain why conspiracy theories are so popular, and how to identify the traits of conspiratorial thinking, and lists effective debunking strategies.”

The book is available to download here.

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