I've come to think that crazy-seeming beliefs, such as Covid-19 literally not existing, or QAnon's adrenochrome drinking elites, are misunderstood by The Sensibles. They seem, to me, to function as stories binding groups rather than as genuine propositional statements. Kind of like a rain dance. So everything you say here seems more insightful than the usual 'how can they be so thick' hand-wringing from educated libs.

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Mar 2, 2022·edited Mar 3, 2022Liked by Thomas Prosser

It seems to me that by embracing things like letting Facebook decide what is "disinformation" and beyond the pale to discuss and what is just a difference of opinion is a huge mistake by people who just 10 years ago embraced free thought. Normalizing discourse to serve the elite is not something any liberal should be in favor of. The long term consequences are terrifying.

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Mar 2, 2022Liked by Thomas Prosser

Good one. But perhaps your next move should be to evaluate the validity of conspiracy theories, particularly from a ‘populist’ perspective, this piece having provided a smooth segue to that topic. Prevailing’reasonableness’, a most malleable category, is actually a feeble rejoinder to them when the historical record is included in the evidence under consideration. For example? Where should we start...?

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Another good essay, Tom.

As for the reality-deniers, may I present:


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Mar 5, 2022·edited Mar 5, 2022

I had the issue early on about vaccines, with quite a few seniors about me. The argument that ultimately worked best: "If it's good enough for the Queen of England, it's good enough for me".

Note that this:

- was simple and direct

- didn't require disagreeing with their (fake or valid) arguments

- was funny

- wasn't about them, but about me (and the queen)

- was extremely classist, and use monarchy as another angle to scientocracy

- required people not arguing her vaccine was fake (none argued that), so wouldn't have worked on people deep inside conspiracy theories.

BTW, my gov (France) has a history of shenanigans (Chernobyl radiation stopped at our German border, in Martinique they allowed agricultural chemicals long after they had been banned in the mainland, ...) so some mistrust and a will to strike back are understandable. Covid is an easy, but wrong, occasion to do that.

Also, I was shocked the pope did so little to help. No film of him getting vaxxed, and I saw him several times w/o a mask. a-hole !

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Canaries in the cage. The sense of corruption and deca, the mind blindness of 'liberal' institutions is real but misattributed into irrelevant propositional beliefs in the search for coherence and fraternity

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Or is it actually academics that are gullible? The papers you're citing have many problems; nobody serious should take them seriously.

1. They are pop psych papers, so it's likely they won't replicate. Especially likely, as they have absolutely no idea who they were surveying - they mostly relied on online tasking platforms like Mechanical Turk. This seems to be getting common in the social sciences and is even more stupid than only experimenting on undergrads. These are platforms that pay people per task, so for unverifiable tasks like "tell us what you really think" users are directly financially incentivized to just click through the options as fast as possible.

Example: in the second paper you cite (on COVID hoax beliefs) a full 7% of participants failed to answer correctly the following question: "To indicate that you read this item carefully, please mark the lowest rating". How much more evidence do you need that people on these platforms don't care about the answers they give?

A lot of online polling has this problem and it's difficult to solve, especially as the sort of people who are attracted to such platforms tend to be in third world countries where the dollar value gained by pretending to be American using VPNs is quite high. Nothing based on this methodology should be taken seriously.

2. The papers are sloppy in other ways. First paper: "This appears to be the case cross-culturally: The relationship between conspiracy mentality and populist attitudes emerged in all the countries assessed in Study 1", but the only countries in Study 1 were European, this is not at all the meaning of "cross culturally".

3. The first paper is basically just massive pro-EU political bias masquerading as "science":

"Populist rhetoric often oversimplifies complex societal problems through catchy one-liners and contains policy proposals that sometimes are incompatible with the constitution or international treaties (e.g., populist movements within various EU member states that promise to lower their country's financial contributions to the EU or to close the borders for immigrants entirely) ... What psychological factors predict if citizens fall for such populist rhetoric and worldviews?"

Lol. Who can possibly take a paper seriously that has language like that in it? Disagreement with EU policy or spending levels is something that only "gullible" people can "fall for"? The stereotypes about academics all being fanatical Remainers seem to be true, no?

4. Your second paper is presented as evidence that there are lots of people who believe "COVID is a fabrication". It doesn't show that. They tested belief that COVID is a hoax by using these questions:

“The virus is intentionally presented as dangerous in order to mislead the public”

“Experts intentionally mislead us for their own benefit, even though the virus is not worse than a flu”

“We should believe experts when they say that the virus is dangerous”

None of these things are related to the question of whether COVID exists or not, only whether the reported level of danger is proportionate to the actual danger. It's perfectly possible to believe COVID exists, is not a hoax and yet answer these in ways that will result in you being labelled as a "hoax believer". In fact, the idea that epidemiologists and others exaggerate the scale of the danger is the only rational position to hold after what happened with Omicron. SPI-M was just grilled by a Parliamentary committee because they intentionally ignored severity data from South Africa in order to present Omicron as far more dangerous than it actually is. That's not a stupid belief by a COVID denier, that is widely accepted fact, and yet people who were ahead of the curve on that are being smeared as stupid and gullible.

It then goes on to say: "People who believed that the pandemic was a hoax were more likely to perceive the pandemic as less threatening". They just redefined the word hoax to mean "belief that it's less threatening than presented" so this statement is a tautology dressed up as a finding.

And so on and so on.

Open access is killing you guys. In my own circle (mostly professional software engineers) nobody takes what psychologists or sociologists say even slightly seriously anymore. It's honestly a bit embarrassing now when someone brings up a just-so study by psychologists and everyone else is sort of going "mmm" and trying to move the conversation on - especially in recent times, it's becoming a mark of low intelligence to not know about the replication crisis or unreliability of academic analysis. It's also honestly quite frustrating that we're forced to pay for this stuff. It's just such low grade, low effort dreck.

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I’d argue some of this is echoes of Andrew Wakefield’s scam, which cast general, lingering doubts about vaccines.

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You somehow represent that there is value in unreasonableness, and also that "the functions of right-populist values and the philosophical nature of divisions on issues such as immigration and women’s rights," need to be recognized. I find it hard to think through this, it sounds silly.

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