2022 are conspiracy beliefs increasing

deirdre

Senior Member.
We have old polls and statistics on Metabunk, but i decided to see if there was new up to date data, and found a paper that just came out last week.

Since people used to like this topic, I decided to open a modern thread on the subject so all the new members can enjoy the convo.



Full paper available at link (at least in USA)
Funding: National Science Foundation
July 20, 2022
bold added for emphasis
Article:
Abstract
The public is convinced that beliefs in conspiracy theories are increasing, and many scholars, journalists, and policymakers agree. Given the associations between conspiracy theories and many non-normative tendencies, lawmakers have called for policies to address these increases. However, little evidence has been provided to demonstrate that beliefs in conspiracy theories have, in fact, increased over time. We address this evidentiary gap. Study 1 investigates change in the proportion of Americans believing 46 conspiracy theories; our observations in some instances span half a century. Study 2 examines change in the proportion of individuals across six European countries believing six conspiracy theories. Study 3 traces beliefs about which groups are conspiring against “us,” while Study 4 tracks generalized conspiracy thinking in the U.S. from 2012 to 2021. In no instance do we observe systematic evidence for an increase in conspiracism, however operationalized. We discuss the theoretical and policy implications of our findings.
 

Mendel

Senior Member.
Article:
But the assumption that the pandemic has lured more people into the ranks of conspiracy theorists is mistaken, according to a representative study by the Institute for Delinquency and Crime Prevention at the Zurich University of Applied Sciences (ZHAW).

In 2018, 36% of Swiss still believed in conspiracy theories, said a report by Swiss public radio, SRF, on Monday. In 2021, the proportion had fallen to 28%, where it remains today.

[...] Baier says that on the one hand outspoken conspiracy theorists who already existed took to the streets and became more visible.

On the other hand, the loud and sometimes aggressive protests seem to have had a deterrent effect on many people. Baier says many people would have thought about the conspiracies more carefully and then distanced themselves from them.
 

deirdre

Senior Member.
[...] Baier says that on the one hand outspoken conspiracy theorists who already existed took to the streets and became more visible.

On the other hand, the loud and sometimes aggressive protests seem to have had a deterrent effect on many people. Baier says many people would have thought about the conspiracies more carefully and then distanced themselves from them.

as you know, i personally believe aggressive tactics turn people off, but @Z.W. Wolf just warned us about speculating.. so we should probably take that with a grain of salt.

would you mind finding the actual study and inking, since i dont speak the language i'm assuming it will be easier for you to find. thanks.
 

Rory

Senior Member.
I wonder if there's anywhere that measures the quality of the beliefs. For example, there's a big difference between simply having a vague suspicion that the moon landings didn't happen and then the higher levels of activity such as watching videos, promoting moon landing hoax theories in conversation, making and posting videos, and extrovertly dedicating one's life to the cause.

An analogy might be asking people if they believe in God. A catch-all survey can tell us the percentage of people who say yes or no but it can't tell us anything about the quality of those beliefs - ie, again, whether they're vague and inconsequential or whether they're lived, important to them, shared with others, or causing large effects on one's life.

In a nutshell: what if vague, passing interest beliefs are falling but more activist, militant and visible expressions of conspiracy theory belief are rising? Would such surveys and studies pick up on that?
 
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Mendel

Senior Member.
would you mind finding the actual study and inking, since i dont speak the language i'm assuming it will be easier for you to find. thanks.
this is not it
Conspiracy Mentality and Extremism – Survey Findings from Switzerland
https://doi.org/10.1515/mks-2020-2044

Abstract: The article aims at, on the one hand, to examine the relationship between conspiracy mentality and violent extremist attitudes. On the other hand, factors influencing conspiracy mentality are examined, assuming that anomic attitudes, distance to the political system, and right-wing authoritarianism increase conspiracy mentality. To test the hypotheses, two samples are used: a nationwide youth survey among 8,317 pupils and a nationwide representative survey among 2,111 adults. Both samples show largely comparable findings: Anomic attitudes, low institutional trust and political deprivation increase conspiracy mentality, while authoritarianism does not. A more pronounced conspiracy mentality in turn increases agreement to extremist attitudes, whereby this correlation is stronger in the youth than in the adult sample.
Content from External Source
 

deirdre

Senior Member.
In a nutshell: what if vague, passing interest beliefs and ideas are falling but more activist, militant and visible expressions of conspiracy theory belief are rising? Would such surveys and studies pick up on that?
probably not but that's not the claim. the claim is the first sentence of the abstract.

i got the idea to look from this convo on another thread:
This article is from 2016, and everything I have seen in recent years indicates the number of conspiracy theorists have increased greatly since that time, and the theories themselves have become more outlandishly ridiculous.

i figured that is true, since media and internet sites (including this site) encourage or allow divisiveness and angry feelings (which i personally believe stokes CT thinking). But turns out i (and ann) might be wrong. This is only one study so i opened the thread to get more data to examine.
 
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Henkka

Banned
Banned
I would like to see a study that analyzes if the frequency of the terms "conspiracy" and "conspiracy theory" has increased in media articles.
 

Rory

Senior Member.
probably not but that's not the claim. the claim is the first sentence of the abstract.

The public is convinced that beliefs in conspiracy theories are increasing, and many scholars, journalists, and policymakers agree.
Content from External Source

True. I guess if it's just belief in general - ie, proportion of the population rather than overall strength - and the evidence contradicts that then that's fine and the claim is debunked.
 

Rory

Senior Member.
This is a tricky one. My bias is towards "beliefs in conspiracy theories are increasing" and so if the evidence contradicts that I will look for ways that the evidence might be wrong.

One way might be in saying: even if the proportion is the same the overall strength of belief is higher. In the past people believed in a vague, ill-informed way. Now they're informed because of the internet and YouTube. Now their beliefs aren't simply something they might think about once every few years but the first thing they think about when they wake up; what they involve themselves in when they get online; and something that gets them out of the house and across the country and invading government buildings and shooting up pizza parlours or haranguing astronauts.

This can be contradicted by providing examples where things like this happened in the past. And then I'll say, that's true - but now it happens more.

Next I'll probably look at the study and notice that they say "beliefs in 13 out of 52 conspiracy theories significantly increased over time" but that they counter this by saying "we identified more decreases than increases, and the decreases were larger in magnitude than the increases".

Yes, but what about the nature of the theories that were identified as decreasing? These include:
  • Reagan making secret deals with the Iranians in 1979/80
  • A national conspiracy to kill police (compared with survey results from 1970!)
  • The assassination of Martin Luther King in 1968
  • Was OJ Simpson framed by the police?
  • FDR knew about Pearl Harbor
These are all pretty old and therefore obviously going to feature less among conspiracy theorist thinking - especially when there are so many new ideas and theories to contend with. And I haven't cherry-picked there: these theories represent five of the seven that have decreased the most.

In a nutshell, comparing old and outdated theories and leaving out newer ones may have skewed their figures. I mean, do they even mention flat earth or chemtrails or transinvestigation or mud floods?

I suppose if I was being fair I'd say it looks like their results show that levels of conspiracy thinking have more or less stayed the same. So using Deirdre's point about population increase it seems to validate Ann's point that "the number of conspiracy theorists has increased."

Unfortunately, I don't think we can deduce anything relating to my idea that belief may be now be stronger and more real than it was in the past - ie, that they do more with it. And isn't that what really defines a belief? Whether it is lived or not?
 
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Rory

Senior Member.
Why does QAnon go higher than conspiracy in the second one?

Timeframe is interesting. If the claim is "conspiracy theorists have increased" then the question is "since when?"

Here's an article that states:

There is no arguing that [conspiracy] theories have seen a revival on the extreme right in recent years. Over the last two decades, a far-right conspiracy culture of self-proclaimed "Patriots" has emerged in which the United States government itself is viewed as a mortal threat to everything from constitutional democracy to the survival of the human race. This conspiracy revival — which has been accompanied by the explosive growth of Patriot groups over the last year and a half — kicked into overdrive with the 2008 election of President Barack Obama.

https://www.splcenter.org/fighting-...iot-paranoia-look-top-ten-conspiracy-theories
Content from External Source

That was written in 2010 - so really it's saying that, at that time, the period 1990-2010 was a period of increase.

Are we comparing now with 2010? With 1989? How about with 1889? Or, I would suspect, a much more recent date?

I think the notion of "increase" is less to do with actual numbers and more to do with the idea that the last few years is the period when "conspiracy theories went mainstream". When posting them on Facebook and Instagram became widespread and normalised. When they were in the news all the time and discussed more and more in all types of media and academia.

Five years ago my friends were surprised to learn that there were people out there who thought the Earth was flat - now I imagine we'd be hard-pressed to find someone who hadn't heard of some kind of CT to do with Covid or the vaccine or 5G or QAnon.
 
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deirdre

Senior Member.
These are all pretty old and therefore obviously going to feature less among conspiracy theorist thinking - especially when there are so many new ideas and theories to contend with
they addressed that in the paper and used some math to show there are other old things that didnt decrease like JFK.
( i never even heard of #2)
1658947959392.png

or transinvestigation
what's that?

Unfortunately, I don't think we can deduce anything relating to my idea that belief may be now be stronger and more real than it was in the past - ie, that they do more with it. And isn't that what really defines a belief? Whether it is lived or not?
im gonna say no, they make everyone who believes in q-anon sound like a rabid fanatic...but most q-anons interviewed dont even really know what q-anon is. so if they are counting just mildly interested people, that probably counter balances any rise in the extreme. ??

Article:
Those who propagate and subscribe to QAnon beliefs do not often fit within a particular ideological mold. QAnon “appears to find support among both the political right and left,” with “the extremity of political orientation” mattering far more than political leaning [18]. While members of the alternative right (alt-right) have played a role in the early expansion of the conspiracy [19], other QAnon members have been described as “casual conspiracy theorists” involved with the movement “for the fun of the immersive game and the community more than the conspiracy or sense of regaining control”
 

deirdre

Senior Member.
That was written in 2010 - so really it's saying that, at that time, the period 1990-2010 was a period of increase.
i read something similar this morning
Article:
In 2004, the Boston Globe stated that we are in the "golden age of conspiracy theory."

In 1994, the Washington Post declared it's the "dawn of a new age of conspiracy theory."

In 1964, The New York Times said conspiracy theories had "grown weed like in this country."

The list could go on and on, but the gist is clear.
 

Rory

Senior Member.
Very interesting. It does seem, with most things I look at, it's usually a case of "same as it ever was".

I've long felt that it wasn't that "crazy thinking" was on the increase, it's just that it's much more visible now.

Also reminds me of words from spiritual types: it doesn't matter how far you go back, they always say things along the lines of "people are too materialistic these days, too hectic and busy, lacking morals", etc.

Here's an example though of the contrast between "numbers of believers" and "strength of belief":
  • Percentage of people who identify as Christians in America is about 65%
  • Percentage of people who identify as Christians in England is about 55%
That's not a massive difference. But anyone who's spent time in both countries or studied their respective media will surely agree that one is much more than ten percent more religious than the other.
 

Vattic

New Member
That's not a massive difference. But anyone who's spent time in both countries or studied their respective media will surely agree that one is much more than ten percent more religious than the other.
This can be illustrated by a few statistics. I wanted to get the UK statistics, but don't know how to use the dataset they provide. I figure the average for Western Europe is close enough, though the UK tended to be lower where I could find the data.

Article:
1659021382802.png
 
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