College Course on Conspiracies

MikeG

Senior Member.
I will be teaching a class in the Spring 2016 semester titled: Conspiracies and Modern American History.


Part of it will address the role conspiracies have played in 20th/21st century American history. I have always been curious as to how prevalent paranoia has been in contemporary affairs. The course will include a number of specific case studies.


Protocols of the Elders of Zion

The “Stab in the Back”

The Communist Conspiracy

The Kennedy Assassination

9/11

Contrails and Chemtrails


Concurrent with the historical examination will essentially be a course on research methodology. I am interested in teaching students a logical process by which they can evaluate evidence. As we do on Metabunk, I will ask: Do the facts support the claims? Is causation clear?


The intent is to allow students to separate legitimate conspiracy from theory and, in some cases, outright falsehood.


One of the graded exercises will be group projects that offer students the chance to advocate a conspiracy while applying the research standards in the course. For every specific conspiracy advocated (e.g. Jade Helm 2015), I am going to assign a counterpart group whose job it will be to debunk the conspiracy using the same tools.


My primary text for the class is:


Kathryn S. Olmstead, Real Enemies: Conspiracy Theories and American Democracy, World War I to 9/11 (2009).


Some of the supplemental reading will include:


Richard Hofstadter, “The Paranoid Style of American Politics,” Harper’s Magazine (November 1964): 77-86.

Michael Barkun, A Culture of Conspiracy: Apocalyptic Visions in Contemporary America, 2nd ed. (Berkeley: University of California Press, 2013), 1-14.

David Aaronovitch, Voodoo History: The Role of Conspiracy Theory in Shaping Modern History (2010).

Arthur Herman, Joseph McCarthy: Re-examining the Life and Legacy of America’s Most Hated Senator (2000).




The course filled in three days and it looks like the students are pretty enthusiastic. They all seem to have their own personal conspiracies or theories. It is pretty remarkable how quickly they engage the topic.

Thanks to Metabunk contributors for a good number of books, issues, approaches, etc. that I will use.


I’d also welcome any questions or ideas that might help next year.

Cheers,

MikeG
 

Engineer

Active Member
Sounds like an interesting and fun class! Good luck with it. It will be interesting to hear how it goes and some of the more interesting assertions and debunks that get presented. Also it would be interesting to know the initial level of the students belief in CT's in general. What discipline/department is the course offered under?

It is interesting to me and somewhat understandable how the phrase Conspiracy Theory as taken on such a negative connotation. There are certainly many in law enforcement who spend much time believing and developing Conspiracy Theories with scant initial evidence and then develop real cases which often end up with convictions and sometimes end in acquittal. Debunkers are somewhat like defense attorneys in that regard. lol

What starts out as a conspiracy theory in the political domain often gets renamed as a scandal when some truth to the conspiracy is proven. I can think of things like Watergate and the whole Iran Contra/CIA smuggling affair that that San Jose News reporter broke. Still controversial, lots of unknowns but obviously some nefarious stuff that would have been unbelievable had some evidence not been uncovered. I guess my point is that obviously many conspiracies are real and sometimes the evidence uncovered proves it. There are conspiracies where science is the way to evaluate them and some where good police work is the only way to uncover evidence and debunk or prove a case and some where a combination of the two is required. Similar methodologies, different tools. Nothing like a search warrant and a team of detectives to get to the bottom of a case.

I'm rather new here and I suspect this stuff has been discussed in some detail in a previous thread, my apologies if it is off topic . I have to smile a bit at the conspiracy most of us fell for as kids about this time of year..Santa Claus. Some of us debunked it using ingenious 6 year old methodology and some of us were just told outright it was bunk and believed the authority that told us.

Again, good luck and I will be interested in hearing back.
 

deirdre

Senior Member.
I have to smile a bit at the conspiracy most of us fell for as kids about this time of year..Santa Claus
Santa Claus isnt a conspiracy. it's a lie told to children to shut them up when they are giving you a headache. If everyone in the world, except children under 7, know about it... it's not a conspiracy. :)
 

Engineer

Active Member
Santa Claus isnt a conspiracy. it's a lie told to children to shut them up when they are giving you a headache. If everyone in the world, except children under 7, know about it... it's not a conspiracy. :)
Not a conspiracy? With a house full of mixed aged kids it certainly was in my home for a few years. :D
 

Engineer

Active Member
It would be interesting to see a before and after poll along the lines of this one, which asks about a number of different conspiracy theories.
http://www.publicpolicypolling.com/pdf/2011/PPP_Release_National_ConspiracyTheories_040213.pdf
Wow. One in five Republicans believe Obama is the anti-Christ? I wonder if this is true in our Congress, it would sure explain a few things. Any other polls out there which examine other demographics with relation to conspiracy belief?
 

NoParty

Senior Member.
Sounds great, Mike.

I'd run across Olmstead's book, before, but just now decided to order a copy. :)

I think that this would just inherently be a fun class to put together.

And, I'm sure you're way ahead of me on this, but I just really believe in taking a little time at the
beginning of a class to set the tone...to make clear how necessary a respectful discussion space is.
Just one hyper-opinionated (and loud) zealot can foul a vibe. Maybe even start with a quote or two
like Churchill's classic: "A fanatic is one who can't change his mind and won't change the subject."

Best of luck!
 

Leifer

Senior Member.
I think there's a difference between "it's a lie until you're old enough to get the joke" (santa claus), and a 'learned conspiracy', at a later age. (when you're supposed to decide better)
One is a friendly lie or "fantasy", usually told to children, and revealed to the child upon their gained understanding of reality.
The other, takes age and maturity.

Children love myths, they will even make them, often quite easily*.

*references accepted
 
Last edited:

Leifer

Senior Member.
In a description of a conspiracy, when the math and science don't jive with reality, or when a conspiracy claim is said to trump science, some will claim that "they teach the lies in college", that colleges are monetarily motivated to lie based on corporate funding....and the professors are in cahoots.
(especially in the science dept.)

Would this topic be of value ? ....as the students could branch-out and either confirm or dispose of this idea ?

(NOTE: I came from a 6 college complex, in Claremont, CA.....so it may seem easy for me to suggest "branch-out", haha.....we had artists MFA, to business BFA, to engineers (Harvey Mudd), and world-class religious studies......at the different colleges.)
 
Last edited:

Whitebeard

Senior Member.
Santa Claus isnt a conspiracy. it's a lie told to children to shut them up when they are giving you a headache. If everyone in the world, except children under 7, know about it... it's not a conspiracy. :)
:(Noooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooo:(

;)
 

derwoodii

Senior Member.
students luv excursions, off to the grassy knoll, area 51, ground zero and an airport maintenance hanger you can go
 

JRBids

Senior Member.
I have to smile a bit at the conspiracy most of us fell for as kids about this time of year..Santa Claus. Some of us debunked it using ingenious 6 year old methodology and some of us were just told outright it was bunk and believed the authority that told us.
Some of us used common sense and never believed it.

As Deidre said, if everyone knows it's not true except little children, who are told about Santa to keep them quiet till Xmas, it's not a conspiracy.
 

JRBids

Senior Member.
:(Noooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooo:(

;)
I've probably told this story on Metabunk before, as I am in the age of mental pause, I had a friend who believed in Santa till she was way too old. A friend old her Santa wasn't real. She went home and asked her mom who said "Of COURSE Santa isn't real!" My friend was momentarily devastated but then said "thank goodness we still have the Easter Bunny."
 

NoParty

Senior Member.
You might like to include links like this, on the ongoing agony caused by conspiracy theorists to the victims of the Sandy Hook massacre.

It's heart-rending to think that even a few years after the event, the father of one of the children is still being harrassed, stalked and called a fraud, and his dead child deemed a non-existent entity. http://www.thetrace.org/2015/12/sandy-hook-mass-shooting-hoaxers/
That's a great article, Sagitarius. Thanks for sharing it.
I Hadn't seen it before, but i'm holding on to it. A nice injection of sanity.



(the part about the NRA role is sad, but true)
 

Sagittarius

Member
Thanks, NoParty. I'm also glad to see that [two] Sandy Hook parents have set up an organization, HONR Network, where harrassment of parents can be reported, in the hope of prosecution of those responsible.
 
Last edited by a moderator:

deirdre

Senior Member.
Thanks, NoParty. I'm also glad to see that the Sandy Hook parents have set up an organization, HONR Network, where harrassment of parents can be reported, in the hope of prosecution of those responsible.
Hopefully my nitpicking won't be misinterpreted here, but perhaps "these" or "some" [SH parents have set up...] would be a better use of phrase.
Obviously this is a good cause, as they all are- but for instance, claims like "the Sandy Hook parents are trying to take our rights away by advocating for gun control" or "Newtown is trying to take your rights away" are all misnomers. They are not technically accurate claims. SOME family members* (certainly not the majority,) are actively calling for additional gun control measures.
*I say family members because they are not all PARENTS.

I dont think it's fair for hoaxers or truthers or sceptics to throw all these families together on every topic all the time, which happens quite a bit. This Honr network cause is probably a silly example to bring this up on (as it doesnt cause conflict), but CTs and gun extremists use the implication that ALL the parents are collaborating to have guns taken away as "proof" of motive.

Just one of my pet peeves, which we all are guilty of from time to time. Sorry for going off topic @MikeG
 

MikeG

Senior Member.
Sounds like an interesting and fun class! Good luck with it. It will be interesting to hear how it goes and some of the more interesting assertions and debunks that get presented. Also it would be interesting to know the initial level of the students belief in CT's in general. What discipline/department is the course offered under?
It is being offered as an intermediate level history class.

And thank you for the encouragement.
 

MikeG

Senior Member.
Shouldn't it be conspiracy THEORIES?
That question goes right to the heart of the course. I gave it a lot of thought when I started developing the course.

I decided that it could include both actual conspiracies as well as the bogus enterprises that we are very familiar with on this website. Some of these case studies are both. The Protocols of the Elders of Zion was fakery concocted by individuals with a specific purpose in mind. Communist conspiracies were real in many cases, although Joe McCarthy looked for too many in the wrong places and manipulated paranoia.

I think (or hope, better yet) that the research methods that accompany the historical examples will help the kids understand the distinctions between an actual conspiracy and a conspiracy theory.

I hope that makes sense.
 

MikeG

Senior Member.
And, I'm sure you're way ahead of me on this, but I just really believe in taking a little time at the
beginning of a class to set the tone...to make clear how necessary a respectful discussion space is.
Just one hyper-opinionated (and loud) zealot can foul a vibe. Maybe even start with a quote or two
like Churchill's classic: "A fanatic is one who can't change his mind and won't change the subject."

Best of luck!
I think that the approach taken by this website is a good one to emulate. I all my courses, I usually start off by making the distinction between an opinion and an academic argument. But the advice is well-taken.
 
Last edited by a moderator:

MikeG

Senior Member.
Hopefully my nitpicking won't be misinterpreted here, but perhaps "these" or "some" [SH parents have set up...] would be a better use of phrase.
Obviously this is a good cause, as they all are- but for instance, claims like "the Sandy Hook parents are trying to take our rights away by advocating for gun control" or "Newtown is trying to take your rights away" are all misnomers. They are not technically accurate claims. SOME family members* (certainly not the majority,) are actively calling for additional gun control measures.
*I say family members because they are not all PARENTS.

I dont think it's fair for hoaxers or truthers or sceptics to throw all these families together on every topic all the time, which happens quite a bit. This Honr network cause is probably a silly example to bring this up on (as it doesnt cause conflict), but CTs and gun extremists use the implication that ALL the parents are collaborating to have guns taken away as "proof" of motive.

Just one of my pet peeves, which we all are guilty of from time to time. Sorry for going off topic @MikeG
I think it is on topic. Metabunk often talks about what motivates a conspiracy theorist. Almost all my reading for the class introduces the subject of motive as part of causation.

The Sandy Hook article will be very helpful.
 

Engineer

Active Member
Some of us used common sense and never believed it.

As Deidre said, if everyone knows it's not true except little children, who are told about Santa to keep them quiet till Xmas, it's not a conspiracy.
I must say the thought of a 4 year old kid with enough common sense not to believe is pretty frightening. Don't want to sway too far off topic here but the level of unwarranted belief in conspiracies just because some authority figure told them so has many analogies to the mentality of naive children. The YouTube videos like the cartoons and Santa stuff. Of course conspiracy can have several definitions but the level of conspiring that it took in our household to keep the littlest kids rooted in the belief while the older ones were dying to let them know the truth was staggering. Coverups, false evidence planted and even bribes and pleas.
 

deirdre

Senior Member.
I must say the thought of a 4 year old kid with enough common sense not to believe is pretty frightening. Don't want to sway too far off topic here but the level of unwarranted belief in conspiracies just because some authority figure told them so has many analogies to the mentality of naive children. The YouTube videos like the cartoons and Santa stuff. Of course conspiracy can have several definitions but the level of conspiring that it took in our household to keep the littlest kids rooted in the belief while the older ones were dying to let them know the truth was staggering. Coverups, false evidence planted and even bribes and pleas.
actually NORAD, the post office and the media (news people) are in on it too! I might have to write an article how Santa proves false flags :confused:
 

MikeG

Senior Member.
As Mick suggested, I gave out the 2013 Public Policy Polling survey to my conspiracy class. I managed to compile the numbers last week. My class percentages come first, followed by the PPP percentages in parenthesis.

Some of my student answers indicated an interesting degree of realism right from the start.

Q1 Do you believe global warming is a hoax, or not?
Do 4% (37%)
Do not 91% (51%)
Not sure 4% (12%)

Q8 Do you believe President Barack Obama is the anti-Christ, or not?
Do 0% (13%)
Do not 87% (73%)
Not sure 13% (13%)

Q13 Do you believe that shape-shifting reptilian people control our world by taking on human form and gaining political power to manipulate our societies, or not?
Do 0% (4%)
Do not 96% (88%)
Not sure 4% (7%)

[Bad news for David Icke!] ;)


In some respects, my students tracked fairly closely with the national results.

Q2 Do you believe Osama bin Laden is still alive, or not?
Do 8% (6%)
Do not 74% (83%)
Not sure 17% (11%)


In others, they were far more vested in conspiracy theories.

Q17 Do you believe that the exhaust seen in the sky behind airplanes is actually chemicals sprayed by the government for sinister reasons, or not?
Do 30% (5%)
Do not 52% (87%)
Not sure 17% (8%)

Q20 Do you believe the United States government knowingly allowed the attacks on September 11th, 2001, to happen, or not?
Do 43% (11%)
Do not 39% (78%)
Not sure 17% (11%)

It looks like I may have my work cut out for me. Right now, we are working our way through The Protocols of the Elders of Zion.

I’ll post additional updates as the semester continues.
 

Henk001

Senior Member.
I missed the start of this thread last december, so it is a bit "mustard after the meal"*, but are you going to talk about the moon hoax CT?
* literally translated from dutch, meaning sth like "too little, too late"
 

George B

Extinct but not forgotten Staff Member
As Mick suggested, I gave out the 2013 Public Policy Polling survey to my conspiracy class. I managed to compile the numbers last week. My class percentages come first, followed by the PPP percentages in parenthesis.

Some of my student answers indicated an interesting degree of realism right from the start.

Q1 Do you believe global warming is a hoax, or not?
Do 4% (37%)
Do not 91% (51%)
Not sure 4% (12%)

Q8 Do you believe President Barack Obama is the anti-Christ, or not?
Do 0% (13%)
Do not 87% (73%)
Not sure 13% (13%)

Q13 Do you believe that shape-shifting reptilian people control our world by taking on human form and gaining political power to manipulate our societies, or not?
Do 0% (4%)
Do not 96% (88%)
Not sure 4% (7%)

[Bad news for David Icke!] ;)


In some respects, my students tracked fairly closely with the national results.

Q2 Do you believe Osama bin Laden is still alive, or not?
Do 8% (6%)
Do not 74% (83%)
Not sure 17% (11%)


In others, they were far more vested in conspiracy theories.

Q17 Do you believe that the exhaust seen in the sky behind airplanes is actually chemicals sprayed by the government for sinister reasons, or not?
Do 30% (5%)
Do not 52% (87%)
Not sure 17% (8%)

Q20 Do you believe the United States government knowingly allowed the attacks on September 11th, 2001, to happen, or not?
Do 43% (11%)
Do not 39% (78%)
Not sure 17% (11%)

It looks like I may have my work cut out for me. Right now, we are working our way through The Protocols of the Elders of Zion.

I’ll post additional updates as the semester continues.
Do you have any theories on why your students are more vested in these particular conspiracies?
 

Mick West

Administrator
Staff member
Q17 Do you believe that the exhaust seen in the sky behind airplanes is actually chemicals sprayed by the government for sinister reasons, or not?
Do 30% (5%)
Do not 52% (87%)
Not sure 17% (8%)
That's a particularly disheartening number. I'm presuming though they are young, around 20? Still that's double the number for the 18-29 range for the Public Policy Polling (see below). Perhaps though it just shows how concentrated the belief is in the 18-22 range, as it drops off precipitously in the next age range.

20160201-055158-gvfvs.jpg
 

deirdre

Senior Member.
Do you have any theories on why your students are more vested in these particular conspiracies?
Because CT students are more likely to sign up for a course on CTs? and college students tend to lean "liberal" more than older adults?
 

deirdre

Senior Member.
@MikeG Since other than "chemtrails" the topics you list for this course are incredibly dull. So i'm wondering what percentage of females signed up for the course.
 

George B

Extinct but not forgotten Staff Member
Because CT students are more likely to sign up for a course on CTs? and college students tend to lean "liberal" more than older adults?
So the more liberal politically the more likely to accept conspiracies?
 

Mick West

Administrator
Staff member
no. the more liberal the less likely to think Obama is the antichrist :D
And less likely to think global warming is a hoax. Interesting that there's a 0% on the anti-christ figure, which suggests the group is both liberal and secular.

Although, 5% Of the people who voted for Obama thought he was the Anti-Christ. That possibly suggests that 5% of the people taking the test were not taking it seriously.

20160201-070125-tdk6o.jpg 20160201-070136-fpgqm.jpg

Fascinating stuff, and thank you @MikeG for keeping us up to date.
 
Last edited:

George B

Extinct but not forgotten Staff Member
no. but as you are demonstrating, men are more likely to not actually LISTEN when a females speaks. :p
I actually think there may be a sexual difference in specific conspiracy acceptance. While overall the differences may be similar. Seems as shown above age may play a role in the degree of acceptance.
 

MikeG

Senior Member.
I missed the start of this thread last december, so it is a bit "mustard after the meal"*, but are you going to talk about the moon hoax CT?
* literally translated from dutch, meaning sth like "too little, too late"
I'm not. I am looking at specific case studies mentioned in the OP:

Protocols of the Elders of Zion
The “Stab in the Back”
The Communist Conspiracy
The Kennedy Assassination
9/11
Contrails and Chemtrails

But, students are also responsible for group projects, where they can advocate a particular conspiracy of choice. We are forming other groups to debunk these chosen conspiracies. As it turns out, one group did pick the moon landing.
 

MikeG

Senior Member.
That's a particularly disheartening number. I'm presuming though they are young, around 20? Still that's double the number for the 18-29 range for the Public Policy Polling (see below). Perhaps though it just shows how concentrated the belief is in the 18-22 range, as it drops off precipitously in the next age range.

View attachment 17311
To answer both George B and Mick, the students are all in the youngest demographic. I definitely think that age and how they access information has an impact on their beliefs.
 

Mick West

Administrator
Staff member
To answer both George B and Mick, the students are all in the youngest demographic. I definitely think that age and how they access information has an impact on their beliefs.
What's their approximate median age?
 
Thread starter Related Articles Forum Replies Date
Mick West Conspiracy Watch: Umpqua Community College Shooting, Roseburg Oregon Conspiracy Theories 90
derwoodii Laser could trigger rain and lightning UCF College of Optics & Photonics General Discussion 5
Mick West Santa Monica College (SMC) Shooting near Obama visit Conspiracy Theories 44
JFDee 9/11 Conspiracy Idea Slipped into Academic Course Material (France) 9/11 8
scombrid Debunked: Chemtrails and Chembombs Cause Hurricane Isaac to Change Course Contrails and Chemtrails 5
Mick West TFTRH #44 - Steven Hassan: Cults and Conspiracies Tales From the Rabbit Hole Podcast 2
A Why 9/11 Truthers Are Wrong About The Facts | (Part 1 w/ Mick West) 9/11 1
Mick West Coronavis and the Food Supply: News, Rumors, Spin, and Conspiracies Coronavirus COVID-19 5
Mick West TFTRH #11: Jim Lee – Chemtrails, Geoengineering, Conspiracies, and Semantics Tales From the Rabbit Hole Podcast 1
Mick West 2018 Hurricane Season and Weather Control Conspiracies Current Events 16
Mick West Eruption of Kilauea Volcano in Hawaii – Conspiracies and Science Current Events 34
MikeG Claim: DC officials are "flocking" to "Doomsday Camps" Conspiracy Theories 4
MikeG Resilient Cities Contrails and Chemtrails 0
Mick West Cults, Conspiracies, and Addiction - Similarities and Differences in Interaction Approaches Practical Debunking 12
MikeG Everything wrong with Hillary Clinton/Medical Conspiracies Conspiracy Theories 8
MikeG Florida Zika Response a "Martial Law Exercise" Conspiracy Theories 0
MikeG VA Taking Veterans' Guns Conspiracy Theories 0
MikeG Explained: UN Vehicles Spotted (Again) in the US [Delivery from US Manufacturer to Overseas] Conspiracy Theories 13
MikeG Unreported Abuse of US Troops Conspiracy Theories 0
MikeG FBI Spying on School Children Conspiracy Theories 0
Mick West Explained: Why Clouds Appear Behind the Sun and Moon Flat Earth 58
CeruleanBlu Project scientist Eric Korpela talks about SETI, aliens, and government conspiracies. UFOs, Aliens, Monsters, and the Paranormal 0
derrick06 Debunked: HAARP ELF waves causing a earthquake Contrails and Chemtrails 12
vooke Need debunking:Ebola conspiracies video Conspiracy Theories 10
MikeC Lorde conspiracies General Discussion 21
BlueCollarCritic Debunked Conspiracies Update - The Government Is Not Confiscating Guns General Discussion 18
Cairenn Washington Post Blog on weather conspiracies Contrails and Chemtrails 11
AluminumTheory Zimmerman Trial Conspiracies..... Conspiracy Theories 12
jvnk08 Chomsky dispels 9/11 conspiracies with sheer logic [video] 9/11 385
Cairenn Pres Kennedy on conspiracies Conspiracy Theories 0
B Backpack conspiracies Boston Marathon Bombings 1
Cairenn Debunked: Gulf of Mexico oil spill conspiracies Conspiracy Theories 22
Dan Wilson Why do people believe conspiracies? General Discussion 86
Mick West Election Conspiracies Conspiracy Theories 52
Giuliano Taverna satanic cults/conspiracies Conspiracy Theories 7
Related Articles



































Related Articles

Top