Tag Archives: conspiracy

People who harbor conspiracy theories are willing to get the vaccine — as long as their friends do, too

Well before the pandemic swept the world, scientists established a strong association between having a conspirative mentality that rejects mainstream ideas and vaccine hesitancy. The more entrenched the conspiratory thinking, the more likely that person is to reject vaccines. However, even people who harbor such viewpoints can be convinced to get a COVID vaccine just as readily as those without a conspiracy mindset as long as their close circle of friends and family are pro-vaccine.

Such was the conclusion of a new study led by Kevin Winter, a senior researcher at the Social Processes Lab at the University of Tübingen, Germany. These findings suggest that friends and perhaps even the community at large can play a major role in reducing vaccine hesitancy.

Winter and colleagues were motivated to embark on this study due to the now sizable body of evidence linking conspiracy theories with anti-vax sentiment and even COVID denial. Some believe that COVID-19 is a business for health care workers and doctors are diagnosing every fever as COVID-19 for their own financial benefit.

However, there are many social, cultural, and political factors that can play a vital role in the decision-making regarding vaccine acceptance and refusal. For their own part, the researchers in Germany wondered if the influence of a conspiracy mentality can be counterbalanced by social norms.

To test this hypothesis, they conducted five studies involving over 1,200 adults from Germany, who were questioned about their attitudes towards vaccines and were assessed regarding their general conspiracy mentality.

Each study was very similar in scope and design but involved a different type of vaccine, including a hypothetical vaccine needed for traveling abroad, a hepatitis B vaccine for one’s real or imaginary child, a seasonal flu vaccine, a vaccine against the tick-borne encephalitis virus (TBEV), and a COVID-19 vaccine when available (when the study was conducted COVID vaccines were yet to be available).

In each instance, the participants had to report how inclined they were to take the vaccine in question but also estimate the extent to which their friends and families would support the vaccine.

Remarkably, the results showed that nearly for every vaccine, having loved ones that supported vaccination canceled out the relationship between conspiracy mentality and vaccine hesitancy. The only exception was the study with the flu vaccine.

“The central point of our paper is that being susceptible to conspiracy theories is not unconditionally related to lower vaccination intentions. The crucial factor is what close others think about the vaccination,” Winter told PsyPost.

“Our findings suggest that when friends and families approve of a vaccination, conspiracy beliefs no longer play a role in predicting vaccination intentions. Thus, signaling a favorable attitude towards vaccinations to close others who are prone to conspiracy theories might do the trick in reducing their vaccine hesitancy.”

“Our findings generalize across a row of different vaccinations,” Winter added. “The expectations of close others do not only play a role with regard to the COVID-19 vaccination, but also, for instance, for the willingness to get a travel vaccination.”

These findings may prove important when devising communication and outreach strategies meant to increase vaccine compliance. This is especially relevant today when in the US and most of Europe the vast majority of people who wanted a vaccine have received one, the remaining population being hesitant. Scaling this wall is rife with many challenges, though. For instance, this study is careful to note that those with deeply entrenched conspiracy worldviews rejected vaccination out of principle. These individuals may also tend to surround themselves with people who share the same values. As such, these findings only apply to people who are somewhat susceptible to conspiracies and are hesitant towards vaccination but nevertheless have friends who can steer them in the right direction.

The study appeared in the British Journal of Health Psychology.

Haha3.

Conspiracy theories and anti-vaccine sentiments go hand-in-hand

People with a propensity to believe conspiracy theories also generally think that vaccines are unsafe, new research reports.

Haha3.

The picture is appropriately entitled “haha3” on wikimedia.
Image via Wikimedia user ggggggg.

People who believe John F. Kennedy was assassinated following an elaborate plot, that chemtrails really are the gov’nment’s fingers wiping your brain clean and that sort of fluff, are more likely to also think vaccines are unsafe — despite any and all scientific evidence to the contrary, research from the American Psychological Association shows.

“Vaccinations are one of society’s greatest achievements and one of the main reasons that people live about 30 years longer than a century ago,” said lead researcher Matthew Hornsey, a PhD at the University of Queensland.

“Therefore, it is fascinating to learn about why some people are so fearful of them.”

The study is the first of its kind to analyze the link between beliefs in conspiracy theories and anti-vaccination attitudes across a global sample, Hornesy says. Between April and mid-May 2016, he and his co-authors surveyed 5,323 people from 24 countries on five continents using online questionnaires. These were designed to measure anti-vaccination attitudes and belief in four conspiracy theories: that Princess Diana was murdered, that the American government knew about the 9/11 attacks in advance and let them happen, that a shadowy group of elites exists — plotting a new world order– or that John F. Kennedy was murdered as part of an elaborate plot.

The psychological roots of anti-vaxxing

Regardless of country, those with strong beliefs in conspiracy theories were more likely to also hold antivaccination attitudes. The correlation held for all the theories the team inquired over. This suggests that it’s not a particular belief but rather the general predisposition toward conspiracy theories that is linked with the conviction that vaccines are bad.

The relationship between the two is also direct and proportional: the more a person believed in any one of these theories, the more they viewed vaccines in a negative light. Education levels had a very small impact on anti-vaccine attitudes — the authors describe this find as ‘surprising’, however, as someone who constantly has to purge his social media feed of the (otherwise quite educated) anti-vaxxers which keep popping up there, I can attest it’s anything but.

“People often develop attitudes through emotional and gut responses,” Hornsey said. “Simply repeating evidence makes little difference to those who have antivaccination attitudes.”

He explains that large pharmaceutical companies, which derive profit from selling vaccines, are often targets for conspiracy theorists.

Many equate these companies making profits to veiled, vested interests which aim to force vaccines onto the public in order to make more money.

And honestly, I wholeheartedly agree that big pharma has a veiled interest in making money and that’s an ethics conflict — but the only way to make people buy those products, vaccines included, is to actually make sure they work.

“Trying to reduce people’s conspiracy beliefs is notoriously difficult,” Hornsey added. “An alternative possibility is to acknowledge the possibility of conspiracies, but to highlight how there are vested interests on the other side too. Vested interests that are motivated to obscure the benefits of vaccination and to exaggerate their dangers.”

[READ FURTHER] Here’s what’s inside a flu shot.

Other findings of the paper are that anti-vaccine attitudes were also linked to intolerance towards a perceived limiting of freedom by others, a disgust towards blood and needles, as well as an individualistic worldview.

If you’re thinking of skipping vaccines for your child, please don’t. Not only does it put your children at risk, but it does so too for everybody else’s, and everybody else too.

The paper “The Psychological Roots of Anti-Vaccination Attitudes: A 24-Nation Investigation” has been published in the journal Health Psychology.

First peer review paper on chemtrails finds exactly what you’d expect — it’s all pseudoscience

Pack up your tinfoil hats and sit down, conspiracy buffs everywhere, because I have some bad news — chemtrails aren’t a thing. The conspiracy theory, according to which shady organizations or even governments use aircraft to seed all sorts of chemicals into the air we breathe, just doesn’t stand up to scrutiny, finds the first peer-reviewed study on the subject.

Image via wikimedia

Ah, chemtrails. These glorious, elegant, white trails that airplanes leave in their wake have long been, without any form of proof, believed to be the government’s way of…I don’t know really. Controlling the weather? Controlling our minds? Something nefarious, anyway. Still, the conspiracy theory is going strong, unabated by the total lack of evidence. A 2011 international survey showed that nearly 17 percent of respondents believed in secret, large-scale spraying programs. Humans are very good at finding explanations to fit their beliefs, and everything from how long a trail lasts in the sky, differences in color or shape have been cited as proof that The Government is pumping chemicals into the air, man!

The sad thing is that there actually is an explanation for why these trails form. They’re called contrails, short for condensation trails, and it’s been shown that they form as water vapor condenses around aerosols in aircraft exhaust. The scientific community has been reluctant to engage the issue head on, however, as they do with nearly every piece of pseudoscience or conspiracy theory out there.

Why? I don’t know. Maybe researchers feel that there are better issues to spend their time on, or that their reputation will suffer if they discuss one of these subjects. Maybe they just think that no amount of evidence is going to dissuade some people.

Whatever the cause, ignoring these issues isn’t in anyone’s best interest. Luckily, a team stepped up and published the first peer-reviewed journal article regarding chemtrails. They report not finding any evidence of covert large-scale chemical spraying programs going on, and concluded that distinctive ‘chemtrail’ patterns in the sky can all be explained by the regular science of water vapor.

“We wanted to establish a scientific record on the topic of secret atmospheric spraying programs for the benefit of those in the public who haven’t made up their minds,” said lead researcher Steven Davis from the University of California, Irvine.

“The experts we surveyed resoundingly rejected contrail photographs and test results as evidence of a large-scale atmospheric conspiracy.”

The team interviewed 77 scientists, atmospheric chemists who specialize in condensation trails or geochemists working on atmospheric deposition of dust and pollution. Out of this group, 76 said they hadn’t come across evidence of secret, large-scale spraying programs. The 77th said she came across a “high levels of atmospheric barium in a remote area with standard ‘low’ soil barium.”

In other words, a geochemical imbalance that could be caused by chemicals being sprayed into the atmosphere but no evidence of it actually happening.

The researchers were also shown four images that are commonly circulated as chemtrails, and all of them agreed they were all ordinary contrails. They even provided peer-reviewed citations to back up their statement.

“Despite the persistence of erroneous theories about atmospheric chemical spraying programs, until now there were no peer-reviewed academic studies showing that what some people think are ‘chemtrails’ are just ordinary contrails, which are becoming more abundant as air travel expands,” said one of the researchers, Ken Caldeira from the Carnegie Institution for Science.

“Also, it is possible that climate change is causing contrails to persist for longer periods than they used to.”

The researchers also suggested that contrails are more common these days simply because air travel is becoming more regular.

The team says that their research probably won’t convince anyone who already has their mind made up that chemtrails are real, but they hope it will offer people new to the topic some objective information for when they research chemtrails.

“I felt it was important to definitively show what real experts in contrails and aerosols think,” said Caldeira. “We might not convince die-hard believers that their beloved secret spraying program is just a paranoid fantasy, but hopefully their friends will accept the facts.”

The full paper “Quantifying expert consensus against the existence of a secret, large-scale atmospheric spraying program” has been published in Environmental Research Letters.

Moon landing hoax

Fake moon landings would have been uncovered within a few years, same as other conspiracies

There are some conspiracies that people genuinely believe are real, owing to various more or less rational explanations. Yet, while some conspiracies are real, most aren’t. For a conspiracy to be effective (meaning you don’t know someone is conspiring) then it needs to be a secret or, alternatively, make it so preposterous that those divulging the conspiracy are made to look like lunatics. Generally speaking, few people need to be involved for this to work. The more, the harder it is to maintain the hoax. Using estimates of how many people are involved in some of the  major alleged conspiracies, one scientist modeled how long it would take for them to be revealed to the public. In the case of the fake moon landing conspiracy, it would take at most three years and eight months for the event to be confirmed as a hoax. Suffice to say that five decades later there has been no credible evidence to support this allegation.

Moon landing hoax

Credit: Thomas Herbrich/AnzenbergerGallery/PDNB Gallery.

Dr David Grimes of Oxford University calculated what are the odds of a whistler-blower, like Edward Snowden, exposing a conspiracy or an accidental leak taking place. Parameters for the model are estimated from literature examples of known scandals. If  2,521 people are involved in a plot, than it will likely be revealed no later than five years’ time. A plot can stay undetected for 10 years if 1,000 people are involved, while a century-long conspiracy needs fewer than 125 collaborators.

Grimes applied this model to four real-life scenarios: the moon landing is fake, climate change is a hoax, vaccines are dangerous and deliberately given to the populace and the cure for cancer exists but suppressed by big pharma.

“A number of conspiracy theories revolve around science. While believing the Moon landings were faked may not be harmful, believing misinformation about vaccines can be fatal,” said Dr Grimes.

“However, not every belief in a conspiracy is necessarily wrong – for example, the Snowden revelations confirmed some theories about the activities of the US National Security Agency (NSA).

“It is common to dismiss conspiracy theories and their proponents out of hand but I wanted to take the opposite approach, to see how these conspiracies might be possible. To do that, I looked at the vital requirement for a viable conspiracy – secrecy.”

The moon landing conspiracy suggests that Neil Armstrong, as well as the other astronauts from the other five Apollo moon landings, never actually made it to the moon. Instead, it was all staged inside a studio, realistically filmed such that to give the impression that the astronauts set foot on the moon. Evidence justifying this rhetoric includes Buzz Aldrin planting a waving American flag on the moon, which critics say proves that he was not in space. The flag’s movement, they say, clearly shows the presence of wind, which is impossible in a vacuum. NASA says that Aldrin twisted the flag when he posted it in the lunar soil, hence wiggly movements. Others claim Stanley Kubrick may have helped NASA fake the first lunar landing, given that his 1968 film 2001: A Space Odessey proves that the technology existed back then to artificially create a spacelike set. Then there’s the case of astronauts  Virgil I. Grissom, Edward H. White and Roger B. Chaffee who all died in a fire while testing equipment destined for the first lunar mission. The three might have not agreed to go along with the conspiracy, and were executed.

The Oxford researcher modeled his calculation on previously exposed scandals, like NSA Prism, the Tuskegee syphilis experiment, or FBI intentionally doctored forensic evidence. Image: PLOS One

The Oxford researcher modeled his calculation on previously exposed scandals, like NSA Prism, the Tuskegee syphilis experiment, or FBI intentionally doctored forensic evidence. Image: PLOS One

Many of these claims do not actually prove these conspiracies are real. The same claims aren’t necessarily proven wrong either, which is what makes them appealing. A lot of things don’t add up for the fake moon landing conspiracy. For one, the moon landings were a direct race to the top between the U.S. and the Soviet Union. The soviets must have carefully monitored the U.S. attempts and tracked their lander landing on the moon. If it was fake, it would have been in the Soviet’s best interest to expose it. After all, the Soviets didn’t even try to land cosmonauts on the moon there after. Hundreds of samples of lunar rocks were taken home and independently analyzed by many universities around the world. Then… you can see the flags American astronauts hoisted on the moon to this day, still there undisturbed after decades.

apollo 16 flag

The Apollo 16 mission flag, still in place to this day, as seen in this photo captured by the LRO. (c) NASA

Apollo 17 traces left on the moon. Image: NASA

Apollo 17 traces left on the moon. Image: NASA

Grimes’ model suggests that given the 411,000 people working at NASA at the time, the moon landing would have been revealed as fake in  three years and eight months. The climate change conspiracy, involving 405,000 scientists and research staff, would have lasted just three years and nine months. If Big Pharma had a cure for cancer, this should have been credibly revealed to the world within three years and three months, Dr Grimes concludes in the journal PLOS One.

conspiracy

Image: PLOS One

“‘Not everyone who believes in a conspiracy is unreasonable or unthinking. I hope that by showing how eye-wateringly unlikely some alleged conspiracies are, some people will reconsider their anti-science beliefs.Ț

“This will of course not convince everyone; there’s ample evidence that belief in conspiracy is often ideological rather than rational, and that conspiracy theories thrive in an echo chamber. This makes challenging the more odious narratives much more difficult.

“If we are to address the multitudinous difficulties facing us as a species, from climate change to geopolitics, then we need to embrace reality over ideologically motivated fictions.

“To this end, we need to better understand how and why some ideas are entrenched and persistent among certain groups despite the evidence, and how we might counteract this.”

 

curiosity rover imaging camera

Curiosity spots what looks like a Martian camp fire, alas it’s nothing of the sorts

Curiosity rover captures a strange flare on the Martian surface

Curiosity rover captures a strange flare on the Martian surface. PHOTO JPL

The photo right above was captured by the Curiosity Rover’s right-hand navigation camera , currently deployed on Mars and on route to Mount Sharp, which shows a striking flare of light seemingly torching near the horizon. Taken on April 4th, the photo somehow made its way to the general public (bad idea NASA) and stirred international turmoil back on Earth, where ufologists dissected and scrambled the photo on all its sides. Clearly, this is proof that artificial light sources exist on Mars, and who else than Martian could have made them? The truth may actually be much simpler.

[READ] Mars covered in water: what the planet must have looked like billions of year ago

zoom_martian_flare

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The couple of meters tall flare is evidence that may indicate that there is intelligent life on Mars, which lives underground, that uses light sources similarly to us humans, says  Scott Waring, a ufologist who runs the fantastic UFO Sightings Daily website. So what does NASA have to say about all this? The agency said that these sort of flares, albeit maybe not this large or striking, appear in photos and video streams a  few times every month, and that there various reason why this may happen: sunlight beaming off a sharp rock with Curiosity’s camera facing it just at the right angle, sunlight striking the  CCD imaging sensor directly through a hole in the camera’s housing or, unlikely enough, a a high-powered cosmic ray picking that exact moment to strike the sensor.

NASA’s policy of dealing with conspiracy theories is the same like dealing with terrorists: no negotiation. Ideally, the rover could have gone straight to the flare’s location and investigate, but the Curiosity mission is not some child’s play science project. It’s a multi-billion project whose primary goal is that of finding evidence or signs of present or past life on Mars – this flare doesn’t count, and the team at the  Jet Propulsion Lab need to stick to their plan if they’re chances of success are not to fall. The rover is currently on route to the base of Mount Sharp, where it will continue its investigations, but even on this course, which has been extensively mapped and configured for maximum safety, there are perils – sharp stones that can perforate its wheels, loose stones that can trap the machine and more. With so much at stake, no one feels like risking it all for some old wives’ tale.

In the rover’s defense, Curiosity has already proved its worth and plenty! Its findings prove that Mars was once capable of sustaining life, held important quantities of water and much more.

Also, to further enlighten conspiracy theorists I present exhibit B. While the first shot was taken by Curiosity’s right-hand CCD, the one below was taken exactly one second after with the left-hand navigation camera. The ghostly flare has vanished and went back whence it came.

curiosity rover imaging camera

Photo: Curiosity Rover left-hand camera view. PHOTO JPL

 

 

Feeling amuck makes people see inexistant patterns

patternIt’s natural that when you are stressed out, you tend to search for an explanation for your current situation and to search for answers; too many people have felt this and this is a global issue even without the economy crisis that struck us. But in such times when you feel that your finances are getting out of control, it’s really necessary to calm down and take a deep breath.

A study conducted by Jennifer Whitson, a management scholar at the University of Texas, Austin pointed out that the desire for such an explanation creates the need to see certain patterns that just aren’t there. She has gone further in the direction of some older studies, for example the one which pointed out that there is a connection between back stock performance and the how many people buy horoscopes, and that’s not really hard to understand. When things go bad, most people just want to look for the stars, instead of actually doing something useful.

Going further in the footsteps of such studies, she teamed up with psychologist Adam Galinsky and she asked 41 undergratuates to remember two different situations; one in which they lacked control, and one in which they had total control. Then they had to read some may or may not have influenced that certain event and speak about it.

They also had to do other things. Those in the loss of control group were more likely to see nonexistent objects in fuzzy images that looked like a snowy TV screen and they suspected conspiracies in some scenarios more often. What’s the worst about this study is that it shows that the mind has the tendency to create such scenarios when we need it the most.

“This suggests that we’re going to exhibit these tendencies at the times when they’re most dangerous for us,” Ariely says. His advice: Question your intuitions more and consult the experts, whose knowledge and experience may give them a better sense of control.”