A research paper recently made available on line makes an interesting point about belief in conspiracy theories: In a pair of studies, willingness to credit one such theory appears to correlate with a willingness to believe another, even when the two beliefs directly contradict each other.
More specifically (quoting the paper’s abstract), “the more participants [in a study] believed that Princess Diana faked her own death, the more they believed that she was murdered,” and “the more participants believed that Osama Bin Laden was already dead when U.S. special forces raided his compound in Pakistan, the more they believed he is still alive.”
The paper is “Dead and Alive: Beliefs in Contradictory Conspiracy Theories” by Michael J. Wood, Karen M. Douglas, and Robbie M. Sutton of the University of Kent. You can access a PDF file here.
I am a PhD student and am highly conscious of what we know as a REAL facts and the silly urban myths that get circulated because they seem to have the appearance of a scientific “fact”. Some myths are funny like “we only use 10% of our brain” (well perhaps people who believe this myth do) and the moon is actually Atlantis. This is all fairly harmless, however I was browsing through some questions about why people may feel sick after receiving a vaccination. To my disappointment the best rated answer was someone spouting conspiracy theories and a dangerously distorted view of the facts. My concern is that most scientific debates take decades to be resolved one way or the other and during this period a number contradictory views of the evidence will emerge, often to the confusion of the public. For example, there seems to be contradictory evidence regarding whether coffee is good or bad for us (the answer so far: it depends). So my question is do services like Yahoo help informing people or does it just facilitate the spread of misinformation?