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Pseudoscience & the “study” of “conspiracy beliefs” from message board postings

Originally published at the Political Film Blog by Joe Giambrone on 10/25/15

I read with some interest your “study” of some message board postings concerning the September 11th attacks. I found your efforts less than compelling. Random samplings of arguments on message boards are a legitimate way to understand the September 11th 2001 attacks? No. But it is a convenient way of lumping large disparate groups of people into simplistic categories in order to smear them.

Image of M. Wood study citation based on postings
An open letter to Michael J. Wood et al.
Regarding: “What about building 7?” A social psychological study of online discussion of 9/11 conspiracy theories

As someone who has intensely studied the issue for some 13 years and counting, I would have to say that your approach is hamfisted, ignorant, and even juvenile. You and your partners have relied upon your own concepts of “belief” and “theory” and the utterances of message board posters, but lack a firm foundation to compare or contrast any of the information that was analyzed.

In other words, you don’t have an expert knowledge of the US government cover-up of the September 11th event (or even acknowledge it), nor of the many high-level government whistleblowers surrounding this issue. You lack an even rudimentary understanding of the event, and therefore have no basis to judge the competing arguments, at all. Nor do you concede the obvious fact of conspiracies throughout history, actual state crimes, of which there are numerous examples. This would lead to an examination of motive, and that the state gains an incredible amount of power after failing to stop an attack, including the power to wage foreign wars of aggression with impunity.

You know: 1 + 1=2 type stuff.

It is not difficult to engage in a conspiracy. Any two individuals on planet earth can commit a crime together, and voila: there’s a conspiracy. The idea that conspiracy is rare or even non-existent(!), as some mainstream media pundits have argued, is absurd on its face and should discredit the author entirely. As an obvious example, you–as someone purportedly studying government conspiracy–should be well versed in the Iran-Contra fiasco of the 1980s. Colonel Oliver North was convicted, with ten others, to refresh your memory. So, is someone who “believes” in the Iran-Contra conspiracy more or less prone to “belief” in conspiracy, as per your definitions and comprehension?

Clearly we have a problem when you divide the public based upon generalizations that cannot possibly hold true when tested against real historical facts. The knowledge, or ignorance, of these facts is paramount.

So, Mr. Wood, did the Iran-Contra conspiracy happen? Are you a “conspiracist?” Do you engage in “belief” about it?

Next, your “psychological study” has not even a mention of the concept of disinformation. This omission discredits your work. Disinformation is the deliberate seeding of the public debate with false data in order to muddy the waters and make discovery of the true facts of the conspiracy more difficult. It throws off the dogs. Disinformation is rampant and easily achieved as soon as any individual concocts a false narrative and presses “send” or “post.” Apparently this has never occurred to your team, as it received zero scrutiny.

Some number of message board trolls will turn out to be posting disinformation, in my decade-plus experience with them, a situation your study failed to even conceptualize, nevermind correct for. Others post misinformation. This is the problem with relying upon message board flame wars for your data.

Therefore your study is tangential and irrelevant to learning what actually happened. Its approach reinforces the idea that psychological pseudoscience has relevance to the facts of real world crimes and terrorist events. It champions a specious view, one founded upon ignorance and random arguments over misinformation and disinformation, rather than seeking to understand what is actually known and what is unknown, to date, about the criminal attacks you purport to study.

Similarly your “study” commented on other controversial topics without any accompanying examination of something the rest of the world likes to call “evidence.” You and your cohorts feel supremely confident in pronouncing sweeping generalizations about “belief” without providing context as to why someone would hold such a belief (factual evidence). It is for this exact reason that I have labeled your efforts “pseudoscience.” You have divorced some abstract concept called “belief” from the hard evidence that causes such “belief.” Cause and effect are alien to your own theories, at least as presented in your “psychological study.” Your article ends up lightweight pondering and lacks the gravity of facts, or the due diligence required to examine and test those facts.

You have come to this party from ignorance, and you remain there, blissfully unaware of the veracity of any of the data, whatsoever. That’s a pretty harsh criticism, but is warranted.


Mr. Wood, was the September 11th attack not a “conspiracy?”

Joe Giambrone

See Related:

Other posts by Joe Giambrone and here.
The Facts Speak for Themselves.