Jan 232014
 


Christchurch lecturer loses job when
scientific “web of deceit” is unraveled.


SpiderPig
In a joint announcement in London on January 22, the Royal Entomological Society and the British Arachnological Society have announced what many biologists have long suspected: that spiders are just a type of insect and not a separate species.

Professor of entomology Benjamin Siegel was joined on stage by arachnologist Professor Peter Parker for a press conference at the London Natural History Museum. Professor Parker, in an emotional speech, said that while it was difficult for him personally to “climb down from a web of deceit”, he thought it was “best for science” to admit that arachnology was “junk science”, and to rationalise the study of spiders, incorporating the study of all of “God’s creepy crawly creatures” into the more respectable field of entomology.

“It’s something that has been bugging me for the last six or eight years, I forget which. I started getting this tingling sensation when I read about the secret of the origin of arachnology…” At that point, Professor Parker became too emotional to continue, with his appearance also beginning to alter slightly. Professor Siegel quickly took the microphone while Professor Parker was rushed offstage.

“What Professor Parker was referring to was the foundation not only of the separate branch of ‘arachnology’, but the compartmentalisation of academia in general led by Thomas Henry Huxley. Mr Huxley is remembered today as the grandfather of Aldous and Julian Huxley, but in his day, he was best known as a great promoter of Sir Charles Darwin and his theory of evolution. In fact, he was known as ‘Darwin’s bulldog‘. Actually, he looked a lot like a bulldog, but that may have been from, uh, shall we say, a certain lack of, erm, genetic diversity in the Huxley bloodline.”

Professor Siegel went on to explain that in the wake of budget cuts, a dramatic increase in arachnophobia statistics, and the need to popularise the study of science, the latest academic thinking is that the dangerous trend of over-specialisation in scientific fields needs to end. The new trend is to combine fields where possible, pooling budgets and thereby gaining synergy and better cooperation among scientists in closely related fields. “As for insects and spiders, they have more DNA in common than neanderthals and homo sapiens,” he explained. “You don’t have a separate branch of science for humans with polydactyly, do you? It’s a distinction without a difference. Plus, we don’t want to miss important discoveries by not talking to each other, like when the CIA and FBI didn’t talk to each other before 9/11. Look what happened there.”

At that point, Professor Siegel took some questions from reporters on the scene. Celebrity reporter Glynnis Gruenforest of the PayPal funded News Source Alliance (NSA) asked, “But what about the different numbers of legs that bugs and spiders has? Doesn’t spiders have about 10 legs at least?”

Professor Siegel patiently explained that insects have 6 legs and two antennae, and spiders have 8 legs. “But, the top two legs of spiders evolved from antennae, so spiders are just a mutated form of insects. There is now a scientific consensus that this mutation occurred during the meteor crash that killed off all the dinosaurs 65 million years ago. Computer models now prove that there was significant radioactivity in the meteor that caused that particular mutation. It also caused the two top body lobes to partially fuse and to start secreting radioactive webs with which they were able to catch unsuspecting bugs, er, insects.”

Professor Siegel admitted that this rationalisation of scientific disciplines could result in job losses in academia. In Christchurch, prominent science “communicator” Dr Simon “Spidey” Pollard has just been pink-slipped by his employer, Canterbury University. Doctor Pollard said he was “shocked but not surprised” at the double whammy of losing his job and losing his beloved specialty, the popularisation of spiders, but he was most indignant at having to read about his dismissal on the Internet.

“And and you know it’s very interesting I happened to online read an article this morning umm actually the Guardian has been doing lots of articles on this and you know people just look for patterns where there just aren’t any and the thing was it was all a conspiracy and we just can’t help it cos our brains are just wired that way when it sends messages to the amigdyla and then it sends messages to other parts of the brain to start analysing flat out what’s going on. And you know those entomology guys are all out to get me cos you know they’re just jealous of my pop… my success and it’s like what do they have? They just have bugs. Bugs! And nobody wants to be a fly even if Hollywood did like nine remakes of The Fly but who cares and so what if Howard Shore wrote an opera about The Flies and wasn’t the Lord of the Flies himself a, a kind of a dysutopian? But spiders cos they’re aspirational are cool and who wouldn’t want to be Spiderman and yeah no there’s even SpiderPig on the Simpsons so even pigs want to be spiders. Our brains are just wired that way.”

Canterbury University spokesman Ali Oxford Frei apologised to Dr Pollard for the communication failure. He said, “We apologise to Dr Pollard if the communication failure caused him any emotional anguish or uncontrolled outbursts of run-on sentences. But it was a cockup, not a conspiracy. Dr Pollard was out of town doing his job of science communication when we were trying to reach him. He was reading ‘My Pet Spider‘ to a group of school children in Invercargill. We attempted to contact Dr Pollard a couple of times, but we had a deadline for the evening news cameras, so we just couldn’t wait to release the news. His driver whispered something in his ear, but he just kept on reading that dam…, excuse me, darned book, looking like a deer in the headlights.”

Radio New Zealand issued a statement when asked by RadioActive about Doctor Pollard’s future on the Nine To Noon programme as their “science commentator”, saying that they are “currently seeking other science commentating opportunities”. A popular weekday morning host spoke to RadioActive under condition of anonymity. She said, “Now that Simon has gone all conspiracy theory on us, we just don’t have a slot for him. I mean, it’s kinda oxymoronic, isn’t it? The science of conspiracy theories? Yeah, Simon was just getting to be too edgy. I think maybe he was all stressed out dealing with his conspiracy theory that turned out to be true, just like 9/11, I mean, Watergate. Anyway, listeners were complaining that Simon wasn’t soothing enough. Hmm, maybe now we should get John Hawkesby back.”

But while this downpour of bad news may have temporarily washed Dr Pollard out, he has plans to climb the water spout of success again with not one, but two sequels to his popular book, “I Am Spider“. He has already begun work on a memoir dealing with his struggle with cognitive dissonance in the face of the massive Entomology Department conspiracy against him. In his memoir, Doctor Pollard will finally come out of the closet as a fully metamorphosed conspiracy theorist. “Yeah no I’m sorta umm well it’s like that phoney love doctor guy, you know, Charlie Veitch, only in reverse,” he confessed. His upcoming memoir, “I Am Buggered“, will tell the inside story of his now public conflict with envious colleagues who conspired against him, as well as his own inner conflict with cognitive dissonance.

He refused to reveal details of the other book he’s working on but did hint to one reporter, “Well, you know there’s like this hierarchy thing in nature and and spiders you know umm eat bugs cos their brains are just wired that way and yeah no cos obviously they’re nutritional.” A spokeswoman for celebrity chef, Nigella Lawson, refused to comment on reports that she is collaborating with Doctor Pollard on a new book that one insider says is “simply crawling” with entomophagically themed recipes. The book is rumoured to have a working title of “Nigella Does Entomophagic Magic!“, but Doctor Pollard is said to be holding out for a title more recognisable as a sequel to his previous books, “I Eat Bugs“.

 Posted by at 1:22 am

  3 Responses to “JUNK SCIENCE: ARACHNOLOGY DEBUNKED”

  1. Dr Parker you are a genius!!
    Thank you for showing us that if you can’t get through to the likes of Dr Pollard and RNZ through reason, we can always laugh at them :)

  2. Great piece of writing, Phillip! Laughter is a great antidote!

  3. Here are links to the podcast that inspired me:
    http://www.radionz.co.nz/national/programmes/ninetonoon/audio/2577003/science-with-simon-pollard

    http://podcast.radionz.co.nz/ntn/ntn-20131120-1150-science_with_simon_pollard-048.mp3
    ntn-20131120-1150-science_with_simon_pollard-048.mp3

    Here is the complaint I lodged against Radio New Zealand. Both RNZ and the BSA found nothing wrong with the broadcast:

    The Science of Conspiracy Theories

    This complaint consists of an Executive Summary, a Complaint outline, detailed documentation that supports the complaint and a conclusion. A direct transcript of the relevant sections of the interview is at the end of the document.

    Executive Summary:
    Standard 4 – Controversial Issues – Viewpoints

    While this complaint cites a specific interview, I find the Nine to Noon show to be consistently the most one-sided on controversial topics of all Radio New Zealand programmes with a serious journalistic intent. A “reasonable range of views” certainly did not feature in this interview.

    Standard 5 – Accuracy

    The interviewee made many misleading statements presented as facts, not as opinions, in his role as a scientist and science expert. While he was asked pro forma challenging questions by Ms Ryan, none of his actual statements were challenged.

    STANDARD 6 – Fairness
    “Broadcasters should deal fairly with any person or organisation taking part or referred to.”

    People referred to (so-called conspiracy theorists) were not dealt with fairly, being dismissed as immune to factual evidence, of forming beliefs through fear, instinct and pattern recognition. By inference, conspiracy theorists do not employ cognitive skills in forming their beliefs.

    STANDARD 7 – Discrimination and Denigration

    “Broadcasters should not encourage discrimination against, or denigration of, any section of the community on account of sex, sexual orientation, race, age, disability, occupational status, or as a consequence of legitimate expression of religion, culture or political belief.”

    People with political views not endorsed by governments and mainstream media were discriminated against (not represented) and denigrated.

    END Executive Summary

    BEGIN Complaint – brief statement

    Standard 4 – Controversial Issues – Viewpoints

    The controversial issues of the assassination of President John F. Kennedy (in this interview presented two days prior to the 50th anniversary of the event – surely no coincidence) and the 9/11 terrorist attacks were prominently mentioned. My complaint focuses on the JFK assassination content.

    A “reasonable range of views” was not presented. Two sources of information were cited, a former Secret Service agent and a witness to the House Select Committee on Assassinations (HSCA), though Dr Pollard named neither the Secret Service agent (apparently Clint Hill), nor the specific body (HSCA). The sources were mentioned as though they were credible witnesses to the assassination, which they most surely were not. The possibility of untruthfulness on the part of these witnesses was not mentioned, despite the fact that evidence for their untruthfulness is in the public record. Dr Pollard made other misleading statements, but these could be considered more as matters of uninformed and biased opinion rather than fact.

    Standard 5 – Accuracy

    Dr Pollard is presented on RNZ as a “science commentator”, but his false and misleading statements were presented as facts, not as political opinions or as speculative commentary on the part of an informed person. This complaint is related to Standard 4, but there is a connection here between controversial subjects (political assassinations, terrorist attacks and the subject of “conspiracy theories”) and scientific and otherwise verifiable facts, therefore I make my complaint on both grounds.

    STANDARD 6 – Fairness
    “Broadcasters should deal fairly with any person or organisation taking part or referred to.”

    While Dr Pollard did not refer to any particular person or organisation, he did refer to “conspiracy theorists” as a group. I will happily put myself forward as a person whom Dr Pollard would call a “conspiracy theorist”, and am a member of an organisation that Dr Pollard would certainly label as a group of “conspiracy theorists”, New Zealanders for 9/11 Truth.

    The unfairness lies in the manner in which he describes the automatic, instinctive non-cognitive mental process that “conspiracy theorists” employ when they form their political opinions and beliefs. By dismissing conspiracy theorists as holding non-factual, non-logical beliefs, he unfairly dismisses both the beliefs and the people who hold such beliefs.

    STANDARD 7 – Discrimination and Denigration

    Dr Pollard denigrated people who hold non-mainstream political opinions. Nine to noon routinely discriminates against them by never talking to any of them, only about them in a deprecatory manner.

    END Complaint brief statement

    BEGIN Detailed complaint

    Standard 4 – Controversial Issues – Viewpoints

    First, we need to define our terms.

    Conspiracy: A plot or plan of action formed by two or more people at least partly in secret.
    Theory: In this case, an explanation for a conspiracy.
    Conspiracy Theory: A theory about a conspiracy.
    Conspiracy Theorist: A person who entertains or puts forth a conspiracy theory.

    Obviously, these definitions do not suffice in the modern context of “conspiracy theory” as epithet, not as a neutral definition. Every policeman and prosecutor is required to put forth a conspiracy theory in order to justify the arrest or prosecution of alleged criminals. These people are not generally called “crazy conspiracy theorists” except possibly by defence attorneys.

    The terms “conspiracy theory” and “conspiracy theorist” were first put into wide use by the CIA in letters to its media assets in the mid-1960s. The CIA used friendly mainstream media to help combat widespread doubts about the 1964 Warren Commission (1)(1a). This pejorative epithet lost its lexical relevance once the era of political assassinations blamed on “lone nuts” was superseded by political scandals and terrorist plots, all of which by definition involved conspiracies. The official government and mainstream media view of Watergate, Iran Contra, the Oklahoma City bombings and the 1993 and 2001 World Trade Center bombings was that all were conspiracy theories, since they involved secret plots involving two or more people.

    What then is meant by the still-current epithets “conspiracy theory” and “conspiracy theorists”? Furthermore, why are these non-descriptive terms used by educated people to refer to mistaken beliefs that do not involve conspiracies, such as flat earthers and “incorrect” religious beliefs? The answer is obvious: a conspiracy theory is simply an opinion or belief not held by government and mainstream media, and a conspiracy theorist is someone who entertains a non-standard belief or opinion.

    Therefore, hereinafter I will refer to people such as myself as conspiracy theorists, but also as Authority Questioners, or AQs.

    The next section outlines the complaint in terms of:

    STANDARD 6 – Fairness

    “Broadcasters should deal fairly with any person or organisation taking part or referred to.”

    Dr Pollard would have you believe that I as an Authority Questioner (AQ) do not arrive at my opinions by rational means. I quote from the interview in part. An extended transcript is at the end of this document.

    “You know we’ve talked before on the show about the way our brains work and that we just have the propensity to believe silly things. And we make up stories and that’s not our fault, it’s just part of how our brain is wired and so we see all these examples. And you know you look at strange religious beliefs, people denying the age of the earth. All these things sort of fit into a continuum and conspiracy theories really are a way of us making sense of random events, especially those that would scare us. And I think that that we are not good at accepting simple explanations and on top of that we are very very good at looking for patterns in things. And given the way we record the world now you know any event, any extraordinary event will be followed by conspiracy theories.”

    “I think that yeah no I think that we the thing with conspiracy theory is it’s immune to evidence. That’s the most important thing. And a very recent example you know was the horrific umm bombing in the Boston Marathon. Instantly there were conspiracy theories, one saying it was faked, and then there was someone saying it was connected with 9/11 because don’t you remember that two planes from Boston that were involved in 9/11. It came from Boston; therefore the Boston bombing must be connected. So it’s those looking for those patterns, but as I say the most important thing is it’s immune to evidence.”

    Here Dr Pollard uses the logical fallacy known as the Straw Man in reference to the Boston bombings (2). I followed non-mainstream media very closely for several days after the Boston bombings. I never read anything like the stories he describes. I would be interested to know where he got these stories, or if he perhaps invented them out of whole cloth. Certainly none of my conspiracy theorist (AQ) friends would entertain such foolish notions.

    Dr Pollard also accuses the AQ community of forming their beliefs out of instinct and fear. On the contrary, it is the gullible believers of mainstream conspiracy theories who react in fear. They are the ones who fear Muslim terrorist bogeymen, not us.

    There are other false accusations about the AQ community in Dr Pollard’s comments, but underlying his accusations is the canard of non-rationality. How do we arrive at our beliefs, if not out of instinct and irrational fear?

    We employ traditional or Aristotelian logic, which can be described in at least three different ways, each a three-step process:

    1. The journalist’s famous friends of
    (a) Who, What, Where and When (the facts)
    (b) Why (assembling the facts in a logical manner)
    (c) How (the written or oral explanation of the logic used)

    2. Computer speak:
    (a) Input
    (b) Processing
    (c) Output

    3. The Trivium (more correctly the Trivium method)
    (a) Grammar (general grammar, or basic facts)
    (b) Formal Logic
    (c) Classical Rhetoric (3)

    Contrary to Dr Pollard’s false assertion, evidence is the foundation of our opinions, not a fear-based instinctive reaction.

    Another method for denigrating those who hold non-received opinions was introduced by Ms Ryan:
    “Then you get bits of evidence and this is where pattern selection is so interesting. It’s psychology essentially that we’re talking about.”

    That’s correct, we AQs question authority because of our defective psychology. Dr Pollard agrees, “Well it is, yes.” This oft-used canard is used in almost every anti-AQ interview or article I have read.

    The next section focuses on
    Standard 5 – Accuracy

    Before I mention specific inaccuracies it is important to note the misuse of logic so common in propagandistic articles and interviews.

    The most common misuse of the three-step process is putting the first two steps in the wrong order, using one’s logic or reasoning before considering relevant facts. When the logic of a matter is pre-determined before all available facts are considered, the logic will inevitably be faulty. This basic error can be intentional or unintentional; intentional when used by skilled propagandists and unintentional when used by people who have not been trained properly and merely repeat what they have been told. The rigorous training that journalists and scientists undergo should prevent them from making such mistakes by accident.

    Here is an example of Dr Pollard using logic (a “why”) before he considers any facts (omitting his numerous misstatements and use of other logical fallacies) in reference to the 9/11 attacks:
    “Now, what I always say on those things is it’s difficult enough for two people to keep a secret let alone have all these people being involved with going into a building that had 40 to 50 thousand people working in it filling it with explosives with the intention of killing everybody, now admittedly on the day only thr… you know three and a half thousand people died, not 50 thousand, but still you’d think somebody on their deathbeds I really have to tell you this, this is what happened, umm and and John Kennedy’s assassination is exactly the same.”

    Never mind that certain people did actually talk, and never mind the reasons why someone in that situation would never talk, and never mind the other howlers in that paragraph; Dr Pollard’s logic tells him that “someone would have talked”, therefore the lucky Muslim terrorists pulled it off!

    The interview prominently featured two misstatements involving the JFK assassination that were deliberate errors of omission. Here is Dr Pollard on the subject of the Umbrella Man:

    “…and my favourite account umm of the Kennedy assassination of where there is where a conspiracy is made where there is none was, it was a sunny day and yet very close to where Kennedy’s car would drive past there was a man holding a black umbrella, and he event… and people said, “Oh he was signalling shooters and another one said well he had a very elaborate setup in his umbrella, so he fired a poisonous dart at the President. The thing what, all he was doing was he was protesting about Kennedy’s father’s appeasement to Nazis with Neville Chamberlain prior to World War 2. And so his protest was how the Kennedys were involved in this appeasement to Hitler. And Neville Chamberlain always had was epitomised by having a black umbrella in fact in political cartoons in the 30s he had on a black umbrella and Kennedy had also done a thesis on this time in England and so this guy said you know this is my silent protest cos he figured that John Kennedy would know what he meant by a black umbrella. But the funny thing is when he had to go eventually umm to a select committee in fact in 1978 and expl… and he still had the umbrella and he gave his explanation, but he said to them, he said that if the Guinness Book of Records had a category for people who were in, who were at the wrong place at the wrong time doing the wrong thing that he would be number one.”

    If one is unfamiliar with this story, it will seem simply incredible. That’s because it is. Dr Pollard omits the following from his account:
    1. The Umbrella Man, who may or may not have actually been the HSCA witness, Louis Witt, was photographed in close proximity to a dark-complexioned man of a Latin American appearance who raised his fist around the same time as Umbrella Man raised his umbrella.
    2. After the shooting, the two men calmly sat down next to each other on a kerb, whilst other spectators are in a panic, many lying on the ground, and many running towards the picket fence on the grassy knoll, whence they heard shots being fired. After talking briefly, they walk off in opposite directions.
    3. The Latin looking man has what appears to be a walkie-talkie in his pocket and appears to talk on it.
    4. Witt claimed not to see the murder because he was trying to open his umbrella, but photographs show that he must have seen the shooting. He also related a story about a motorcycle policeman and a car running up onto the President’s car. No one saw or photographed such an accident. He claimed not to know the Latin-looking man and failed to notice that he had and used a radio device while he was sitting with him on the kerb. There were other problems with his testimony, such as accounting for his presence, which he said was accidental.
    5. There is no actual proof that the Umbrella Man is in fact Mr Witt, nor that the umbrella he had at the HSCA hearings was the same umbrella. It appeared to have a different number of staves from the original umbrella. (4)(5)(6)

    Even if the man who testified was the real Mr Witt, his testimony contains too many details that cannot possibly be true. His untruthfulness, along with the slipshod interrogation he faced from the Dallas police and the HSCA, rules him out as a credible witness. If I found information contradictory to Dr Pollard’s exposition inside of a minute, then Dr Pollard could have done so as well.

    Dr Pollard’s other conspiracy theory debunker was an unnamed Secret Service agent. He was apparently referring to Clint Hill, author of “Mrs. Kennedy and Me: An Intimate Memoir” (7). Dr Pollard said:
    “And and you know it’s very interesting I happened to online read an article this morning umm actually the Guardian has been doing lots of articles on the Kennedy assassination and it was the secret service agent that was assigned to Jackie Kennedy has written a book and I mean he you know he said he suffered enormously from this. Could he have saved the President, etc. And you know he says he’s a trained secret service man he said there were three distinct shots that came from the book depository building and all the evidence is there were three shots and this one person did it.”

    If you read the excerpt from Mr Hill’s Warren Commission testimony in the Wikipedia article I cite, you will see that he contradicts the Warren Commission’s finding that the President was killed by a shot from the rear. The blown out back of the head could only have come from a frontal shot; the blown out portion could not possibly be the result of an entrance wound. He also did not say that he heard “three distinct shots”.

    Gerald Ford, a leading member of the Warren Commission, admitted to changing the location of the President’s back entrance wound, moving it up six inches in order to accommodate Arlen Specter’s Magic Bullet theory.(8) Clint Hill, in his original Warren Commission testimony (questioned by Rep. Hale Boggs) testifies to seeing the actual back wound:
    Representative BOGGS: “Did you see any other wound other than the head wound?”
    Mr. HILL: “Yes, sir; I saw an opening in the back, about 6 inches below the neckline to the right-hand side of the spinal column.” (9)

    Mr Hill has helpfully changed his story in his book to raise the wound six inches, making his revised story align with the Warren Commission’s false placement of the back wound. For this and many other reasons not cited here, I find Clint Hill to be an unreliable witness. By citing Mr Hill’s story, Dr Pollard committed the logical fallacies of Appeal to Emotion (10) and Appeal to Authority (11). In the latter case, Mr Hill could possibly have been an authority owing to his occupation and assignment, but his contradictory testimony eliminates him as a trusted authority or even a reliable witness.

    CONCLUSION

    I request that Radio New Zealand:
    1. admit to one-sided treatment of the controversial issue of the JFK assassination (Standard 4). A reasonable range of views was not allowed at this time or any other time on this or any other Nine to Noon programme. This is particularly egregious given the coincidence of the programme’s broadcast almost 50 years to the day after the assassination. Additionally, a majority of Americans do not support the establishment view of regular guest, Simon Pollard on this topic.

    2. admit that they treated people who hold non-mainstream political opinions as mentally and psychologically deficient (Standard 6) and that under Standard 7 the expression of their political beliefs should never be taken seriously, as those views are always arrived at by fear and instinct, not by intellectual means. Radio New Zealand thereby discriminated against and denigrated those of us who do not hold the establishment political views of Kathryn Ryan and Simon Pollard.

    3. admit to biased, inaccurate and misleading reporting by Dr Pollard in his role as science commentator, reporting that went unchallenged by the host, Kathryn Ryan (Standard 5). Dr Pollard presented what may be kindly regarded as half-truths in that he presented certain facts about Clint Hill and the Umbrella Man, omitting facts that would lead the average listener to the opposite conclusion he wanted them to make.

    (1) http://memoryholeblog.com/2013/01/20/cia-document-1035-960-foundation-of-a-weaponized-term/
    (1a) http://www.jfklancer.com/CIA.html
    (2) http://www.nizkor.org/features/fallacies/straw-man.html
    (3) http://www.triviumeducation.com/
    (4) http://www.ctka.net/2013/rosenbaum_shutup.html
    (5) http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=NB-TLTWAh6s&hl=en-GB&gl=AU&feature=related
    (6) http://www.csmonitor.com/USA/Politics/2013/1122/JFK-assassination-Why-suspicions-still-linger-about-Umbrella-Man
    (7) http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Clint_Hill_%28Secret_Service%29
    (8) http://whatreallyhappened.com/RANCHO/POLITICS/JFK/ford.html
    (9) http://www.history-matters.com/archive/jfk/wc/wcvols/wh2/pdf/WH2_Hill.pdf
    (10) http://www.nizkor.org/features/fallacies/appeal-to-emotion.html
    (11) http://www.nizkor.org/features/fallacies/appeal-to-authority.html

    ==============================
    Partial transcript of the interview:
    ntn-20131120-1150-science_with_simon_pollard-048.mp3

    KR: It seems slightly contradictory to have the science of conspiracy theories – slightly oxymoronic.

    SP: (laughs) It is rather. But not really. I think that ummm… You know we’ve talked before on the show about the way our brains work and that we just have the propensity to believe silly things. And we make up stories and that’s not our fault, it’s just part of how our brain is wired and so we see all these examples. And you know you look at strange religious beliefs, people denying the age of the earth. All these things sort of fit into a continuum and and conspiracy theories really are a way of us making sense of events, especially those that would scare us. And I think that that we are not good at accepting simple explanations and on top of that we are very very good at looking for patterns in things. And given the way we record the world now you know any event, any extraordinary event will be followed by conspiracy theories.

    KR: (laughs)

    SP: and I think that and I

    KR: (laughs)

    SP: I think a nice example and look I give you an example, a very recent example.

    KR: (laughs) But what makes it a conspiracy theory? I mean people did think the world was flat. So when the dude suggested it was round..

    SP: Shocking!

    KR: (laughs)

    SP: I mean, you look out your window. I think that yeah no I think that we the thing with conspiracy theory is it’s immune to evidence. That’s the most important thing. And a very recent example you know was the horrific um bombing in the Boston Marathon. Instantly there were conspiracy theories, one saying it was faked, and then there was someone saying it was connected with 9/11 because don’t you remember that two planes from Boston that were involved in 9/11. It came from Boston, therefore the Boston bombing must be connected. So it’s those looking for those patterns, but as I say the most important thing is it’s immune to evidence. And people that push conspiracy theories will never listen to the most compelling evidence from an expert and I think umm you know we look at 9/11 and OK people used planes as bombs and they took down two hundred storey buildings. I think that another part of conspiracy umm another part of events at least (? or “of these”?) conspiracy theories is often what happens does have a component of good luck. And if you think of 9/11, you know, everything went that way on the day. They managed to take over the planes and they managed to fly them into buildings and I’m sure it was totally beyond their expectation that the buildings would fall over. But people just couldn’t except (accept?) that and even you know a very very good account from an engineer that’s an expert on what happens to big buildings that have had planes fly into them that’s not enough so you know the current theory with 9/11 is that the government whoever planted explosives on every floor of those buildings prior to some other thing that it wasn’t a plane or a missile or whatever. Now, what I always say on those things is it’s difficult enough for two people to keep a secret let alone have all these people being involved with going into a building that had 40 to 50 thousand people working in it filling it with explosives with the intention of killing everybody, now admittedly on the day only thr… you know three and a half thousand people died, not 50 thousand, but still you’d think somebody on their deathbeds I really have to tell you this, this is what happened, umm and and John Kennedy’s assassination is exactly the same. If you step back from it and say, “could a marine-trained sniper hit a human moving in a slow-moving vehicle from 80 meters away”, of course you’re going to say, “yes”, but no that’s not enough. It has to be a conspiracy.

    KR: I’m sure that’s back at the moment, obviously with the anniversary right now.

    SP: Yes.

    KR: Then you get bits of evidence and this is where pattern selection is so interesting. It’s psychology essentially that we’re talking about.

    SP: Well it is, yes.

    KR: Because we pick the things that support our theory and we exclude the things that don’t. And there was the extra sh… sound of the sound of the so-called extra shots, wasn’t there?

    SP: Yes.

    KR: Which I think has been debunked in recent days.

    SP: Absolutely!

    KR: … as being another sound or something to do with the quality of the recording.

    SP: And, look, I know..

    KR: And the conspiracy theorist then says, “Ah, and that’s what they’re telling you.”
    5.53
    SP: And (nonsense omitted)

    KR: But scepticism about the excuse that’s given is a natural part of the process.

    SP: And and you know it’s very interesting I happened to online read an article this morning umm actually the Guardian has been doing lots of articles on the Kennedy assassination and it was the secret service agent it was assigned to Jackie Kennedy has written a book (2) and I mean he you know he said he suffered enormously from this. Could he have saved the President, etc. And you know he says he’s a trained secret service man he said there were three distinct shots that came from the book depository building and all the evidence is there were three shots and this one person did it. And yet, as I say, you know because things were filmed and there were still photographs of the event then people look for patterns and the Oliver Stone film did an enormous amount of damage in terms of the credibility of what was really a good explanation of what happened but you know you have a still photograph of three people looking shady in the distance therefore they did this and my favourite account umm of the Kennedy assassination of where there is where a conspiracy is made where there is none was, it was a sunny day and yet very close to where Kennedy’s car would drive past there was a man holding a black umbrella, and he event… and people said, “Oh he was signalling shooters and another one said well he had a very elaborate setup in his umbrella, so he fired a poisonous dart at the President. The thing what, all he was doing was he was protesting about Kennedy’s father’s appeasement to Nazis with Neville Chamberlain prior to World War 2. And so his protest was how the Kennedys were involved in this appeasement to Hitler. And Neville Chamberlain always had was epitomised by having a black umbrella in fact in political cartoons in the 30s he had on a black umbrella and Kennedy had also done a thesis on this time in England and so this guy said you know this is my silent protest cos he figured that John Kennedy would know what he meant by a black umbrella. But the funny thing is when he had to go eventually umm to a select committee in fact in 1978 and expl.. and he still had the umbrella and he gave his explanation, but he said to them, he said that if the Guinness Book of Records had a category for people who were in, who were at the wrong place at the wrong time doing the wrong thing that he would be number one.

    KR: If we didn’t have sceptics, though, who had that mindset or that psychology and looked for inconsistencies and looked for patterns there is an awful lot of truth that we would not find out…

    SP: Well, that’s true…

    KR: you know you can’t just sit there, if we just sit there and swallow everything that you are presented by authorities…

    SP: No…

    KR: much of it will be lies and untruth and propaganda.

    SP: Absolutely and conspiracy theories often do have components of truth because governments do cover up things and so it’s not like you are starting with a clean slate, you know if you look at Watergate, if you look at the I-ran contra thing, these were things that governments covered up, things so it’s very easy for people to then extrapolate that, that a distrust of authority will mean that any event must have been the government. Another favourite of mine of course is the moon landings
    (10.29 – 13.15 discussion of moon landings (sic) omitted.)

    KR: Is there, does psychology suggest there is a certain personality type that is always going to see this and do this, and someone else is going to be gullible and always believe what they are fed?

    SP: The best predictor of somebody who believes in conspiracy theories is that they will believe in other conspiracy theories. This isn’t saying that these people aren’t intelligent people, they’re not the sort of fringe of society at all but they often have a distrust of authority, they might feel powerless in situations, and so, and also people that, you know, they love finding evidence and putting a picture together no matter how silly that picture is. I think there is just this tendency in us and and some people have argued that it’s mixed up with parts of our brain, you know when a random thing happened in our evolutionary history, part of our brain would send messages to the amigdyla would send messages to other parts of the brain to start analysing flat out what’s going on. You know, is the mammoth going to keep running, do I hide behind the rock, etc., and I think that that the tendency to over-analyse random events that scare us is still with us today and it is a part of our society.

    KR: That would not be any fun without it.

    SP: Absolutely not (both laugh).

    KR: Thank you, Simon Pollard, science…

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