The Point of Inquiry Weekly Wrap-up: Stephan Lewandosky

June 10, 2013


With the uncovering of real-life government secrets being kept from the greater public last week, it’s perhaps all too eerie that POI just played host to a cognitive psychologist who’s spent years studying people who believe – among other things – in the all-knowing conspiratorial powers of the U.S. government.

Though long having researched memory and cognition, University of Western Australia professor Stephan Lewandowsky is nowadays probably best known for his catchily named study profiling climate change skeptics in 2012, NASA faked the moon landing-therefore (climate) science is a hoax: An anatomy of the motivated rejection of science.

Chris got to sit down with Lewandowsky right in the heart of the Capitol to pick his brain about what science says makes a conspiracy theorist tick. Here are some highlights.

Lewandowsky on what exactly constitutes a conspiracy theory:

“So, one of the characteristics of conspiratorial thinking is that it is self-sealing. That’s what we call it. And that means that any evidence to the contrary, any evidence against the conspiracy is interpreted to be an actual fact evidenced FOR the conspiracy. So basically what happens is that the circle of conspirators is broadened whenever there is evidence to the contrary.”

On why we believe them:

“But don’t forgot it offers comfort. I said this before – that having an enemy, being able to label something as an enemy, paradoxically can give you a sense of comfort and control…it explains absolutely everything.”

And lastly, on what to do about them:

“So rather than engaging with conspiracy theorists, which is completely impossible – there’s absolutely no point in having a discussion with someone who thinks that 9/11 was a inside job, you know? You get into the weeds and you’ll never come out. Rather than doing that, I think it is very important to talk to the vast majority of people who do not engage in conspiratorial thinking and to address messages to those people.”

Heated is about the best word you can use to describe the comments on this episode, with plenty making sure to voice their own opinions of Lewandowsky’s body of work. Still, this episode’s top comment has to go to commentator MOM, who nailed the cold hard truth standing right in front of us the whole time:

“I think this study is a government conspiracy to take our attention away from all the other conspiracies! wink

That’s all for this week but don’t forget to check out the full super-sized episode linked here. You can also find more by Stephan Lewandosky on his blog network at Shaping Tomorrow’s World, a critical look at the intersection between science and government policy in Australia and the world. And here’s a link to his provocative study.

As always, check up on our Facebook and Twitter to stay current on POI news, updates and upcoming episodes.

And especially stay tuned for this week’s upcoming show hosted by Indre in which she’ll interview the horseman himself, Daniel Dennett.

Seeya next time!

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