Monday, March 01, 2010


I found this blog called the VOLOKH CONSPIRACY. Its a commentary blog from a large group of law professors. Most of what the blog contains are random comments by a number of writers on issues with a law slant. In a post from early 2008, they tackle the issue of political ignorance and pervasive nature of conspiracy theories in explaining major political events.

A very interesting read.

The first paragraph of the post:

"...For example, they cite survey data showing that some one third of Americans believe that federal government officials either carried out the 9/11 attacks themselves or deliberately allowed them to happen. Large numbers of people also believe that John F. Kennedy's assassination was the result of a wide ranging conspiracy in the government, that the AIDS virus was secretly produced in a government laboratory for the purpose of infecting blacks, and that the government is covering up evidence of alien visitation of Earth."

Since the housing bubble and subsequent credit crisis, the 2008 market crash, high oil prices before the 2008 election, the 2008-2009 bailouts and most recently, high unemployment, this study really hits home as many of us take comfort in conspiracy theories in an attempt at explaining the volatile world that we live in. Yet the study offers a very convincing reason why our human nature takes over in times of crisis.

The last two paragraphs of the post are below:

"In the political realm, on the other hand, widespread rational ignorance helps to spread conspiracy theory in two ways. First, the more ignorant you are about politics and economics, the more plausible simple conspiracy theory explanations of events are likely to seem. If you don't understand basic economics, you are more likely to believe that rising oil prices are caused by a conspiracy among oil companies or that the subprime crisis was caused by a conspiracy among banks. If you don't understand the basic workings of our political system, you are more likely to swallow the idea that the federal government could carry out something like the 9/11 attack and then (falsely) blame it on Osama Bin Laden without the truth being quickly exposed through leaks and hostile media coverage.

Second, the rationality of political ignorance implies that even people who do have considerable knowledge are likely to be more susceptible to conspiracy theories about political events than in their personal lives. As I explain in this paper (see also Bryan Caplan's excellent book), the rationality of political ignorance not only reduces people's incentives to acquire political information, it also undercuts incentives to rationally evaluate the information they do learn. As a result, we are more likely to be highly biased in the way we evaluate political information than information about most other subjects. Many people embrace political conspiracy theories because they are more entertaining and emotionally satisfying than alternative, more prosaic explanations of events. Unlike in our nonpolitical lives, most people have little incentive to critically evaluate their political beliefs in order to weed out biases and and ensure their truth."
That is not to say that people are uniformly rational in their nonpolitical decisions. Far from it. But they are likely to be a great deal less irrational than they are about politics."

The full post is here:

The study link is here: