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Are conspiracy theories on the rise ?

September 24, 2019 · Comment icon 26 comments

Image Credit: CC BY-SA 3.0 Nick Youngson / ImageCreator
Conspiracy theories may have been getting a lot of press attention lately, but how many people believe in them ?
Liberty Vittert, Professor of the Practice of Data Science at Washington University in St Louis, investigates how the popularity of conspiracy theories has changed over the years.

Have the Internet and social media created a climate where Americans believe anything is possible? With headlines citing now as the age of conspiracy, is it really true?

In a word, no.

While it may be true that the Internet has allowed people who believe in conspiracies to communicate more, it has not increased the number of Americans who believe in conspiracies, according to the data available.

Current beliefs

A "conspiracy theory" is a theory that explains an event or set of circumstances as the result of a secret plot, usually by powerful conspirators.

Over 29% of the American population believe there is a "Deep State" working against President Donald Trump. Nineteen percent believe that the government is using chemicals to control the population.

These conspiracy theories are not simply restricted to a fringe population. At least 50% of Americans believe in at least one conspiracy theory, ranging from the idea that the 9/11 attacks were fake to the belief that former President Barack Obama was not born in the U.S.

Belief in conspiracy theories

A study looked at Americans' beliefs in various conspiracy theories, according to surveys taken in 2006, 2010 and 2011. More than half of respondents agreed in at least one of the theories.

Historical data

There are no major comprehensive, longitudinal studies on Americans' attitudes toward conspiracy theories, mostly because it was not rigorously measured until about 10 to 20 years ago.

However, researchers have done a considerate amount of work in recent years in an attempt to understand this apparent phenomenon.
Political scientists Joseph E. Uscinski and Joseph M. Parent reviewed over 120 years of letters to the editor, from 1890 to 2010, for both The New York Times and the Chicago Tribune.

In over 100,000 letters, this review showed absolutely no change in the amount of conspiracy theory belief over time. In fact, the percent of letters about conspiracy theories actually declined from the late 1800s to the 1960s and has remained steady since then.

While these researchers looked at data only up until 2010, current polling has not shown any uptick in conspiracy theory belief since then.

The end is near?

As Uscinski and Parent pointed out, this isn't the first time Americans may have felt surrounded by conspiracies.

In 2004, the Boston Globe stated that we are in the "golden age of conspiracy theory."

In 1994, the Washington Post declared it's the "dawn of a new age of conspiracy theory."

In 1964, The New York Times said conspiracy theories had "grown weed like in this country."

The list could go on and on, but the gist is clear.

Whether it is the invention of the printing press, mass publishing, the telegraph, radio, cable, the internet or social media, researchers and the general public have historically proclaimed that this – or this, or this – new advance is the change-maker in political realities.

While the internet has certainly made discussion between conspiracy theorists easier, there is no evidence at this time that belief in these theories has increased.

Liberty Vittert, Professor of the Practice of Data Science, Washington University in St Louis

This article is republished from The Conversation under a Creative Commons license. Read the original article.The Conversation

Source: The Conversation | Comments (26)

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Recent comments on this story
Comment icon #17 Posted by Scholar4Truth 5 years ago
There is also the Manhattan Project.
Comment icon #18 Posted by RoofGardener 5 years ago
I find it interesting that peoples beliefs in conspiracy theories has been relatively stable over the course of the last 60 years. The arrival of the internet hasn't really increased - or decreased - them.  Personally, I find that DEEPLY suspicious ! 
Comment icon #19 Posted by Jon the frog 4 years ago
Are conspiracy theories on the rise ? Nope insanity is greatly on the rise !
Comment icon #20 Posted by Kismit 4 years ago
When I see people post with terms like I can just imagine such and such... or.... it looks like so and so is probably Behind everything. And I bet (or guess) it’s because of such and such, without providing any working evidence to back that assumption which then goes on to be treated as gospel by some, that is a common issue with the new conspiracy theorists. or people link all stories to one story line without properly understanding the many different stories involved. No in-depth study of any piece of evidence, just superficial glance connections, which are treated as truth, instead of st... [More]
Comment icon #21 Posted by Robotic Jew 4 years ago
I think they are. But only because idiocy is ALSO on the rise.
Comment icon #22 Posted by Obviousman 4 years ago
Hmm - if you include that we start to introduce a really grey area: national security. At what point does keeping an activity secret become a 'conspiracy'? I should state that I define a conspiracy as being something nefarious. After all, there are numerous government / military activities that I fully support being 'black' or having knowledge of strictly limited and compartmentalised.  
Comment icon #23 Posted by Robotic Jew 4 years ago
Certainly. I've seen some really good ones recently....
Comment icon #24 Posted by Scholar4Truth 4 years ago
We all know the Queen is a shape Shifting Reptilian along with George Bush. Didn't you know that?!
Comment icon #25 Posted by DodgyDaoist 4 years ago
Maybe its simply that more and more people are distrusting officials, governments, MSM and the barrage of bull thrown at us on a constant basis.
Comment icon #26 Posted by IDunThinkSoBish 4 years ago
Google is taking them off their search engine and YouTube. alex jones is banned from social media. They're taking credit card processing away from Kratom vendors and other herbal shops. Bouncing bear botanicals was illegally sabotaged out of buisness. I'd say conspiracy reality is on the rise.

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