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Kurtis Hagen's blog
Conspiracy Theories and Stylized Facts
Journal for Peace and Justice Studies 21.2 (Fall 2011)
ABSTRACT: In an article published in the Journal of Political Philosophy, Cass Sunstein and Adrian Vermeule argue that the government and its allies ought to actively undermine groups that espouse conspiracy theories deemed “demonstrably false.” They propose infiltrating such groups in order to “cure” conspiracy theorists by treating their “crippled epistemology” with “cognitive diversity.” They base their proposal on an analysis of the “causes” of such conspiracy theories, which emphasizes informational and reputational cascades. Some may regard their proposal as outrageous and anti-democratic. I agree. However, in this article I merely argue that their argument is flawed in at least the following ways: (1) their account of the popularity of conspiracy theories is implausible, and (2) their proposal relies on misleading “stylized facts,” including a caricature of those who doubt official narratives and a deceptive depiction of the relevant history.
[NOTE: I have included extended excerpts below, believing this to be within the scope of fair use.]
I was recently interviewed on a public access TV show called "Vermont Today" (for 90 minutes). We discuss an exchange of letters between four concerned citizens (including myself) and NIST. Credit for the revealing NIST correspondence goes especially to Wayne Coste of AE911Truth for drafting our letters for us, and to Jerry Carpenter for taking initiative locally.
The discussion may seem to start off a bit slow, as we were trying to get some legal analysis from a local prosecutor who is now running for Mayor of Burlington. He takes a very diplomatic position, and then excuses himself. In the later parts of the interview we discuss Cass Sunstein's paper and my critique of it, as well as "foiled terrorist plots" led by informants. Near the end I also discuss Barry Jennings. The most significant part--the only part where really new information is presented--is the discussion of NIST's response to our letters (which starts around minute 25). It is the particulars of NIST's evasions that I think are very telling.
Another article supportive of the 9/11 Truth Movement is published in a mainstream academic journal:
“Is Infiltration of ‘Extremist Groups’ Justified?” International Journal of Applied Philosophy 24:2, pp. 153-168. (Fall 2010). By Kurtis Hagen, Assistant Professor of Philosophy, SUNY Plattsburgh. (Yes. That would be me.)
Website for the International Journal of Applied Philosophy: http://secure.pdcnet.org/pdc/bvdb.nsf/journal?openform&journal=pdc_ijap
Unfortunately the article is not freely available, but here are some highlights:
ABSTRACT: Many intellectuals scoff at what they call “conspiracy theories.” But two Harvard law professors, Cass Sunstein (now working for the Obama administration) and Adrian Vermeule, go further. They argue in the Journal of Political Philosophy that groups that espouse such theories ought to be infiltrated and undermined by government agents and allies. While some may find this proposal appalling (as indeed we all should), others may find the argument plausible, especially if they have been swayed by the notion that conspiracy theories (or a definable subset thereof), by their nature, somehow or another, do not warrant belief. I will argue that Sunstein and Vermeule’s proposal not only conflicts with the values of an open society, but is also epistemically indefensible. In making my case, I will adopt their favored example, counter-narratives about 9/11. (p. 153)
It should be noted that, according to [Sunstein and Vermeule’s] definition, the notion that the Nazis were systematically exterminating Jews would have, at some point in time, clearly counted as conspiracy theory—one that turned out to be true. This is an important example. It shows that one cannot simply reject a conspiracy theory because it seems too extreme in the brutality it attributes to powerful figures, or because of the scale of complicity that would be required, or because of the industrial efficiency with which it is said to be carried out. Shocking though a theory may be, so too are known precedents. (p. 155)