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.