Category: Events

Official Stories vs. Conspiracy Theories

Hello, new readers.

Well, I’m hoping there are new readers; I’ve had some record highs for hits the last few days and it would be nice if some of you stayed on and continued to read. At some point over the weekend I’m going to present a digest of some of the e-mails I received in response to the Herald on Sunday article, but today I thought I might talk about the latest part of the thesis, a paper I am presenting at the AAPNZ ((Australasian Association of Philosophy, New Zealand Branch.)) 2009 conference in Palmerston North.

Title: The Role of Endorsement in Conspiracy and non-Conspiracy Theories

Abstract: One of the arguments that belief in Conspiracy Theories is irrational stems from a common preference for what might be called “Official Theories,” “Official Stories” or the “Received View.”  Official Theories, in an ideal world, would be theories with good epistemic credentials endorsed by some appropriate set of authorities. However, some Official Theories are supported by a mere appeal to political authorities. Any Conspiracy Theorist worth their salt will tell you that theories that are only supported in this way should be treated with suspicion. The mere fact that someone is in power does not imply that they are an epistemic authority. If, in some cases, an Official Theory is backed up solely by an appeal to a political authority, should we prefer it over a Conspiracy Theory? I say “Yes,” but with caveats.

The paper is my attempt to explain why Moscovites were reasonable in their preference for the Official Stories of the Moscow Show Trials and Lysenkoism in the 1930s, despite the fact that both these events were examples of the Soviet Government conspiring against its citizens. It is a paper in Social Epistemology, I suppose; I am arguing that the endorsement of an explanation by some relevant authority (its having institutional status) suggests that the explanation has epistemic credentials, even though it is not entailed.

To sort through the issue I ask three questions:

1. To what extent is the explanation conspiratorial?

2. What are the explanation’s epistemic credentials?

3. What is its institutional status?

Which gives me a range of different theories, from Mere (no epistemic credentials) Sneer (negative institutional status) Conspiracy Theories to Warranted (the right epistemic credentials) Endorsed (positive institutional status) Theories. What I’m primarily interested in are when Mere Endorsed Theories seem to trump Conspiracy Theories; why is it that it seems reasonable for a 1930s citizen of Moscow to accept the official line on the Moscow Trials and ignore the findings of the Dewey Commission?

As I get closer to presenting I should, hopefully ((I know, I’ve made promises like this before.)) have more to say on this.

Going to the Pub

This Thursday (the 8th) I will be giving a talk at the second ‘Auckland Skeptics in the Pub’ gathering at the Horse and Trap (3 Enfield St, Mt Eden, Auckland). Festivities kick off at seven; you might want to come along.

You might not, of course.

The Slippery Slope of Conspiracy Theories – Skeptics 2009

I’ve booked me tickets (as a posh pirate might say) for me trip to Wellington; Skeptics Conference 2009 here I come! Given the exclamation mark, a ‘thing’ I hardly like to employ in scribblings such as these (my pirate grammar is interfering with me normal speaky-writey transcription) it seems timely to post some more information about the when of the talk entitled ‘The Slippery Slope of Conspiracy Theories.’

The presentation is on Saturday the 26th at the pleasant time of 11:45am ((I say “pleasant” because last time they had me on first thing in the morning.)). I’ll blather on for about half an hour, offending some people (one person quite deliberately) and amusing others, before the brief fifteen minute window for questions (most of which will be used up by people asking overly long questions and get short replies).

Here is the draft programme for the conference; the topic and speakers, on the whole, seem much more interesting than last year’s offerings; I’m quite happy to be on after John Robinson’s talk on unwarranted skepticism in regards to Climate Change, because it feeds nicely into my talk and might even lend weight to a section of it, if the audience reaction goes the way I think it will.

I’m willing to take bets it will.

I’m both looking forward and not looking forward to the conference; I’m not the biggest fan of the so-called sceptics called ‘Skeptics;’ a lot of them are just really big fans of Science who don’t really know how it works. Whilst I’ll enjoy the trip down and the reconnection with the friends I made last time I probably won’t enjoy the predictable, naive empiricist-style questions that will have to be fielded by the other presenters and me.

I should point out that I don’t tend to enjoy attending conferences but I do enjoy presenting at them. I look forward to a world where I can present hologrammatically.

More news as it comes to hand.

On holograms.

And the conference.

Debate – Do we need God to ground our moral obligations.

Tomorrow (Thursday the 5th of August) I am moderating a debate on the moot “Do we need God to ground our moral obligations?”

The location: HSB2, University of Auckland

Time: 1-3pm

It’s a face-off, so to speak, between the Overseas Christian Fellowship and the Atheist Club. It also sounds like it will be fairly friendly, seeing that they’ve been exchanging notes. Come along and swell the crowd.

Talk/Presentation – The Slippery Slope of Conspiracy Theories

On the 5th of August I will be doing a talk double-hander with David Merry in the Department of Philosophy at the University of Auckland. David will be talking about… Actually, I don’t seem to have made a note of that. I’ll correct this when I know. I will be previewing my talk to the Skeptics later in the year (end of September to be a little more precise).

The presentation is short (about thirty minutes tops) and is aimed at a largely philosophically… well, not ignorant but rather young? I can’t work out the word to use here; my point is that readers of this blog who aren’t philosophers are heartily invited to come along. Readers of this blog who are philosophers are invited as well, but the content of the presentation won’t be the most exciting or novel thing you will have ever heard.

Time: 4-6pm, August 5th (Wednesday)

Location: The Patrick Hannan Room (Arts II, Room 501, University of Auckland – map here)

Crude abstract: In this short presentation I am going to defend and develop the notion that ‘Conspiracy Theories’ are a kind of explanation. I will then touch on some salient issues in the appraisal of such explanations, asking specifically why it is that we normally take Conspiracy Theories to be inadequate, if not outright bad, explanations. I will then go through a number of examples of popularly held Conspiracy Theories, some of which skeptics might well feel an attraction to, using them to illustrate my analysis.

CCE – Conspiracy Theories and Critical Thinking

It is that time of year again, the time of year where I advertise my Conspiracy Theories course to the world. If you’re rushing to enrol, then go here. If you are more circumspect, well, I’m not sure I can help you, although I can tell you that this year I propose to:

    Cover both Dan Brown’s ‘The Da Vinci Code’ and ‘Angels and Demons,’ as well as discuss what travesties of writing and historical revision he might be planning in his upcoming book, ‘The Lost Symbol.’

    Expand on the Aoteroa/Te Wai Pounamu (New Zealand) section by adding in the ‘Celtic New Zealand’ thesis as a subject of discussion.

    Talk even more about how Conspiracy Theories and Official Theories interrelate and how one can easily be the other.

    Introduce the material from my upcoming talk to the New Zealand Skeptics ((More on this later.)) on Epistemically Authoritative Sources.

    And (probably) lots more.