Tag: Rumour

Workshop rewrite

Well, with the promise of monies and fame, I have begun a rewrite of the Singapore paper for its inclusion in a book based upon the workshop.

We’re been told that if our papers come in before the 30th of this month in an acceptable (read: publishable) form, then we will get an honorarium ((That’s ‘monies for publication’ for you plebs.)).

Financial reward is not particularly common for paper publication; we are meant to be in the game not for wealth but to reward our fellow human beings. Still, money in this case is a good way to get people to rewrite their papers post the conference/workshop. Everyone intends to do a polish on a paper post its airing and yet very few people actually do it in anything like a speedy fashion. Promising the participant a fiscal reward… Well, that does inspire one to do a little work here and now.

My rewrite focuses on distinguishing rumours from gossip; I think there’s a lot of muddied thinking on the distinction and from a conversation with one of the attendees/organisers I think I need to explain quite explicitly why the philosophical distinction (from Tony Coady) is the way to go forward on the issue. I realise that I’ll be going against some of the Sociological and Social Psychological literature on the topic, but sometimes that is what a philosopher has to do.

We have to earn our mantle of arrogance somehow, you know.

I’m hoping to get the draft rewrite done by the end of next week; if anyone wants to volunteer to have a look over it for the purposes of seeing whether it makes sense to a non-philosopher, comment here. The book is aimed at the strategic communications crowd and it would be handy to see whether the paper, without me being there to explain it, makes sense to those outside me field.

Also, I think I’ve had too much coffee today…

Singapore Adventure Ahoy!


Due to an inability to read calendar dates properly I managed to miss the deadline for submitting the written version of my paper for the workshop on rumours that I am attending later this month is hot and humid Singapore.

The issue, as some might say, is now fixed.

‘Have You Heard?’ was first presented at the AAPNZ in Auckland three years ago, where it got reasonably good press from the attendees and provided me with a great near miss for its publication, when the editor of the (then) forthcoming Episteme issue on conspiracy theories told me he would have published it had he seen it just a few weeks earlier. By the time he heard it, the issue was already being put to bed (as I believe some publishers say).

I did try to get it published elsewhere, to aggravating effect, and ended up letting it lie fallow in my filesystem, with the notion that, eventually, I’d stop writing such long and convoluted sentences like this one and get on with the task of submitting it elsewhere.

Which was why it was a bit of a surprise to get it requested for the Singaporean workshop; it seems the blog actually does have an academic readership and it seems what they heard of the paper, they liked ((I wish to congratulate myself now for using rumour-locution throughout this post without actually talking about rumours per se.))

Taking a paper overseas is a good reason to have a look over it; you wouldn’t want Customs seizing it for being too rude, or to find that it’s all dusty when you present it at the foreign podium. It turns out that whilst the central thesis of ‘Have You Heard’ is, I think, still strong, the paper itself was filled with grammatical errors. This is most embarrassing; no wonder one of the reviewers asked if English was my second language.

One of the early ‘revise and resubmits’ I received for ‘Have You Heard’ proposed what I thought was a rather radical thesis; remove all the talk of conspiracy theories from the paper and just talk about rumours. Now, I didn’t do that, but, based upon this bout of editing, I think that maybe that is not a terrible idea after all. It’s not the conspiracy theory material isn’t interesting; it just doesn’t play as crucial a role in my analysis of why rumours are reliable as I thought.

So, maybe I will rewrite the paper after all, post-Singapore.

In other news, the season opener for ‘Lost’ was bloody brilliant.

An “Oh…” moment

So, the paper I am giving in Singapore, which is on Rumours, and touches on my thesis about the transmission of conspiracy theories is going to be preceded by Prof. Axel Gelfert’s paper entitled “Of Rumours and Conspiracy Theories: Philosophical Perspectives on Pathological Communication in the Public Sphere.”

Hmm… Hmm, says I, with bells on.


Singapore, Singapore, Singapore

I’ve been there before.

So, on the 22nd of February I will be attending a workshop entitled ‘The Political and Social Impact of Rumours’ at the Centre of Excellence for National Security at the S. Rajaratnam School of International Studies, Nanyang Technological University.

I’m giving an updated version of the Rumour paper from several AAPs ago, entitled “Have You Heard? The Rumour as Reliable.” ((Abstract: We have all heard Rumours. Some of us have even suffered because of them, often because they revealed something personal that we did not want to be publicly known or disseminated. Drawing on recent work by philosophers CAJ Coady and David Coady I will develop a theory which exploits the distinction between Rumours and Rumour-mongering. Whilst it seems true to think that mere Rumour-mongering, the act of passing on a Rumour maliciously, presents what can be called a ‘pathology’ of the normally reliable transmission of beliefs (which is usually associated with Testimony) I will argue that Rumours themselves have a reliable transmission process and thus can be examples of justified beliefs.

This analysis will then feed into a discussion of Conspiracy Theories, which share many salient features with Rumours but, quite often, must be contrasted with their non-conspiratorial, rival, theories. I will argue that whilst Rumours are reliable (as a mechanism for the transmission of justified beliefs) Conspiracy Theories are prima facie unreliable because of these rival, non-conspiratorial, theories.))

Because it is an updated paper I’m weirdly non-plussed about giving it (well, more so than usual) and I should be, if not concerned, a bit excited. This is a multi-disciplinary workshop, which means I’ll have to persuade non-philosophers as to my argument that we should treat Rumours as reliable, and I’ve been invited to attend, so presumably someone thinks sufficiently of me to want to get me to Singapore for a day ((If I were a Conspiracy Theorist I’d be concerned as to what that might mean.)).

It also means I’ve got very little to say about the paper at this moment in time. Whilst it is a keystone of the thesis (well, I think it is) and it provides me with a little project to work on post the thesis, I haven’t really been over the material in any depth for about a year. I need to start looking over it again and make it a little non-philosopher friendly.

Which is very much a task for a tomorrow. This is a very boring post, isn’t it? I’m not very exciting at the moment; I’m all about the thesis rewriting and not about the frolics.

Except for tomorrow; I’m going to the beach!

On Rumours, Conspiracy Theories and Facebook

I’m not fond of the term “Meme,’ mostly because any serious analysis of what it takes to be a meme and how they get transferred usually breaks down (there’s a reason why Dawkin’s stopped referring to memes and started talking about the extended phenotype), but if we accept that there are these ‘packets of information that spread virally,’ and they are referred to as “memes,” then the Internet is filled, almost to the point of bursting, with them.

There is, I think, a good paper to be written (hopefully by me) about the Internet and the transmission of Rumours. Such a paper would need to touch on memes (if only because a lot of rumours on the internet get referred to as memes and because people talk about information spread on the internet as viral) ((Steve Clarke, in ‘Conspiracy Theorizing and the Internet’ has touched upon the way Conspiracy Theories are spread and a paper I have in circulation runs a comparison between Conspiracy Theories and Rumours, so intellectual profit can be made from all of this.)).

One of my central theses in regards to Rumours is that they are a reliable; the way Rumours are transmitted in a community of speakers and hearers should give us pretty good grounds to say that the Rumour is likely to be true (the full story is much fleshed out and hopefully will see print pending the next set of revisions). However, my analysis somewhat relies on people doing some work to check out or verify the Rumours that they hear, and sometimes (perhaps often) it astounds me that this just doesn’t seem to happen ((Especially when its people I know and respect.)). Take the recent ‘meme’ about Facebook allowing third-party advertisers to use user pictures without explicit permission of the users themselves; I’ve seen several colleagues spread this rumour without bothering to do the one, easy step that every educated person should do; go to Snopes.com and check to see whether it is an urban legend (because it is)

Now, the fact that I did shows that the checks and balances of the Rumour transmission process occurs and hopefully my actions will not stop friends of mine from passing on the falsehood but will also make them more likely to check the status of the next Rumour they hear… Well, that’s what I hope, but ‘hope’ springs eternal and rarely ever quenches the thirst.

It’s tricky, I admit. If Rumours are reliable, as I argue, then people probably do have a prima facie reason to take them on trust, especially if they come from a trustworthy source, but, then again, the Facebook rumour asserts something quite… well, if not exactly incredible something that is fairly damning and should be unexpected; thus, because it is unexpected, people should think ‘Okay, my source might be good, its a Rumour so its likely to be true, but given how remarkable this claim is I should be a little sceptical of it and just go check Snopes.com.”

Which made me wonder why people didn’t. A simple answer would be that we expect this kind of behaviour from entities like Facebook, which is symptomatic, I think, of a kind of Conspiracism. We have this pre-existing belief that entities like Facebook, et al, are, despite protests to the contrary, up to no good. We believe that these entities are likely to be conspiring against us, and so rumours such like ‘Facebook is allowing advertisers to use our photos’ isn’t really all that unexpected or incredible at all; it fits with our other beliefs.

Now, there is a debate as to how rational that set of beliefs (about evil corporations and what they are up to) are, and that debate will inform the debate about when we should bother to check what our sources tell us. I was suspicious about the Facebook rumour so I checked it out; other people weren’t. Now it turns out that my suspicion was correct and the credulity expressed by others was not, but given that we are talking about reliable processes it may turn out that my suspicion was actually a bit malformed and perhaps I should have been credulous… Which is where it becomes all the more tricky and I decide to leave this to another time, a time, hopefully, that produces a conference paper or even a journal article.

Food for thought.