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Birther Trek: Concepts

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In our five-year mission to seek out comprehension of the Birther Universe (BirtherVerse), I have come across quite a number of interesting concepts. In this late-stage retrospective, I’ll reprise some of them.

One of the most useful of the concepts I learned studying the birthers is the Dunning-Kruger Effect. In the simplest terms, the less someone knows, the more they think they know (and vice versa). This error in valuation of expertise underlies much of a birther’s view of evidence, and explains why someone with no experience in forensic document examination, or electronic file analysis, thinks that they are competent to render an 100% certain opinion on Barack Obama’s birth certificate. This human foible is not unique to birthers, and I find myself fighting it every day. I think that knowing how one makes mistakes helps reduce the number of them.

Another fun concept is the Crazification Factor, an observation that a significant number of people (sometimes set at 27%) just say crazy things. I was going to say that it explains really odd polling results, but I don’t think it actually explains anything. It is just an observation, and because of it, the numbers of birthers shouldn’t be seen as surprising. Human beings are just less rational than they seem on the surface.

Another idea that I found helpful was the influence of community. Birthers who believe crazy things seem deluded. Delusions have three characteristics: 1) they are believed with certainty, 2) they do not respond to counterargument, and they are patently untrue. A clinical diagnosis of delusion has an exception, and that is when the delusion is held by one’s community or sub-culture, such as birther Internet social networks. (I think sub-culture is useful in understanding the bizarre comments at Birther Reports that would be socially unacceptable in general.) On that same line, historian Richard Hofstadter describes a “paranoid style” of thinking that is not actually clinically paranoid. Paranoid style thinking differs from paranoid thinking in that the subject thinks that the conspiracy is out to get everybody, not just him.

I suppose no discussion of birthers would be complete without mentioning confirmation bias. Put simply people tend to more readily accept information that is in line with what they already believe, and to reject information to the contrary. Again, this is a weakness we all have to some degree and being aware of it can help avoid mistakes.

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22 Responses to Birther Trek: Concepts

  1. avatar
    OllieOxenFree July 26, 2014 at 4:22 pm #

    There is also the infinite progression of complexity theory. A theory which states that the more convoluted a scenario is to a particular conspiracy, the more likely that it is the only possible explanation.

    Think of it as the opposite to Ockham’s Razor.

  2. avatar
    Bonsall Obot July 26, 2014 at 4:41 pm #

    I am curious if any other filthy Obots have heard of any other conspiracy theory which incorporates the firm belief that the conspiracy’s deniers will be tried/convicted/imprisoned/executed. Have flat-earthers, JFK nuts, moon-hoaxers or 9/11 Truthers employed this ridiculous gambit Or is it something new and exclusive to Birfoons?

  3. avatar
    Andrew Vrba, PmG July 26, 2014 at 4:58 pm #

    Bonsall Obot:
    I am curious if any other filthy Obots have heard of any other conspiracy theory which incorporates the firm belief that the conspiracy’s deniers will be tried/convicted/imprisoned/executed. Have flat-earthers, JFK nuts, moon-hoaxers or 9/11 Truthers employed this ridiculous gambit Or is it something new and exclusive to Birfoons?

    Nope, I think its just birthers. It never occurs to any of them, that if Obama was what they fear him to be, they’d all be stone. f’ing. dead. by now! Every last one of them, because they see him as someone who kills dissenting voices. Well, they’re still squawking, and therefore drawing breath, so obviously that little theory is incorrect.

  4. avatar
    Sef July 26, 2014 at 5:01 pm #

    Andrew Vrba, PmG: Nope, I think its just birthers. It never occurs to any of them, that if Obama was what they fear him to be, they’d all be stone. f–cking. dead. by now. Every last one of them, because they see him as someone who kills dissenting voices. Well, they’re still squawking, and therefore drawing breath.

    Ah ha! Suggests a title for a new movie: “Attack of the Zombie Birthers”.

  5. avatar
    Dr. Conspiracy July 26, 2014 at 5:18 pm #

    At least some 9/11 Truthers accuse Bush of treason:

    “Confirmed Isreal did 9-11 – Bush/Clinton admin gave Nukes to Israel Used in 9-11. Treason by US Presidents. … There is more, but just keep these in mind as you read and then you will see why I say what these two presidents did was treason and a death penalty offense.”

    or

    “This (9/11) was all planned. This was a government-ordered operation. Bush personally signed the order. He personally authorized the attacks. He is guilty of treason and mass murder.” –Stanley Hilton

    http://vaticproject.blogspot.mx/2014/05/confirmed-isreal-did-9-11-bushclinton.html

    Bonsall Obot: I am curious if any other filthy Obots have heard of any other conspiracy theory which incorporates the firm belief that the conspiracy’s deniers will be tried/convicted/imprisoned/executed.

  6. avatar
    Arthur July 26, 2014 at 5:22 pm #

    Bonsall Obot: I am curious if any other filthy Obots have heard of any other conspiracy theory which incorporates the firm belief that the conspiracy’s deniers will be tried/convicted/imprisoned/executed.

    Threatening non-believers with punishment is commonplace among religious extremists, and since bitherism seems as much a cult as a conspiracy, it’s not surprising to find it rife with threats against infidels.

  7. avatar
    Bonsall Obot July 26, 2014 at 5:25 pm #

    Dr. Conspiracy:

    At least some 9/11 Truthers accuse Bush of treason:

    Yes, but do any 9/11 Truthers regularly tell people who deny Trutherism (i.e., the vast majority of sane Americans) that they, personally will be punished for their “complicity,” in the manner that Birfers routinely tell anyone posting sanity on the Internet that they will be rounded up as soon as the Kenyan Muslim Usurper is deposed?

    It just seems to be a new development in conspiracy theorism that merely disagreeing with the conspiracy makes one criminally complicit, as opposed to just “sheeple.”

  8. avatar
    Bonsall Obot July 26, 2014 at 5:26 pm #

    Arthur: Threatening non-believers with punishment is commonplace among religious extremists, and since bitherismseems as much a cult as a conspiracy, it’s not surprising to find it rife with threats against infidels.

    OK, this makes sense, inasmuch as Birferism is entirely faith-based, if not religious in nature.

  9. avatar
    Andrew Vrba, PmG July 26, 2014 at 5:29 pm #

    Sef: Ah ha! Suggests a title for a new movie: “Attack of the Zombie Birthers”.

    Shoot them in the keyboard. Its the only way to stop a Zombie Birther. A head-shot is completely ineffectual, as the brain is far too atrophied to be a weak point. Destroying their keyboard takes away their only means of attack.

  10. avatar
    Dr. Conspiracy July 26, 2014 at 5:37 pm #

    Reminds me of the Zombie movie, “World War Z,” in which North Korea stopped the spread of Zombies, who transmitted their infection through biting, by pulling everybody’s teeth.

    Andrew Vrba, PmG: Shoot them in the keyboard. Its the only way to stop a Zombie Birther. A head-shot is completely ineffectual, as the brain is far too atrophied to be a weak point. Destroying their keyboard takes away their only means of attack.

  11. avatar
    Slartibartfast July 26, 2014 at 6:55 pm #

    That would be “Rube Goldberg’s razor”.

    OllieOxenFree:
    There is also the infinite progression of complexity theory. A theory which states that the more convoluted a scenario is to a particular conspiracy, the more likely that it is the only possible explanation.

    Think of it as the opposite to Ockham’s Razor.

  12. avatar
    Andrew Vrba, PmG July 26, 2014 at 9:01 pm #

    Dr. Conspiracy:
    Reminds me of the Zombie movie, “World War Z,” in which North Korea stopped the spread of Zombies, who spread their infection through biting, by pulling everybody’s teeth.

    HA! Yeah, that was one of the more interesting Zombies I’ve seen semi-recently!

  13. avatar
    CarlOrcas July 26, 2014 at 9:50 pm #

    Bonsall Obot: It just seems to be a new development in conspiracy theorism that merely disagreeing with the conspiracy makes one criminally complicit, as opposed to just “sheeple.”

    I’ve seen a lot of strange stuff from conspiracy buffs over the years but this extension is new in recent history but, as I recall, supporters of those out of favor in the past were treated quite harshly.by those in power.

  14. avatar
    Dr. Conspiracy July 27, 2014 at 12:26 pm #

    I’m sure that movie brought home one point strongly to the theater audience, “mute your cell phone!”

    Andrew Vrba, PmG: HA! Yeah, that was one of the more interesting Zombies I’ve seen semi-recently!

  15. avatar
    Dr. Conspiracy July 27, 2014 at 12:31 pm #

    First, I’m not sure how widespread that attitude is outside a few vocal Yahoos on the Internet. It could also be an artifact of the echo chamber.

    Bonsall Obot: It just seems to be a new development in conspiracy theorism that merely disagreeing with the conspiracy makes one criminally complicit, as opposed to just “sheeple.”

  16. avatar
    MN-Skeptic July 27, 2014 at 12:55 pm #

    Reading your columns along with TheFogbow has certainly helped me understand Butterdezillion’s craziness. I can’t think of a person who better exemplifies both confirmation bias and the Dunning-Kruger Effect.

    With Butternut, confirmation bias leads her to fervently and unquestionably believe any negative statement or wild conspiracy about Obama. She has a whole memorized mythology which she has pieced together from all the negative articles posted at FreeRepublic. But confirmation bias also makes her reject any statement of fact about Obama put out by the mainstream media.

    Butternut’s skepticism of anything published in the mainstream media brings out the Dunning-Kruger Effect of her personality. BZ thinks that in order to be an expert on anything – law, document analysis, ocean rescue protocols, etc. – all you have to do is research it on the internet. And naturally she researches it with a conclusion in mind. Her insightful research has led her to the conclusion that Hawaii has indirectly confirmed that Obama’s birth certificate is a forgery. And that frogmen were positioned at the site of Ms. Fuddy’s airplane crash. It’s all true! She’s done the research! (Sigh.)

  17. avatar
    Loren July 27, 2014 at 3:37 pm #

    Dr. Conspiracy:
    First, I’m not sure how widespread that attitude is outside a few vocal Yahoos on the Internet. It could also be an artifact of the echo chamber.

    I agree with Doc. The “Anti-birthers will end up in jail” group is a subset of a subset of Birthers. Basically a handful of commenters on a couple of blogs. Even the Birthers at FreeRepublic rarely use that line.

    Second, there’s a good chance you’ve noticed these Birthers making that prediction, but not other conspiracy theorists, simply because you pay more attention to the random isolated Birthers online than you do to random isolated people who promote other conspiracy theories. It’s a selection bias; go browsing AboveTopSecret and the like, and you’ll find other brands of crazy.

    For instance, while it’s not threats of jail, high-profile alt-medicine hack Mike Adams made a controversial post just in the past week where he basically argued that people who defend GMO crops should be *killed*. And someone (quite possibly Adams himself) created a “hit list” of bloggers who oppose Adams and his anti-GMO claims.

    http://blogs.discovermagazine.com/collideascape/2014/07/22/mike-adams-monsanto-nazis-disturbing-article/

  18. avatar
    aarrgghh July 28, 2014 at 1:19 am #

    hand-in-hand with dunning-kruger, birthers disregard real knowledge, real expertise and the real credentials of those who’ve put in the time training to earn them. they disregard real experts because real experts consistently tell them the last thing they want to hear: that they’re wrong. as i’ve said:

    the denigration of professional expertise is a fundamental conceit of the know-nothing, who insists that the value of deriving an answer is equal or less than the value of writing it down, which is all the know-nothing is qualified to do.

    and as asimov’s said:

    there is a cult of ignorance in the united states, and there has always been. the strain of anti-intellectualism has been a constant thread winding its way through our political and cultural life, nurtured by the false notion that democracy means that ‘my ignorance is just as good as your knowledge.’

  19. avatar
    MN-Skeptic July 28, 2014 at 2:43 pm #

    aarrgghh: hand-in-hand with dunning-kruger, birthers disregard real knowledge, real expertise and the real credentials of those who’ve put in the time training to earn them. they disregard real experts because real experts consistently tell them the last thing they want to hear

    Witness this every time the birthers lose in court. The birthers are incensed that the judges are so ignorant!

  20. avatar
    aarrgghh July 29, 2014 at 12:57 am #

    MN-Skeptic: Witness this every time the birthers lose in court. The birthers are incensed that the judges are so ignorant!

    freeper diogenesLamp:

    It is my personal opinion that the entire Judiciary is filled with people who do not actually understand the meaning, the purpose, and the intent of Article II. They have all been taught wrong, going back centuries.

    Till the legal system has been educated to correct their wrong understanding, they will rule wrongly on this every single time.

    The courts are wrong. It is because they are ignorant. If we make the correct understanding pervasive enough, eventually they will look at the evidence, and eventually they will correct their ignorance.

    denial is a powerful drug.

  21. avatar
    RanTalbott July 29, 2014 at 3:29 am #

    aarrgghh: [quoting Asimov] nurtured by the false notion that democracy means that ‘my ignorance is just as good as your knowledge.’

    I like Dara O’Briain’s response to crackpots who think they deserve to be heard because “Well, science doesn’t know everything”:

    Yes, but science knows it doesn’t know everything. If science knew everything, it’d stop.
    But the mere fact that science doesn’t know everything doesn’t mean that you get to fill in the gaps with whatever fairy tale you happen to fancy.

  22. avatar
    The Magic M July 29, 2014 at 11:02 am #

    aarrgghh (quoting a Freeper nut): the entire Judiciary is filled with people who do not actually understand the meaning, the purpose, and the intent of Article II. They have all been taught wrong, going back centuries

    There’s “academia as seen by RWNJ’s” in a nutshell for you. They’re the ones who mindlessly parrot whatever they read on their sites, and they think university works the same way and doesn’t encourage independent thought and research.