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Astral Codex Ten Podcast

May 31, 2020


Continuing yesterday’s discussion of fake news:

Guess et al says that 46% percent of Trump voters endorsed the Pizzagate conspiracy theory. Does this mean fake news is very powerful?

We can compare this to belief in various other conspiracy theories, as measured by the 2016 Chapman University Survey Of American Fears. About 24% believe there’s a government conspiracy to cover up the truth about the moon landing, 30% about Obama’s birth certificate, and 33% about the North Dakota crash.

This last one is especially interesting because there was no unusual crash in North Dakota when the survey was written. The researchers included it as a placebo option to see if people would endorse a conspiracy theory that didn’t exist. 33% of them did.

Before we make fun of these people, consider: there’s a strong presumption that surveys don’t contain made-up questions. There was no “don’t know” option included on the poll, just various shades of “agree” or “disagree”. In order to condemn the people who “agreed” that the government was probably covering up the crash, we would have to assert that the more correct answer was “disagree”. In other words, that people should have an assumption of trusting the government, until they get some specific reason to distrust it. You can make that argument, but it’s not obvious. You could also start from the opposite assumption, where the government is guilty until proven innocent.