By Beatriz Neves
Arts & Culture Editor
Flat Earth, Area 51, QAnon, the fake moon landing, the Reptilian Elite and the Illuminati are all popular and contemporary so-called "conspiracy theories." We hear about them on our social media or on television more often than not. But the American political scientist Joseph Uscinski has crossed all limits and dedicated his life to the study of conspiracy theories. He describes it as "an explanation of historical, ongoing, or future events that cites as a main causal factor a group of powerful persons, the conspirators, acting in secret for their benefit against the common good." As the name reveals, these are theories of conspiracies favouring only a selected group.
Conspiracy theories have always been around, but nowadays, they seem to have won people's hearts as never before. Although some theories might seem as clearly crazy or even ridiculous, there were many cases of ideas once considered absurd that turned out to be true throughout history. Great scientists were once also thought to be delusional or bizarre, such as Darwin, Mendel, Copernicus or Kepler. However, they all lived in extremely repressed societies dictated mainly by religion. In our democratic societies today, we have a continuously improving scientific understanding of the universe. So why don’t conspiracy theories make the cut?
"Those are the type of people who are scared of being disappointed or their ego is too inflated to think about the possibility," says Rafael Fernando. He is a former Dawson Student and a firm believer in the flat Earth. He also manages a Facebook group with more than two thousand flat-Earthers. "I thought it was crazy the first time I saw this as well," continues Rafael. The flat-Earth community is very heartfelt in their beliefs, and they are very engaged in spreading the ideas and arguments that, according to them, expose the truth. "We won't force the truth on the people. We will just leave it out there, and you can see if you want," says Rafael.
Uscinski says that conspiracy theories should be treated as wrong, but they are also necessary for society's healthy functioning. Although conspiracies happen and people should be cautious about it, most conspiracy theories do not reflect the best judgment since they contradict most official records.
However, arguing against it is not necessarily the best way to convince someone of the contrary. Due to the cognitive bias called the backfire effect, we tend to double-down on our beliefs when confronted with counter-evidence. It limits our ability to convince others or to understand counterarguments rationally. Along with the backfire effect, many believers in conspiracy theories also are impacted by confirmation bias. This cognitive bias is the idea that we tend to only search for information that confirms our already preexisting beliefs. Thus, we only absorb the media that we agree with, and when confronted with the opposite argument, we tend to just deny it.
Most conspiracy theories' undeniable inconsistency and sensationalism forces most of society to neglect their credibility. Within the flat-Earth movement itself, there are various models of truth. Some propose that the Earth's edges are surrounded by a wall of ice holding in the oceans. Others suggest that our world is protected by an enormous snow globe that does not allow anything to fall off Earth's edges. To justify the day and night, most believers agree that the sun moves around the Earth and not the other way around. Their complete neglect of any scientific discovery that could in any way contradict their theory reveals their contradiction and denial of science.
Thus, why are there still many people who embrace these theories and continue to believe in them? There are a few reasons. It is inherent to human nature to have something to ground you, such as religion, a sports team, or simply your family. As mammals, we also need the social part of our lives, which explains so many people are having mental health problems caused by the quarantine period during the pandemic. Finally, according to the psychologist Marina Lohmann, "there is the aspect of the suspicion or doubt. If you are someone who has experienced betrayal, you will be more likely to question everything around you."