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9781421444451
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Conspiracy

Why the Rational Believe the Irrational

Best-selling author Michael Shermer presents an overarching theory of conspiracy theories—who believes them and why, which ones are real, and what we should do about them.

Nothing happens by accident, everything is connected, and there are no coincidences: that is the essence of conspiratorial thinking. Long a fringe part of the American political landscape, conspiracy theories are now mainstream: 147 members of Congress voted in favor of objections to the 2020 presidential election based on an unproven theory about a rigged electoral process promoted by the mysterious group QAnon. But this is only the latest example in a long history of ideas that include the satanic panics of the 1980s, the New World Order and Vatican conspiracy theories, fears about fluoridated water, speculations about President John F. Kennedy's assassination, and the notions that the Sandy Hook massacre was a false-flag operation and 9/11 was an inside job.

In Conspiracy, Michael Shermer presents an overarching review of conspiracy theories—who believes them and why, which ones are real, and what we should do about them. Trust in conspiracy theories, he writes, cuts across gender, age, race, income, education level, occupational status—and even political affiliation. One reason that people believe these conspiracies, Shermer argues, is that enough of them are real that we should be constructively conspiratorial: elections have been rigged (LBJ's 1948 Senate race); medical professionals have intentionally harmed patients in their care (Tuskegee); your government does lie to you (Watergate, Iran-Contra, and Afghanistan); and, tragically, some adults do conspire to sexually abuse children. But Shermer reveals that other factors are also in play: anxiety and a sense of loss of control play a role in conspiratorial cognition patterns, as do certain personality traits.

This engaging book will be an important read for anyone concerned about the future direction of American politics, as well as anyone who's watched friends or family fall into patterns of conspiratorial thinking.

About the Author

Michael Shermer (SANTA BARBARA, CA) is the publisher of Skeptic magazine, a Presidential Fellow at Chapman University, the host of the popular podcast The Michael Shermer Show, and the Skeptic Substack weekly columnist. He is the author of many New York Times–bestselling books, including Why People Believe Weird Things: Pseudoscience, Superstition, and Other Confusions of Our Time, The Believing Brain: From Ghosts and Gods to Politics and Conspiracies—How We Construct Beliefs and Reinforce Them as Truths, and The Moral Arc: How Science Makes Us Better People.

Endorsements

"I enjoyed reading this book tremendously. Seeking to debunk some common yet irrational conspiracy theories, Shermer explains what drives people's belief in them while also acknowledging that real conspiracies do occur. Along the way, he delves deeper into a range of other interesting questions, examining what the evidence says about a Kennedy or 9/11 conspiracy, how to detect if conspiracy theories are likely true or false, how to talk to conspiracy theorists, and the details of the real conspiracy that ultimately gave rise to World War I. Shermer does a terrific job making this complex yet interesting research field accessible to any reader."

- Jan-Willem van Prooijen, Vrije Universiteit Amsterdam, editor of The Psychology of Political Polarization

"Conspiracists are often dismissed as fools or psychopaths, but Michael Shermer shows we are all susceptible: left and right, old and young, educated and illiterate. In this erudite account of the history and mystery of conspiratorial beliefs, he explores the devastating social consequences conspiracies can create—along with their powerful psychological and evolutionary benefits."

- Carol Tavris, coauthor of Mistakes Were Made (But Not by Me)

"Searingly smart and fascinatingly informative, Conspiracy is also an exhilarating read. With his trademark flair, brilliance, and hawk-eyed clarity, Michael Shermer helps us make sense of a world run amok."

- Amy Chua, Yale Law Professor and author of Battle Hymn of the Tiger Mother and Political Tribes: Group Instinct and the Fate of Nations

"Imagined conspiracies claim one implausible explanation for many real problems. But some conspiracy claims are true, and more were true in our tribal past. How can you tell actual conspiracies from crazy theories? Once again, Michael Shermer has written a sparkling, irresistible, astonishing romp through one of today's biggest problems."

- Jared Diamond, author of Guns, Germs, and Steel

Reviews

"A fascinating tour of oddball wrongheadedness, with gentle but firm prescriptions for combatting it."

- Kirkus Reviews

"Conspiracies succeed thanks to repetition, and Shermer's numerous examples prove how entrenched these beliefs are within contemporary American culture. The book includes solid tips on how to assess a conspiracy theory's veracity, how to talk to conspiracists, and how to restore trust and truth in national conversations....A well-written and essential tool for those navigating today's complicated geopolitical landscape."

- Library Journal (starred review)
Johns Hopkins University Press
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9781421444451 : conspiracy-shermer
Hardback
October 25, 2022
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October 25, 2022
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