Tuesday, February 09, 2010

Dimensions for description of conspiracy theories

I have been reading the paper identified above, which was suggested to me by my friend Julianne, and it occurred to me to define a set of dimensions for classification of conspiracy threories. They are:

Veracity: One might think of this as a bipolar index -- true or false. On the other hand, some of these theories are quite complex and might be partially true, mostly true, with an element of truth, etc.

Credibility: The probability assigned to the veracity of the theory. For bipolar veracity, this is the normal "probably true" versus "probably false". If one accepts a multilevel veracity, then the credibility might assign a probability distribution over the veracity variable. This may have a couple of aspects:
  • The internal credibility: the degree to which the elements of the theory hang together and make sense
  • The credibility of those vouching for the theory
Benign versus Harmful: The conspiracy theory that parents have promoted the legend of Santa Clause as a conspiracy to keep the truth from their children is perhaps less serious than the conspiracy theory that some sinister force (Israel, the CIA, etc.) had been responsible for 9/11 in order to falsely implicate Muslims with the crime. Again, one might distinguish among:
  • The "visible consequences" that can be directly linked to the conspiracy theory
  • "Unseen consequences" that probably or may exist, but which are less clearly seen and less clearly tied to the conspiracy theory
The justification for promoting the conspiracy theory: In World War II, the Allies promulgated conspiracy theories to protect military operations from an enemy that was widely believed as both powerful and nefarious, while Fox News seems to promote conspiracy theories to discredit political opponents whose good intentions seem quite likely.

Credence: Whether or not a credibility theory is credible, it may be believed. This would seem to have two aspects:
  • The degree of belief that an individual assigns to a conspiracy theory
  • The distribution of credence over the population of interest

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