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Author Archives: John Naughton

New blog series answering the ‘big’ questions

Ever since we embarked on the project, we’ve found that the subject of our inquiry has intrigued people.  Journalists, visitors, academic colleagues and members of the public regularly ask questions like: What’s your definition of a conspiracy theory? What have you found out? Are conspiracy theories bad for democracy? Did Lee Harvey Oswald act alone? […]

18 November 2015
Here they come

Conspiracy theories about the 2015 UK general election result. For example:

10 May 2015
An algorithmic approach to trustworthiness

Apropos last week’s symposium on virality, and in particular the relative speeds of online dissemination of truths and untruths, this paper from Google researchers is interesting.  At the moment, Google ranks search results using a proprietary algorithm (or, more likely, set of algorithms) which perform some kind of ‘peer review’ of web pages.  The essence […]

7 March 2015
Crude conspiracies?

A common feature of some kinds of conspiracy theory is a claim that the ostensible motives of states when they intervene in the affairs of others are in fact not the ‘real’ motives.  Thus the assertion that the US and the UK went to war in Iraq not because of genuine fears that the Saddam […]

31 January 2015
So what does lie behind the deficit-reduction mania?

This belongs in the “I’m-not-a-conspiracy-theorist-but..” department.  I’ve been reading an interesting blog post by Simon Wren-Lewis, the Oxford economist, who is as puzzled by the apparent illogicality of the Coalition’s current economic policies as I am.  He writes: I have searched hard to find a macroeconomic rationale for Osborne’s policy stance. A belief that QE […]

26 January 2015
Aesthetics of conspiracy theories

Nice blog post by a pseudonymous colleague (whose identity is not so secret that he cannot be unmasked after a few moments of assiduous link-following!) He (for it is a he — or perhaps one should say ‘an he’) postulates six rules for a well-formed CT: Rule 1. Lack of evidence proves that there is […]

18 March 2014
Decline in conspiracy theories. Really?

Intrigued by Alfred’s post about Uscinski’s and Parent’s claim that conspiracy theorising has been on the decline since the JFK assassination, I went looking on Google’s Ngram Viewer (which ransacks the 5.2 million books that Google had digitised up to 2008) to see what could be gleaned from the books database. Here’s the result: Conclusion: […]

14 November 2013
Old conspiracy theories never die.  They just mutate with the times.
Old conspiracy theories never die. They just mutate with the times.

At our Festival of Ideas gig on Wednesday someone asked a question that none of us had ever considered: how do conspiracy theories end? Tony Badger took it on, and talked about how the anti-communist hysteria of Senator Joe McCarthy’s time had endured over time, taking different forms in different eras, right down to the […]

26 October 2013
Does Amazon really know what it’s selling?
Does Amazon really know what it’s selling?

Many moons ago I wrote an Observer column about how Amazon’s self-publishing system was turning into a a machine for generating lucrative spam. Now, an investigation by The Kernel reports that it may also be an engine for circulating Holocaust denial literature, as well as other dubious stuff. The article goes on to claim that […]

15 October 2013