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“Denial”: how to deal with a conspiracy theory in the era of ‘post-truth’

I only have a very small part in the film Denial compared to those of David Irving (played by Timothy Spall), Richard Rampton QC (played by Tom Wilkinson), Anthony Julius (played by Andrew Scott), and Professor Deborah Lipstadt (played by Rachel Weisz), but I like to think it’s an important one. When Irving sued Deborah […]

15 February 2017
Workshop “Populists and Technocrats: open antagonisms, hidden affinities”

A workshop on “Populists and technocrats: open antagonisms, hidden affinities”, co-convened by Conspiracy and Democracy project researchers Dr. Tanya Filer and Dr. McKenzie McHarg, is one of four to have been selected from across the University for collaboration with the Philomathia Forum in 2017. The Philomathia Forum is a vital part of the Philomathia Social […]

1 February 2017
New publication on conspiracy and democracy!

I’ve recently published a special issue of Critical Review, in which a group of political theorists reflect on the place of conspiracy and conspiracy theory in democratic politics. Our former guest on the project, Lawrence Quill, has a piece based on his successful lecture on Technological Conspiracies. I’ve written an introductory essay as well as […]

28 July 2016
A note on privacy

The standard definition of a conspiracy is ‘a secret plan by a group to do something unlawful or harmful’. The first working term is ‘secret’. This then raises the question of whether a collective action is protected by positive or malign secrecy. In the language of our times, secrecy is usually a pejorative term, whereas […]

23 December 2015
How do conspiracy theories relate to non-democratic regimes?

One of the striking features of ‘conspiracy theory’ in the advanced democracies is how marginal it is. Conspiracy theory is a term of derision, and political leaders tend to be wary of being associated with any claims that could plausibly be called a conspiracy theory. The anxious liberals of the 1950s who gave us terms like ‘conspiracy theory’ […]

21 December 2015
Are conspiracy theories a threat to democracy?

When I began reading around the literature in conspiracy theory coming out of psychology and political science in particular, and certainly in discussions of conspiracy theory in the media, there was what struck me as a lazy and somewhat self satisfied assumption, never really cashed out, that conspiracy theories were undermining democracy. The ‘dangers to […]

30 November 2015
Conspiracy theories, surprises and democracy

What most – pleasantly – surprised me was how it was in fact possible to link conspiracy theories directly to politics. Most of the literature on conspiracy theories I encountered at first analysed it from the perspective of psychology, American studies etc, but the survey work I have been doing with Rolf and YouGov opened […]

24 November 2015
What has surprised you the most in your study of conspiracy theories?

Because I am a historian, naturally I began with a historical view of the evolution of conspiracy theories over the last couple of centuries or so, based on the idea that the broader and wider the public sphere becomes, the more likely you are to get conspiracy theories based on popular suspicion of government, while […]

18 November 2015
Science and Conspiracy

Our conference, titled Suspect Science: Climate Change, Epidemics, and Questions of Conspiracy, starts today! Here’s a re-post of a short article introducing the conference, and also introducing a guest week that we are editing at openDemocracy, where several of our conference participants have now published short essays. Imagining Conspiracies about Science Many serious people are worried […]

17 September 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