Tag Archives: Conspiracy

UFOs as US PsychOp

UFOs are objects in the sky that often seem to display amazing physical abilities. We have four main categories of theories to explain them. Under two kinds of theories, these abilities are illusory: (A) They could be errors, delusions, and misunderstandings, like seeing Venus or swamp gas. Or (B), they could be lies and hoaxes, intended to fool others. Under the other two kinds of theories, these abilities are real: (C) They are from aliens. Or (D) they are from Earth orgs that have been hiding their amazing abilities.

To estimate the chance of each kind of theory, one should multiply a prior chance for each type, a chance which ignores any concrete evidence of actual sightings, times a posterior chance that if each theory were true, we’d see the sort of sightings evidence that we do. (Renormalize these products to get posteriors.) A year ago I argued that the prior chance on the aliens theory wasn’t nearly as low as many seem to think; its much higher than in a typical murder trial, for example. So you have to actually look at the sightings evidence to judge its posterior chance, just as you would in a murder trial.

Today I want to consider the hoax category. In particular I want to consider the following hoax conspiracy theory: some part of the US government has, since the 1940s, had a long-term campaign to pay people to lie about seeing UFOs, and to make fake evidence to fool others into thinking they saw objects with amazing abilities. Of course once enough people heard about these events, then most reported sightings after that might be errors, delusions, and misunderstandings.

During the Second World War, the US government managed some pretty large and effective conspiracies. Such as the Manhattan project and the many ways they mislead Germany about our D-Day invasion. They seem thus to have then been roughly capable of managing a large UFO conspiracy. But, yes, the duration of this purported conspiracy would be much longer than in these prior examples.

Those prior successful conspiracies were also more closely related to military activities. Do we have evidence of a US ability or inclination regarding conspiracies more distant from military operations? Yes, in fact. The US had large and successful efforts, kept hidden for many decades, to move the fashion in art and writing away from Soviet styles, toward “modern” US styles. To make the US seem more prestigious relative to the USSR in the world’s eyes.

Okay, but what might the US government see itself as standing to gain from such a conspiracy? First, it is already known that the US government has promoted UFO groups in particular areas, and fed them false info on UFOs. They did this to “muddy the waters” regarding new tech that the US was developing and testing in the skies. Spies of foreign powers might plausibly hang near US testing facilities, and ask around around for reports of strange sightings. Such spies would get less useful info if local UFO groups are inclined to report many strange things unrelated to US tech testing.

In the Cold War, a big priority of the US military was to discourage enemies from launching a nuclear war against the US. And as an enemy is more likely to attack when then feel more confident of the consequences of their attack, one way to discourage such attacks is to muddy the waters re US military abilities, and re other possible powers who might react to such an attack. So if US could get enemy leaders to take UFO reports seriously, it could get those leaders to worry that they have underestimated US abilities, or that there are another hidden powers around.

Many UFO reports and interpretations have given the impression that the powers behind UFOs are especially interested in nuclear power and nuclear weapons, and that they fear or disapprove of such things. Enemy leaders who give credence to such reports might then fear that, if they initiated a nuclear attack, they’d suffer retaliation from such powers. Or maybe they’d just step in to take control after such a war weakened all of its participants.

I estimate roughly a one percent prior for this scenario, which is substantially higher than the prior I assigned to UFOs as aliens. Furthermore, this theory seems to quite naturally account for the key puzzles I struggled to explain regarding an aliens theory, namely that they are here while the universe looks empty, and that they stay near the limits of our vision, neither making themselves clearly visible nor completely invisible. This hoax category thus has the strongest posterior, in my view. (Yes I haven’t discussed the other two theory categories much; maybe I’ll say more on those some other day.)

Note that conditional on this UFO as US psychop theory being true, we should give more credence to other US conspiracy theories, such as that the US faked the moon landings. I thus now give more credence to this, even if I still see it as less likely than not. And conditional on believing other such theories, this UFO as US psychop theory becomes more believable.

Added 10a: As the two US WWII secrets I mentioned were kept for only a few years, some say large orgs can’t keep secrets longer than that. But the US kept secret for 41 years that it faked its excuse for the Vietnam war, and for 46 years that it spied on citizen phone calls via Project Minaret. KFC has kept its recipe secret for 70 years, and Coca-Cola has kept its secret for 130 years. Venice kept its glass-blowing methods secret for many centuries, and China kept secret its methods of making both silk and porcelain for over a thousand years.

Yes, there’s a difference between hidden and known secrets, but all else equal known secrets should be more vulnerable, as the curious can focus their efforts on revealing them. Much harder to focus efforts when searching for hidden secrets.

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Easy Conspiracy Tests

The most obvious kind of conspiracies to expect in the world are ones between your local organized crime, police, and political powers. These powers should each see each other as rivals to their dominance. So to reduce such threats they should should seek to either weaken each other,  or to ally with each other. There are rumors that such alliances are common around the world, and there is clear data that they have often happened in the past. 

So this is no mere theoretical conspiracy theory, to be dismissed by claiming that too many people would know to keep it a secret. This sort of conspiracy is not only verifiably common, it also has a quite credible threat of punishing those who too publicly expose it.

Given that this seems to usually be a real possibility, what sort of evidence might speak to it? Here are some indicators that, if true about your area, are at least weak evidence against such a local alliance:

  1. You see very little profitable crime in your area, such as gambling, drugs, or prostitution.
  2. You see profitable crime, but also conflicts over its control. E.g., wars over drug-selling territory.
  3. You see profitable crime, and little fighting for its control, but its consumer prices are quite near average costs.
  4. You see profitable crime, and see that those who enter such industries fear only police and competitors, not organized crime.
  5. You see a big conflicts in your area between police and organized crime. 
  6. Police in your area are bounty hunters, who regularly gain bounties from catching each other, and judges are clearly not corrupted.
  7. You do elections in a way that lets organized crime steal elections, yet they are clearly not being stolen.
  8. (what else?)

Now if you don’t see any of these signs in your area, you should estimate a higher than average chance that you have a crime-police-politics conspiracy in your area. And as the base rate is already substantial, your estimate should be even higher than that. 

If people were concerned about such conspiracies, they’d pay to hear from folks who collected and published stats on these indicators. And pay even more for stats that made it easier for skeptical observers to check on how such stats were collected and constructed. And then those with the worse indicators, suggesting local conspiracies, could learn about that fact, and perhaps coordinate to change it. 

So what does it tell you if few seem to care enough to even know if such stats are published?

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Non-UFO Local Alien Clues

[US] Department of Defense formally released three Navy videos that contain ‘unidentified aerial phenomena.’ … When the videos were published in 2017 and 2018 by The New York Times …, they gave new hope to those looking for signs of extraterrestrial life. … ‘it’s time that we make progress to understand the extraordinary technology being observed during these events.’ (More)

Still, when you run all the arguments through your mind, is it not possible to come away with an estimate of at least a one-in-a-thousand chance that alien visitations are a real thing? Even such a small chance would be worthy of more discussion. (More)

Alexander Wendt, a professor of international relations at Ohio State University. Wendt is a giant in his field of IR theory, but in the past 15 years or so, he’s become an amateur ufologist. … ‘It’s possible they’ve been here all along. … They could just be intergalactic tourists. Maybe they’re looking for certain minerals. It could just be scientific curiosity. It could be that they’re extracting our DNA. I mean, who knows? I have no idea. All I know is that if they are here, they seem to be peaceful.’ (More)

In the above, two social scientists, economist Tyler Cowen and political scientist Alexander Wendt, say to take UFOs-as-aliens more seriously. But in a quick search I can’t find any serious social analysis of this hypothesis. I see studies of why humans might want to believe in aliens, or why they might have a taboo against considering aliens. But not an analysis of alien social behavior, to help us evaluate the UFOs-as-aliens hypothesis. What I find is mostly like the above, “who knows?” So let me try.

To do Bayesian inference well, we need a set of not-crazy scenarios describing what might really be going on, we need a prior describing our beliefs about which of these scenarios seems how likely using our background knowledge, we need some more specific data to consider, and we need likelihood functions that say how likely each piece of specific data would be given each scenario.

Note: to study priors and likliehoods, I’ll need to make some assumptions, and see where they lead. That doesn’t mean I actually believe them.

While many UFO reports can be easily dismissed, a remnant of reports seems harder to dismiss, apparently showing artificial physical objects in the sky with amazing velocities and accelerations, but without the usual physical effects on nearby things.

Regarding these puzzling UFOs, I see three key explanation categories:

  • Measurement Error – What look like artificial objects with crazy extreme abilities are actually natural stuff looked at wrong. Perhaps due to intentional fakery. This is widely and probably correctly judged to be the most likely scenario. Nevertheless, we can’t be very confident of that without considering its alternatives in more detail.
  • Secret Societies – There really are artificial objects with amazing abilities, though perhaps somewhat overestimated via partially misleading observations. These are created and managed by hidden groups in our world, substantially tied to us. Secret local military research groups, distant secret militaries, non-state Bond-villains, time-travelers from our near future, dinosaur civilizations deep in the Earth’s crust, etc.
  • Aliens – Again these objects really do have amazing abilities, and are created by hidden groups. But in this case the relevant groups are much less integrated with and correlated with our societies and history. Little green men, their super-robot descendants, universe-sim admins, gods, etc. If these groups had a common origin with, competed with, or were much influenced by the groups that we know of, such things mostly happened long ago, and probably far away.

These three alternatives don’t obviously exhaust all options, but then again I can’t really think of much else.

Assuming that third scenario, hidden groups whose history and features are not much integrated with ours, we can confidently conclude that they most likely arose long ago and far away. Otherwise their space-time correlation with us would be an unlikely coincidence. Perhaps we and they arose from stars in the same stellar nursery, or Earth life was seeded by them, but that still leaves huge relevant durations and distances. And these pretty strongly support their having spectacular technologies and capacities. They have progressed and innovated for many millions and perhaps billions of years more than we. So they can travel very long distances, and survive very long durations.

Now it isn’t at all crazy to expect that many alien powers might arise over the scope and history of the universe. Our prior there has to start out high. But it is a bit more surprising that over billions of years this hasn’t resulted in visible changes to the universe we see. Somehow, all these advanced aliens have not widely rearranged galaxies, deconstructed stars, and so on. Once we condition on the “great filter” fact that we don’t see aliens out there, it become much less clear how likely we should consider aliens to be, especially aliens capable of and inclined to come near us. But that scenario also isn’t obviously impossible, so let us continue.

To consider UFOs-as-aliens, we must consider ancient aliens who were once very far away long ago, had spectacular tech and capacities, did not visibly change the universe, eventually traveled to here now, and are doing stuff around here now. The most likely scenarios consistent with that description tend to have those aliens be clearly visible around here. They’d be living near, building things, using local resources, dumping trash, fighting with each other, etc. But they are not clearly visible. So we must downgrade our prior again, perhaps a lot, to consider scenarios where active local aliens are clearly visible neither on cosmic scales nor on local scales.

For example, perhaps these aliens have found other attractive resources somewhere else hard-to-see nearby, perhaps dark matter or another dimension, resources so much more attractive than ours that they see no point in using the stuff we see. (But then why do their UFOs come here and interact with our matter?) Or perhaps they’ve coordinated to make our region into a nature preserve, not to be used much. Or perhaps they want to observe Earth and human evolution untouched and uninfluenced. Not crazy scenarios, but also not obviously the most likely ones consistent with our prior knowledge.

We have so far had to cut down our aliens prior to account for the lack of clear alien visibility at both cosmic and local scales. But we still have at least one more puzzling data point to integrate into our analysis: these aliens are sometimes somewhat visible as UFOs. Surely such advanced aliens are well aware of our existence, and can figure out roughly what we can see and infer about them. So either they are purposely allowing us to see glimpses of them in this way, or they are failing to prevent such glimpses.

So far, everything I’ve said I’ve heard before from others. Now come my original points, which I haven’t heard from elsewhere, though I wouldn’t be surprised if others have said them. (Far more is written on this than I have time to survey, as I lack good quality filters in this area.) Under either of these scenarios, purposeful or accidental revelation, it isn’t obvious that UFOs would be the only or main channel of such revelations to us about aliens.

If UFOs are shown to us on purpose, to influence our society in some way via a weak suspicion of local aliens, surely such capable aliens would also have a great many other way to influence us. And it is hard to imagine a purpose, or ability package, which would limit their influence to letting us see UFOs. They could edit our DNA, start pandemics or earthquakes, whisper hints to key leaders or innovators, kill off opponents, etc. And while they might be able to do all these things in ways that remain quite hidden, they could also work less hard to hide, and let some of us sometimes get glimpses of their influence.

Perhaps the fact that we see strange UFO behavior is due to accidental failures to sufficiently monitor or incentivize local alien actors who would otherwise want to influence us. Their abilities to prevent such failures would be quite good, but not quite perfect. But if so, similar failures could also allow local aliens to influence us in other ways. On our end, perhaps editing DNA, whispering hits, etc. On their end, they must at some points collect materials and energy sources, stay at home locations, and discard trash.

So under both types of scenarios, if UFOs are due to aliens we should also expect to sometimes see rare but striking alien influences in many other domains. Thus we should be able to get data to confirm or refute this UFOs-as-aliens theory by looking at many other areas of life, not just at strange objects in the sky. (Or in sea, caves, forests, and other sparse places.)

Sure, it is logically possible that aliens intend for us to see them only via strange sky objects. But our prior doesn’t at all favor that, even after modification to condition on low visibility at cosmic and local scales. So a lack of apparent alien influence in many other areas of life must count as evidence against the UFOs-as-aliens scenarios, both the purposeful-but-weak and the barely-accidental versions. Conversely, UFOs-as-aliens would be confirmed by a consistent pattern of rare but striking hard-to-explain influences in other areas of life, influences that aliens might plausibly want to cause.

I am somewhat of a polymath, pursuing a wider range of areas and topics than do most intellectuals or social scientists. So I consider myself to be more qualified than most to consider the possibility of strange influences on human behavior. And while I have in fact seen many strange things, for almost none does alien influence seem especially helpful in explaining what we see.

Now you might argue that aliens want to limit their purposeful revelations to one main most-effective area, or that due to varying costs of coordination and enforcement, one main area will end up being the hardest to control, and thus the area where the most accidental revelations occur. So why couldn’t strange stuff in the sky be that main area in either case?

Yes, that’s not crazy. But assume then that aliens are trying hard to just barely weakly reveal themselves in only one area, or that they are trying hard to prevent us from seeing them but just failing a bit in one worse area. Neither of these scenarios offer much encouragement for more careful analysis of this UFOs-as-aliens theory. In both cases, aliens are controlling how much we see, and so can plausibly quickly adjust their efforts to hide better if we surprise them with being more perceptive than expected. And if we are less perceptive than expected, they can relax their efforts a bit, to make it easier for us to see.

This is somewhat like the problem of inferring that we live in a sim via errors in the sim. If we lived in a sim, and the people running it could see us noticing errors, then they cold stop the sim at that point, back it up, and restart after putting more effort into cutting errors. So we’d only remember errors if they wanted us to remember them. In this scenario, if we just barely sometimes notice errors that we are not very sure are errors, our putting more effort into studying possible sim errors would only be rewarded by stronger efforts on their parts to hide their errors.

That is, if there really are gods around who don’t want us to easily see them, but who sometimes reveal themselves to some of us, we can’t gain much by trying to together better analyze our shared data, to see if they exist. They can control what we see, and control us more directly, in enough ways that we will only know and see what they want us to know and see. Yes, okay, maybe they intend to reward us by revealing themselves to us, but only after we do a good enough collective analysis of our data. But really, given all the other plausible motives and priorities that they might have, our prior has to count that as a quite unlikely scenario. Most likely, when they want us to see them, we’ll see them, but not before.

Yes, aliens might just happen to be at the edge of detectability to us, but not due to efforts on their part to prevent or encourage detection. Yet if that edge region in detectability space is narrow, then it seems that our relative prior on that scenario should be low. The fact that UFOs have remained near our edge of detectability for 80 years of improving sensor tech and increasing sensor density also weakly suggests that more than coincidence is at work here. However, an increasing taboo against UFO-as-aliens may be an adequate explanation for this, and the edge region of detectability space may not in fact be narrow.

Of course even more likely, perhaps, no nearby aliens cause UFOs. But if they do, the best hypothesis, for its combo of likelihood and productivity, seems to be aliens who can travel very far in space and time, who sometimes travel near us, but who care little about us or the types of resources that we can see or use. They do visit here sometimes, where we sometimes meet them accidentally. The rest of us only hear of such meetings when our taboo against reporting them happens to be especially weak. Weirder than I expected, but then the universe has been weirder than we’ve expected before.

Added 5a: A creative scenario is humans finding & using ancient alien tech. Alas, the prior chances seem quite low that alien tech would be abandoned near us, found, still functional after this long, functional outside supporting resources of their civilization, useable by us, and still kept hidden.

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Conspiracy Theory, Up Close & Personal

Hal Finney made 33 posts here on Overcoming Bias from ’06 to ’08. I’d known Hal long before that, starting on the Extropians mailing list in the early ‘90s, where Hal was one of the sharpest contributors. We’ve met in person, and Hal has given me thoughtful comments on some of my papers (including on this, this, & this). So I was surprised to learn from this article (key quotes below) that Hal is a plausible candidate for being (or being part of) the secretive Bitcoin founder, “Satoshi Nakamoto”.

Arguments for this conspiracy theory:

  • Hal lives a few miles from the guy Newsweek recently claimed was Nakamoto, and who admitted to being involved somehow.
  • Bitcoin is very carefully thought out and implemented, and Hal is one of the top few people in the open crypto world who have demonstrated this capacity. For example, Hal did most of the work behind PGP 2.0, perhaps the most successful open crypto predecessor to Bitcoin.
  • Hal is on record as the first guy besides Nakamoto to use Bitcoin software, he got the first coin transfer from Nakamoto, and he made some key software improvements.
  • Hal’s writing style is much closer to Nakamoto’s than anyone else who the many reporters digging into this have suspected of being Nakamoto.

The arguments against this conspiracy theory:

  • In a world has seven billion people, the prior on Hal being Nakamoto has be rather low.
  • Hal says he isn’t Nakamoto, and seems sincere.
  • Hal says Nakamoto understands C++ better than he does.
  • Hal’s son showed a reporter some gmails between Hal and Nakamoto. The reporter says:

The notion that Finney alone might have set up the two accounts and created a fake conversation with himself to throw off snoops like me, long before Bitcoin had any measurable value, seemed preposterous.

That last point seems pretty weak. We already know that the Bitcoin founder wants to be hidden. If Hal really created Bitcoin, he is plenty smart enough to think that Bitcoin might succeed, and to think of and implement the idea of creating fake conversations to cover his tracks. In this case Hal would also plausibly lie about his C++ skills, or maybe he got C++ help from someone else. In any case the probability of seeing those things conditional on Hal actually being Nakamoto seem pretty high.

It seems to me that the question comes down to your prior expectation on whether the person who did such a careful expert job on something so hard would be one of the few people in the field most known to be capable of and to have actually done such things, or whether it would be a new largely unknown person. And thinking about it that way I have to put a pretty large weight on it being someone known. And conditional on that it is hard for me not to think that yeah, there’s at least a 15% chance Hal was more involved than he’s said. And if so, my hat’s way off to you Hal!

But I also figure I’m not paying nearly as close attention to this bitcoin stuff as many others. Google doesn’t find me any other discussion of the Hal as Nakamoto theory, but surely if I wait a few weeks others who know more will weigh in, right? And since I can’t think of any actions of mine that depend on this issue, waiting is what I’ll do. Your move, internet.

Added 8a 26Mar: In the comments, Gwern points to further reasonable indicators against the Hal as Nakamoto theory.  I accept his judgement.

Those promised quotes: Continue reading "Conspiracy Theory, Up Close & Personal" »

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Best To Mix Odd, Ordinary

“The best predictor of belief in a conspiracy theory is belief in other conspiracy theories.” … Psychologists say that’s because a conspiracy theory isn’t so much a response to a single event as it is an expression of an overarching worldview. (more; HT Tyler)

Some people just like to be odd. I’ve noticed that those who tend to accept unusual conclusions in one area tend to accept unusual conclusions in other areas too. In addition, they also tend to choose odd topics on which to have opinions, and base their odd conclusions on odd methods, assumptions, and sources. So opinions on odd topics tend to be unusually diverse, and tend to be defended with an unusually wide range of methods and assumptions.

These correlations are mostly mistakes, for the purpose of estimating truth, if they are mainly due to differing personalities. Thus relative to the typical pattern of opinion, you should guess that the truth varies less on unusual topics, and more on usual topics. You should guess that odd methods, sources, and assumptions are neglected on ordinary topics, but overused on odd topics. And you should guess that while on ordinary topics odd conclusions are neglected, on odd topics it is ordinary conclusions that are neglected.

For example, the way to establish a new method or source is to show that it usually gives the same conclusions as old methods and sources. Once established, one can take it seriously in the rare cases where they give different conclusions.

A related point is that if you create a project or organization to pursue a risky unusual goal, as in a startup firm, you should try to be ordinary on most of your project design dimensions. By being conservative on all those other dimensions, you give your risky idea its best possible chance of success.

My recent work has been on a very unusual topic: the social implications of brain emulations. To avoid the above mentioned biases, I thus try to make ordinary assumptions, and to use ordinary methods and sources.

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US Record All Calls?

Many claim that the US Government saves recordings of all the phone calls, emails, etc. that it can get:

Wednesday night, [CNN’s] Burnett interviewed Tim Clemente, a former FBI counterterrorism agent, about whether the FBI would be able to discover the contents of past telephone conversations between [terrorist Tamerlan Tsarnaev and his wife]. He quite clearly insisted that they could. … On Thursday night, Clemente again appeared on CNN, this time with host Carol Costello. … He reiterated what he said the night before but added expressly that “all digital communications in the past” are recorded and stored. …

Former AT&T engineer Mark Klein revealed that AT&T and other telecoms had built a special network that allowed the National Security Agency full and unfettered access to data about the telephone calls and the content of email communications for all of their customers. … His amazing revelations were mostly ignored and, when Congress retroactively immunized the nation’s telecom giants for their participation in the illegal Bush spying programs, Klein’s claims (by design) were prevented from being adjudicated in court.

That every single telephone call is recorded and stored would also explain this extraordinary revelation by the Washington Post in 2010:

Every day, collection systems at the National Security Agency intercept and store 1.7 billion e-mails, phone calls and other types of communications.

Bruce Schneier is skeptical, however:

I don’t believe that the NSA could save every domestic phone call, not at this time. Possibly after the Utah data center is finished, but not now.

This seems to me a great place for a prediction market. It seems quite likely that the truth will be revealed within a half century, and if this claim is true hundreds of people must know who might be tempted to make a little extra money via anonymous bets.

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False Flag Forecasts

As admitted by the U.S. government, recently declassified documents show that in the 1960′s, the American Joint Chiefs of Staff signed off on a plan to blow up American airplanes (using an elaborate plan involving the switching of airplanes), and also to commit terrorist acts on American soil, and then to blame it on the Cubans in order to justify an invasion of Cuba. (more; see also)

One in seven people are convinced that the U.S. government was involved in a conspiracy to stage the September 11 attacks which killed nearly 3,000 people. A survey, which interviewed 1,000 people in the UK and the same number in the U.S., found that 14 per cent of Britons 15 per cent of Americans think the past administration was involved in the tragedy. (more from ’11)

More from ’08:


Such conspiracies aren’t always, or even usually, uncovered eventually, but such uncovering does happen often enough to make it seem socially useful to have betting markets on such questions.

Yes, such markets would have to be long term, and might need to be subsidized. And they might need to be housed in a reasonable distant and independent nation, like New Zealand.

But such market odds might offer an independent and reasonably reliable source to which doubters could turn when they weren’t sure how much weight to put on conspiracy theories vs. their skeptics. If you doubted who was behind the 9-11 attacks, wouldn’t it be great if you could turn to a betting market to better calibrate your doubts?

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Consider Conspiracies

New research suggests people are more likely to endorse conspiracy theories if they would be willing to personally participate in such a conspiracy. … “At least among some samples and for some conspiracy theories, the perception that ‘they did it’ is fueled by the perception that ‘I would do it. … People who have more lax personal morality may endorse conspiracy theories to a greater extent because they are, on average, more willing to participate in the conspiracies themselves.” (more; HT David Brin)

All the commentary I’ve found on this seems to take it as evidence against conspiracy theories, since it offers a non-evidential explanation for why people might believe in such theories. For example, people are eager to mention birthers in the same breath, to discredit them. But in fact this result tends to support conspiracy theories.

Think about it. Why are conspiracy theories in such disrepute, given that there have in fact been many real conspiracies in the world? One theory is that conspiracy theories just tend to be wrong – that there is some bias which makes people believe them too much, and the anti-conspiracy attitudes you see are a response to that bias. Another theory is that the people who tend to support conspiracy theories are disliked, independently of the evidence supporting their theories. The result above adds support for this disliked theory, relative to the bias theory.  And this gives you less reason to believe there is in fact a widespread bias to believe too easily in conspiracy theories. Which is evidential, if not social, support for such theories.

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Signaling Conspiracies

Low- and high-end fashion products tend to have less conspicuous brand markers than midprice goods, according to a paper soon to be published in The Journal of Consumer Research.

Rather than rely on obvious logos, expensive products use more discreet markers, such as distinctive design or detailing. High-end consumers prefer markers of status that are not decipherable by the mainstream. These signal group identity only to others with the connoisseurship to recognize their insider standing.

In one study, fashion students were more likely than regular students to favor subtle signals for products visible to others, like handbags. But for private products less relevant to identity, like underwear and socks, there was no difference between the groups. (more; HT Nicholas Walker)

This is one of the factors that makes signaling hard to study – signals are often designed to be hard for ordinary folks to discern.  And that fact makes it easy to be skeptical that any signaling is going on at all.  Skeptics can say “signals, what signals?”

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Imperialist US?

Recent US war history in a nutshell: Responding to an ’01 terror attack on NYC by activists from Saudi Arabia, funded by Pakistan, and trained in Afghanistan, the US in ’03 attacked Iraq, supposedly because they had “weapons of mass destruction,” never found. US denied it wanted control of the strategic resource-rich Persian Gulf, saying it remains there to “nation-build.”  In ’07 US geologists reported Afghanistan has $1 trillion in mineral wealth, and then in ’09 the US more than doubled its Afghanistan troops, supposedly to fight terrorists and “nation-build.”  It now denies it wanted the minerals:

Col. Dave Lapan, a Pentagon spokesman, told reporters Monday that the $1 trillion figure didn’t surface until recently because a military task force working on the issue had been focused on Iraq. … It wasn’t until late last year that the task force got around to looking at a 2007 study by the U.S. Geological Survey. That’s when the group estimated the minerals’ value, Lapan said. The New York Times first reported the $1 trillion figure on Sunday night.

Many are suspicious of US motives in both Iraq and Afghanistan. An ’04 world survey:

Majorities in all four Muslim nations surveyed doubt the sincerity of the war on terrorism. Instead, most say it is an effort to control Mideast oil and to dominate the world. … There is broad agreement in nearly all of the countries surveyed – the U.S. being a notable exception – that the war in Iraq hurt, rather than helped, the war on terrorism. … Solid majorities in France and Germany believe the U.S. is conducting the war on terrorism in order to control Mideast oil and dominate the world. … Large majorities in almost every country surveyed think that American and British leaders lied when they claimed, prior to the Iraq war, that Saddam Hussein’s regime had weapons of mass destruction.

Today in Afghanistan:

The Pentagon’s announcement that Afghanistan possesses $1 trillion worth of unexploited minerals will have the unintended consequence of confirming one of the most deeply entrenched conspiracy theories among Afghans.  Many Afghans I have spoken with believe firmly that America wants to permanently occupy the country in order to take Afghan land and resources. Even educated Afghans friends who generally support a temporary US presence have told me the same. I had to laugh when one suggested that Americans would want to move to Afghanistan to snatch up Afghan land for homes. … For many Afghans, it makes no sense that the US cannot wrap up the Taliban – so an imperialist land grab becomes a plausible explanation.

Historians agree that once upon a time colonial powers, including the US, did invade nations to try to gain their natural resources. (Not clear they benefited overall though.)  The world is now asked to believe that the US has lost this inclination and ability – gosh, the US folks who chose to attack Afghanistan didn’t even know it was a gold mine, honest.  Nor did Iraq’s oil influence invading it.  So why didn’t the US invade lots of other nations similarly plagued by terrorists, or nations like Iran, North Korea, or Pakistan that threaten nuclear instability?  It’s just random, the world is asked to believe.

I can see why the world is skeptical here. Now I can also understand the position that the US is no longer organized or capable enough to purposely target and gain advantage from invading resource-rich nations.  What I can’t understand is how folks who believe this can simultaneously believe the US is organized and capable enough to “build nations,” a task where we’ve seen little success lately, and a task made even harder by widespread suspicion of US motives. Really, that’s your story?!

Added 17June:  Some question the trillion dollar figure.

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