Once Aryan Skynet Goes Live It Doesn't Matter Who Pulled The Switch
“Conspiracy Theorists Will Truly Believe Anything, Says Science.” This is the title of an article recently featured at The Daily Dot, a news-and-entertainment site for self-satisfied liberals. The author is Cynthia McKelvey, a tattooed environmentalist who describes herself on her own website as “a banana slug” – a claim Aryan Skynet is not contesting – and whose other rigorously scientific articles for The Daily Dot include “Can You Get an Orgasm from Yoga?” and “How Long Would It Take the Starship Enterprise to Reach Kepler-452b?” She cites as the voice of “Science” in this case a celebrated study by a group of researchers at Italy’s IMT Institute for Advanced Studies in Lucca.
Admit it, you love to hate-read the conspiracy theory bullshit your friend or relative regurgitates all over Facebook. But have you ever asked yourself why he or she believes the seemingly unending drivel?
Scientists in Italy tested an idea that people who are active on conspiracy theory-promoting news websites are more likely to believe even obviously false claims, compared to their more scientifically minded Internet counterparts. They recently published their results in the open-access online journal, PLOS One.
The researchers tracked the Likes, comments, and shares of 1.2 million people as they interacted with “alternative” news posts and mainstream news posts. They found that people who were more invested in alternative narratives tended to stay within their group. Their Likes, comments, and shares were mostly doled out to alternative news websites and rarely did they venture to the mainstream posts to Like or comment. On the other hand, mainstream news-oriented folks were more willing to sojourn on the conspiracy pages to participate in debates in the comment section.
The researchers went a step further by monitoring more than 4,000 pieces of “troll” information—obviously false information with a satirical bent—on two dedicated pages. Fringe news included: chemtrails are laced with Viagra, an infinite energy machine has been created, and mosquito poison used in parks is made from chemicals toxic to humans. They found that conspiracy theorists were more likely to Like and share the troll information than the mainstreamers. [. . .]
“These kind of studies are important because they quantify social phenomena,” Walter Quattrociocchi, the study’s corresponding author, told The Daily Dot. He added that even people in the skeptic community (or anyone, really) can construct their own echo chambers.
Earlier this year, McKelvey attributed flooding in Texas and India to “climate change” and blamed the rampant and reckless denial of this unassailable truth on the fact that “people tend to reinforce their false beliefs rather than change their minds when confronted with information that contradicts them”, McKelvey linking this latter assertion to yet another treatment of those goofy “conspiracy theories”, the implication being that disbelief itself in the theory of global warming constitutes a form of contemptible conspiracy-theorization. Safely ensconced in her own echo chamber, McKelvey is free to pretend that Climategate never happened and that even an unusually forthcoming left-wing journalist, the late Alexander Cockburn, has not acknowledged the fraudulence of the global warming orthodoxy:
The  global warming jamboree in Copenhagen was surely the most outlandish foray into intellectual fantasizing since the fourth-century Christian bishops assembled in 325 AD for the Council of Nicaea to debate whether God the Father was supreme or had to share equal status in the pecking order of eternity with his Son and the Holy Ghost.
Shortly before the Copenhagen summit, the proponents of anthropogenic global warming (AGW) were embarrassed by a whistleblower who put on the Web more than a thousand e-mails either sent from or received at the University of East Anglia’s Climatic Research Unit, headed by Dr. Phil Jones. The CRU was founded in 1971 with funding from sources including Shell and British Petroleum. It became one of the climate-modeling grant mills supplying tainted data from which the U.N.’s Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) has concocted its reports.
Deceitful manipulation of data, concealment or straightforward destruction of inconvenient evidence, vindictive conspiracies to silence critics, are par for the course in all scientific debate. But in displaying all these characteristics, the CRU e-mails graphically undermine the claim of the Warmers that they command the moral as well as scientific high ground. It has been a standard ploy of the Warmers to revile the skeptics as whores of the energy industry, swaddled in munificent grants and with large personal stakes in discrediting AGW. Actually, the precise opposite is true. Billions in funding and research grants sluice into the big climate-modeling enterprises and a vast archipelago of research departments and “institutes of climate change” across academia. It’s where the money is. Skepticism, particularly for a young climatologist or atmospheric physicist, can be a career breaker. [. . .]
Recent data from many monitors including the CRU, available on climate4you.com, show that the average temperature of the atmosphere and the oceans near the surface of the earth has decreased significantly across the past eight years or so. CO2 is a benign gas essential to life, occurring in past eras at five times present levels. Changes in atmospheric CO2 do not correlate with human emissions of CO2, the latter being entirely trivial in the global balance.
The battles in Nicaea in 325 were faith based, with no relation to science or reason. So were the premises of the Copenhagen summit, that the planet faces catastrophic warming caused by manmade CO2 buildup, and that human intervention – geoengineering – could avert the coming disaster. Properly speaking, it’s a farce. In terms of distraction from cleaning up the pollutants that are actually killing people, it’s a terrible tragedy.
“Deceitful manipulation of data”? But what could that possibly have to do with the thoroughgoing drubbing that Quattrociocchi and company gave to “conspiracy theorists”? Surely their study’s methodology must have been air-tight to have earned the Daily Dot banana slug’s prestigious slime of approval?
— Walter Quattrociocch (@demiurgo80) May 26, 2015
Under “Data collection”, the authors reveal, “We defined the space of our investigation with the help of Facebook groups very active in debunking conspiracy theses” and selected for study sample Facebook pages with “contents ranging from aliens, chemtrails, geocentrism, up to the causal relation between vaccinations and homosexuality.” In other words, the group selected as their expert “conspiracy theory” consultants cheap-shot propagandists with a vested interest in making all “conspiracy theorists” look like idiots and who, for that reason, naturally narrowed the study’s focus to the most pitifully idiotic pages they could dig up – stuff about UFOs, the paranormal, pseudoscientific preoccupations, and omnipresent Illuminati – with all of those other “conspiracy theorists” – conspiracy realists, rather – who never believed any such foolishness left to bear the brunt of this ridiculous hack job’s political purport. How very “scientific” of Quattrociocchi et al.
— Alessandro Bessi (@ibbessi) September 2, 2015
Even if the study’s authors had not been so arrogantly sloppy as to give away the game by revealing their hostile methodology, McKelvey herself, in a more recent article, casts her own cocksureness with respect to “conspiracy theorists” in an altogether different light – albeit unintentionally:
One of the cornerstones for scientific advancement is reproducibility. If you claim certain results, other scientists must be able to get the same results when they perform the same experiment. If they don’t, it casts doubt on the original results.
A group of 270 psychology researchers, called the Open Science Collaboration, attempted to do just that with 100 psychology studies. They were only able to replicate the results of 36 of them. Moreover, the studies they chose were highly regarded and informed what psychologists understood about personality, learning, memory and relationships, according to The New York Times. The results of the study are published open-access in the journal Science. [. . .]
One of the problems, as we’ve written about previously, is publication bias. There’s a sense in scientific research that only positive results are worth reporting, so researchers tend to only send in their “successful” experiments for publication. Journals themselves also tend to accept exciting positive results and reject boring, ambiguous data.
This incentivizes p-hacking, or attempting to manipulate the data such that it yields a positive result. And it’s ridiculously easy to do — so easy that researchers aren’t always aware they’re doing it. Psychology may be especially vulnerable to p-hacking because it’s an inherently messy endeavor. Experiments involve probing the brain indirectly through tests with humans and animals, and then interpreting those results with imperfect statistical measures. [. . .]
Researcher and blogger Neuroskeptic notes that psychology isn’t the only field with a problem — the reproducibility of cancer research has also been questioned. “The problem is formal and systemic. In a nutshell, false-positive results will be a problem in any field where results are either ‘positive’ or ‘negative’, and scientists are rewarded more for publishing positive ones,” he writes. If we can eliminate publication bias, that would go a long way toward reducing the number of false-positives.
WIRED thinks the Internet could be the solution.
So does Aryan Skynet.
“It’s also important to know that conspiracy theorists are more likely to believe obviously false information,” moralizes the scientific sleuth at The Daily Dot, “because it’s already caused problems for people at large.” Indeed. One wonders what Cynthia McKelvey, if the banana slug chanced to emerge from the slimy confines of its own impenetrable echo chamber, would make of the following scientifically grounded and Nostradamus-and-Bigfoot-free “conspiracy theories” pertaining to 9/11, the misunderstood repercussions of which have certainly “caused problems for people at large”: