In the introduction to this exposé of “Marianna in Conspiracyland” we discussed the evidence which proves that the BBC is a state broadcaster. It is not “independent,” as it falsely claims; its “reporting” spreads disinformation on behalf of the government and, as we shall see, the government’s “partners.”
Please read the introduction before reading Part 1.
The “Marianna in Conspiracyland” podcast series is a 10 part alleged investigation into the purported activities of the so-called “conspiracy movement.” It is presented by the BBC’s disinformation and social media correspondent Marianna Spring.
In Episode 1, titled “Entering Conspiracyland,” Marianna claims there is a societal schism between politically moderate people and a minority who, she alleges, have been “drawn in by disinformation laced with hate.” We are then informed that hippies in the Devon market town of Totnes have “crossed over” to the “far right.”
Leaving aside the comical implausibility of these claims—ordinary people are engaged in “hate” and stoned hippies are now Nazis—at least we get an inkling of where Conspiracyland is heading. The main theme is evidently terror as the BBC attempts to inculcate fear of this “minority” among the BBC audience.
Marianna says that the series is about “the people at the core of the conspiracy theory movement.” The difficulty she faces in investigating this “movement” is that there is no such thing as a “conspiracy theory movement.” Not in the UK, nor anywhere else.
“Conspiracy theorist” is simply a propaganda label applied to people who hold anti-Establishment opinions. We will explore this in more depth as we examine “Marianna in Conspiracyland,” but you can read a history of the development of the propaganda label here.
There certainly is a loose coalition of people who are trying their best to alert their fellow citizens to the fact that their government, and government propagandists like the BBC, are lying to them. I count myself as among them. We could, I suppose, be described as a political movement but only in the loosest possible sense as we don’t subscribe to any unifying political ideology.
In 2014 two political scientists, Joseph E. Uscinski and Jospeph Parent, carried out large-scale demographic survey of US people who they labelled “conspiracy theorists.” They measured everything from basic demographics to political ideology and more. The political scientists found virtually nothing to distinguish “conspiracy theorists” from the general population.
From a demographic perspective, including stated political ideology, beyond being slightly older than the average population age and with black and Hispanic people being marginally the most likely to hold anti-Establishment opinions, there was nothing to identify any cohesive group of people called “conspiracy theorists.”
That is to say, there is no evidence that “conspiracy theorists” even exist as an identifiable social group. The people labelled as such were no more likely to be “far right” or “far left” than anyone else in US society.
Equally this does not exclude people with either “far right” or “far left” political views from subscribing to what Marianna Spring calls “conspiracy theories.” It is just that the evidence clearly shows that people who are labelled as “conspiracy theorists” have no predisposition to extremism or extreme political views.
This came as a bit of a surprise to Uscinski and Parent. So more research was needed to support the assumption that alleged conspiracy theorists—a made-up sticky label—must be extremists. How can anyone who questions the government or the mainstream media (MSM) be anything else?
Consequently, for example, a large scale research study, undertaken by COMPACT, looked at the political beliefs held by alleged conspiracy theorists in 26 European countries.
The researchers concluded:
…conspiracy mentality is associated with extreme left- and especially extreme right-wing beliefs
The Comparative Analysis of Conspiracy Theories (COMPACT) programme is funded by the European Cooperation in Science and Technology (COST). COST is a project of the European Union. This will become highly relevant as we progress. Please bear it in mind.
This questionable scientific theory, claiming that people called conspiracy theorists are a bunch of extremists, presents us with a conundrum. Large scale demographic surveys have consistently found that a majority of the population, in countries around the world, are supposedly “conspiracy theorists.”
For example, a 2018 study found that alleged conspiracy theorists formed the majority, often a sizeable majority, in most countries:
Sweden was the least credulous of conspiracy theories, with 52% believing one or more of the theories polled by the researchers, as opposed to 85% for Hungary. In the US that figure was 64% and in France 76%.
According to the COMPACT research scientists, political moderates form a minority, even a small minority, everywhere. The vast majority of citizens are either extreme “far right” or, to a lesser extent, extreme “far left.”
So why political parties are obsessed with grabbing votes from “moderate voters,” or the “middle ground” is a mystery. If some well-funded conspiracy theorist researchers are correct, they could garner more support by appealing to fascists and radical communists.
Of course, we only need to consider our own views, those of our family members and pretty much everyone we know to realise that “far right” and “far left” political opinions are very much in the minority. There appears to be something very wrong with the “conspiracy theorist” researchers’ so-called “findings.”
The problem with the COMPACT ‘scientific’ view is it assumes that something called “conspiracy mentality,” or the “conspiracy mindset,” exists. This is largely based upon totally preposterous experimental psychology pseudoscience.
The COMPACT scientists allude to this gibberish in their study:
… people differ in their predisposition to explain events as conspiracies, which is sometimes referred to as ‘conspiracy mentality’ or the ‘conspiracy mindset.’ […] It differs from concrete conspiracy beliefs in that it taps into the general propensity to suspect that conspiracies are at play, uncontaminated by concrete events, actors or contexts. […] [W]e aggregated agreement with the diverse conspiracy theories in each country to tap into the general propensity to endorse specific conspiracy beliefs. This aggregate correlated substantially with our generic conspiracy measure that excludes any reference to concrete events or actors.
The researchers have drawn a distinction between what they call “conspiracy theory,” which they say is a product of the alleged “conspiracy mindset,” and an awareness of the real conspiracies which are “concrete events.” This supposedly more rational worldview they call “concrete conspiracy belief.”
Again, we can turn to one of the leading researchers in the field of conspiracy theory research, Joseph Uscinski, to understand how this alleged distinction, between “conspiracy theory” and the far more sensible “concrete conspiracy belief,” is defined:
A conspiracy theorist is anyone who believes conspiracy theories, and polls over several decades suggest that all Americans, for example, are conspiracy theorists in this sense. [. . .] While conspiracy refers to a real, actual event, conspiracy theory refers to an accusatory perception which may or may not be true. The line separating conspiracy theory and conspiracy is unclear and has been hotly debated. [. . .] Everybody believes in at least one conspiracy theory, but rejects countless others. Therefore, people disagree on which theories constitute “could-be-true” conspiracy theories and which constitute “are true” [concrete] conspiracies. [. . .] I demarcate between conspiracy theory and [concrete] conspiracy using the simple and consistent standard put forth by Neil Levy (2007). His premise is that properly constituted epistemic authorities determine the existence of [concrete] conspiracies.
As we’ve discussed, demographic research ultimately reveals that everyone, or nearly everyone, is a conspiracy theorist to some extent. Consequently, according to COMPACT and Marianna Spring, the population of the United States—at least—predominantly comprises of far-right extremists who have been “drawn in by disinformation laced with hate.”
The identification of a conspiracy theory, a belief in which labels you a conspiracy theorist, is “unclear and hotly debated.” This suggests the strong possibility that the definition of the “conspiracy theorist” is opinion masquerading as science. Surely, that can’t be true?
An alleged conspiracy theory “may or may not be true.” Obviously establishing whether “conspiracy theory is “true” or not depends entirely upon examining the evidence. Apparently if it is “true” then it is not a conspiracy theory but rather a “concrete conspiracy belief.”
We can therefore expect “Marianna in Conspiracyland” to investigate and examine the evidence offered by those she has labelled as conspiracy theorists. This is essential if she wishes to rule out “concrete conspiracy beliefs.” According to “the Science,” there is no other way to differentiate between “conspiracy theorists” and rational people whose opinions aren’t “laced with hate.” Any omission of the evidence cited by those who Marianna labels “conspiracy theorists” will cast considerable doubt upon the credibility of “Conspiracyland.” If the evidence isn’t mentioned at all then this would clearly indicate a Marianna’s refusal to report it and an intention to deceive.
As we’ve just read, Uscinski—one of the foremost conspiracy theory researchers—suggests that a “true” or “concrete” conspiracy is determined by “properly constituted epistemic authorities.” He cites Radically Socialized Knowledge and Conspiracy Theories, by Neil Levy, as evidence to support his conclusion.
The typical explanation of an event or process which attracts the label ‘conspiracy theory’ is an explanation that conflicts with the account advanced by the relevant epistemic authorities. [. . .] Conspiracies are a common feature of social and political life, common enough that refusing to believe in their existence would leave us unable to understand the contours of our world. [. . .] A conspiracy theory that conflicts with the official story, where the official story is the explanation offered by the (relevant) epistemic authorities, is prima facie unwarranted. [. . .] Clearly, it is often rational to heavily discount the official stories offered by some authorities. In totalitarian countries, people learn to read the official news media with a jaundiced eye, and this attitude is often warranted. [. . .] Responsible believers ought to accept explanations offered by properly constituted epistemic authorities. [. . .] Intellectuals do not contemptuously dismiss a proffered explanation as ‘just a conspiracy theory’ when it conflicts, merely, with the government line. [. . .] It is because the relevant epistemic authorities – the distributed network of knowledge claim gatherers and testers that includes engineers and politics professors, security experts and journalists – have no doubts over the validity of the explanation that we accept it.
Here then, at last, we have the “scientific” definition of “conspiracy theory.” This is what the entire field of “conspiracy theory research” is based upon. The scientists assert that belief in these theories also defines the “conspiratorial mindset” of the so-called “conspiracy theorist.”
“Responsible believers” accept whatever they are told by the “properly constituted epistemic authorities.” If you don’t you are psychologically flawed and suffering from a “conspiracy mentality.”
Consequently, according to “the Science,” we can define the “conspiracy mindset”—conspiratorial thinking, conspiracy mentality, ideation, conspiracism, etc.—and the associated “conspiracy theorist,” as follows:
The conspiracy mindset disagrees with the official narrative. Conspiracy thinking questions the government but also, on occasion, academia, the intelligence agencies and the mainstream media. Therefore, those who hold anti-Establishment opinions that question power are “conspiracy theorists” and, as such, are irrational.
The whole concept of “conspiracy theory” and “conspiracy theorists” is based upon the logical fallacies of personal incredulity and appeal to authority. If you hold anti-Establishment opinions and question the “relevant epistemic authorities” you are a “conspiracy theorist” according to those same “epistemic authorities.”
Acknowledging that conspiracies are common and that exposing them helps us “to understand the contours of our world,” so-called “conspiracy theory research” proclaims that the Establishment, i.e., the network most commonly complicit in “concrete” conspiracies, is the only relevant epistemic authority capable of defining said “concrete” conspiracies.
Conspiracy theory “scientist” assert that perfectly rational anti-Establishment opinion is “prima facie unwarranted.” Questioning the biased pluralism—more on this in a moment—of the Establishment is therefore a conspiracy theory born of a “conspiracy mindset.”
It goes without saying that many of those who hold anti-Establishment opinions, who question power and are therefore labelled “conspiracy theorists,” consider the conspiracy theory scientist’s expressed worldview to be, at best, monumentally naive. Some perhaps think it irretrievably stupid. Others possibly take the view that the conspiracy theory scientist are part of the Establishment’s “epistemic authorities” and are, therefore, simply churning out anti-scientific propaganda.
Nonetheless, no matter how much “research” is conducted, the foundational premise, upon which all “conspiracy theory research” is constructed, is nothing but a set of logical fallacies and self-contradictory assumptions. There are so many presumptions, suppositions and unfounded claims in “conspiracy theory research” that, in no way, can it be considered a scientific endeavour. It is the epitome of junk science.
It doesn’t even present any hypotheses, just assertions of intellectual superiority. Notably, “conspiracy theory science” is stridently anti-democratic and authoritarian.
A more accurate definition of the alleged “conspiracy theorist” would be: a person with anti-Establishment opinions who questions power.
Much firmer, empirical evidence based political science suggests that questioning power is not only important for democracy, but is also the rational position to take.
In their 2014 multivariate analysis of nearly 1,800 policy decisions made by the US government, Professor Martin Gilens and Professor Benjamin I. Page tried to answer the following questions:
Who governs? Who really rules? To what extent is the broad body of U.S. citizens sovereign, semi-sovereign, or largely powerless?
They considered four competing theoretical democratic models.
- Majoritarian electoral democracy suggests that policymakers respond directly to the will of the majority through the electoral process.
- Economic-elite domination proposes that policies are made in the interests of those with significant economic and financial resources.
- Majoritarian pluralism theory submits that policy is shaped by the competing influence of interest groups through their lobbying activities. This enables people to form influential lobby groups and effectively represents the will of the majority.
- Biased pluralism suggests that majoritarian pluralism is corrupted by the wealth, power and influence of the economic-elite and their corporations. It is a corrupt society that serves those who corrupt it and subvert democratic accountability.
After carefully recording, analysing and demonstrating the policy making process, Gilens and Benjamin et al., concluded:
Economic elites and organized groups representing business interests have substantial independent impacts on U.S. government policy, while average citizens and mass-based interest groups have little or no independent influence. The results provide substantial support for theories of Economic-Elite Domination and for theories of Biased Pluralism, but not for theories of Majoritarian Electoral Democracy or Majoritarian Pluralism.
The evidence suggests that the US polity, at least, delivers a venal, biased pluralist political system that enables and protects economic-elite domination. It is entirely reasonable to apply the same analysis to all other so-called “representative democracies.”
If you care about humanity at all, anti-Establishment opinion (AEO), which essentially advocates majoritarian electoral democracy, is the logical response to the biased pluralism that pollutes our alleged “representative democracies.” Marianna Springs starting proposition, that AEO is based upon “disinformation laced with hate,” is evidently false.
As questioning power is a basic democratic ideal, which almost the entire population accepts, this explains why the “conspiracy theorist researchers” keep counting nearly everyone on the planet as a conspiracy theorist. If you then assume, as many of these “scientists” do, that conspiracy theory is an unhinged, extremist ideology, then it’s only a small hop, skip and politically motivated jump to conclude that everyone is an extremist of some sort.
There is no “conspiracy theory movement.” Just ordinary people with AEOs who question power. Marianna Springs efforts to investigate and “expose” the conspiracy theory movement initially appears to be a completely pointless exercise. There is nothing for her to investigate.
Prior to sticking the “conspiracy theorist” label on these people, they were just individuals who held AEOs. Therefore, it is not unreasonable to ask why the BBC is investing considerable time and resources into exposing a fictitious “movement.”
Not only is an AEO a commonly held belief, political science appears to justify it. Furthermore, there is no evidence that, as a proportion of the population, more people hold such views today than in any preceding generation.
None of this means that AEO is always well-founded or that asking questions of power is warranted on every occasion. “Conspiracy theory,” which for the remainder of this series will be referred to only as AEO, is not, in and of itself, evidence of anything. AEO “may or may not” be accurate.
The determining factor is incontrovertibly the evidence. Only the evidence can reveal if AEO is “warranted.”
We can investigate the presented evidence, or lack thereof, in “Marianna in Conspiracyland” to figure out if the BBC’s allegations have any merit. From the outset, hard political science suggests not.
“Marianna in Conspiracyland” does not appear to be an intellectually honest investigation of anything. The reasonable suspicion is that it is pure, state propaganda.
Going forward, in light of the evidence we have just discussed, we will deconstruct Marianna Springs alleged “investigative reporting” and examine her, and the BBC’s, claims.
Let’s investigate the BBC’s “Marianna in Conspiracyland” series.
You can read more of Iain’s work at his blog IainDavis.com (Formerly InThisTogether) or on UK Column or follow him on Twitter or subscribe to his SubStack. His new book Pseudopandemic, is now available, in both in kindle and paperback, from Amazon and other sellers. Or you can claim a free copy by subscribing to his newsletter.
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