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Believing Conspiracy Theories: A Bayesian Approach to Belief Protection

Poth, Nina and Dolega, Krzysztof (2022) Believing Conspiracy Theories: A Bayesian Approach to Belief Protection. [Preprint]

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Abstract

Despite the harmful impact of conspiracy theories on the public discourse, there is little agreement about their exact nature. Rather than define conspiracy theories as such, we focus on the notion of conspiracy belief. We analyse three recent proposals that identify belief in conspiracy theories as an effect of irrational reasoning. Although these views are sometimes presented as competing alternatives, they share the main commitment that conspiracy beliefs are epistemically flawed because they resist revision given disconfirming evidence. However, the three views currently lack the formal detail necessary for an adequate comparison. In this paper, we bring these views closer together by exploring the rationality of conspiracy belief under a probabilistic framework. By utilising Michael Strevens’ Bayesian treatment of auxiliary hypotheses, we question the claim that the irrationality associated with conspiracy belief is due to a failure of belief revision given disconfirming evidence. We argue that maintaining a core conspiracy belief can be perfectly Bayes-rational when such beliefs are embedded in networks of auxiliary beliefs, which can be sacrificed to protect the more central ones. We propose that the irrationality associated with conspiracy belief lies not in a flawed updating method according to subjective standards but in a failure to converge towards well-confirmed stable belief networks in the long run. We discuss a set of initial reasoning biases as a possible reason for such a failure. Our approach reconciles previously disjointed views, while at the same time offering a formal platform for their further development.


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Item Type: Preprint
Creators:
CreatorsEmailORCID
Poth, Ninanina.poth@rub.de
Dolega, Krzysztofkrzysztof.dolega@rub.de
Keywords: conspiracy belief, conspiracy theory, Bayesianism, prior probabilities, rationality
Subjects: Specific Sciences > Cognitive Science
General Issues > Confirmation/Induction
General Issues > Science vs. Pseudoscience
Depositing User: Dr. Nina Poth
Date Deposited: 09 Feb 2022 03:21
Last Modified: 09 Feb 2022 03:21
Item ID: 20203
Subjects: Specific Sciences > Cognitive Science
General Issues > Confirmation/Induction
General Issues > Science vs. Pseudoscience
Date: 2022
URI: http://philsci-archive.pitt.edu/id/eprint/20203

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