Does the Phrase “Conspiracy Theory” Matter?

Society (2023)
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Abstract

Research on conspiracy theories has proliferated since 2016, in part due to the US election of President Trump, the COVID-19 pandemic, and increasingly threatening environmental conditions. In the rush to publication given these concerning social consequences, researchers have increasingly treated as definitive a 2016 paper by Michael Wood (Political Psychology, 37(5), 695–705, 2016) that concludes that the phrase “conspiracy theory” has no negative effect upon people’s willingness to endorse a claim. We revisit Wood’s findings and its (re)uptake in the recent literature. Is the label “conspiracy theory” a pejorative? If so, does it sway or affect people’s belief in specific claims of conspiracy (i.e. particular conspiracy theories), or is the effect one that concerns claims of conspiracy more generally (i.e. all conspiracy theories)? Through an examination of the conceptual and methodological scope of Wood’s work and the results of our similar quasi-experimental design, we argue that it is premature to suggest the label “conspiracy theory” has no impact on the believability of a claim, or that it has no rhetorical power.

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M R. X. Dentith
Beijing Normal University

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References found in this work

Suspicious conspiracy theories.M. R. X. Dentith - 2022 - Synthese 200 (3):1-14.
Conspiracy Theories and Evidential Self-Insulation.M. Giulia Napolitano - 2021 - In Sven Bernecker, Amy K. Flowerree & Thomas Grundmann (eds.), The Epistemology of Fake News. New York, NY: Oxford University Press. pp. 82-105.
The Philosophy of Conspiracy Theories.Matthew Dentith - 2014 - London, UK: Palgrave Macmillan.

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