People Drawn to Conspiracy Theories Share a Cluster of Psychological Features
Baseless theories threaten our safety and democracy. It turns out that specific emotions make people prone to such thinking
- By Melinda Wenner Moyer on March 1, 2019
- False conspiracy theories can drive people to violence, as they did for the Pittsburgh synagogue shooter, and affect political activity.
- Anxious people are especially drawn to conspiratorial thinking, experiments show, and the mindset is also triggered by a loss of control.
- You can spot hallmarks of fake theories, such as internal contradictions in the “evidence” and contentions based on shaky assumptions, psychologists say.
Stephan Lewandowsky was deep in denial. About six years ago the cognitive scientist had thrown himself into a study of why some people refuse to accept the overwhelming evidence that the planet is warming and humans are responsible. As he delved into this climate change denialism, Lewandowsky, then at the University of Western Australia, discovered that many of the naysayers also believed in outlandish plots, such as the idea that the Apollo moon landing was a hoax created by the American government. “A lot of the discourse these people were engaging in on the Internet was totally conspiratorial,” he recalls.
Lewandowsky’s findings, published in 2013 in Psychological Science, brought these conspiracy theorists out of the woodwork. Offended by his claims, they criticized his integrity online and demanded that he be fired. (He was not, although he has since moved to the University of Bristol in England.) But as Lewandowsky waded through one irate post after another, he discovered that his critics—in response to his assertions about their conspiratorial tendencies—were actually spreading new conspiracy theories about him. These people accused him and his colleagues of faking survey responses and of conducting the research without ethical approval. When his personal Web site crashed, one blogger accused him of intentionally blocking critics from seeing it. None of it was true.
The irony was amusing at first, but the ranting even included a death threat, and calls and e-mails to his university became so vicious that the administrative staff who fielded them asked their managers for help. That was when Lewandowsky changed his assessment. “I quickly realized that there was nothing funny about these guys at all,” he says.
The dangerous consequences of the conspiratorial perspective—the idea that people or groups are colluding in hidden ways to produce a particular outcome—have become painfully clear. The gunman who shot and killed 11 people and injured six others in a Pittsburgh synagogue in October 2018 justified his attack by claiming that Jewish people were stealthily supporting illegal immigrants. In 2016 a conspiracy theory positing that high-ranking Democratic Party officials were involved in a child sex ring involving several Washington, D.C., area restaurants incited one believer to fire an assault weapon inside a pizzeria. Luckily no one was hurt.
The mindset is surprisingly common, although thankfully it does not often lead to gunfire. More than a quarter of the American population believes there are conspiracies “behind many things in the world,” according to a 2017 analysis of government survey data by University of Oxford and University of Liverpool researchers. The prevalence of conspiracy mongering may not be new, but today the theories are becoming more visible, says Viren Swami, a social psychologist at Anglia Ruskin University in England, who studies the phenomenon. For instance, when more than a dozen bombs were sent to prominent Democrats and Trump critics, as well as CNN, in October 2018, a number of high-profile conservatives quickly suggested that the explosives were really a “false flag,” a fake attack orchestrated by Democrats to mobilize their supporters during the U.S. midterm elections.
One obvious reason for the current raised profile of this kind of thinking is that the U.S. president is a vocal conspiracy theorist. Donald Trump has suggested, among other things, that the father of Senator Ted Cruz of Texas helped to assassinate President John F. Kennedy and that Democrats funded the same migrant caravan traveling from Honduras to the U.S. that worried the Pittsburgh synagogue shooter.
But there are other factors at play, too. New research suggests that events happening worldwide are nurturing underlying emotions that make people more willing to believe in conspiracies. Experiments have revealed that feelings of anxiety make people think more conspiratorially. Such feelings, along with a sense of disenfranchisement, currently grip many Americans, according to surveys. In such situations, a conspiracy theory can provide comfort by identifying a convenient scapegoat and thereby making the world seem more straightforward and controllable. “People can assume that if these bad guys weren’t there, then everything would be fine,” Lewandowsky says. “Whereas if you don’t believe in a conspiracy theory, then you just have to say terrible things happen randomly.”
Discerning fact from fiction can be difficult, however, and some seemingly wild conspiracy ideas turn out to be true. The once scoffed at notion that Russian nationals meddled in the 2016 presidential election is now supported by a slew of guilty pleas, evidence-based indictments and U.S. intelligence agency conclusions. So how is one to know what to believe? There, too, psychologists have been at work and have uncovered strategies that can help people distinguish plausible theories from those that are almost certainly fake—strategies that seem to become more important by the day.T
THE ANXIETY CONNECTION
In May 2018 the American Psychiatric Association released the results of a national survey suggesting that 39 percent of Americans feel more anxious than they did a year ago, primarily about health, safety, finances, politics and relationships. Another 2017 report found that 63 percent of Americans are extremely worried about the future of the nation and that 59 percent consider this the lowest point in U.S. history that they can remember. These feelings span the political spectrum. A 2018 Pew Research Center survey found that the majority of both Democrats and Republicans feel that “their side” in politics has been losing in recent years on issues they find important.
Such existential crises can promote conspiratorial thinking. In a 2015 study in the Netherlands, researchers split college students into three groups. People in one group were primed to feel powerless. The scientists asked them to recall and write about a time in their lives when they felt they were not in control of the situation they were in. Those in a second group were cued in the opposite direction. They were asked to write about a time when they felt totally in control. And still others, in a third group, were asked something neutral: to describe what they had for dinner last night. Then the researchers asked all the groups how they felt about the construction of a new subway line in Amsterdam that had been plagued by problems.
Students who had been primed to feel in control were less likely than students in the other two groups to support conspiracy theories regarding the subway line, such as the belief that the city council was stealing from the subway’s budget and that it was intentionally jeopardizing residents’ safety. Other studies have uncovered similar effects. Swami and his colleagues, for instance, reported in 2016 that individuals who feel stressed are more likely than others to believe in conspiracy theories, and a 2017 study found that promoting anxiety in people also makes them more conspiracy-minded.
Feeling alienated or unwanted also seems to make conspiratorial thinking more attractive. In 2017 Princeton University psychologists set up an experiment with trios of people. The researchers asked all participants to write two paragraphs describing themselves and then told them that their descriptions would be shared with the other two in their group, who would use that information to decide if they would work with the person in the future. After telling some subjects that they had been accepted by their group and others that they had been rejected, the researchers evaluated the subjects’ thoughts on various conspiracy-related scenarios. The “rejected” participants, feeling alienated, were more likely than the others to think the scenarios involved a coordinated conspiracy.
It is not just personal crises that encourage individuals to form conspiratorial suspicions. Collective social setbacks do so as well. In a 2018 study, researchers at the University of Minnesota and Lehigh University surveyed more than 3,000 Americans. They found that participants who felt that American values are eroding were more likely than others to agree with conspiratorial statements, such as that “many major events have behind them the actions of a small group of influential people.” Joseph Uscinski, a political scientist at the University of Miami, and his colleagues have shown that people who dislike the current political party in power think more conspiratorially than those who support the controlling party. Recently in the U.S., a number of unproven conjectures have come from political liberals as conservatives have ascended to control the government. These include the charge that the White House coerced Anthony Kennedy to retire from the U.S. Supreme Court and the allegation that Russian president Vladimir Putin is blackmailing Trump with a video of him watching prostitutes urinate on a Moscow hotel bed.
When feelings of personal alienation or anxiety are combined with a sense that society is in jeopardy, people experience a kind of conspiratorial double whammy. In a study conducted in 2009, near the start of the U.S.’s Great Recession, Daniel Sullivan, a psychologist now at the University of Arizona, and his colleagues told one group that parts of their lives were largely out of their control because they could be exposed to a natural disaster or some other catastrophe and told another group that things were under their control. Then participants were asked to read essays that argued that the government was handling the economic crisis either well or poorly. Those cued about uncontrolled life situations and told their government was doing a bad job were the most likely to think that negative events in their lives would be instigated by enemies rather than random chance, which is a conspiratorial hallmark.
While humans seek solace in conspiracy theories, however, they rarely find it. “They’re appealing but not necessarily satisfying,” says Daniel Jolley, a psychologist at Staffordshire University in England. For one thing, conspiratorial thinking can incite individuals to behave in a way that increases their sense of powerlessness, making them feel even worse. A 2014 study co-authored by Jolley found that people who are presented with conspiracy theories about climate change—scientists are just chasing grant money, for instance—are less likely to plan to vote, whereas a 2017 study reported that believing in work-related conspiracies—such as the idea that managers make decisions to protect their own interests—causes individuals to feel less committed to their job. “It can snowball and become a pretty vicious, nasty cycle of inaction and negative behavior,” says Karen Douglas, a psychologist at the University of Kent in England and a co-author of the paper on work-related conspiracies.
The negative and alienated beliefs can also promote dangerous behaviors in some, as with the Pittsburgh shootings and the pizzeria attack. But the theories need not involve weapons to inflict harm. People who believe vaccine conspiracy theories, for example, say they are less inclined to vaccinate their kids, which creates pockets of infectious disease that put entire communities at risk.
TELLING FACT FROM FICTION
It may be possible to quell conspiracy ideation, at least to some degree. One long-standing question has been whether or not it is a good idea to counter conspiracy theories with logic and evidence. Some older research has pointed to a “backfire effect”—the idea that refuting misinformation can just make individuals dig their heels in deeper. “If you think there are powerful forces trying to conspire and cover [things] up, when you’re given what you see as a cover story, it only shows you how right you are,” Uscinski says.
But more recent research suggests that this putative effect is, in fact, rare. A 2016 study reported that when researchers refuted a conspiracy theory by pointing out its logical inconsistencies, it became less enchanting to people. And in a paper published online in 2018 in Political Behavior, researchers recruited more than 10,000 people and presented them with corrections to various claims made by political figures. The authors concluded that “evidence of factual backfire is far more tenuous than prior research suggests.” In a recent review, the researchers who first described the backfire effect said that it may arise most often when people are being challenged over ideas that define their worldview or sense of self. Finding ways to counter conspiracy theories without challenging a person’s identity may therefore be an effective strategy.
Encouraging analytic thinking may also help. In a 2014 study published in Cognition, Swami and his colleagues recruited 112 people for an experiment. First, they had everyone fill out a questionnaire that evaluated how strongly they believed in various conspiracy theories. A few weeks later the subjects came back in, and the researchers split them into two groups. One group completed a task that included unscrambling words in sentences containing words such as “analyze” and “rational,” which primed them to think more analytically. The second group completed a neutral task.
Then the researchers readministered the conspiracy theory test to the two groups. Although the groups had been no different in terms of conspiratorial thinking at the beginning of the experiment, the subjects who had been incited to think analytically became less conspiratorial. Thus, by giving people “the tools and the skills to analyze data and to look at data critically and objectively,” we might be able to suppress conspiratorial thinking, Swami says.
Analytic thinking can also help discern implausible theories from ones that, crazy as they sound, are supported by evidence. Karen Murphy, an educational psychologist at Pennsylvania State University, suggests that individuals who want to improve their analytic thinking skills should ask three key questions when interpreting conspiracy claims. One: What is your evidence? Two: What is your source for that evidence? Three: What is the reasoning that links your evidence back to the claim? Sources of evidence need to be accurate, credible and relevant. For instance, “you shouldn’t take advice from your mom about whether the yellow color under your fingernails is a bad sign,” Murphy says—that kind of information should come from someone who has expertise on the topic, such as a physician.
In addition, false conspiracy theories have several hallmarks, Lewandowsky says. Three of them are particularly noticeable. First, the theories include contradictions. For example, some deniers of climate change argue that there is no scientific consensus on the issue while framing themselves as heroes pushing back against established consensus. Both cannot be true. A second telltale sign is when a contention is based on shaky assumptions. Trump, for instance, claimed that millions of illegal immigrants cast ballots in the 2016 presidential election and were the reason he lost the popular vote. Beyond the complete lack of evidence for such voting, his assumption was that multitudes of such votes—if they existed—would have been for his Democratic opponent. Yet past polls of unauthorized Hispanic immigrants suggest that many of them would have voted for a Republican candidate over a Democratic one.
A third sign that a claim is a far-fetched theory, rather than an actual conspiracy, is that those who support it interpret evidence against their theory as evidence for it. When the van of the alleged mail bomber Cesar Sayoc was found in Florida plastered with Trump stickers, for instance, some individuals said this helped to prove that Democrats were really behind the bombs. “If anyone thinks this is what a real conservative’s van looks like, you are being willfully ignorant. Cesar Sayoc is clearly just a fall guy for this obvious false flag,” one person posted on Twitter.
Conspiracy theories are a human reaction to confusing times. “We’re all just trying to understand the world and what’s happening in it,” says Rob Brotherton, a psychologist at Barnard College and author of Suspicious Minds: Why We Believe in Conspiracy Theories (Bloomsbury Sigma, 2015). But real harm can come from such thinking, especially when believers engage in violence as a show of support. By looking out for suspicious signatures and asking thoughtful questions about the stories we encounter, it is still possible to separate truth from lies. It may not always be an easy task, but it is a crucial one for all of us.
This article was originally published with the title “Why We Believe Conspiracy Theories” in Scientific American 320, 3, 58-63 (March 2019)
doi:10.1038/scientificamerican0319-58 Rights & Permissions
MORE TO EXPLORE
NASA Faked the Moon Landing—Therefore, (Climate) Science Is a Hoax: An Anatomy of the Motivated Rejection of Science. Stephan Lewandowsky et al. in Psychological Science, Vol. 24, No. 5, pages 622–633; May 2013.
The Influence of Control on Belief in Conspiracy Theories: Conceptual and Applied Extensions. Jan-Willem van Prooijen and Michele Acker in Applied Cognitive Psychology, Vol. 29, No. 5, pages 753–761; September/October 2015.
Putting the Stress on Conspiracy Theories: Examining Associations between Psychological Stress, Anxiety, and Belief in Conspiracy Theories. Viren Swami et al. in Personality and Individual Differences, Vol. 99, pages 72–76; September 2016.
Suspicion in the Workplace: Organizational Conspiracy Theories and Work-Related Outcomes. Karen M. Douglas and Ana C. Leite in British Journal of Psychology, Vol. 108, No. 3; pages 486–506; August 2017.
ZenosWarbirds The quality of the copy of this important film by John Huston currently on YouTube isn’t very good, so I found a better one and tweaked it with digital image and sound processing. For the first time, Huston explored the diagnosis and treatment of what used to be called “battle fatigue” or “shell shock” among returning servicemen. This condition is now know as PTSD – post traumatic stress disorder. “Let There Be Light” wasn’t released to the public for 30 years for obvious reasons, but it’s a story that must be told because it’s still highly relevant to our times. Zeno, Zeno’s Warbird Videos http://zenoswarbirdvideos.com From the IMDB: “The final entry in a trilogy of films produced for the U.S. government by John Huston. This documentary film follows 75 U.S. soldiers who have sustained debilitating emotional trauma and depression. A series of scenes chronicle their entry into a psychiatric hospital, their treatment and eventual recovery.” Don’t blame me if there is a popup ad at the beginning this film — blame YouTube!
November 20, 2020 by Common Dreams
It may look like this is one frivolity and absurdity after another—and it is. But if this electoral clash reaches the Supreme Court, all bets are off.
Former New York City Mayor Rudy Giuliani, lawyer for U.S. President Donald Trump, speaks during a news conference about lawsuits related to the presidential election results at the Republican National Committee headquarters in Washington, D.C., on Thursday Nov. 19, 2020. (Photo: Sarah Silbiger for The Washington Post via Getty Images)
Joe Biden has won states worth 306 Electoral College votes, 36 more than the 270 needed to win, and received in excess of 5 million more popular votes than Donald Trump. Yet Trump insists the election was stolen from him and he is the victor.
Trump started attacking the election months before it happened. He leveled unsupported charges of massive voter fraud from mail-in ballots to create doubt about the integrity of the election. Knowing that Democrats would cast mail ballots in the midst of the pandemic, Trump told his supporters to vote in person on Election Day to prematurely inflate his vote totals.
When he had an apparent lead on election night, Trump claimed victory and demanded that the vote-counting stop. Sure enough, as the tabulations continued, the mail ballots counted after Election Day put Biden over the top.
Trump Files Frivolous Lawsuits to Delay State Vote Count Certifications
Trump is setting the stage for an electoral coup. Republicans and the Trump campaign have filed frivolous lawsuits, alleging mostly technical violations of voting procedures, which would not change the outcome of the election even if they were meritorious.
“The real goal of this litigation is to create the perception of widespread voter fraud to whip up distrust for the election results.”
The real goal of this litigation is to create the perception of widespread voter fraud to whip up distrust for the election results. This would “give state legislatures political cover to appoint their own electors,” Robert Reich wrote.
Trump’s lawyers are seeking court orders to delay the certification of the votes in key states so GOP-controlled legislatures can appoint Trump electors notwithstanding Biden’s victories. Trump’s legal team has filed litigation in Pennsylvania, Michigan, and Arizona to prevent state officials from certifying the vote count.
On November 13, judges in Pennsylvania, Michigan, and Arizona dismissed Trump lawsuits State judges in Michigan have refused Trump’s requests to delay the certification of the vote count. Judge Timothy Kenny rejected the petition of two Republican poll watchers to delay ballot count certification in Detroit, calling misconduct allegations “not credible.” The plaintiffs’ request for an outside audit of the voting tallies would cause such a delay that electors might not be chosen by the mid-December vote in the Electoral College. Kenny, who characterized some accusations as “rife with speculation and guesswork,” said, “It would be an unprecedented exercise of judicial activism for this court to stop the certification process.
The same day, the law firm Porter Wright Morris & Arthur abruptly withdrew from the federal lawsuit they had filed in Pennsylvania on Trump’s behalf earlier in the week, out of concerns they were being used to undermine the integrity of the electoral process. Also last week, Snell & Wilmer withdrew from representation of Arizona’s Republican National Committee.
“These law firms have been under tremendous pressure as it became clear these claims were baseless, and that they were part of a broader campaign to delegitimize the election,” Wendy Weiser from the Brennan Center for Justice told ABC News.
Both Democratic and Republican election officials in virtually every state reported to The New York Times that there was no evidence fraud or other irregularities affected the election results.
Moreover, on November 12, a joint committee of the Department of Homeland Security’s Cybersecurity and Infrastructure Security Agency (CISA) confirmed the reliability of the election results, calling the November 3rd election “the most secure in American history ” The high-level committee concluded, “There is no evidence that any voting system deleted or lost votes, changed votes or was in any way compromised.”
On November 17, CISA Director Christopher Krebs denied that there was a manipulation of the election systems, tweeting, “59 election security experts all agree, ‘in every case of which we are aware, these claims either have been unsubstantiated or are technically incoherent.’ ” Later that day Trump fired Krebs for making a “highly inaccurate” statement, but Trump provided no evidence of his allegation.
Even Trump advisor Karl Rove wrote in a November 11th Wall Street Journal op-ed that Trump’s challenges “are unlikely to move a single state from Mr. Biden’s column, and certainly they’re not enough to change the final outcome.”
Attorney General William Barr is aiding and abetting Trump’s attempted coup. Just weeks before the election, the Justice Department changed its longstanding ban on voter fraud investigations before an election. Although he told department officials after the election that he didn’t see massive voter fraud, Barr saluted and marched to Trump’s orders. On November 9th, Barr empowered federal prosecutors to investigate “substantial allegations of voting and vote tabulation irregularities.” Sixteen federal prosecutors in charge of monitoring the election wrote to Barr that there is no evidence of substantial voting irregularities.
Richard Pilger, the Justice Department official in charge of voter fraud investigations left his job in protest against Barr’s order. But just the fact that the Department of Justice is authorizing investigations is designed to cast a cloud over the election. Indeed, a Politico/Morning Consult poll found that 70% of Republicans now think the election was not fair or free, compared with 35% of Republicans before the election. The purpose of Trump’s strategy of falsely alleging fraud from mail ballots combined with Barr’s baseless edict establishes fake doubt about the reliability of the vote tallies.
Trump Cannot Legally Steal Biden’s Electoral Votes
The Constitution gives state legislatures the power to decide how electors are selected. Article II says, “Each State shall appoint, in such Manner as the Legislature thereof may direct, a Number of Electors.” U.S. Code, Title 3, Section 1 requires that electors be chosen on Election Day. However, when a state “has failed to make a choice on [that] day,” then “the electors may be appointed on a subsequent day in such a manner as the legislature of such State may direct,” under Section 2.
But the states did not fail to choose the electors on Election Day. As a result of the voting process, which ended on November 3, Biden garnered more than 270 electoral votes. Trump’s own Department of Homeland Security affirmed that the election was the most secure in U.S. history. Even if charges of fraud were supported, that would not amount to a failure of state voters to choose electors on Election Day. Thus, state legislatures have no authority to select Trump’s electors in the states Biden won.
Trump supporters are targeting Pennsylvania, Michigan, Wisconsin, and Arizona—all of which Biden won—by raising allegations of fraud in hopes of persuading their state legislatures to override the will of the voters and appoint pro-Trump electors. All four states require that electors be awarded to the winner of the state’s popular vote on Election Day.
In October, the Republican majority leaders from Pennsylvania’s Senate and House co-authored an op-ed saying that the GOP-controlled legislature would not select electors to overrule the popular vote. They wrote, “The Pennsylvania General Assembly does not have and will not have a hand in choosing the state’s presidential electors or in deciding the outcome of the presidential election.” But on November 10, members of the Pennsylvania legislature announced their intention to investigate voter fraud allegations.
The Republican leader of Wisconsin’s assembly has long maintained that the legislature would not override the will of the voters and he reiterated that view on November 13. But the Wisconsin legislature is also investigating the election.
Republican leaders in Michigan’s legislature say legislative intervention would violate state law although the GOP-controlled legislature has mounted an investigation of the election. Michigan’s majority leader said, “It is not the expectation that our analysis would result in any change in the outcome.”
On November 17, in a dramatic and overtly political move, the two Republican officials on the four-member board of canvassers in Michigan’s largest county blocked certification of Wayne County’s vote count. But hours later, after powerful public comment and fierce outcry on traditional and social media, board chair Monica Palmer and William Hartmann reversed their “no” votes and the board unanimously certified the tally.
Trump called Palmer after the board meeting and also spoke with Hartmann. The next day, the two GOP board members tried to rescind their “yes” votes, claiming they were pressured into certifying the election with the promise of an audit of voting tallies in Detroit, which is 80% black. Jocelyn Benson, Michigan’s Secretary of State, said the resolution requesting an audit was not binding. The small number of votes that could be affected by the audit is not enough to change the election results.
Benson’s spokeswoman stated, “There is no legal mechanism for them to rescind their vote.”
On November 19, Trump invited the Republican leaders in the Michigan legislature to visit the White House on November 20. The Michigan Board of State Canvassers will review and certify the county certifications on November 23.
Arizona’s Republican House speaker affirmed that the legislature is “mandated by statute to choose according to the vote of the people,” but left open the possibility of changing electors if there is “some type of fraud—which I haven’t heard of anything.” At this point, he added, “I don’t see us in any serious way addressing a change in electors.”
Although Republican leaders in those four states deny they intend to replace Biden electors with Trump electors, allegations of fraud—however spurious—could reverse those intentions. Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell is hinting that Trump could win in the Electoral College.
States must count electoral votes and settle election disputes by December 8, the “safe harbor” deadline. On December 14, members of the Electoral College in each state will meet to elect the president.
If legislatures in Pennsylvania, Michigan, and Wisconsin attempt to appoint Trump electors against the will of their voters, the Democratic governors in those states would refuse to sign the certification of electors and submit Biden slates. Arizona has a Republican governor, who may well sign a slate of Trump electors notwithstanding Biden’s victory in that state, according to Harvard law professor Lawrence Lessig.
On January 6, Vice President Mike Pence will preside over the opening of the certified results before a joint session of the new Congress. If there are competing slates of electors in Arizona, Pence might decide to recognize the slate signed by the governor, Lessig says. If both a senator and a member of the House of Representatives sign an objection, the Senate and House would vote on whether to uphold the objection. In all likelihood, the House would vote to sustain the objection. If the Senate votes to overrule the objection, the slate signed by the governor would be counted. Even without Biden electors from Arizona, however, Biden should still have more than 270 electoral votes. But if the state legislatures in Pennsylvania, Michigan, and/or Wisconsin submit competing slates of electors, that dispute would also end up in Congress.
If neither Biden nor Trump secure 270 electoral votes, the 12th Amendment provides that the House would decide who becomes president. Each state gets one vote and since there are more red states than blue ones, Trump would win.
In the event that an electoral clash reaches the Supreme Court, all bets are off. In a recent concurrence, Brett Kavanaugh adopted the position that state legislatures are unconstrained in their selection of electors regardless of the popular vote. Kavanaugh based his theory on Chief Justice William Rehnquist’s concurrence in Bush v. Gore—the case that selected George W. Bush as president in 2000. But that theory has not attained majority support on the high court.
“In the event that an electoral clash reaches the Supreme Court, all bets are off.”
Indeed, in Chiafalo v. Washington earlier this year, a unanimous Supreme Court cited the “tradition more than two centuries old” that “electors are not free agents; they are to vote for the candidate whom the State’s voters have chosen.” Chiafalo affirmed the power of states to punish “faithless electors,” who don’t vote in accordance with the popular vote.
But in light of the willingness of Samuel Alito, Clarence Thomas, and Neil Gorsuch to stay the counting of votes mailed by November 3 but arriving by November 6, in spite of the Pennsylvania Supreme Court’s allowance of the three-day extension, those three might vote for Trump in a case of dueling electors. And Amy Coney Barrett could provide the fifth vote to hand the presidency to Trump.
Trump May Be Preparing for Armed Support of His Coup
Trump is apparently taking steps to quash popular opposition to his attempted electoral theft. On November 9, he fired Defense Secretary Mark Esper. Last summer, Esper refused to support Trump’s proposed deployment of active-duty troops against anti-racist protesters in the wake of the public lynching of George Floyd. Esper opposed the invocation of the Insurrection Act to call out active-duty military on U.S. soil. Mindful that massive protests would erupt if he succeeds in launching an electoral coup, Trump wants his loyalists in place to attack anti-coup demonstrators. Service members, however, have a duty to disobey unlawful orders and may refuse to follow Trump’s illegal directives to repress protesters.
On November 14, thousands of Trump loyalists, including the Proud Boys and other right-wing groups, assembled in Washington D.C. and claimed that Biden was stealing the election. Trump drove by on his way to play golf and gave the demonstrators a thumbs-up. Later that day, in a violently inciteful tweet, Trump urged police not to “hold back” and to crack down on “antifa scum.”
During the campaign, while he leveled false accusations of massive voter fraud, Trump refused to commit to a peaceful transfer of power. His refusal to concede and his strategy to illegally overturn the election results by stealing Biden’s electoral votes confirm his intention not to go peacefully.
“Since 1800, when the incumbent John Adams was defeated, every president who lost a reelection bid has left office,” Berkeley Law School Dean Erwin Chemerinsky told this author. “Not every transition was graceful, but every one occurred. We have seen so many instances around the world where that didn’t happen. I am hopeful that our institutions will work again and keep Trump from impermissibly remaining in office.”
The results of the election must be honored and the presidency awarded to Joe Biden. Hopefully, that will be accomplished with all deliberate speed and the absence of bloodshed. Donald Trump must leave the White House on January 20. As Elena Kagan wrote in the last line of the Chiafalo opinion, “Here, We the People rule.”
A version of this article first appeared on Jurist.
Marjorie Cohn is professor emerita at Thomas Jefferson School of Law, former president of the National Lawyers Guild, and deputy secretary-general of the International Association of Democratic Lawyers. Her latest book is, “Drones and Targeted Killing: Legal, Moral, and Geopolitical Issues“ (2017). Previous books include: “Cowboy Republic: Six Ways the Bush Gang Has Defied the Law” (2007) and co-author of “Rules of Disengagement: The Politics and Honor of Military Dissent“ (2009 with Kathleen Gilberd); and an anthology, “The United States and Torture: Interrogation, Incarceration and Abuse” (2012).
A critical thinking framework developed by psychologists can help teach mental skills necessary for our times.
PAUL RATNER 12 May, 2020
Graphic: Paul RatnerCredit: Elder / Paul
- Researchers propose six levels of critical thinkers: Unreflective thinkers, Challenged thinkers, Beginning thinkers, Practicing thinkers, Advanced thinkers, and Master thinkers.
- The framework comes from educational psychologists Linda Elder and Richard Paul.
- Teaching critical thinking skills is a crucial challenge in our times.
The coronavirus has not only decimated our populations, its spread has also attacked the very nature of truth and stoked inherent tensions between many different groups of people, both at local and international levels. Spawning widespread conspiracy theories and obfuscation by governments, the virus has also been a vivid demonstration of the need for teaching critical thinking skills necessary to survive in the 21st century. The stage theory of critical thinking development, devised by psychologists Linda Elder and Richard Paul, can help us gauge the sophistication of our current mental approaches and provides a roadmap to the thinking of others.
The researchers identified six predictable levels of critical thinkers, from ones lower in depth and effort to the advanced mind-masters, who are always steps ahead.
As the scientists write, moving up on this pyramid of thinking “is dependent upon a necessary level of commitment on the part of an individual to develop as a critical thinker.” Using your mind more effectively is not automatic and “is unlikely to take place “subconsciously.” In other words – you have to put in the work and keep doing it, or you’ll lose the faculty.
Here’s how the stages of intellectual development break down:
Stage One: The Unreflective Thinker
These are people who don’t reflect about thinking and the effect it has on their lives. As such, they form opinions and make decisions based on prejudices and misconceptions while their thinking doesn’t improve.
Unreflective thinkers lack crucial skills that would allow them to parse their thought processes. They also do not apply standards like accuracy, relevance, precision, and logic in a consistent fashion.
How many such people are out there? You probably can guess based on social media comments. As Elder and Paul write, “it is perfectly possible for students to graduate from high school, or even college, and still be largely unreflective thinkers.”
Stage Two: The Challenged Thinker
This next level up thinker has awareness of the importance of thinking on their existence and knows that deficiencies in thinking can bring about major issues. As the psychologists explain, to solve a problem, you must first admit you have one.
People at this intellectual stage begin to understand that “high quality thinking requires deliberate reflective thinking about thinking”, and can acknowledge that their own mental processes might have many flaws. They might not be able to identify all the flaws, however.
A challenged thinker may have a sense that solid thinking involves navigating assumptions, inferences, and points of view, but only on an initial level. They may also be able to spot some instances of their own self-deception. The true difficulty for thinkers of this category is in not “believing that their thinking is better than it actually is, making it more difficult to recognize the problems inherent in poor thinking,” explain the researchers.
Stage Three: The Beginning Thinker
Thinkers at this level can go beyond the nascent intellectual humility and actively look to take control of their thinking across areas of their lives. They know that their own thinking can have blind spots and other problems and take steps to address those, but in a limited capacity.
Beginning thinkers place more value in reason, becoming self-aware in their thoughts. They may also be able to start looking at the concepts and biases underlying their ideas. Additionally, such thinkers develop higher internal standards of clarity, accuracy and logic, realizing that their ego plays a key role in their decisions.
Another big aspect that differentiates this stronger thinker – some ability to take criticism of their mental approach, even though they still have work to do and might lack clear enough solutions to the issues they spot.
Stage Four: The Practicing Thinker
This more experienced kind of thinker not only appreciates their own deficiencies, but has skills to deal with them. A thinker of this level will practice better thinking habits and will analyze their mental processes with regularity.
While they might be able to express their mind’s strengths and weaknesses, as a negative, practicing thinkers might still not have a systematic way of gaining insight into their thoughts and can fall prey to egocentric and self-deceptive reasoning.
How do you get to this stage? An important trait to gain, say the psychologists, is “intellectual perseverance.” This quality can provide “the impetus for developing a realistic plan for systematic practice (with a view to taking greater command of one’s thinking).”
“We must teach in such a way that students come to understand the power in knowing that whenever humans reason, they have no choice but to use certain predictable structures of thought: that thinking is inevitably driven by the questions, that we seek answers to questions for some purpose, that to answer questions, we need information, that to use information we must interpret it (i.e., by making inferences), and that our inferences, in turn, are based on assumptions, and have implications, all of which involves ideas or concepts within some point of view,” explain Elder and Paul.
Stage Five: The Advanced Thinker
One doesn’t typically get to this stage until college and beyond, estimate the scientists. This higher-level thinker would have strong habits that would allow them to analyze their thinking with insight about different areas of life. They would be fair-minded and able to spot the prejudicial aspects in the points of view of others and their own understanding.
While they’d have a good handle on the role of their ego in the idea flow, such thinkers might still not be able to grasp all the influences that affect their mentality.
The advanced thinker is at ease with self-critique and does so systematically, looking to improve. Among key traits required for this level are “intellectual insight” to develop new thought habits, “intellectual integrity” to “recognize areas of inconsistency and contradiction in one’s life,” intellectual empathy” to put oneself in the place of others in order to genuinely understand them, and the “intellectual courage” to confront ideas and beliefs they don’t necessarily believe in and have negative emotions towards.
Stage Six: The Master Thinker
This is the super-thinker, the one who is totally in control of how they process information and make decisions. Such people constantly seek to improve their thought skills, and through experience “regularly raise their thinking to the level of conscious realization.”
A master thinker achieves great insights into deep mental levels, strongly committed to being fair and gaining control over their own egocentrism.
Such a high-level thinker also exhibits superior practical knowledge and insight, always re-examining their assumptions for weaknesses, logic, and biases.
And, of course, a master thinker wouldn’t get upset with being intellectually confronted and spends a considerable amount of time analyzing their own responses.
“Why is this so important? Precisely because the human mind, left to its own, pursues that which is immediately easy, that which is comfortable, and that which serves its selfish interests. At the same time, it naturally resists that which is difficult to understand, that which involves complexity, that which requires entering the thinking and predicaments of others,” write the researchers.
So how do you become a master thinker? The psychologists think most students will never get there. But a lifetime of practicing the best intellectual traits can get you to that point when “people of good sense seek out master thinkers, for they recognize and value the ability of master thinkers to think through complex issues with judgment and insight.”
The significance of critical thinking in our daily lives, especially in these confusing times, so rife with quick and often-misleading information, cannot be overstated. The decisions we make today can truly be life and death.
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In Pfizer We Trust?
By Phil Mattera, Dirt Diggers Digest
November 20, 2020 (dcreport.org)
The world is in love with Pfizer and Moderna; me, not so much. The two pharmaceutical companies have announced amazing results in their separate efforts to develop a coronavirus vaccine.
Pfizer first announced that its product appeared to be 90% effective, only to be upstaged days later by Moderna and its claim of 94.5%. Pfizer then revised its efficacy rate to 95%.
Like everyone else, I am eager to see progress made in the fight against COVID-19. But there is a part of me that wonders whether these announcements, coming in record-breaking time, are too good to be true.
Don’t get me wrong—I am not a vaccine skeptic. I recently got my flu shot and previously was inoculated against shingles and pneumonia.
Yet I am wary when it comes to grand pronouncements by large corporations about advances that will generate vast amounts of profit. This is particularly the case with large drug companies, which have a long history of deception and malfeasance.
Pfizer’s track record is filled with cases in which it was accused of misleading regulators and the public about the safety of its products.
Pfizer is a prime example. Its track record is filled with cases in which it was accused of misleading regulators and the public about the safety of its products.
In the early 1990s, for example, Pfizer was embroiled in a controversy about scores of fatalities linked to heart valves produced by its Shiley division. In 1992 it agreed to pay up to $205 million to settle thousands of lawsuits. In 1994 the company agreed to pay $10.75 million to settle Justice Department charges that it lied to regulators in seeking approval for the valves.
In 2005, Pfizer had to stop advertising its arthritis medication Celebrex after a study showed that high doses were associated with an increased risk of heart attacks. Pfizer’s claims about the safety of the drug were further undermined when it came to light that the company had conducted a clinical trial back in 1999 that also pointed to the cardiac risk but which Pfizer kept secret.
Pfizer, which was a pioneer in the once-controversial practice of advertising pharmaceuticals, frequently has been accused of making false or misleading claims about its products. It has paid millions of dollars to resolve state and federal allegations about these practices.
It paid even larger amounts in cases involving allegations that the company promoted its drugs for uses not approved by the Food and Drug Administration. These include a $2.3 billion settlement in 2009 that covered criminal as well as civil allegations. Pfizer’s subsidiary Wyeth settled its own criminal-civil illegal marketing case for $490 million four years later. In 2016 Wyeth paid another $784 million to settle allegations that it reported false pricing information to the federal government.
Moderna has not been around long enough to get into much trouble, but other companies working on vaccines have track records similar to Pfizer’s. These include Johnson & Johnson, whose penalty total on Violation Tracker is $4.2 billion, AstraZeneca ($1.1 billion), GlaxoSmithKline ($4.4 billion) and Sanofi ($641 million).
We may have no choice but to depend on companies such as these to develop and produce the vaccines we need to overcome COVID-19. Fortunately, their efficacy and safety claims will be subject to review by presumably independent experts before the vaccines are put into general distribution. I will continue to have my doubts about Pfizer, but I’m willing to trust Anthony Fauci, the doctor and immunologist who gained fame and the president’s wrath for being perceived as a straight coronavirus shooter.
How COVID-19 Is Helping Bankroll Magic Mushroom Legalization
© Provided by The Daily Beast Photo Illustration by The Daily Beast/Getty
Election Day saw a string of huge wins for drug policy reform across the country, but nowhere went further than Oregon. Along with decriminalizing possession of small amounts of drugs—all drugs, across the board—voters there became the first to legalize adult access to psilocybin mushrooms.
In a very direct way, the COVID-19 pandemic helped make all this happen.
Polling repeatedly shows the drug war is vastly unpopular. And drug reform is a rare example of a true bipartisan issue. But so far in the U.S., most actual policy change on drugs has come at the ballot box.
Winning over voters requires huge sums of money. And David Bronner, the ponytailed, vegan chief executive of his family business, Dr. Bronner’s Magic Soaps, says he was able to write checks totaling more than $6.4 million towards drug-war reform campaigns in three states and Washington, D.C., this year because the pandemic has been very good for the soap business.
Last year, the company reported a record $129 million in revenue. In 2020, sales are on track to increase by 50 percent, Bronner told The Daily Beast during a recent phone interview. That opened the spigot wide for major strides on access to shrooms and weed, while working to end arrests for heroin and meth, too.
Specifically, according to Bronner, the cash influx meant much bigger than anticipated checks for medical psilocybin legalization ($3.4 million) and drug-decriminalization ($1 million) campaigns in Oregon. Also part of his spending spree: a mushroom decriminalization measure in D.C. ($650,000), and cannabis legalization efforts in Montana and South Dakota ($1.4 million total).
“Obviously, it sucks overall, but in this regard, it was good timing,” Bronner told The Daily Beast of the pandemic-legalization link. “We would at most be spending half that, ordinarily.”
In all, Dr. Bronner’s made $6.685 million in political donations this year, all funneled through New Approach PAC, a D.C.-based 527 nonprofit that’s been bankrolling drug reform efforts for years, according to IRS filings. (Bronner gives so much money that he briefly lost count; in an earlier conversation, he said he’d only given $5 million, underestimating his own efforts by more than 20 percent. “I guess it was that much!” Bronner said Friday. “Hard to keep track.”)
It remains to be seen whether the COVID windfall will be a “new normal” for the company, but flush with victory as well as some cash, Bronner is now in a unique position. If he wants to, he can pick which states are next to push drug policy reform past merely creating a commercial marijuana industry.
Though Bronner arguably deserves props for donating via a more transparent 527 nonprofit—rather than an opaque 501(c)(3) or 501(c)(4), “political nonprofits” that the Center for Responsive Politics calls vehicles for “dark money”—his approach is no solution to America’s campaign-finance morass, where venture capitalists pay to make the laws legislators won’t. And there are fair questions to be asked when any business titan throws around so much cash, even on issues with broad support from public health experts.
Still, the guy is getting results, however piecemeal.
It will be some time before Oregonians can legally use mushrooms, of course. Measure 109, the successful ballot initiative on that front, requires the Oregon Health Authority to regulate growers as well as therapists, who would provide psilocybin during licensed therapy sessions, but not before a two-year planning process is over.
By that time, more states may be joining the party.
Next up for psilocybin legalization, Bronner says, is Washington state in 2022. Then, in 2024, maybe California and Colorado, cash willing.
“We’re at an inflection point in the culture… but really, it’s a function of the firepower available,” Bronner said.
With that caveat, if it is Washington, Oregon might just have been an amuse-bouche. “I think.” he added, “we can push it even further.”
As an activist political bankroller, Bronner is something like a Charles Koch or a Robert Mercer, but for drug policy reform. And in this pantheon, he sticks out. Drug legalization has always relied on the generosity of a select few, but until now, they have largely been besuited tycoons: financier and far-right target George Soros, “Prince of the Pit” Richard Dennis, the late Progressive Auto Insurance founder Peter Lewis, and the late University of Phoenix founder John Sperling.
Bronner doesn’t look like them. Nor does he act like them: In 2012, he was arrested for protesting Barack Obama, locking himself in a cage with some illegal hemp plants in front of the White House.
Drug Policy Alliance, which draws much of its funding from Soros’s Open Society Foundation, is still arguably the major player in the drug-reform and legalization space. But Bronner was the chief backer of Measure 109, the mushroom initiative, which raised north of $3 million total, $2.75 million from Bronner-backed New Approach PAC, as the most recent campaign finance filings show. (The rest of the $3.4 million he contributed to that effort came in after the most recent disclosure deadlines, according to Graham Boyd, New Approach’s political director.)
While Bronner’s $1 million check to Measure 110, the across-the-board drug decriminalization effort, shamed Facebook’s Mark Zuckerberg—whose Chan-Zuckerberg Initiative gave “only” $500,000—DPA’s political arm, Drug Policy Action, was the main bankroller there, records show.
In the future, Bronner wants closer coordination with legalization’s other funders. “If we all line up as one grand coalition, we can run twice as many ballot measures in any given cycle,” he said. “We’re working hard on figuring that out.”
But for now, this is where we are: Soros, Zuck, and the weirdo hippie soap-maker from San Diego. This is who’s paying to end the drug war. And it’s working.
“It’s safe to say DC Initiative 81 wouldn’t have gotten far without him,” said Sanho Tree, director of the Drug Policy Project at the Institute for Policy Studies, a left-leaning Washington, D.C.-based think tank. “His money has been a big asset in moving the ball down the field, and I’m sure it will be a big help in Washington state.”© Provided by The Daily Beast Police detain David Bronner after cutting open a cage he was protesting from inside on a street near the White House in Washington, DC, on June 11, 2012. JEWEL SAMAD/AFP/Getty
In Oregon, Portland-based therapists Sheri and Tom Eckert had been pursuing mushroom legalization since last year. In normal times, they might have been able to win with a bootstrapped, purely grassroots effort. But grabbing signatures and running a door-to-door campaign, without media buys, would have been way harder under the pandemic. When Bronner arrived, he brought expertise and advice—as well as dollars.
“Beyond the big donations, David was fully involved as part of our strategic advisory committee,” Tom Eckert said. “He’s both a team player and a difference maker, which is what we needed. I’m sure our success in Oregon will be seen as a template for the rest of the country, as we feel it should be.”
Right now, Bronner’s plan is to do in Washington what was done in Oregon, but in one fell swoop: packaging the drug-decriminalization seen in Measure 110 together with Measure 109’s legalized psilocybin therapy, in one ballot initiative. (Whether that will be too much all at once for voters to swallow remains to be seen.)
With marijuana legalization, the technique has been to move slowly, with medical cannabis preceding commercial recreational pot. That was the move with mushrooms in Oregon. But that all could change: This cycle, South Dakota became the first state to bypass medical marijuana legalization as an incremental step and go straight for adult use.
Bronner’s goal is to eventually allow adults in America to legally use mushrooms at concerts and at home as well as in therapy settings. That might happen sooner rather than later, if Americans keep buying his soap.
“It’s moving faster than I would have thought,” Bronner said. “I would not have thought we’d be ready for the kind of reforms we’re seeing, and it’s gratifying. I just think we can go further in 2022 and 2024.”
(Contributed by Gwyllm Llwydd.)
(Prepared by Rick Thomas, H.W., M. Right click on “Open image in New Tab” for a larger view.)
|MoonWobble December 2020|
|Click here to see the chart: MoonWobble Dec 2020 |
*** General suggestions / observations ***• This cycle is based on empirical data meaning enough data was observed and recorded to make it possible to suggest attitudes and reactions. Keep in mind that we all have free will and thus results will vary from one individual to another.• The graph shows the energy high at the beginning of the cycle (not unlike any other astrological aspect) followed by a slow down before it gets strong and again this reflects years of tracking and noting feedback from our many students.• If you are making a decision during this time you might want to let it set for a day or two then check your decision again to see if it still makes sense. However, you can feel into the ebb and flow and find good times to work on self emotionally in both the low and high points. Impatience, emotion and acts without thinking are common.• With practice you can feel when the energy is there to help bring completion to tasks, goals and projects you may be working on.
The ProsperosCopyright © 2020 The Prosperos, All rights reserved.
DarWilliamsVEVO Music video by Dar Williams performing What Do You Hear In These Sounds. (C) 1997 Razor & Tie
Music in this video
What Do You Hear in These Sounds (Live)
Licensed to YouTube by
TuneCore, UMG (on behalf of Dar Williams Records); BMG Rights Management (US), LLC, LatinAutorPerf, CMRRA, ARESA, and 2 Music Rights Societies
I don’t go to therapy to find out if I’m a freak
I go and I find the one and only answer every week
And it’s just me and all the memories to follow
Down any course that fits within a fifty minute hour
And we fathom all the mysteries, explicit and inherent
When I hit a rut, she says to try the other parent
And she’s so kind, I think she wants to tell me something,
But she knows that its much better if I get it for myself
And she saysWhat do you hear in these sounds?
What do you hear in these sounds?I say I hear a doubt, with the voice of true believing
And the promises to stay, and the footsteps that are leaving
And she says “Oh, ” I say, “What?” she says, “Exactly, “
I say, “What, you think I’m angry
Does that mean you think I’m angry?”
She says “Look, you come here every week
With jigsaw pieces of your past
Its all on little soundbites and voices out of photographs
And that’s all yours, that’s the guide, that’s the map
So tell me, where does the arrow point to?
Who invented roses?”
AndWhat do you hear in these sounds?
What do you hear in these sounds?And when I talk about therapy, I know what people think
That it only makes you selfish and in love with your shrink
But oh how I loved everybody else
When I finally got to talk so much about myselfAnd I wake up and I ask myself what state I’m in
And I say well I’m lucky, ’cause I am like East Berlin
I had this wall and what I knew of the free world
Was that I could see their fireworks
And I could hear their radio
And I thought that if we met, I would only start confessing
And they’d know that I was scared
They’d would know that I was guessing
But the wall came down and there they stood before me
With their stumbling and their mumbling
And their calling out just like me, andThe stories that nobody hears, and
I collect these sounds in my ears, and
That’s what I hear in these sounds, and
That’s what I hear in these,
That’s what I hear in these sounds.
Songwriters: Dar Williams
What Do You Hear in These Sounds lyrics © BMG Rights Management
The HillThe Hill Astrophysicist, Dr. Joe Pesce, discusses the most magnetic stars in the universe. He also shines light on evidence of a fast radio burst that likely traveled to Earth from a particular type of neutron star in our Milky Way galaxy. About Rising: Rising is a weekday morning show with bipartisan hosts that breaks the mold of morning TV by taking viewers inside the halls of Washington power like never before. The show leans into the day’s political cycle with cutting edge analysis from DC insiders who can predict what is going to happen. It also sets the day’s political agenda by breaking exclusive news with a team of scoop-driven reporters and demanding answers during interviews with the country’s most important political newsmakers. Follow Rising on social media: Website: Hill.TV Facebook: facebook.com/HillTVLive/ Instagram: @HillTVLive Twitter: @HillTVLive Follow Saagar Enjeti & Krystal Ball on social media: Twitter: @esaagar and @krystalball Instagram: @esaagar and @krystalmball