Navigating Information Fatigue: Conspiracies!

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The COVID-19 pandemic has further increased our reliance on social media and the Internet for information. This development, combined with underlying political partisanship, has created a breeding ground for disinformation, conspiracy theories, and information overload. Carnegie Library of Pittsburgh has long provided resources for the best-quality information in the service of the public in Pittsburgh and beyond.

NOTE: This list is a supplement to the Navigating Information Fatigue: 3-Part Series virtual event. 

Conspiracies of Conspiracies: How Delusions Have Overrun America

It’s tempting to think that we live in an unprecedentedly fertile age for conspiracy theories, with seemingly each churn of the news cycle bringing fresh manifestations of large-scale paranoia. But the sad fact is that these narratives of suspicion–and the delusional psychologies that fuel them–have been a constant presence in American life for nearly as long as there’s been an America.

In this sweeping book, Thomas Milan Konda traces the country’s obsession with conspiratorial thought from the early days of the republic to our own anxious moment. Conspiracies of Conspiracies details centuries of sinister speculations–from antisemitism and anti-Catholicism to UFOs and reptilian humanoids–and their often incendiary outcomes. Rather than simply rehashing the surface eccentricities of such theories, Konda draws from his unprecedented assemblage of conspiratorial writing to crack open the mindsets that lead people toward these self-sealing worlds of denial. What is distinctively American about these theories, he argues, is not simply our country’s homegrown obsession with them but their ongoing prevalence and virulence. Konda proves that conspiracy theories are no harmless sideshow. They are instead the dark and secret heart of American political history–one that is poisoning the bloodstream of an increasingly sick body politic.

Suspicious Minds: Why We Believe Conspiracy Theories

We’re all conspiracy theorists. Some of us just hide it better than others.

In Suspicious Minds , Rob Brotherton decodes the psychology, history, and consequences of conspiracism, and delves into the research that offers insights into why so many of us are drawn to implausible, unproven and un-provable conspiracy theories. They resonate with some of our brain’s built-in quirks and foibles, and tap into some of our deepest desires, fears, and assumptions about the world.

Conspiracy theorists do not wear tin-foil hats (for the most part). They are not just a few kooks lurking on the paranoid fringes of society with bizarre ideas about shape-shifting reptilian aliens running society in secret. They walk among us. They are us. Everyone loves a good conspiracy. Yet conspiracy theories are not a recent invention. And they are not always a harmless curiosity.

The fascinating and often surprising psychology of conspiracy theories tells us a lot–not just why we are drawn to theories about sinister schemes, but about how our minds are wired and, indeed, why we believe anything at all. Conspiracy theories are not some psychological aberration–they’re a predictable product of how brains work. This book will tell you why, and what it means. Of course, just because your brain’s biased doesn’t always mean you’re wrong. Sometimes conspiracies are real. Sometimes, paranoia is prudent.

The Paranoid Style in American Politics, and Other Essays

The title essay of this collection first appeared in Harper’s Magazine in November 1964, not long after Senator Barry Goldwater won the Republican presidential nomination over Nelson A. Rockefeller. Hofstadter explores the influence of conspiracy theory and similar political movements throughout American history. Recommended by the creative team of The Last American Hammer.

Voodoo Histories

An absorbing, probing look at the conspiracy theories that operate on the sidelines of history and the reasons they continue to play such a seditious role, from an award-winning journalist.

Our age is obsessed by the idea of conspiracy. We see it everywhere- from Pearl Harbor to 9/11, from the assassination of Kennedy to the death of Diana. In this age of terrorism we live in, the role of conspiracy is a serious one, one that can fuel radical or fringe elements to violence.

For David Aaronovitch, there came a time when he started to see a pattern among these inflammatory theories. these theories used similarly murky methods with which to insinuate their claims: they linked themselves to the supposed conspiracies of the past (it happened then so it can happen now); they carefully manipulated their evidence to hide its holes; they relied on the authority of dubious academic sources. Most important, they elevated their believers to membership of an elite- a group of people able to see beyond lies to a higher reality. But why believe something that entails stretching the bounds of probability so far? Surely it is more likely that men did actually land on the moon in 1969 than that thousands of people were enlisted to fabricate an elaborate hoax.

In this entertaining and enlightening book -aimed at providing ammunition for those who have found themselves at the wrong end of a conversation about moon landings or the twin towers-Aaronovitch carefully probes and explodes a dozen of the major conspiracy theories. In doing so, he examines why people believe them, and makes an argument for a true skepticism: one based on a thorough knowledge of history and a strong dose of common sense.

American Conspiracy Theories

We are living in an age of conspiracy theories, whether it’s enduring, widely held beliefs such as government involvement in the Kennedy assassination or alien activity at Roswell, fears of a powerful infiltrating group such as the Illuminati, Jews, Catholics, or communists, or modern fringe movements of varying popularity such as birtherism and trutherism.

What is it in American culture that makes conspiracy theories proliferate? Who is targeted, and why? Are we in the heyday of the conspiracy theory, or is it in decline?Though there is significant scholarly literature on the topic in psychology, sociology, philosophy, and more, American Conspiracy Theories is the first to use broad, long-term empirical data to analyze this popular American tendency.

Joseph E. Uscinski and Joseph M. Parent draw on three sources of original data: 120,000 letters to the editor of the New York Times and Chicago Tribune from between 1890 and 2010; a two-wave survey from before and after the 2012 presidential election; and discussions of conspiracy theories culled from online news sources, blogs, and other Web sites, also from before and after the election. Through these sources, they are able to address crucial questions, such as similarities and differences in the nature of conspiracy theories over time, the role of the Internet and communications technologies in spreading modern conspiracy theories, and whether politics, economics, media, war, or other factors are most important in popularizing conspiratorial beliefs.

Ultimately, they conclude that power asymmetries, both foreign and domestic, are the main drivers behind conspiracy theories, and that those at the bottom of power hierarchies have a strategic interest in blaming those at the top-in other words, “conspiracy theories are for losers.” But these “losers” can end up having tremendous influence on the course of history, and American Conspiracy Theories is an unprecedented examination of one of the defining features of American political life.

A Lot of People Are Saying: The New Conspiracism and the Assault on Democracy

How the new conspiracists are undermining democracy–and what can be done about it

Conspiracy theories are as old as politics. But conspiracists today have introduced something new–conspiracy without theory. And the new conspiracism has moved from the fringes to the heart of government with the election of Donald Trump. In A Lot of People Are Saying , Russell Muirhead and Nancy Rosenblum show how the new conspiracism differs from classic conspiracy theory, why so few officials speak truth to conspiracy, and what needs to be done to resist it.

Classic conspiracy theory insists that things are not what they seem and gathers evidence–especially facts ominously withheld by official sources–to tease out secret machinations. The new conspiracism is different. There is no demand for evidence, no dots revealed to form a pattern, no close examination of shadowy plotters. Dispensing with the burden of explanation, the new conspiracism imposes its own reality through repetition (exemplified by the Trump catchphrase “a lot of people are saying”) and bare assertion (“rigged!”).

The new conspiracism targets democratic foundations–political parties and knowledge-producing institutions. It makes it more difficult to argue, persuade, negotiate, compromise, and even to disagree. Ultimately, it delegitimates democracy.

Filled with vivid examples, A Lot of People Are Saying diagnoses a defining and disorienting feature of today’s politics and offers a guide to responding to the threat.

Hunting the Lost Symbol

Explore the fact in the fiction surrounding some of Washington, DC s most famous symbols, images, and legends.

Be hot on the trail of the secret codes and clues introduced in Dan Brown s book The Lost Symbol. By using dramatic re-creations of pivotal moments in American history together with visits to the contemporary locations visited by Brown s protagonist Robert Langdon, the special provides a compelling and provocative bookend to the action and suspense of The Lost Symbol. From Capitol crypts to hidden monuments Hunting the Lost Symbol illuminates the world of Dan Brown.
Discovery Channel s on-air special, Hunting the Lost Symbol is based upon Dan Brown s (author of The Da Vinci Code) #1 Best-Selling book – The Lost Symbol.

DVD includes two episodes of Secret America They are the most iconic symbols of America, but lurking behind each one are conspiracy theories, myths, and lies.

Conspiracy Theory in America

Ever since the Warren Commission concluded that a lone gunman assassinated President John F. Kennedy, people who doubt that finding have been widely dismissed as conspiracy theorists, despite credible evidence that right-wing elements in the CIA, FBI, and Secret Service–and possibly even senior government officials–were also involved. Why has suspicion of criminal wrongdoing at the highest levels of government been rejected out-of-hand as paranoid thinking akin to superstition?

Conspiracy Theory in America investigates how the Founders’ hard-nosed realism about the likelihood of elite political misconduct–articulated in the Declaration of Independence–has been replaced by today’s blanket condemnation of conspiracy beliefs as ludicrous by definition. Lance DeHaven-Smith reveals that the term “conspiracy theory” entered the American lexicon of political speech to deflect criticism of the Warren Commission and traces it back to a CIA propaganda campaign to discredit doubters of the commission’s report. He asks tough questions and connects the dots among five decades’ worth of suspicious events, including the assassinations of John and Robert Kennedy, the attempted assassinations of George Wallace and Ronald Reagan, the crimes of Watergate, the Iran-Contra arms-for-hostages deal, the disputed presidential elections of 2000 and 2004, the major defense failure of 9/11, and the subsequent anthrax letter attacks.

Sure to spark intense debate about the truthfulness and trustworthiness of our government, Conspiracy Theory in America offers a powerful reminder that a suspicious, even radically suspicious, attitude toward government is crucial to maintaining our democracy.