Conspiracy theories

October 3, 2008

Arabs and Jordanians love conspiracy theories, to the point where it sometimes becomes self destructive. What can science do to explain this?

Today, an article in Science explores why people create mental patterns where none exist in reality. This is done through experiments using volunteers who are asked to describe fuzzy images. When the volunteers were asked to visualize events where they had no control of the situation, they tended to see patterns in the images at higher frequencies than when they visualized situations where they had full control. According to the results of the study, “Participants who lacked control were more likely to perceive a variety of illusory patterns, including seeing images in noise, forming illusory correlations in stock market information, perceiving conspiracies,and developing superstitions”.

Sounds familiar. It seems that perceived loss of control is the reason why we latch on to conspiracy theories. I would like to see studies which explore whether the development of “illusory correlations” is detrimental to people who want to gain more control over the events that surround them. It is a shame that more substantial research in the behavioral sciences in Jordan is not focused on how to overcome the forces that disempower us.

On the other hand, it has been said that “just because I’m paranoid doesn’t mean that they aren’t after me”. But even so, we should do a better job in understanding the forces that hold us back.



  1. What’s more troubling than conspiricy theorists is half-educated, half-ass intellectuals who whenever their shallow understanding of the world clashes with the complex reality they start accusing those they disagree with being conspiracy theorists. this seems to give them a false sense of superiority and relives them from having to offer a convincing counter argument.

    So just because you are a shallow, ill-read, psudo educated dimwit, it does not mean anyone who may know more than you do is a conspiracy theorist. It could just mean you are plain thick.

  2. “Arabs and Jordanians love conspiracy theories, to the point where it sometimes becomes self destructive.”

    Really? and I though it was the Americans who killed over a million Arabs in Iraq over some stupid conspiracy theory that claims Saddam is a friend of Al-Qaeda and that Iraq had nukes. Only to discover it was some sick paranoid story.

    At least Arab conspiracy theory keeps Arabs busy in cafes. Thy don’t result in genocide.

  3. Arabs are conspiracy theorists? And you are French? or are the only sane Arab who is blessed with the wisdom of telling reality from fiction?

    What an arrogant person you are.

  4. I could list some of the most ridiculous conspiracy theories as well as other “perceptions of illusory patterns”, but you all know them (the theory that the government is “hiding” our petroleum comes to mind, as does the time when the government wanted to give students supplementary vitamins. Parents refused to let their kids take them because they thought that the government wanted to sterilize them). And no, conspiracy theorists are not all Arab (which I did not imply), and I did not single out any particular “theory”. Since I didn’t do that, it is not obvious who I disagree with or am accusing of being a conspiracy theorist. As for the Iraq case, that was not a conspiracy theory, but a flat out lie.

    That being said, relying on real data to draw real conclusions in order to take realistic actions is the only way that we will move from where we are to where we strive to be. The only people who hold us back is ourselves. We like to blame others, when we should be looking in the mirror.

    This is not a political blog, and I am not interested in getting into a political debate. It is clear that I hit a raw nerve. Even so, I would appreciate civility in the comments.

  5. ““hiding” our petroleum comes to mind”

    I think you picked the worst example. this is not a case of conspiracy theory. this is a case of systematic government corruption and mismanagement and disinformation and misinformation resulting in complete break down of trust and constant search for explanations of things that don’t make sense.

    when we live in a free, fair, open, and democratic country where one can find answers simply by contacting the proper authority, then you will see a decrease in rumors. But Jordan’s regime is neither free, fair, open nor democratic.

    So expect people to compensate for the absence of truth with guesses. the oil thing being a very powerful example in defense of why rumors start.

    one day the government says there is plenty of rock oil, then they deny it. one day they say now it’s cost effective to extract it, next day they say nonsense. one day they say they have contracted with company XYZ from country ABC, the next day they say they have contracted with company EFG from country DEF. one day they say a Jordanian oil exploration company pocketed 100 million dollars and found nothing. next day they say they did find oil in commercial quantities.

    just total chaos and total falsehood and total deception. that’s a fertile environment for rumors in any country on earth.

    so please, think of a better example. but i doubt you will. since none exist.

    and before I conclude…all the stuff about Israel, 90% of it, since Freedom of Information Acts took effect in US, UK, France, documents, shows it to be true. It was a fucking conspiracy of the most grotesque proportion to sell Palestine in return for securing the dynasties of a few sharameet.

  6. You clearly have impatience with reading, because there is a second example in my last reply.

    As for the petroleum issue, the government never said that they had found any. If a company had spent (which is different than pocketed) money on exploration, it doesn’t guarantee that they have found anything, because the term exploration implies the risk of failure.

    This is not to say that there are examples which have led to mistrust between the government and the public. As I said, I am not interested in discussing politics in this blog. However, there is a methodological problem that needs to be addressed. Let me elaborate.

    There is a huge difference between saying that the government has a credibility problem and automatically assuming that the government is lying on every issue, and building judgments based on that. We need to encourage people to look and think about evidence, and assess data and information based on merit. This does not mean blindly trusting what the government says, nor does it mean blindly disbelieving everything that it says either.

    These days, ideas and information are readily available. It is a shame that people have “invested” between one and two billion dinars in sham FOREX scams because they didn’t believe it when the experts warned them of the risks. This is the cost of not assessing information intelligently. Or do you disagree?

  7. >>> the government never said that they had found any

    WHOA!!!! MAN, YOU JUST PASSED A WHOPPER WITHOUT BLINKING!!! That’s so shallow, dude. Just because you don’t follow the news, it does not mean the news did not happen.

    Dude, you can’t ignore the local news then pontificate about something you don’t know about. you are just wasting our time with your totally uninformed opinion. It’s one thing for you to say: I did not know that. but for you to make such a statement that goes contrary to over 5 years of press coverage is totally absurd.

    anyways, i’ll refer you to post about Americans and Iraq genocide. That’s your ultimate proof of America’s psychotic, paranoid nature. nothing the Arabs or anyone else did can even come close to what the Americans did. so before you go analyzing us, analyze your masters. opps, i forgot. their genocide is self-defense, and our resistance is terror. their psychotic paranoia is warranted pre-preemptive strikes, our distrust is conspiracy theory.

    your analysis is awfully shallow and suffers from a lack of perspective.

  8. What drivel! What are you talking about? Could you please make yourself clear? I’m amazed that you can write so much without saying anything. And your professors let you get away with such nonsense? I guess that a western education isn’t what it used to be.

  9. Bush is Western educated. So is McCain and Palin. Some of the dumbest or violent people in history from Hitler to Mussolini are Western-educated. You need to get rid of the cliches and the stereotypes. Many Arabs suffer from the 7’awaja Complex BIG TIMES.

    And never forget that Hassan Nasrallah is not Western-educated. Same for Imad Mughniyah. Yet they trounced all of his Western educated but feeble minded foes.

    A western education is/was good for one thing only: technology.

  10. Nizar, you are arguing with a bunch of conspiracy theorists — give up!

    As for the Iraq war, to call it a genocide is to grossly distort the facts. The vast majority of deaths are/were due to Muslim on Muslim violence. Honestly I’m not sure if a people (or members of a religion) can commit genocide on themselves, but if they can, then only then is it right to call what’s happening in Iraq a genocide.

  11. “vast majority of deaths are/were due to Muslim on Muslim violence”

    that confirms how shallow you are.

    1) international law holds the occupying power responsible moral;ly and legally for all violence that occurs under occupation regardless of its source and motives.

    2) before the invasion, there was no muslim on muslim violence in iraq. how come only after the invasion there is violence.

    3) this is like saying it’s the gasoline that is responsible for the fire not the person who poured it and lit the match.

    4) divide and conquer is a time honored tradition of invaders. for you to blame the Iraqis for the sectarian strife that never happened during Saddam’s time and to ignore the white elephant called US invasion shows how hopelessly stupid some people can be.

    Man, there are some really dumb people on the Jordanian blogosphere. you are right, a western educated is overrated. you prove it.

  12. You: “you are arguing with a bunch of conspiracy theorists — give up!”

    Them: such accusation “relives [you] from having to offer a convincing counter argument.”

    How prophetic.

  13. I got this from Samer Marzouk’s blog. seems relevant.

    on October 6, 2008 at 12:48 pm Garfaan Min Ashkalkum wrote:

    you know what i hate the most about pseudo-intellectual Arabs? they are so dumb it’s not possible to argue with them.

    Few years ago, anthrax tainted letters created nation-wide panic in the US. the letters were signed by haters of American and Israel. When Arabs and Muslims protested and said the jews were behind it, people like Marzouk and others laughed at the conspiracy theory. After all, Marzouk and others are so smart they have all the answers despite lessons of history that show the opposite. Guess what? The FBI announced that a right-wing jewish scientist who committed suicide right before the Bureau closed in on him was responsible for the letters. Search google on Bruce Ivins, since i don’ think you are worth the link.

    Few years ago, an assassination attempt on President Bush was foiled. The would-be assiain was a Muslim fanatic. The money for the rocket was facilitated by a NY Jewish financier. Both were arrested by the authorities in the US. Do a search on Yehuda Abraham,76, a New York City jeweler and Moinuddeen Ahmed Hameed of Malaysia.

    The 911 Congressional Committee said that all evidence suggests that key people in the FBI had ample evidence of a terror plot but did not act on the evidence. the report offered no explanation since to do so would probably explain the dancing Israelis story. Again, do your own search.

    And these three cases are a drop in the bucket.

    If you are an Arab who is desperate to look smart, start by not saying dumb things that go against official findings. Unless if you think the FBI and the Secret Service and The 911 Congressionanl Fact committe are all conspiricty theorists and you are the smart one. If so, chances are it’s the opposite.

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