The weak coherence of conspiracy texts

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 (Image: Pixabay CC0)

(Image: Pixabay CC0)

Regardless of the topic, conspiracy texts refer to a greater number of themes and are less coherent than non-conspiracy writings. This is the result of the largest comparison ever carried out between texts supporting these theories and non-conspiracy writings, i.e. 96,000 articles analyzed in total. Signed by researchers from the universities of Neuchâtel and Warwick (UK), this study has just been published in the reference journal Science Advances.

First author of the research, Alessandro Miani is a doctoral student at the Institute of Work and Organizational Psychology (IPTO) of the University of Neuchâtel. The aim of the study was to compare the language used in the treatment of controversial events (COVID-19 pandemic, 9/11, JFK assassination, etc.). We created and analyzed a corpus composed of 72,000 articles reflecting a commonly accepted vision and nearly 24,000 articles identified as conspiracy theorists, for a total of about 96,000 texts," says the researcher.

Under the direction of Adrian Bangerter, professor at IPTO, and Thomas Hills of the University of Warwick, Alessandro Miani has shown that conspiracy texts rely on other conspiracy theories to ’prove’ their claims, through a network of interconnected ideas to link the arguments together, but jumping from one topic to another in a less coherent way than in a usual narrative. prove’ their claims, through a network of interconnected ideas to link the arguments together, but jumping from one topic to another, in a less coherent way than in a usual narrative.

as an example, conspiracy theories surrounding the COVID-19 pandemic are often associated with other conspiracy theories, including those about 5G technology, Bill Gates, and pharmaceutical companies. ’ This supports the idea of a ’conspiracy worldview’ - that those inclined to believe in a particular conspiracy are likely to believe in many others and use them as evidence to support their arguments,’ the researchers say.

This research is consistent with other work highlighting the contradictions of conspiracy theory. Advocating open debate on controversial topics, such as whether Princess Diana’s death was faked or caused by people around her, conspiracists tend to accept contradictory arguments, as long as they oppose traditional narratives that her death was simply the result of a tragic accident.

’ Our work combines computer science with psychological research to advance research on misinformation. While the detection of fake news and conspiracy theories has traditionally relied on human fact-checking, our work contributes to the development of automatic algorithms for detecting false information," says the Neuchâtel and Warwick team.

’ Understanding the underlying psychological workings of conspiracists, how conspiracy theories are formed and spread, allows for the development of targeted interventions to limit their spread. Our work is part of a collective effort to limit the negative consequences of misinformation, which range from resistance to vaccination to the erosion of democratic norms,’ the researchers conclude.

Miani, A., Hills, T. & Bangerter, A. (2022). Interconnectedness and (in)coherence as a signature of conspiracy worldviews. Science Advances. 10.1126/sciadv.abq3668

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