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Conspiracy Theories and Distrust of Experts

Social media provides people with always-available options to discuss any news or occasions, and an enormous volume of different opinions leads to questionable explanations appearing. Conspiracy theories are on the verge today due to the increased number of people who develop and distribute them to broad online audiences. Moreover, many internet sources wrongly represent themselves as experts and cause the loss of trust in the real professionals when the latter make attempts to reveal the evidence-based truth. This paper aims to review the literature about conspiracy theories to explore why that disturbing trend becomes popular even among rational people.

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Many journalists and authors have recently suggested that the conspiracy theories become a popular explanation of different political events, incidents, and societies’ core values’ roots. While common sense seems to dictate that anything can be explained with science and witnesses’ evidence in the twenty-first century, unrealistic reasons for events are in trend today. For instance, New York Times Magazine author Maggie Koerth-Baker discusses the growth of conspiracy theories about politics based on people’s reaction to uncertainty. Koerth-Baker claims that “economic recessions, terrorist attacks, and natural disasters are massive, looming threats, but we have little power over when they occur or how or what happens afterward.” The author highlights that people lack access to high-quality information due to the massive volumes of unverified and questionable data published online. Moreover, individuals’ perception is disturbed by the “confirmation bias” – the tendency to focus on the evidence supporting a statement they already believe in (Koerth-Baker). Indeed, it is highly likely that a person would not trust a source that entirely rejects their perspective.

Another outcome of the increasing belief in conspiracy theories combined with the lack of reliable sources to find approvals is experts’ distrust. Tom Nichols, the author of “The Death of Expertise”, explains that valid, evidence-based confirmation of a fact requires more steps to make than only opening Google and typing something. Of course, many will disagree with this assertion because searching the internet can help access libraries, scholars’ articles, and scientific materials, however, there is no particular verification algorithm for these sources. Nichols states that “every discussion must take place within limits and above a certain baseline of competence.” The author describes political debates as the process where ignorance and the lack of verified information takes place. Nichols suggests that people’s desire to argue leads humanity to lose truthful data and real experts to quit their jobs and studies. Consequently, political debates are the bright example where arguments might not be evidence-based yet still considered. Experts should receive the extended rights to moderate the accessible information to help humanity overcome the distrust.

While the psychological aspect is slightly mentioned in the literature reviewed above, Joe Pierre’s “The Psychological Needs That QAnon Feeds” article reveals how human nature and behavioral patterns force people to believe in conspiracy theories and trust unworthy sources. The author discusses the crucial role of the feeling of belonging to a community for an individual, based on explaining the QAnon cult’s popularity. The members maintain strong faith in somewhat unrealistic events, and that fact helps explain how a conspiracy theory works. Pierre observes that “delusions are false and unshared beliefs that are often based on subjective “inner” experience and whose content is often “self-referential,” involving the believer.” In contrast, conspiracy theories are the shared beliefs, and the more people are into them, the more likely others will agree with doubtful dogmas to feel they belong to an exclusive group. Pierre identified multiple stages of a questionable statement’s becoming the “unconditional truth” based on people’s cognitive flexibility, open-mindedness, and authorities’ perception.

Ultimately, the reviewed articles confirm the increase in conspiracy theories’ spread among societies online. Information availability does not make it truthful, and the lack of expertise severely affects real peer-reviewed and scientific sources because the internet erases visible signs of high-quality and low-quality data. Psychologically, humanity lives in uncertain times, and conspiracy theories become safe explanations that unite people and help them get through the powerlessness.


Koerth-Baker, Maggie. “Why Rational People Buy Into Conspiracy Theories.” The New York Times Magazine. 2013. Web.

Nichols, Tom. The Death of Expertise. Oxford University Press, 2014.

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Pierre, Joe. “The Psychological Needs That QAnon Feeds.” Psychology Today. 2020. Web.

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