Conspiratorial doubt

To doubt things is not always bad. Indeed, it can be very good.

If there is inadequate evidence for a belief, then we should seek what good evidence there is, and adjust our conclusions accordingly.

Conspiratorial thinking is notoriously full of doubt. (I was about to say it is notoriously “dubious,” which would also be accurate, but not quite what I was trying to say here.) That is not the problem.

The real problem with conspiratorial thinking is not its doubt but its credulousness. Conspiratorial thinking not only rejects conclusions that have a great deal of high-quality evidence, but it also must embrace alternative conclusions, which are based on much weaker evidence and argumentation.

It is well enough to reject the conclusions of a peer-reviewed paper, or of an expert, or even of an expert consensus (although, as I’ve said elsewhere, there isn’t much that is more reliable for a non-expert than an expert consensus on a matter relevant to their expertise). But to reject that on the one hand, and then to accept the testimony and interpretations of random social media users or of conspiratorial celebrities hungry for attention, does not make much sense at all, to put it kindly.

So then let’s agree to be doubtful, and to replace beliefs grounded in bad evidence with beliefs that are based on the best evidence, and see where that procedure leads us.

But we must agree to follow our doubts into a search for the best evidence, and not just for other evidence, for evidence more amenable to our preferred conclusions. The latter is a waste of time, and worse, a method for increasing confusion and error. If something like the consensus of experts is not compelling enough for you, fine; but you must tell me what higher plane of evidence it is that you take to be authoritative, before we can replace our weaker conclusions with better ones.

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