Features of Pseudoscience, Denialism and Grand Conspiracy Thinking



For some words like "conspiracy" and "pseudoscience" are just "mere pop-culture pejoratives" with no "empirical measures". This is like saying fallacies and biases don’t exist, when they are subject of scientific research, and have been so for decades.

Actually, pseudoscience, grand conspiracy thinking and denialism have common, recurrent, identifiable features. Let me present you with a list of some features in each category and you’ll see some of them overlap.
Keep in mind this is just a summary.

Pseudoscience in general:

1. Motivated reasoning: starting with the conclusion, making evidence fit into preconceived notions, cherry-picking evidence.
2. Shifting the burden of proof, confirmation bias, special pleading. 
3. Anecdotal evidence: uncontrolled, or ad-hoc observations, implausible low-grade evidence, preliminary evidence, or even a single anecdote. This is the hasty generalization logical fallacy.
4. Emotional appeal.
5. Grandiose claims (Galileo syndrome): based upon preliminary evidence. Far-reaching claims overturn entire portions of well-established science.
6. Alternative science: all of science is replaced with an alternative version.
7. Absolute claims, bold claims way beyond the evidence.
8. Hostility: censorship, playing the victim card, claiming to be victims of a conspiracy.
9. Vagueness: vague terms and words to obfuscate, so they can shift the definition around.
10. Stagnation: failure to progress, ad nauseam trying to establish their theory rather than build a body of evidence for it.
11. Anomaly hunting: searching for anomalies trying to establish a conclusion, which does not seek to refute or explore other alternatives.

Grand conspiracy thinking:

1. Pattern Recognition: the cognitive form of pareidolia, a pattern imposed upon disconnected events or on random data, hyperactive pattern detection.
2. Confirmation bias.
3. Fundamental attribution error: tendency to blame other people’s behavior on internal, rather than situational, factors; all actions and outcomes are deliberate and intended, there’s no coincidence or chance.
4. Closed-belief system, insulated from external refutation from facts and evidence, disconfirming evidence is part of the conspiracy itself; absence of evidence means having been removed or covered up.
5. Shifting the burden of proof.
6. Anomaly hunting.
7. Naive assumptions about how things should happen to fit they own idea how events should have unfolded.
8. False dichotomy: either the standard explanation of events is true or their conspiracy is true; poking holes through naive anomaly hunting and casting doubt with no burden of proof upon themselves; false choice.
9. Widening the conspiracy: another tactic to render a conspiracy immune to contradictory evidence.
10. Monological belief system: people who believe in one conspiracy theory tend to believe in many others; default explanation for any given even.
 
Denialism:

1. Moving the goalpost: when burden of evidence is met, the goalpost is moved and more evidence is demanded. The process is repeated indefinitely.
2. Unreasonable demand for evidence.
3. Pointing out disagreements: disagreements within a discipline are explored, often small details, as if the science in question is not solid.
4. Denying entire categories of evidence: observational evidence, epidemiology...
5. False dichotomy: argument from ignorance, offering no positive evidence for their claims.
6. Campaign of doubt: Little factoids are gathered and taken out of context to sow doubt, uncertainty, and distrust, focusing on apparent inconsistencies, or gaps.
7. Conspiracy theory: allows them to dismiss all the evidence and rationalize it away.




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