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“We are reluctant to engage in post hoc speculation about this unexpected result, but it does not clearly support our hypothesis”

Brendan Nyhan and Thomas Zeitzoff write:

The results do not provide clear support for the lack-of control hypothesis. Self-reported feelings of low and high control are positively associated with conspiracy belief in observational data (model 1; p<.05 and p<.01, respectively). We are reluctant to engage in post hoc speculation about this unexpected result, but it does not clearly support our hypothesis. Moreover, our experimental treatment effect estimate for our low-control manipulation is null relative to both the high-control condition (the preregistered hypothesis test) as well as the baseline condition (a RQ) in both the combined (table 2) and individual item results (table B7). Finally, we find no evidence that the association with self-reported feelings of control in model 1 of table 2 or the effect of the control treatments in model 2 are moderated by anti-Western or anti-Jewish attitudes (results available on request). Our expectations are thus not supported.

It is good to see researchers openly express their uncertainty and be clear about the limitations of their data.


  1. Oh the article is behind a paywall. I might be way off topic. Apologies if so. Here it goes.

    I have found Robert Jervis’, Cass Sunstein’s, and Gordon Allport’s scholarship very helpful in learning how ‘misperceptions’ & ‘conspiracies theories’ shape our attitudes and beliefs. On the other hand I am not quite so on board on what constitute ‘conspiracy theories’. In short, I have had trouble with the definition [denotations/connotations] of ‘conspiracies’ to begin with. I can easily make the case that some of our very dearly held assumptions are poorly theorized and contain unconscious meaning. Perhaps it is reasonable to suggest that some conspiracy theories are outlandish: They have Have no empirical basis, some empirical basis, and substantial empirical bases. Degrees of empirical & non-empirical bases.

    Also helpful was the scholarship by Paul Brass: The Production of Hindu-Muslim Violence in Contemporary India. Even more contextually helpful was listening to Sir Hamilton Gibb talk about why the British supported Partition of India. Some British were convinced that the bloodshed/violence would have been of longer duration had there not been the partition of 1947. Hard for me to say. However it is discouraging to witness so much hostility in these religious communities, fed by stereotypical thinking, which, to my mind, is a form of conspiracies theorizing, for lack of a better characterization.

    My main concern is that we rarely are able to get a diverse and representative sample of viewpoints across ME and on the Indian subcontinent.

  2. RJB says:

    This is just a plot to get us to buy their theory about conspiracy theories.

    Hopefully the “code” font works, which I learned on Lawyers, Guns & Money blog communicates sarcasm.

  3. Terry says:

    The use of the term “conspiracy” in the Nyhan and Zeitzoff article is unsettling. It conflates two concepts, and by doing so, at best it confuses the discussion and, at worst, dishonestly slants the discussion. (This conflation occurs widely, not just in this article.

    The actual meaning of “conspiracy” is when people *overtly agree* to commit a misdeed. Note that an explicit meeting of the minds is required for there to be a conspiracy. The conspirators have to get together in some way and all agree to perform specific actions. This is why large conspiracies are inherently unbelievable: it requires too many people coming together to agree to do something nefarious that they usually want to be kept quiet. Calling something a “conspiracy theory” therefore automatically makes it sound unbelievable.

    But, the term “conspiracy theory” is often misapplied to things that are *not* conspiracies. This is dishonest because large-scale misperceptions or lies can occur without an explicit meeting of the minds. It only requires that people want to be dishonest in the same ways about the same things because their self-interests are aligned. People then just parrot the dishonesties they see without an explicit agreement among them to do so. This is much more believable because it doesn’t require a large-scale cabal secretly meeting to coordinate efforts. Indeed, it obviously happens all the time.

    The Ferguson “hands up don’t shoot” lie is a good example of this. For years, the false narrative has been widely disseminated despite definitive debunking. (See, for instance, the Department of Justice report, which states: “Multiple credible witnesses corroborate virtually every material aspect of Wilson’s account and are consistent with the physical evidence.” at page 78. See also “Darren Wilson’s Account”, pages 12 ff.) Indeed, the dishonest narrative persists to this day, with NYT writers describing Michael Brown as “an unarmed black man shot by a police officer”.

    There was no central meeting to get writers across most of the media to participate in the Ferguson dishonesty. Each individual writer and editor wanted the narrative to be true and fudged their articles accordingly. By observing how others fudged their articles, over time, they converged on roughly the same bag of fudges.

  4. Terry says:

    Here is an excerpt from the article that shows the authors misusing the term “conspiracy”.

    The denial message … uses the fact that there was no overarching policy of ethnic cleaning as a pretext to refuse to acknowledge any Jewish responsibility for the Palestinian exodus, a belief that is described in explicitly conspiratorial terms as the result of “a huge campaign of lies that seeks to rewrite, distort, and falsify history.” The conspiracy theory of a plot by Israel’s enemies is thus used to support and reinforce a denialist message promoting misperceptions that deny any Jewish responsibility for the exodus.11

    Respondents in the correction conditions were subsequently exposed to accurate information adapted from Hazkani (2013), which explains that “Most historians in Israel and abroad no longer dispute the fact that IDF soldiers expelled large numbers of Palestinians from their homes during the 1948 war” and provides evidence supporting this claim.

    A huge campaign of lies to distort history is completely believable. It happens all the time. Tagging it as a “conspiracy theory” though, dismisses the assertion as inherently unbelievable without actually proving it wrong.

  5. Anonymous says:

    The guy is retirement age. So he averaged about one paper every eight and a half days for forty years. The reductio ad absurdum of academia regardless of whether he recycled without reference or not.

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