Wednesday, January 17, 2007

Conspiracy Thinking Among Marquette Students

Yesterday was the first day of our Kennedy assassination class -- POSC 191.

In order to get a general discussion of conspiracy theories going, we polled students on two kinds of conspiracy theories other than the killing of JFK.

First, we asked them whether the United States in fact landed a man on the moon.

The vast majority say that we did, with only four out of 56 students saying we didn’t. Another three evaded an answer by saying they “Don’t know.”

Yesterday, for the first time since we have taught the course, we asked students about a possible 9/11 conspiracy. We gave them four options. They could say the U.S. government was “surprised” by the attacks, that the government “knew about” the forthcoming attacks and allowed them to happen, or that the government (and not militant Muslims) “mounted” the attacks. The final alternative was “don’t know.”

Our results were as follows:
  • “Surprised” -- 23 students
  • “Knew about” -- 18 students
  • “Mounted the attacks” -- 4 students
  • “Don’t know” -- 11 students
One might wonder whether this particular class was packed with self-selected conspiracy believers. But believers in a moon landing conspiracy were few in number.

Apparently, 9/11 conspiracy theories are getting some traction. They hark back to the critics of Franklin Roosevelt, who claimed he let the Pearl Harbor attack happen in order to get the country into World War II.

So it’s probably the case here, as in most other things, that there is nothing new under the sun.

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