Anthony Magnabosco is the most well-known practitioner of the craft of “Street Epistemology”, which he defines as: “a dialog where you use questions to explore somebody’s claim to see how they concluded that it’s true.” While commonly associated with atheism (the term comes from the book “A Manual for Creating Atheists” by Peter Boghossian) Street Epistemology can be used to explore any kind of belief. There’s actually quite a bit of crossover with how to talk to conspiracy theorists.

Anthony and I discuss our mutual experiences with talking to people, how our approaches are similar, and how they differ. It’s a fascinating conversation, and while we go for the full hour, we were actually cut short by a minor emergency, and I hope to continue in the future.

Phil is a former conspiracy theorist in Northern Ireland who got into conspiracy theories aged 18, around 14 years ago. Going to university exposed him to a variety of people and to new ways of thinking, which over the course of a year gradually pulled him out of the rabbit hole.

Now Phil has started a YouTube channel as “The Skeptic of the North” to share some of his thoughts on the topic, and specifically on the conversational method of discussing epistemology — how people know what they think they know. We discuss this subject and our mutual experiences talking to conspiracy theorists.

 

Brian Dunning is a prolific skeptical podcaster with his award-winning show “Skeptoid” coming up on its 700th episode. He’s also a writer, with his most recent book Conspiracies Declassified: The Skeptoid Guide to the Truth Behind the Theories, explaining the facts behind 50 different conspiracy theories. He’s also a documentary producer, currently working on Science Friction, a documentary about scientists who get misrepresented by the media. We discuss all these topics and more.

Dr Michael Shermer is founder of The Skeptics Society, and editor-in-chief of its magazine Skeptic. He’s written several books on science and skepticism and his latest work is an audio-only 12-part course, for Audible and The Great Courses, called Conspiracies & Conspiracy Theories: What We Should and Shouldn’t Believe—and Why. We cover the full spectrum of conspiracies, their history and context, their social and psychological causes and their very real effects. We discuss real and false conspiracies, and how to tell the difference. We then finish up with UFOs, the Intellectual Dark Web, and the Skeptical Movement.

Conspiracies & Conspiracy Theories can be found on Audible or via Amazon.

Seth Shostak is the Senior Astronomer for the SETI Institute and former Director of Center for SETI Research. A popular science communicator, Seth has hosted SETI’s weekly radio show (and now podcast) Big Picture Science since 2002. We discuss the work of SETI, and some of the more interesting developments. We also talk about the UFO “Disclosure” conspiracy theory, which suggests the US government is covering up evidence of extraterrestrial encounters and is (perhaps) on the verge of disclosing this information. We also discuss the related cultural phenomenon,  Storm Area 51.

  • SETI Institute: https://www.seti.org/
  • Big Picture Science: http://radio.seti.org/

Mike Rothschild is a writer who is an expert on a variety of conspiracy theories, in particular QAnon. We discuss the drawn-out decline of the QAnon theory, prosperity scams, and the theories around the death of the Jeffery Epstein. We also discuss Mikes upcoming book,  The World’s Worst Conspiracies.

Brad is an electrical engineer and an expert in mathematics. He also likes to consider that an idea might be true before rejecting it, no matter how extreme. This led him very briefly down the rabbit hole of checking to see if the earth was actually round like a ball, or might it possibly be flat. His strong grounding in mathematics very quickly put an end to that – but what about the people who don’t really understand the math? Is there hope for “flat earthers” who don’t really understand geometry?

Things mentioned in the podcast

Rory has an extensive series of videos on YouTube debunking Flat Earth, focusing on simple ways of demonstrating that there’s a curve. But he’s also got a very interesting life story as a traveler, both around the world and in a spiritual sense. This exploration has eventually given him a great perspective on why people believe in things when the evidence is against them, but at times led him to entertain a number of conspiracy theories and other esoteric beliefs. He’s still a little esoteric, but as he’s got older he’s become a bit more grounded. We talk about his journey from “bliss ninny” to “pain-in-the ass debunker”

I first became aware of “Tim Osman” from his work debunking the Flat Earth theory. He’s done some amazing work there with highly visual demonstrations of the curve of the Earth using drone footage. But when I asked if I could use some of that footage he declined, and later berated me on his channel. It turned out he did not like my debunking 9/11 conspiracy theories, because he is a 9/11 conspiracy theorist (although he disputes the term.)

I asked him for an interview, and he agreed, with no video, and with him live-streaming it to his channel. It starts out a bit adversarial and the first half is largely him grilling me about my beliefs. But we eventually agree on a little common ground, which is always a great first step in genuine communication.

Stian Arensen has been involved in the 9/11 Truth community for a number of years, and in the last year or so has been questioning some of the underpinnings of that community. Stian has also been very interested in topics such as crop circles and UFOs.

We discuss how Stian’s thinking has evolved over time, and examine the parallels between the various communities – in particular we look at the effects of questioning the group consensus, and how it can lead to exclusion from a group unwilling to move forward.

Stian also questions me about my debunking, and some things I’ve said in the past, and I try to explain.

 

Mike Rothschild is a journalist, researcher, debunker of conspiracy theories and fringe beliefs, and an expert on the QAnon theory.

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