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Crank magnetism is the condition where people become attracted to multiple crank ideas at the same time. Crank magnetism also denotes the tendency — even for otherwise "lone issue" cranks — to accumulate more crank beliefs over time. You know that old saying about not being so open-minded that your brain falls out? People with crank magnetism didn't pay attention to that. Crank magnetism is an important stepping stone on the path towards being wrong all of the time. Its opposite is the stopped clock (which is when otherwise overly credulous people actually find some crankery that they won't believe in, and may even actively denounce it).
The physiologist and blogger Mark Hoofnagle, writing in the Denialism blog in 2007, coined the term "crank magnetism" to describe the propensity of cranks to hold multiple irrational, unsupported or ludicrous beliefs that are often unrelated to one another, referring to William Dembski endorsing both a Holocaust denier and one of Peter Duesberg's non-HIV weird theories. He has also coined the phrase "magnetic hoax" in relation to hoax claims that attract multiple crank interpretations.
|—Upvoted YouTube commenter "Zyzyzx Zyzer"|
Take your average tax protester in the United States. There's a very good chance such a person will also be one or more, or possibly all, of the following: a Christian fundamentalist, a white nationalist, an anti-Semite, a neo-Confederate, a sovereign citizen, a conspiracy theorist, a birther, a teabagger, a creationist, a climate change denier, a gun nut, an MRA, a Randroid, an Austrian schooler, a gold standard advocate, a homophobe…
Several other people follow the "crank magnet" mindset:
- Donald Trump — Since
craziesconspiracy theorists tend to rabidly and dogmatically support anybody who will espouse their beliefs, Trump panders to any crazy idea he can find in order to gain that idea's proponents as indefatigable followers. These sheeple then cross pollinate and start taking on each other's madness.
- Alex Jones — You name it, Jones has already exposed it, developed an even crazier theory, and proven that every other crank talking about it is a disinfo agent working for Them. Wake up, sheeple! Jones has a "relationship" with President Trump.
- Mark Dice — Might actually be crazier than Jones. Just take our word for it.
- Mike Stars — Either the world's greatest physicist and theologian, or some random dude who got dropped on his noggin in the bathtub as a kid. You decide.
- David Icke — The anointed son of crank magnetism and of the grand unified conspiracy theory. The sum of humanity's worst fever dreams contained in a single British vessel.
- James Fetzer — 9/11 truther, Holocaust denier, believes moon landing were faked, JFK conspiracy theorist, believes Sandy Hook, Parkland, and Las Vegas mass shootings were staged, wants to end the Fed, Ron Paul supporter and believes in an International Jewish Conspiracy.
- David J. Stewart — Biblical literalist, 9/11 truther, misogynist, Big Pharma lunacy, global warming conspiracy theorist, HAARP/NORAD, the Illuminati, has called Obama the Antichrist.
- Jack Chick — Like David J. Stewart, except he can draw, muthafuckaz.
- Glenn Beck — Conspiracy theorist, global warming denialist, young earth creationist.
- Michelle Bachmann — Global warming conspiracy theorist, crypto-birther, creationist, thinks she can cure the gays, Islamophobe.
- George Galloway — Darfur genocide denialist, excuse-maker for North Korea, believes in Zionist control of the press, admirer of Alex Jones and Gilad Atzmon.
- Cynthia McKinney — Conspiracy theorist on multiple grounds.
- Gary North — Austrian school follower, Christian Dominionist, conspiracy theorist.
- Ron Paul — Gold Standard advocate, global warming denialist, creationist, Austrian school follower, racist, homophobe, conspiracy theorist.
- Katie Pavlich — Conspiracy theorist, DDT nuttiness, global warming denier, gun nut.
- Melanie Phillips — Promotes Intelligent Design, denies man-made global warming, and thinks vaccines cause autism.
- Andreas Ludwig Kalcker — HHO "water engine", free "scalar" energy , MMS (Chlorine Dioxide) cure-all, Hulda Clark-esque hypothesis that autism is caused by parasites , "black salve" DIY skin-cancer treatment , alleges suppression by "Big Pharma", (also a "pyramidiot" and interested in UFOs).
- Gamergate — Anything that falls under the big tent of "Cultural Marxism". Conspiracy theories! Antisemitism! Anti-feminism! 8chan used as a source! It's got it all!
- Roosh V — manosphere proponent, has argued for the legalization of rape, and also has embraced Kevin MacDonald's anti-Semitic theories.
- David Dees — Ostensibly a political cartoonist. Has endorsed every conspiracy theory known to humanity, and several that have not yet been documented. Ron Paul supporter.
- Varg Vikernes — Once upon a time a black metal musician, but these days a neo-Paganist, huge racist, convicted murderer, anti-vaxxer, homophobe, prepper, etc. Doesn't like democracy, capitalism or socialism; thinks we'd be a lot better off basically destroying society and living in tribes.
- Rick Wiles — Over the top, insane conspiracy theorist and far-right wing fundamentalist Christian nut. His "TruNews" radio show attracts only the most paranoid and crazy cranks.
- Miles Mathis — from birtherism to 9/11 to π being 4.0, he has never met a conspiracy claim that he didn’t like. Except for flat earth, because I mean c'mon, that shit's delusional!
- Ian Jacklin - kickboxer / actor, turned cancer coach, who says David Icke "really knows what's going on". Get your conspiracy-theory bingo cards ready and listen to Ian being interviewed here
|—Excerpt from Unidentified Flying Outrage (chapter Unexplainable Behaviour) by the head of the Spaceology Department at the Correspondence College of Tampa|
You would think that one odd or crank belief would be enough to satisfy people. Consider it a small character flaw, an homage to the irrationality of the human condition (or a reaction to the reality that some conspiracy theories do exist, such as the tobacco companies' coverup of the health hazards of cigarettes). However, people who like conspiracy theories usually like lots of them. Creationists are most likely to be on the right wing and credulous in general, while a New Ager is likely to hold beliefs from every corner of the spiritual globe. This suggests that there must be an underlying mechanism or ideal that attracts people to these ideas in general, rather than just the merit of the individual beliefs themselves. People fond of the theory of memetics would recognise this as a memeplex (a complex array of ideas of cultural significance that work together to reinforce each other) where a central idea allows others to attach themselves very easily.
One study, NASA faked the moon landing—Therefore (Climate) Science is a Hoax: An Anatomy of the Motivated Rejection of Science, gave evidence that climate change denial correlated with denial of the moon landing and 9/11 conspiracy theories:
- This provides empirical confirmation of previous suggestions that conspiracist ideation contributes to the rejection of science. Acceptance of science, by contrast, was strongly associated with the perception of a consensus among scientists.
Another study titled Dead and Alive: Beliefs in Contradictory Conspiracy Theories managed to show that not only will cranks be attracted to and believe in numerous conspiracy theories all at once, but will continue to do so even if the theories in question are completely and utterly incompatible with one another. For instance, the study showed that: "[…] the more participants believed that Princess Diana faked her own death, the more they believed that she was murdered [and that] …the more participants believed that Osama Bin Laden was already dead when U.S. special forces raided his compound in Pakistan, the more they believed he is still alive." The study therefore appears to indicate that conspiracists do not notice (or even care) about the glaring logical discrepancies that arise from being attracted to several, mutually incompatible, conspiracy theories, just as long as the theories somehow contradict the "official" version of what happened (see section "Conspiracy nuts" below). In the words of the authors: "Hierarchical regression models showed that mutually incompatible conspiracy theories are positively associated because both are associated with the view that the authorities are engaged in a cover-up".
To any rational observer of normal brain chemistry, this indicates a fundamental flaw in the mindset of your average conspiracist, somehow making him unable to notice incorrect and illogical thinking both in himself and others. Instead, conspiracists appear to continually reject objective reality and be blind to the contradictions that arise from the doublethink in which they engage to uphold their own irrational worldview. The same also appears to be true for all their ongoing, ridiculous predictions which continually fail to come true; see for instance Alex Jones.
What does drive a conspiracy theorist to simultaneously believe the JFK assassination conspiracies, the moon landing hoax and anything claimed by the 9/11 truth movement? All of these conspiracies are united by a common thread: distrust of the "official" or "government endorsed" story. This leads the believer to attach other conspiracies as well. Someone with a distrust of the government will likely reject any and all stories or reports directly issued by state agencies or other authorities that are seen as part of the establishment. Thus, any conspiracy will seem more plausible to the conspiracy theorist because this fits with their worldview.
Creationism, and activism to promote it in schools (like the "Teach the controversy" campaign), often goes hand-in-hand with right-wing ideas such as global warming denial. These two positions are mostly politically motivated, and holding them requires the active rejection of known fact. The links between global warming denial and creationism are less obvious than with conspiracy theories. However, both seem to hold the view that science is merely the opinion of one group (often assumed to be politically motivated) and can be voted away. If enough people believe something, it must be true. Thus, common arguments for skepticism of global warming and evolution often revolve around "56% of Americans reject it, so it must be false".
Creationism and global warming denial can also be linked with conspiracy theories by the "distrust of government" meme. As the US government is officially secular under the Establishment Clause, the religious right are likely to distrust the government.
All that holds the various strands of alternative medicine together is simply not being mainstream medicine, and the theories may in fact completely contradict each other; yet practitioners and followers of one brand, such as homeopathy, will frequently find value in others, such as chiropractic and vitalism. They may consider themselves united against the common enemy of Big Pharma; vaccine hysteria in particular is a symptom of this mindset.
In February 2010, the Skeptical Inquirer published an article, "The One True Cause of All Disease" by Harriet Hall, dealing with this phenomenon. In keeping with crank magnetism, alties tend not to recognize contradictions between their practices, and rarely dispute one another's methodologies or claims (though there are exceptions).
Men's Rights Activism
It's funny that in a movement which disparages media bias, the most prominent, visible and recognizable members include a 'journalist' who blamed video games for Elliot Rodger and thinks homosexuality and "transgenderism" are mental disorders, plus an embezzler who believes radfems control the UN. Overall, they sound a bit confused about feminists, since they are describing traits common to all democratic societies when they talk about the vast, subterranean web of "feminist" influence.
Vindication of all kooks doctrine
Anti-creationist blogger The Sensuous Curmudgeon coined the more unwieldy term "vindication of all kooks doctrine" to describe a similar phenomenon. The Curmudgeon described it as the idea that a crank in one field will view the perceived victory of a crank in another field against the "scientific establishment" as validating their own crankery. He gave the example of the Discovery Institute latching onto the Climategate incident. Orac of Respectful Insolence saw fit to call it the "vindication of kooks" corollary to the law of crank magnetism.
In academic sociology, a similar notion to crank magnetism exists, namely Colin Campbell's concept of the "cultic milieu", which attempts to show a network and shared culture and literature that exists between various clusters of cultic groups and views. The initial impetus for a variety of groups as diverse as Scientology, the Human Potential Movement, the Jesus Freaks, and the turn towards alternative medicine was the shared oppositional left-wing subculture of the 1960s and 1970s, while in the 1990s, the militia, Posse Comitatus, and tax protest movements drew on a shared milieu of an oppositional right-wing subculture. This can also cause exceptions to crank magnetism; a randomly-selected astrologer is likely to also believe in woo like homeopathy, but unlikely to believe in Young Earth Creationism, since YEC is part of a different milieu (one that often outright opposes all fortune-telling other than Biblical prophecy as witchcraft, at that).
Michael Barkun's book A Culture of Conspiracy traces the history of certain UFO and New World Order conspiracy theories. He finds that these theories and communities were originally distinct, but that certain bookshops and magazines would sell and advertise books of both genres. He traces the gradual synthesis of the two as, thanks to figures like David Icke and Jim Keith, ideas from each milieu started to invade the other. As a result, by the 2000s the two communities had converged into a single right-wing counterculture, routinely referring to Area 51, reptilians, Project Monarch, Satanism, black helicopters, and FEMA concentration camps as being part of the same conspiracy canon. He describes the process as "improvisational millennialism", where people pick and mix (and remix) from existing conspiracy theories to invent their own synthesis of ideas that would seem to be mutually exclusive to non-believers (e.g. combining fundamentalist Christianity with Western esotericism, New Age ideas, and Eastern religions), but are united in this particular memeset by being shoehorned into the believers' ideas of good and evil. When such theories share the same transmission channels (bookshops, magazines, websites, etc.), synthesis becomes even easier.
- Creationism and global warming denial demonstrate crank magnetism:
- Crank Magnetism (Mark Hoofnagle, Denialism Blog, 28 June 2007)
- Luke Scientiæ. "The Magnetic Hoax: The Giant Hoax as an Example". http://www.lukesci.com/2011/08/15/the-magnetic-hoax-the-giant-hoax-as-an-example/. Retrieved 15 August 2011.
- It's under an Alex Jones and David Duke "debate", of course (Jones manages to come across as saner when next to Duke)
- After the Election, Trump Maintains His Bizarre Relationship with Conspiracy-Pushing Website: His claim of millions of illegal votes is straight from the 9/11 truthers of "Infowars." by AJ VicensNov (28, 2016 4:24 PM) Mother Jones.
- This is why people are terrified when Trump says he has an "open mind".
- Trump, in Interview, Moderates Views but Defies Conventions by Michael D. Shear, Julie Hirschfeld Davis and Maggie Haberman (Nov. 22, 2016) New York Times.
- Hoofnagle, Mark. "Melanie Phillips: Crank magnetism in action on evolution and vaccines".
- Ian Jacklin interviewed in 2015
- Wikimedia Commons: Screengrab of a young boy holding up this elusive tome
- This is mentioned at about 10½ minute into the episode.
- Simpsons Wiki: Grampa vs. Sexual Inadequacy
- Stephan Lewandowsky, Klaus Oberauer, Gilles Gignac. "NASA faked the moon landing—Therefore (Climate) Science is a Hoax: An Anatomy of the Motivated Rejection of Science." Psychological Science (in press)
- Michael J. Wood, Karen M. Douglas, Robbie M. Sutton. "Dead and Alive: Beliefs in Contradictory Conspiracy Theories" Social Psychological and Personality Science (in press)
- Michael J. Wood, Karen M. Douglas, Robbie M. Sutton. "Dead and Alive: Beliefs in Contradictory Conspiracy Theories" Social Psychological and Personality Science November 2012 vol. 3 no. 6 767-773. DOI: 10.1177/1948550611434786.
- Ted Goertzel. Belief in Conspiracy Theories. Political Psychology, vol. 15, no. 4, 1994.
- Harriet Hall (January / February 2010). "The One True Cause of All Disease". Skeptical Inquirer. http://www.csicop.org/si/show/one_true_cause_of_all_disease/.
- David Futrelle, "'Nutty broads' made me gay, and will drive most men to sexbots", We Hunted the Mammoth.
- Paul Elam, A Voice For Men ("…the real focus for feminists is to get another white, western woman elected to a lucrative and powerful position so that she can return favours to the sisters that got her there"). Note: Even Infowars hasn't been brave enough to pull that one out of their ass yet.
- Tom DeCastella, "Just who are men's rights activists?", BBC News Magazine.
- R.S. Benedict, "Exporting Hate: How Western MRAs and Anti-Gays Promote Rape and Murder in the Developing World".
- Discovery Institute: The Mask Falls Away, The Sensuous Curmudgeon
- The "vindication of all kooks" corollary to the principle of crank magnetism, Orac