This post is by Phil Price.
A paper by Wood, Douglas, and Sutton looks at “Beliefs in Contradictory Conspiracy Theories.” Unfortunately the subjects were 140 undergraduate psychology students, so one wonders how general the results are. I found this sort of arresting:
In Study 1 (n=137), the more participants believed that Princess Diana faked her own death, the more they believed she was murdered. In Study 2 (n=102), 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.
As the article says, “conspiracy advocates’ distrust of official narratives may be so strong that many alternative theories are simultaneously endorsed in spite of any contradictions between them.” But I think the authors overstate things when they say “One would think that there ought to be a negative correlation between beliefs in contradictory accounts of events — the more one believes in a particular theory, the less likely rival theories will seem.” Well, one might think that, but actually a positive correlation makes sense to me. I can see how, if you really think that a lot of what the government says is a lie, you would think “well, I don’t know exactly which part of the Bin Laden account is a lie but they are probably lying about something; maybe he was already dead, or maybe he’s still alive now, but I don’t know which.” The authors realize this is what is going on, they just make too much of how surprising it should be.