Nick Pope writes and commentates extensively in the media on conspiracy theories. This has included writing promotional material for 20th Century Fox, as part of the PR campaign for The X-Files: I Want to Believe. This material can be found in the Articles section of this website. Nick Pope's more general position statement on conspiracy theories is as follows.
I worked for the British government for 21 years, at the Ministry of Defence. From 1991 to 1994 I ran the MoD’s UFO project. A common accusation was that the MoD was involved in a conspiracy and was covering up the truth about UFOs. Through being accused, personally, of being involved in this, I began to research conspiracy theories and the psychology of belief.
The best-known conspiracy theories are probably those revolving around UFOs and Roswell, the assassination of JFK, the moon landings, the death of Princess Diana, and 9/11. But there are other lesser-known conspiracy theories that still attract a lot of interest, such as the death of Dr David Kelly, chemtrails, HAARP, the North American Union and disappearing bees.
There is a darker side to some conspiracy theories, particularly those involving a New World Order, where phrases such as “conspiracy of international bankers” are sometimes used to mask anti-Semitism. Medical conspiracies (e.g. those surrounding Swine flu) can also be dangerous. Many people believe that certain diseases and the associated vaccination programmes are part of a conspiracy to exterminate populations and bring about a New World Order. If people who are ill with such diseases use conspiracy websites to inform their decisions, as opposed to seeking medical advice, the consequences could be fatal.
I am particularly interested in the role that the internet and social networking sites have played in propagating conspiracy theories. Young, technologically-aware activists use these tools to spread their views. But this can give a distorted picture, by giving certain issues a disproportionally high profile on the internet, which is not representative of the views of society more generally. It is interesting that some of these issues have a big footprint on blogs and forums, but a very small one on mainstream news sites. This raises interesting issues concerning media coverage of such topics.
It’s interesting that most conspiracy theories (with a few exceptions, such as 'Paul McCartney is dead') revolve around a situation with government agencies involved. I suspect this is why, in relation to parapsychology and the unexplained, there are conspiracy theories about UFOs, alien abductions and crop circles, but not about ghosts, Near Death Experiences or Out of Body Experiences. This reflects what I term “the demonization of government” and a situation where, due to general distrust of authority, government statements that are entirely truthful are not believed.
I believe that many conspiracy theories arise because of fundamental misunderstandings of the way in which governments, the military and intelligence agencies act. Others arise because facts and comments have been misunderstood or, in some cases, deliberately misrepresented. To give an example, a reading of the 9/11 Commission Report makes it clear that there were failings in inter-agency information sharing, e.g. between CIA and FBI. People with knowledge and experience of officialdom know this is a systemic problem, yet it's easy to see how the fact that people had actionable intelligence, but didn't pass it on, could be misconstrued as implying that 9/11 was 'allowed to happen'.
I do not believe most conspiracy theories, but I think they are interesting and worthy of study, not least from a psychological point of view. They may have a lot to teach us, both about society and about ourselves.
A TV show in which Nick Pope debated 9/11 with conspiracy theorists
Nick Pope has written a major new article on conspiracy theories. First published in the summer of 2012 it can be read here.