Book explores root causes and effects of conspiracy theories

Conspiracy theories have been deeply entwined in revolutions, social movements, and public policy, and they have fueled political stalemate, alienation, witchhunts, and worse.
—Joseph E. Uscinski and Joseph M. Parent

Book explores root causes and effects of conspiracy theoriesThe 9/11 attacks, the JFK assassination, and the Apollo moon landing all have one thing in common — they are forever shrouded in conspiracy theories.

The mere mention of these incidents illicit thoughts of coverups and hidden agendas. How do conspiracy theories originate and why do so many people believe in them? Why do some last for decades and only seem to grow stronger? Has the United States become a “conspiracy nation?” What dangers do conspiracy theories pose to our democracy and to our safety?

American Conspiracy Theories (Oxford University Press; September 2014; $29.95) by University of Miami associate professors Joseph E. Uscinski and Joseph M. Parent answers these questions and many others by dissecting the root causes and effects of conspiracy theories, analyzing the strategic logic behind conspiracy theories, and evaluating the validity of many explanations for conspiracy theorizing.

Uscinski and Parent have written the first book on the subject that presents empirical data from surveys from before and after the 2012 presidential election, over 100,000 letters to the editors of popular newspapers, and a year’s worth of news stories from across the Internet.

Uscinski and Parent contend that conspiracy theories are a strategic response to social and political power and stem from emotional conditions, ideology, and group identity.

Book explores root causes and effects of conspiracy theories

Joseph M. Parent

They illustrate that people believe in conspiracy theories as a way to cope with their status, explain losses, arrest defeat, and signal group allegiances in the face of perceived threat.

In American Conspiracy Theories, Uscinski and Parent show that much of what we know about conspiracy theories and conspiracy theorists is wrong.

They clearly answer many common questions such as:
• What are the causes of conspiracy theories and why do Americans believe in them?
• Do conspiracy theories exist solely on the political right?
• Are we in danger from conspiracy theory inspired violence?
• Who benefits from the spread of these theories?
• How can we know if a conspiracy theory is true or not?

American Conspiracy Theories will crack open the mysteries behind the conspiracy phenomena. Uscinski and Parent will reveal the political, sociological, and psychological foundations of these ideas; how they influence our thoughts and minds; and in the end, reveal a startling conclusion.

Joseph E. Uscinski received his bachelor’s degree from Plymouth State University, his master’s from University of New Hampshire, and his doctorate from University of Arizona. He teaches courses on American politics, public opinion, media, and conspiracy theories. His research has appeared in Journal of Politics, Political Research Quarterly, and Critical Review among other scholarly outlets.

Book explores root causes and effects of conspiracy theories

Joseph E. Uscinski

His first book, The People’s News: Media, Politics, and the Demands of Capitalism (New York University Press, 2014) addresses how audience demands drives news content. He is currently associate professor of political science at the University of Miami.

Joseph M. Parent received his bachelor’s degree from the University of Chicago and his doctorate from Columbia University. His articles have appeared in Foreign Affairs, International Security, and Political Science Quarterly.

His first book was Uniting States: Voluntary Union in World Politics (Oxford University Press, 2011). He assisted the National Intelligence Council on its Global Trends 2030 report and served as a fellow at the Norwegian Nobel Institute. He is currently associate professor of political science at University of Miami.


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