A wide appreciation of the implications of "Conspiracy Theories" by Harvard law professors Cass Sunstein and Adrian Vermeule (http://papers.ssrn.com/sol3/papers.cfm?abstract_id=1084585&rec=1&srcabs=292149) has been slow in coming. What makes the article and the views expressed therein all the more significant is that author Sunstein in 2009 was made Administrator of Information and Regulatory Affairs of the Office of Management and Budget by President Obama (click here).
(Note: The 2008 article at the Social Science Research Network's website appeared in virtually identical form in the Journal of Political Philosophy 17(2), 2009, pgs 202-227, except that the Journal's version, which carries the title "Conspiracy Theories: Causes and Cures", lacks several terminal pages dealing largely with 9/11 theories outside the U.S.. References to pages below are for the easily downloaded online article for those who want the entire article. The actual Journal is scarce and requires $41 for a download.)
While the article's title suggests conspiracy theories broadly, the 9/11 Truth Movement is the paper's focus, and it reveals substantial concern regarding that Movement's ongoing advance. Particularly ominous is that the authors, who use "theorists" and "extremists" interchangeably, limit their focus "to potentially harmful theories". To whom, one might wonder, would the 9/11 Truth Movement, so "worrisome" for the authors, be harmful? And why do the authors consider the 9/11 Truth Movement such a "serious threat" that it should be "broken up or at least muted by government action"? (pg 21)
The authors contend that conspiracy theorists suffer from "cognitive blunders" and "crippled epistemology". Using psycho-philosophic parlance they are saying those failing to accept the official story of the 9/11 Commission, leading members of which admitted it was "set up to fail", cannot think straight. But the "theorists/extremists" they wish to censure include by now thousands of physicists, architects and engineers using only physical facts and data; substantial figures in theology and philosophy applying elementary logic; military, political and intelligence personnel from all over the world with lifetimes of experience in how the system -- including its underbelly -- functions.
So, what is proposed? "Practically speaking", the authors write, "government might do well to maintain a more vigorous counter-disinformation establishment." (pg 19) They recommend that government officials respond "to more rather than fewer conspiracy theories [which] has a kind of synergy benefit: it reduces the legitimating effect of responding to any one of them, because it dilutes the contrast with unrebutted theories." (pgs 15, 29) Such advice assumes that all theories -- or aspects of a single theory -- are essentially equal in validity or lack of validity -- an odd position for legal minds supposedly sensitive to fine distinctions. But that would not matter when the point is simply to defeat citizen efforts.
More menacing, however is that the authors suggest "planting doubts [to] undermine the crippled epistemology [through] cognitive infiltration" of groups by governmental agents or by forces appointed by government. (pgs 3, 14, 15, 22, 29)"Government agents (and their allies)", they write, "might enter chat rooms, online social networks, or even real-space groups and attempt to undermine percolating conspiracy theories." In light of such proposals for dealing with citizens seeking truth, that Cass Sunstein is "one of America's leading constitutional scholars" (See above link to the White House announcement) is appalling.
The authors contend that "crippled epistemology" arises from the "sharply limited number of (relevant) informational sources" used by conspiracy theorists, this making the theories "especially hard to undermine or dislodge; they have a self-sealing quality, rendering them particularly immune to challenge." (pg 3) This drips with irony, for information coming from the expertise found within the 9/11 Truth Movement, while both extensive and diverse, has been limited only through censoring by the U.S. Government. What's more, there has rarely been a "theory" more resistant to opposing information -- more absolutely and officially "self-sealing" -- than the mockery that is the official 9/11 Commission Report.
As one reads through the Sunstein/Vermeule article it is clear that the authors, while aware of the now infamous Popular Mechanics article -- that absurd prop for the official governmental account (pg 18) -- have carefully avoided any relevant material from within the mountain of easily available credible information that would dash their thesis. For academics ostensibly wedded to truth this is shameful.
Consider from page 20 the following misrepresentation of the position of the 9/11 Truth Movement:
"After 9/11, one complex of conspiracy theories involved American Airlines Flight 77, which hijackers crashed into the Pentagon. Some theorists claimed that no plane had hit the Pentagon; even after the Department of Defense released video frames showing Flight 77 approaching the building and a later explosion cloud, theorists pointed out that the actual moment of impact was absent from the video, in order to keep alive their claim that the plane had never hit the building. (In reality the moment of impact was not captured because the video had a low number of frames per second."
This is a classic "straw man" set up to be knocked down. The intensely grainy few frames made available (of the many certainly detailed security camera records that exist) were not adequate to identify Flight 77. But in this instance it is beside the point anyway, because 'moment of impact on the video' was never a central issue in a case consisting of an abundance of strong evidence. The authors certainly know this as they seek to create the false impression that 'moment of impact on the video' is the centerpiece of the 9/11 Truth Movement's case, an impression the authors can then refute.
And the authors continue:
"Moreover, even those conspiracists who were persuaded that the Flight 77 conspiracy theories were wrong folded that view into a larger conspiracy theory. The problem with the theory that no plane hit the Pentagon, they said, is that the theory was too transparently false, disproved by multiple witnesses and much physical evidence. Thus the theory must have been a straw man initially planted by the government, in order to discredit other conspiracy theories and theorists by association."
This convolution is rife with falsehood. Witnesses have been conflicting, but of greater import is that abundant physical evidence actually points in a direction contrary to the official narrative. After creating one straw man, the authors cite (manufacture?) "conspiracists" who, once convinced that Flight 77 hit the Pentagon, now see the contrary view as a government-sponsored straw man. Sunstein and Vermeule thereby create scenarios that carefully avoid the considerable evidence countering the government's explanation of 9/11.