Theory Gang
NeoAcademia Episode 5 - Michael Shermer's Conspiracy

NeoAcademia Episode 5 - Michael Shermer's Conspiracy

Which conspiracies might be useful or true and how to tell

NeoAcademia is a biweekly exploration of the shifting walls of the ivory tower. 

For me, this episode was an interesting brush with classic liberal values - where I think I usually stand, but talking with Shermer reminded me that I’ve got some thirst for chaos under the surface. I pressed him on what I thought was an underlying theme of his book:

It’s natural to believe in conspiracy theories, and we should try to understand why we believe them.

If I’m being honest, I was so geeked about getting to read Conspiracy before it was released, despite not giving a shit about debunking conspiracy theories. I care much more about understanding how people think, and this book addresses just that - plus getting a book before the public means I’m like a real media person now... Something new that I never aspired to be, LOL.

The thing about Shermer is that he’s more willing than most on his level to have conversations with everyday people. He even offered me career advice during our conversation, LMAO. From what I’ve seen, he does the hard thing of considering an idea before looking at the source. If you aspire to this approach, I highly recommend this book. 

There were a few things I wish I had said, but I’ll address that and more in the Bonus content tomorrow. To see more of our conversation and my thoughts, consider upgrading!


2:30 When and how to teach people critical thinking

5:01 Leveraging pop culture to teach critical thinking

7:54 Ancient Aliens and the soft bigotry of low expectations

12:18 How conspiracies have always been in the mainstream 

16:32 How many conspiracy theories develop from a proxy for truth

19:59 Conspiracies are real - the benefits of Constructive conspiracism

22:02 What happens when someone stops believing in a conspiracy

23:57 Tribal conspiracism

25:05 Conversation stoppers

27:29 How to be a better progressive/conservative or group member

28:31 Reinforcing the constitution of our knowledge

31:34 Appreciation of beliefs as an assist to the truth

37:25 The modern political cults of the  left and right

39:44 What politically moderate people anchor to

41:50 Free speech on public forums

42:46 The invigorating life of a skeptic

46:16 Michael’s NeoAcademic career

48:15 Writing grants for incremental progress 

50:03 Research on creativity (Simon Keefe) says: Make a lot of stuff!

51:39 Paradigm shifts vs incremental progress in science and technology

56:34 Marital conspiracies

For more resources from this episode, check out the collection Michael and I created for you. Use the password “neoacademia” for access.

Readocracy is NeoAcademia’s first sponsor, and I highly encourage you to sign up for an account. I have been using it daily for years now, and I even include some of my personal metrics in my monthly Rabbithole newsletter for my paid subscribers. It’s a fun way of reflecting on what you consume, and potentially building your expertise as a NeoAcademic.

Thought experiment:

What’s your favorite conspiracy and why? I’ll tell you mine if you tell me yours!

Theory Gang
Exploring the shifting walls of the ivory tower...