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Publisher's Summary

Millions of Americans buy into conspiracy theories. Did you know that...

  • 81 percent of Americans believe more than one person was responsible for the assassination of John F. Kennedy?
  • 1/3 of this country thinks 9/11 was an “inside job” by the Bush administration? 
  • 21 percent believes aliens crash-landed in Roswell and are being hidden in Area 51? 
  • 7 percent are convinced that the moon landing was faked?

What causes some people to advocate these unfounded—often disproven—ideas as reality? And why is the power of conspiracies so compelling that they can motivate people to act, some even participating in acts of violence?

In this eye-opening Audible Original, Professor Michael Shermer, publisher of Skeptic magazine and the host of the Science Salon podcast, takes you through some of the most prevalent conspiracy theories in history, giving you a clear understanding of how and why they came about, who was likely to believe and perpetuate them, and the reality behind these beliefs.

Whether you are looking for the truth regarding popular conspiracy theories; are fascinated by the psychology of why people buy into them; or are interested in how they shaped and were shaped by history, this course will provide you all the tools you need to better understand the pervasiveness of conspiracy theories.  

©2019 Audible Originals, LLC (P)2019 Audible Originals, LLC.

Our favorite moments from Conspiracies & Conspiracy Theories

Chapter 2, Lecture 1: The Difference between Conspiracies and Conspiracy Theories
  • Chapter 2, Lecture 1: The Difference between Conspiracies and Conspiracy Theories
Mass-killer manifesto
-0.00
Chapter 6, Lecture 7: The Conspiracy Detection Kit
  • Chapter 6, Lecture 7: The Conspiracy Detection Kit
Russia manipulates US social media.
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Chapter 11, Lecture 12: The Real X-Files: Conspiracy Theories in Myth and Reality
  • Chapter 11, Lecture 12: The Real X-Files: Conspiracy Theories in Myth and Reality
"And you greet me with bombs!"
-0.00
  • Chapter 2, Lecture 1: The Difference between Conspiracies and Conspiracy Theories
  • Mass-killer manifesto
  • Chapter 6, Lecture 7: The Conspiracy Detection Kit
  • Russia manipulates US social media.
  • Chapter 11, Lecture 12: The Real X-Files: Conspiracy Theories in Myth and Reality
  • "And you greet me with bombs!"

Publisher's Summary

Millions of Americans buy into conspiracy theories. Did you know that...

  • 81 percent of Americans believe more than one person was responsible for the assassination of John F. Kennedy?
  • 1/3 of this country thinks 9/11 was an “inside job” by the Bush administration? 
  • 21 percent believes aliens crash-landed in Roswell and are being hidden in Area 51? 
  • 7 percent are convinced that the moon landing was faked?

What causes some people to advocate these unfounded—often disproven—ideas as reality? And why is the power of conspiracies so compelling that they can motivate people to act, some even participating in acts of violence?

In this eye-opening Audible Original, Professor Michael Shermer, publisher of Skeptic magazine and the host of the Science Salon podcast, takes you through some of the most prevalent conspiracy theories in history, giving you a clear understanding of how and why they came about, who was likely to believe and perpetuate them, and the reality behind these beliefs.

Whether you are looking for the truth regarding popular conspiracy theories; are fascinated by the psychology of why people buy into them; or are interested in how they shaped and were shaped by history, this course will provide you all the tools you need to better understand the pervasiveness of conspiracy theories.  

©2019 Audible Originals, LLC (P)2019 Audible Originals, LLC.
.

About the Professor

Dr. Michael Shermer is the publisher of Skeptic magazine, the host of the Science Salon podcast, and a Presidential Fellow at Chapman University where he teaches Skepticism 101, a course in how to think like a scientist. For 18 years he was a monthly columnist for Scientific American. Dr. Shermer is the New York Times best-selling author of numerous books including Heavens on Earth, The Moral Arc, The Believing Brain, The Mind of the Market, Why Darwin Matters, The Science of Good and Evil, and Why People Believe Weird Things. Dr. Shermer received his BA in psychology from Pepperdine University, his MA in experimental psychology from California State University and his PhD in the history of science from Claremont Graduate University. He has been a college professor since 1979, has appeared on such shows as The Colbert Report, 20/20, and Dateline, and is a guest on such popular podcasts as The Joe Rogan Experience. Dr. Shermer was co-host and co-producer of the television series Exploring the Unknown.

What listeners say about Conspiracies & Conspiracy Theories

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  • Overall
    2 out of 5 stars

Unconvincing take on conspiracies and conspiracy theories

This Audible Original course from the usually excellent The Great Courses would have better been titled 'The psychology of conspiracy theories', since that is the main focus of this course. The first handful of lectures deal with a breakdown of what makes a conspiracy theorist tick but I found the argument unconvincing. In this era where conspiracy theories have become common fodder on cable news and talk radio, fills up the shelves of our bookstores and is swamping the internet I think we have moved beyond the concept of a loony tune ranging away in a crowded room. Conspiracy Theories have almost become part of pop culture and group think than one man shouting loudly from the fringe. Unfortunetly, this premise is not explored at all even though the most popular theories - such as UFO or 911 - involve numerous people spouting theories over decades. The psychology used is solid but not related to the topic and, thus, I found it to be unconvincing. This short series of lectures was interesting but, in the end, unrewarding.

35 people found this helpful

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No chapter titles!!???

I find it unbelievable that Audible would make a special contract with Great Courses to provide exclusive content but get lazy about putting in chapter titles. Without chapter titles, we can’t go from chapter to chapter depending on the topic we want to read about, which is the whole point of the great courses. Please fix this failure.

107 people found this helpful

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    3 out of 5 stars

not what I was hoping for

I was hoping for more about what makes people susceptible to this sort of thinking, and how to effectively argue against conspiracists.
The lectures touched on those, but spent far more time giving historical accounts of known conspiracies that failed, succeeded, or never were.
it might be a great series if you are more interested in the history end than the psychological one.

13 people found this helpful

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Really good review of conspiracy theories topic

Very interesting topic with many good examples including analysis of how/ why/ who around conspiracies.

9 people found this helpful

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    4 out of 5 stars

Not ALL conspiracies are wrong…

(As posted in GoodReads)
I personally am not one for conspiracy theories, but the question of why some people get so convinced and drawn in by some of these has long baffled me. This book both points out some of the best known and most influential conspiracy theories and the aspects that pull people in. And it makes clear that, in fact, some conspiracies are real and that evolution has a good deal to do with the development of conspiracy theories in general. I am confident that I still use enough skepticism and reality to help build my beliefs.
Some of what is pointed out in lecture 10 is particularly unnerving and disturbing, but I really like this book.

7 people found this helpful

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Persuasive discussion of the Kennedy assassination

As the author indicated, remastered HD versions of the Zapruder film do seem to show a spray of blood fanning out in a forward direction (before getting caught in the 20mph headwind) from the 3rd & fatal head shot, consistent with a shot from the rear

7 people found this helpful

  • Overall
    1 out of 5 stars

Irrekevant

immorally biased, irrelevant examples, short in perspective, narrow scope, pompous introduction, poorly written and read, a waste of time and money.

6 people found this helpful

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Not what I was expecting!

I got this thinking they’d be explaining all major conspiracy theories. Instead, you get education into the minds of conspiracies and those who believe them. It’s a very interesting listen to learn about why certain theories take off and the hardcore believers of that theory very seldom waiver. Great stuff here!!

20 people found this helpful

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A healthy dose of skepticism combined with a healt

Shermer's work here provides the tools needed to distinguish real conspiracies from the fraudulent.

4 people found this helpful

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Wanted More Substance

Perhaps the nature of the subject makes it difficult for a scholar/author to judge accurately how far to get into the weeds of conspiracies that have influenced history. For instance, the generalist audience members would have to know a lot about history to put long-ago successful conspiracies and unsuccessful conspiracies into context. I found the lack of detail frustrating, However, I took away a better understanding of why people believe rumors, false narratives, and even preposterous ideas. Most of us have trouble understanding our increasingly complicated world from day to day. Groping around for SOME explanation of big events, it's oddly comforting to be certain of something, even if it's something patently untrue, than to accept the sad fact that most of what happens defies explanation and/or moral grounding.

23 people found this helpful

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  • Kevin Boone
  • 11-01-19

Doesn't mock creationists

Despite what other reviewers have said, this presentation does not mock creationists. What it does, however, is compare the kinds of mental processes that might make a person favour "conspiracist" view of world politics, with those that might make a person favour creationism. This position, it seems to me, is both well-supported by evidence, and actually fairly obvious. Conspiracist politics provides a relatively simple, overarching principle that explains at a stroke the messiness and confusion of real-world politics, while creationism attempts to apply a unifying principle to the complexities of biology. Both politics and biology suffer from being pretty-much incomprehensibly untitdy, so people who like order and regularity will be drawn to modes of thinking that attempts to simply and organize things.

If this amounts to 'mocking', then mock away, but it isn't mocking somebody to explain why he or she might think in a particular way.

Having said all that, Shermer's smug scepticism does get rather wearing. In his books, and in this presentation, I really do get the impression that he's preaching to the choir -- and preaching it good and hard. If you're sceptically inclined yourself -- and I confess that I lean in that direction -- you don't need to have the merits of science and logical thinking drummed into you. And if you're not, you're not going to be convinced by logical thinking, by definition. So we could have done with more of the facts, and less of the bombast.

Moreover, this isn't an easy listen, even if you're fascinated by the subject -- which I am. There's an awful lot of facts and figures crammed into a relatively short presentation. He frequently refers to the work of other academics -- which, of course, he should -- but you have to pay attention, which makes it hard to listen when you might be interrupted. To be honest, I think the whole thing would be better presented as a book.

10 people found this helpful

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  • Amazon Customer
  • 06-27-20

Thought provoking and well-balanced

Thought provoking and well balanced.
Well presented, well argued and effectively deals with a lot of the questionable speculative threads that dog a lot of dubious conspiracy theories.

4 people found this helpful

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  • Dave Moody
  • 03-03-20

Commonsense navigating nonsence

A welcome calm approach to rationalise the sensationalism of today. A gentle awakening to the fact that people want you to have their version of events as your version from within and without conspiracy, actual or theoretical. Not just pointing out where bias is but why as well. Enjoyed it.

4 people found this helpful

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  • Sonya
  • 01-22-21

It is a good course indeed.

I enjoyed this book a lot, not just because the conspiracy theory phenomenon is ever-growing and, it seems, more threatening to our democracy and social order. Sure, you get all the juicy details you might want to know about QAnon, but the book is really about humans and how we operate. Recommended.

3 people found this helpful

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  • T. Yates
  • 03-22-20

.

I thought I was buying a book about conspiracy theories but it's quite a dry lecture for 80% of the book about theory rather than actual conspiracies.

3 people found this helpful

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  • Anonymous User
  • 08-11-21

Roswell, not sure now.

I like anything about UFOs and the section dedicated to the subject was fantastic. And there are many other subjects the book as a good look at, I thought it was a great read and the Narrator was top class.

2 people found this helpful

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  • Lauren C.
  • 06-09-21

Easy read

Great length chapters, well read, interesting and covered a lot of conspiracies and theories from a skeptic point of view

2 people found this helpful

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  • Mr. Martin White
  • 09-08-21

Spoilt by blinkered views

This book contains a lot of very useful information on psychology and the tendency for the human brain to work in certain repeatable ways.

However the credibility is destroyed by the author’s evaluations of conspiracy theories. The takeaways from this book seem to me to be:

- There are some real conspiracies in history but only the ones I say you can believe
- Belief in conspiracies puts you equivalent to the subjects of the Milgram experiments where lethal electric shocks were “given” to other participants
- witnesses can only be believed if their account matches the official version
- in a nutshell, to paraphrase the well know saying: if a conspiracy doth prosper none dare call it a conspiracy

Examples: if an autopsy shows that all fatal bullets were fired from close range behind the victim, but the suspect was always 3-5 feet in front of the victim? Apparently questioning that makes me nuts.

If the police provably falsified the ballistic evidence in order to obtain a conviction? No problem- if there had been a conspiracy someone would have talked.

(All of the above are from the Robert Kennedy case)

His treatment of JFK is even worse. Apparently trained and experienced doctors were unable to distinguish the back of the head from the side of the head. Again, witnesses can only be believed if they support one version. The “magic bullet” which suddenly appeared on a stretcher unconnected to either JFK or Governor Connolly? No problem. Or the fact that the person that handed it in said that it was not the same as the bullet on show now? Who could expect a witness to recognise something they held in their hand from a photo? A bullet which had no blood on it?

An interesting book which is ruined by, despite accusing conspiracy theorists of doing exactly this, cherry picks from available evidence. Gerald Posner and Vincent Bugliosi literally wrote two of the worst and most inaccurate books on the JFK case and these are the only two this author mentions.

1 person found this helpful

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  • JB
  • 08-23-21

Smug

Very interesting topic. Was hoping to learn insights into if various theories held any standing. Quite relevant in this day and age. But I couldn’t get past the condescending, smug tone of the narrator.

1 person found this helpful

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  • Benjamin
  • 08-10-21

Informative and Interesting

I found this very informative, thought provoking and interesting.
A skeptical view point on conspiracy theories that doesn't mock but rather shows how some conspiracies existed and also where some our bias as a species comes from making us more likely to believe a conspiracy than not.

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  • Alison
  • 10-20-19

compulsory education for conspiratorists

Great presentation. Helped me to understand true conspiracies from false, why certain people (Inc me) are or were, more given to conspiracy theories than others and for what reasons. Dr Shermers unraveling of the 9/11 and Arch Duke Franz Ferdinands and JFK assassinations were eye opening, brilliant and conclusive. Highly recommended.

1 person found this helpful

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  • John Brady
  • 09-19-21

Excellent, important, and entertaining

very useful theory and analysis, interesting examples, plus now I know who killed John F Kennedy.