Birds Aren't Real
We get it - conspiracy theories are entertaining, especially the weird and wacky ones. But some are just flat out bizarre, like “The Birds Aren’t Real”. Yeah, check out their website for a deeper dive, but the title says it all - this group believes the United States government killed the country’s entire bird population and replaced them with surveillance drones. #effort
They claim that bird sh*t is a type of “liquidated tracking apparatus” made by the United States government - specifically targeting parked cars. And, according to their ‘research’, vultures are programmed to clean up roadkill and hummingbirds are... assassintion drones. Yikes.
Who knows if these people actually believe hummingbirds are tiny snipers, the real worry is that we're not surprised that someone could believe this. According to a 2017 study, roughly one in four Americans believe in some form of conspiracy. Researchers have a fairly good idea as to why we fall prey to absurd realities, and our current situation appears to be the perfect storm.
Proportionality bias and anxiety are two big contributing factors. Proportionality bias is our need to give big events equally big causes. After all, without a grand conspiracy, you’d have to admit that terrible things happen randomly, and for no reason at all. Next up is anxiety, which might be the biggest catalyst of all. Studies have shown that those who feel powerless and anxious about their future, health or finances lean toward conspiratorial thinking.
For example, a 2015 study by researchers in the Netherlands surveyed three groups of students to see how anxiety impacted their perspectives. They primed one group to feel powerful (the students were asked to write about a time they felt in control). The second group was primed to feel powerless (they were asked to write about a time when they didn’t feel in control). The third group was asked to write about what they had for dinner (hilarious). Researchers then asked the students to share their thoughts about the construction issues facing the city’s new subway line. The students who were primed to feel powerless were more likely to give conspiratorial reasons for the issues, such as the city council stealing money from the project and putting the students’ lives at risk. This is one of numerous studies on the link between anxiety and conspiratorial thinking. When our backs are against the wall, it appears that trust is the first thing we throw out the window.
With today’s level of uncertainty, it seems only natural that people would feel less trusting. The good news? Critical thinking has and always will be the greatest defense against falsehoods. The next time you read an outlandish claim or catch yourself wearing a tin foil hat, remember:
Question your biases (ALL of them).
Check your sources.
Read opposing viewpoints.
And clean the birdshit off your car.
Image by Sébastien Goldberg