The link was to a paper (you can download the entire thing here) by Michael Wood, Karen Douglas, and Robbie Sutton that appeared in the January 2012 issue of Social, Psychological, and Personality Science. Called "Dead and Alive: Belief in Contradictory Conspiracy Theories," this paper describes an experiment supporting a fantastic conclusion -- that people who believe in conspiracy theories are likely to believe simultaneously in different versions of them, even if those versions are mutually exclusive.
The set-up, which is positively brilliant, is that the three researchers asked 137 participants to take a survey ranking a variety of scenarios from "extremely unlikely" to "extremely likely." The scenarios included various tropes from conspiracy theories, including:
- 9/11 was an inside job by the US government
- The moon landing was faked
- The CIA was behind the JFK assassination
- Global warming is a hoax
- Diana was killed by a rogue cell of the British Intelligence
- Diana and Dodi Al-Fayed were killed by Al-Fayed's relatives, who disapproved of their relationship
- Diana was killed by agents of the royal family to prevent her marrying an Arab
- Diana faked her own (and Al-Fayed's) deaths in order to escape from the notoriety
- If you believe in any conspiracy theories at all (e.g. 9/11 was an inside job), you are likely to believe in all of them; and
- The higher you rank a particular version of a conspiracy theory, the higher you rank others -- even if those alternate explanations are self-contradictory.
Thinking this couldn't possibly be a valid conclusion, the researchers tried the experiment again, with a different set of test subjects, and this time using Osama bin Laden as their example. Again, the subjects had to rank such statements as "Osama's death was falsely reported by the Obama administration; he is still alive" and "Osama was already dead by the time of the raid" -- and the researchers found a strong correlation between belief in both statements.
Well. I hardly know what to say that the study doesn't make abundantly clear on its own. Mostly, I find myself wondering if belief in conspiracy theories should be considered a mental illness, given that it so obviously derails rational thought. Here is the conclusion of Wood, Douglas, and Sutton's paper:
In any case, the evidence we have gathered in the present study supports the idea that conspiracism constitutes a monological belief system, drawing its coherence from central beliefs such as the conviction that authorities and officials engage in massive deception of the public to achieve their malevolent goals. Connectivity with this central idea lends support to any individual conspiracy theory, even to the point that mutually contradictory theories fail to show a negative correlation in belief. Believing that Osama bin Laden is still alive is apparently no obstacle to believing that he has been dead for years.