See Inside Scientific American Mind Volume 25, Issue 1

Readers Respond to "Self-Esteem Can Be an Ego Trap"

Letters to the editor from the September/October 2013 issue of Scientific American MIND

Regarding “Why People Believe in Conspiracy Theories,” by Sander van der Linden: Do you editors realize that you have been pranked? The article is almost completely geared to “proving” that global warming skeptics are conspiracy theorists. Regarding conspiracy theories, the author says: “A likely function of this cognitive bias is to help people make sense of the world by offering simple explanations for complex events.” It seems to me that blaming humans for global warming is a simple explanation for a complex event.

J. R. Kennedy
Largo, Fla.

The only real hoax here is that van der Linden is throwing global warming skeptics under the bus with conspiracy theorists who believe that nasa faked the moon landing, the government holds aliens hostage in Area 51, and the Boston Marathon bombings were an inside job. No one really questions climate change. It is natural to have ice ages and periods of global warming as part of the earth's history.

The real question in many people's minds, which van der Linden completely ignores, is the percentage of current global warming that is caused by humans. As a biologist, I suspect that the actual value is less than 10 percent of the total. Consider the endemic influences of phenomena such as volcanoes, wildfires and natural gas emissions from the earth. And how do you explain away the melting of ice caps on Mars and other planets if nobody lives there?

It is necessary that we continue to have discussions about remedies for cleaner air and water and conservation of our precious lands. But to include climate change skepticism under the umbrella of a conspiracy theory is misguided if not malevolent.

Jeff S. Wyles
Oroville, Calif.

VAN DER LINDEN REPLIES: My article seems to have caused a fair amount of upheaval. The critical responses I have received can largely be categorized into two camps: those who feel that the article labels every conspiracy theorist as mentally ill and those who feel that it is unfair to group skepticism toward global warming with other “crazy” conspiracy theories such as aliens and Area 51.

With regard to the first criticism I would like to clarify that the article refers to scientific evidence that suggests that conspiracy ideation has been associated with paranoia and schizotypy. The intention of the article is by no means to label every skeptic as mentally ill.

In response to the second point, the most authoritative international scientific investigation into global warming has recently concluded with 95 percent certainty that human-caused global warming is happening. In addition, numerous studies that have surveyed the state of scientific agreement on the issue report that more than 97 percent of independent climate scientists agree that human-caused climate change is a reality. In the face of this overwhelming evidence, is denying global warming really that different from believing that the government is hiding aliens in Area 51? I will let the reader decide.

In “Hallucinogens Could Ease Existential Terror,” by Erica Rex [May/June 2013], LSD discoverer Albert Hofmann's name is misspelled. In “Fertile Women Have a Heightened Sense of Smell,” by Tori Rodriguez [Head Lines, September/October 2013], Jessica McNeil is incorrectly listed as a co-author of a study in the journal Hormones and Behavior. McNeil is actually a co-author of the study in Physiology and Behavior.

This article was originally published with the title "September/October 2013."

Share this Article:


You must sign in or register as a member to submit a comment.
Scientific American Special Universe

Get the latest Special Collector's edition

Secrets of the Universe: Past, Present, Future

Order Now >


Email this Article