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Exploring the Crazy Conspiracy Theories Bubbling Up Around the BP Disaster

You've heard the latest one, right? The one about how President Obama deliberately blew up the Deepwater Horizon to pass an energy bill?

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The Failure of Critical Thinking
Americans believe in conspiracy theories for the same reason we're so quick to accept the right wing's faux science and reconstructed history: we simply don't teach most of our kids the basic skills of critical thinking any more.

This is where 25 years of teaching to the test has brought us. We don't know who to trust, or when, or why. We can't evaluate the claims of history or science, or even get a basic timeline straight. We can't sort out what's plausible and likely from what's implausible and unlikely. We can't assess the relative credibility of various experts, or figure out what agendas they're serving when they make their claims. We'd rather take Rush Limbaugh's explanation as gospel than spend .062 seconds on a Google search that would give us some alternative data to work with, because then we'd be forced to evaluate that data on our own.

And then we wonder why in the hell so many of us hold such implausibly baroque beliefs; but can't seem to locate the simple truth at high noon with both hands.

Next week, I'll take a deeper look at what's going on in our own heads that predisposes us to believe the unbelievable. And in the third and final part of the series, I'll talk about what needs to be done in order to conspiracy-proof our discourse and restore some reason to our political conversations.

Sara Robinson is a Fellow at the Campaign for America's Future , and a consulting partner with the Cognitive Policy Works in Seattle. One of the few trained social futurists in North America, she has blogged on authoritarian and extremist movements at Orcinus since 2006, and is a founding member of Group News Blog .

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