Dealing with Conspiracy Theory Attributions
2020, 2020 Informa UK Limited, trading as Taylor & Francis Group. Academic discussions concerning what to do about conspiracy theories often focus on whether or not to debunk them. Less often discussed are the methods, audiences and effectiveness of debunking efforts. To motivate a closer examination of the 'how' of debunking, a slightly different issue is addressed: conspiracy theory attributions (CTAs), which are claims that someone or some group believes in a conspiracy theory. Three cases of discrediting CTAs in the vaccination debate are examined: general assumptions that vaccination critics are conspiracy theorists, a claim that a vaccine-critical group subscribed to a particular conspiracy theory, and a claim that a PhD thesis endorsed a conspiracy theory. Struggles over CTAs can be analysed in terms of the tactics that powerful perpetrators use to reduce outrage over injustice: cover-up, devaluation, reinterpretation, official channels, and intimidation/rewards. Options for responding to CTAs include ignoring, ridiculing, debunking, engaging, counterattacking and accepting. Potential responders, to decide between options, should take their goals into account.