A Skeptic’s Guide to Birtherism

September 11, 2001 gave America the Truthers, conspiracy theorists who deny that Al Qaeda terrorists were behind the attacks on the World Trade Center. The Apollo 11 landing in 1969 gave America conspiracy theorists who denied that Neil Armstrong ever stepped on the moon. The election of President Barack Obama, in turn, gave America the ‘Birthers,’ conspiracy theorists who allege that America’s first African American President was actually born in Africa, and is Constitutionally ineligible for the Presidency for a laundry list of fabricated reasons. According to recent polls, as many as one quarter of Americans or one half of Republicans doubt that President Obama was born in the United States.

Where do such beliefs come from, and how do they attract this kind of following? Who are the people responsible for such campaigns, and what drives them? What are the common traits of denialism, conspiracism, and political paranoia exemplified in Birtherism, and how can one recognize and avoid similar disreputable theories? These are some of the questions tackled in Loren Collins’ book, Birth of a Notion.

The product of extensive original investigation and research, Birth of a Notion traces the path that Birtherism took to becoming the movement it is today, profiles the people who have led the movement and exposes many of the previously unknown persons who were instrumental in fabricating stories, spreading rumors, and promoting the Birther mythology.

Birth of a Notion is not, however, focused only on the narrow issue of Birtherism itself. Rather, it utilizes Birtherism’s uniquely bizarre central tenets to illustrate how conspiracism and denialism operate and flourish even in an age of unprecedented access to information, and how otherwise rational people can be taken in by irrational arguments. Thus, the book is not merely a debunking of a singlular conspiracy theory, but it also breaks down the means and methods of conspiracist and denialist movements in general. Through the examination of Birtherism, the reader learns how rumors are started, the various rhetorical techniques used by denialists, and the methods used to promote misinformation. As a field guide to critical thinking, Birth of a Notion aims not merely to tell the story behind a current fringe theory, but strives to teach how the next one might be avoided.