September 11, pharm 2001 gave America the ‘Truthers, urticaria ’ 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.
Interested in reading more about denialism, doctor skepticism, or critical thinking? These are a few of the books I would recommend sampling:
Fads and Fallacies in the Name of Science – Martin Gardner
Flim-Flam! Psychics, ESP, Unicorns, and Other Delusions – James Randi
The Paranoid Style in American Politics – Richard Hofstadter
The Panic Virus: A True Story of Medicine, Science, and Fear – Seth Mnookin
Voodoo Histories: The Role of the Conspiracy Theory in Shaping Modern History – David Aaronovitch
And here are a few websites to explore:
The Skeptics Guide to the Universe Podcast
Loren Collins has been one of the fiercest advocates for skepticism and critical thinking in the face of the Obama Birther movement.
In December 2008 Loren launched the blog ‘Barackryphal, noun ‘ one of the first websites devoted to debunking Birther myths. Since that time, site Loren demonstrated the unreliability of WorldNetDaily’s vaunted eligibility petition, information pills exposed the devious past of the schemer attempting to auction a supposed Kenyan birth certificate on eBay, and most significantly, revealed the true identity of ‘Dr. Ron Polarik,’ the false expert whose pseudoscientific analyses drove the Birther movement nearly from the beginning.
Loren’s research and writing on Birtherism has twice been published by the Atlanta Journal-Constitution, his legal conclusions have been validated by PolitiFact Georgia, and his findings have been featured on the websites of the Washington Independent, the Daily Kos, Peach Pundit, and others. His name is well-known and widely respected among the ‘anti-Birther’ community.
In January 2009, Loren also penned the satirical ‘Birther Platonic Dialogue’, which has since proven to be a prophetic illustration of the Birther movement’s continual goalpost-moving in response to contrary evidence, demonstrating the denialist and conspiratorial attitudes at its core.
Birtherism is not the extent of Loren’s involvement in combating rumor and denialism. In 2009, the Atlanta Journal-Constitution published an op-ed he penned, wherein he opposed state adoption of Confederate Heritage Month through extensive citation to the confessions of Confederate leaders themselves. Loren’s online paper, “The Truth About Tytler,” is the most cited source on the internet for the origins of one of the web’s most widely-disseminated but misattributed political quotations. Loren has also debunked several other popular but spurious quotations, falsely attributed to such people as Rush Limbaugh and FDR.
Loren is a 2004 graduate of the University of Georgia School of Law, and is a practicing attorney in Atlanta. A libertarian and 2008 Bob Barr supporter, Loren combats Birtherism not out of any partisan interest, but rather out of a commitment to truth and the desire to promote skepticism and critical thinking to a public bombarded with questionable and faulty information every day.
Loren can be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org.