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anonymous from United States
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anonymous from United States
anonymous from United States
anonymous from United States
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Vulnerability to confidence tricks
Persons of any level of intelligence are vulnerable to deception by experienced con artists. Confidence tricks exploit human weaknesses like greed, dishonesty, vanity, but also virtues like honesty, compassion, or a naïve expectation of good faith on the part of the con artist.
Just as there is no typical profile for swindlers, neither is there one for their victims. Virtually anyone can fall prey to fraudulent crimes. … Certainly victims of high-yield investment frauds may possess a level of greed which exceeds their caution as well as a willingness to believe what they want to believe. However, not all fraud victims are greedy, risk-taking, self-deceptive individuals looking to make a quick dollar. Nor are all fraud victims naive, uneducated, or elderly.
Confidence tricksters often rely on the greed and dishonesty of the mark, who may attempt to out-cheat the con artist, only to discover that he or she has been manipulated into losing from the very beginning. This is such a general principle in confidence tricks that there is a saying among con men that 'you can't cheat an honest man.'
Nevertheless, some tricks depend on the honesty of the victim. In a common scam, as part of an apparently legitimate transaction, the victim is sent a worthless check, which the victim then deposits. The victim is then urged to forward the apparent value of the check to the trickster as cash, possibly keeping a small portion of the money as a commission, which they may do before discovering the check bounces. Another fashionable scenario (as of 2006) has the victim recruited as a 'financial agent' to collect 'business debts.' Paper checks are not always involved: funds may be transferred electronically from another victim.
Sometimes con men rely on naive individuals who put their confidence into get-rich-quick schemes, such as 'too good to be true' investments. It may take years for the wider community to discover that such investment schemes are bogus. By the time they are discovered, many people may have lost their life savings to something in which they have been persuaded to invest.
The confidence trickster often works with one or more accomplices called shills, who help manipulate the mark into accepting the con man's plan. In a traditional confidence trick, the mark is led to believe that he will be able to win money or some other prize by doing some task. The accomplices may pretend to be random strangers who have benefited from successfully performing the task.
Psychopathology is a term which refers to either the study of mental illness or mental distressthe manifestation of behaviours and experiences which may be indicative of mental illness or psychological impairment. It is also the name of an academic journal that specialises in the understanding and classification of mental illness in clinical psychiatry. Psychopathology as the study of mental illness
The many different professions may be involved in studying mental illness or distress. Most notably, psychiastrists and clinical psychologists are particularly interested in this area and may either be involved in clinical treatment of mental illness, or research into the origin, development and manifestations of such states, or often, both.
More widely, many different specialties may be involved in the study of psychopathology. For example, a neurosciectist may focus on brain changes related to mental illness.
Therefore, someone who is referred to as a psychopathologist, may be one of any number of professions who have specialised in studying this area. Psychiatrists in particular are interested in descriptive psychopathology, which has the aim of describing the symptoms and syndromes of mental illness.
This is both for the diagnosis of individual patients (to see whether the patient''s experience fits any pre-existing classification), or for the creation of diagnostic systems (such as the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders) which define exactly which signs and symptoms should make up a diagnosis, and how experiences and behaviours should be grouped in particular diagnoses (e.g. clinical depression, schizophrenia).
Psychopathology as a descriptive term The term psychopathology may also be used to denote behaviours or experiences which are indicative of mental illness, even if they do not constitute a formal diagnosis. For example, the presence of an hallucination may be considered as a psychopathological sign, even if there are not enough symptoms present to fulfill the criteria for one of the disorders listed in the DSM.
In a more general sense, any behaviour or experience which causes impairment, distress or , disability particularly if it is thought to arise from a functional breakdown in either the cognitive and neurocognitive systems in the brain, may be classified as psychopathology.The academic journal Psychopathology
Originally founded in 1897 and named Psychiatria Clinica, the journal changed its name to Psychopathology in 1984. It bills itself as the ''International journal of experimental psychopathology, phenomenology and psychiatric diagnosis'' and aims to ''elucidate the complex interrelationships of biology, subjective experience, behavior and therapies''.
Psychopathy is a mental illness or psychological construct that describes chronic immoral and antisocial behavior. The term is often used interchangeably with sociopathy.
The term is used as a definition in law, for example, 'psychopathic personality disorder' under the Mental Health Act 1983 of the UK as well as to denote a severe condition that is often related to antisocial or dissocial personality disorder as defined by the Psychopathy Checklist-Revised (PCL-R). The term 'psychopathy' is often confused with psychotic disorders. It is estimated that approximately one percent of the general population are psychopaths.
The psychopath is defined by a psychological gratification in criminal, sexual, or aggressive impulses and the inability to learn from past mistakes. Individuals with this disorder gain satisfaction through their antisocial behavior and lack remorse for their actions.
The origins of the concept of psychopathy go back to Theophrastus, a student of Aristotle, whose description of The Unscrupulous Man embodies the characteristics of psychopathy.
In 1801, Philippe Pinel described patients who were mentally unimpaired but nonetheless engaged in impulsive and self-defeating acts. He saw them as la folie raisonnante ('insane without delirium') meaning that they fully understood the irrationality of their behavior but continued with it anyway. By the turn of the century, Henry Maudsley had begun writing about the 'moral imbecile', and was arguing that such individuals could not be rehabilitated by the correctional system.
Maudsley included the psychopath's immunity to the reformational effects of punishment, owing to their refusal to anticipate further failure, and punishment. In 1904, Emil Kraepelin described four types of personalities similar to antisocial personality disorder. By 1915 he had identified them as defective in either effect or volition, dividing the types further into different categories, only some of which correspond to the current descriptions of antisocial personality disorder.
The Mask of Sanity by Hervey M. Cleckley, M.D., first published in 1941, is considered a seminal work and the most influential clinical description of psychopathy in the 20th century. The basic elements of psychopathy outlined by Cleckley are still relevant today. The title refers to the normal 'mask' that conceals the mental disorder of the psychopathic person in Cleckley's conceptualization.
Otto Kernberg believed that psychopathy should fall under a spectrum of pathological narcissism, that ranged from narcissistic personality on the low end, malignant narcissism in the middle, and psychopathy at the high end. Because of the psychopath's inability to internalize superego precursors, they are typically unable to learn from past mistakes, and are completely devoid of a conscience.
Lack of a conscience in conjunction with a weak ability to defer gratification and/or control aggressive desires, often leads to antisocial behaviors. Psychopathy does not necessarily lead itself to criminal and violent behavior. Instead, psychopaths high in social cognition may be able to redirect their antisocial desires in a more positive manner.
Psychopaths (and others on the pathological narcissism scale) low in social cognition are more prone to violence against others, failure in occupational settings, and problems maintaining relationships. All psychopaths differ in their impulse control abilities, and overall desires. Psychopaths high in the pathological narcissism scale are more equipped to succeed, but pathological narcissism does not in any way guarantee success.
True-believer syndrome is a term coined by M. Lamar Keene in his 1976 book The Psychic Mafia. Keene used the term to refer to people who continued to believe in a paranormal event or phenomenon even after it had been proven to have been staged.
Eric Hoffer used the term true believer in his first book, published in 1951, which explored the nature of fanaticism and mass-movements in the political context.
Keene considered it to be a cognitive disorder, and regarded it as being a key factor in the success of many mediums. The term 'true believer syndrome' is not used professionally by psychologists, psychiatrists, or medical professionals and is not recognised as a form of psychopathology or psychological impairment, nor is it listed in any version of the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders .
In his book The Psychic Mafia, Keene tells of a psychic medium named Raoul. Some people still believed that Raoul was genuine even after he openly admitted that he was a fake. Keene wrote 'I knew how easy it was to make people believe a lie, but I didn't expect the same people, confronted with the lie, would choose it over the truth. . . . No amount of logic can shatter a faith consciously based on a lie.'
According to The Skeptic's Dictionary, an example of this syndrome is evidenced by an event in 1988, when James Randi, at the request of an Australian news program, coached stage performer José Alvarez to pretend he was channelling a two-thousand-year-old spirit named 'Carlos'. Even after it was revealed to be a fictional character created by himself and Alvarez, people continued to believe that 'Carlos' was real. Randi commented: 'no amount of evidence, no matter how good it is or how much there is of it, is ever going to convince the true believer to the contrary.'
Article 419 frauds, also known as advance fee fraud, involve individuals inveigling others to give them their bank details, supposedly in order to make a large deposit, but actually in order to drain the account. Anti-419 activists refer to those who sometimes continue to believe in the good faith of the fraudsters as 'true believers'.
Cognitive dissonance is an uncomfortable feeling caused by holding two contradictory ideas simultaneously. The 'ideas' or 'cognitions' in question may include attitudes and beliefs, and also the awareness of one's behavior. The theory of cognitive dissonance proposes that people have a motivational drive to reduce dissonance by changing their attitudes, beliefs, and behaviors, or by justifying or rationalizing their attitudes, beliefs, and behaviors. Cognitive dissonance theory is one of the most influential and extensively studied theories in social psychology.
Dissonance normally occurs when a person perceives a logical inconsistency among his or her cognitions. This happens when one idea implies the opposite of another. For example, a belief in animal rights could be interpreted as inconsistent with eating meat or wearing fur. Noticing the contradiction would lead to dissonance, which could be experienced as anxiety, guilt, shame, anger, embarrassment, stress, and other negative emotional states. When people's ideas are consistent with each other, they are in a state of harmony or consonance. If cognitions are unrelated, they are categorized as irrelevant to each other and do not lead to dissonance.
A powerful cause of dissonance is when an idea conflicts with a fundamental element of the self-concept, such as 'I am a good person' or 'I made the right decision.' The anxiety that comes with the possibility of having made a bad decision can lead to rationalization, the tendency to create additional reasons or justifications to support one's choices. A person who just spent too much money on a new car might decide that the new vehicle is much less likely to break down than his or her old car. This belief may or may not be true, but it would likely reduce dissonance and make the person feel better. Dissonance can also lead to confirmation bias, the denial of disconfirming evidence, and other ego defense mechanisms.
Smokers tend to experience cognitive dissonance because it is widely accepted that cigarettes cause lung cancer, yet virtually everyone wants to live a long and healthy life. In terms of the theory, the desire to live a long life is dissonant with the activity of doing something that will most likely shorten one's life. The tension produced by these contradictory ideas can be reduced by quitting smoking, denying the evidence of lung cancer, or justifying one's smoking. For example, a smoker could rationalize his or her behavior by concluding that everyone dies and so cigarettes do not actually change anything. Or a person could believe that smoking keeps one from gaining weight, which would also be unhealthy.
This case of dissonance could also be interpreted in terms of a threat to the self-concept. The thought, 'I am increasing my risk of lung cancer' is dissonant with the self-related belief, 'I am a smart, reasonable human being.' Because it is often easier to make excuses than it is to change behavior, dissonance theory leads to the conclusion that humans are rationalizing and not always rational beings.
Theory and research
Most of the research on cognitive dissonance takes the form of 'induced compliance without sufficient justification.' In these studies, participants are asked to write an essay against their beliefs, or to do something unpleasant, without a sufficient justification or incentive. The vast majority of participants comply with these kinds of requests and subsequently experience dissonance. In another procedure, participants are offered a gift and asked to choose between two equally desirable items. Because the attractive characteristics of the rejected item are dissonant with the decision to accept the chosen item, participants tend to experience 'postdecision dissonance.'
When Prophecy Fails
An early version of cognitive dissonance theory appeared in Leon Festinger's 1956 book, When Prophecy Fails. This book gave an inside account of belief persistence in members of a UFO doomsday cult, and documented the increased proselytization they exhibited after the leader's 'end of the world' prophecy failed to come true. The prediction of the earth's destruction, supposedly sent by aliens to the leader of the group, became a disconfirmed expectancy that caused dissonance between the cognitions, 'the world is going to end' and 'the world did not end.' Although some members abandoned the group when the prophecy failed, most of the members lessened their dissonance by accepting a new belief, that the planet was spared because of the faith of the group.
Boring task experiment
In Festinger and Carlsmith's classic 1959 experiment, students were asked to perform boring and tedious tasks (e.g. turning pegs a quarter turn, over and over again). The tasks were designed to generate a strong, negative attitude. After an hour of working on the tasks, participants were asked to persuade another subject (who was actually a confederate) that the dull, boring tasks the subject had just completed were actually interesting and engaging. Some participants were paid $20 for the favor, another group was paid $1, and a control group was not asked to perform the favor.
When asked to rate the boring tasks at the conclusion of the study, those in the $1 group rated them more positively than those in the $20 and control groups. This was explained by Festinger and Carlsmith as evidence for cognitive dissonance. The researchers theorized that people experienced dissonance between the conflicting cognitions, 'I told someone that the task was interesting', and 'I actually found it boring.' When paid only $1, students were forced to internalize the attitude they were induced to express, because they had no other justification. Those in the $20 condition, however, had an obvious external justification for their behavior, and thus experienced less dissonance.
In subsequent experiments, an alternative method of 'inducing dissonance' has become common. In this research, experimenters use counter-attitudinal essay-writing, in which people are paid varying amounts of money (e.g. one or ten dollars) for writing essays expressing opinions contrary to their own. People paid only a small amount of money have less justification for their inconsistency and tend to experience more dissonance.
Forbidden toy experiment
An experiment by Aronson and Carlsmith examined self-justification in children. In this experiment, children were left in a room with a variety of toys, including a highly desirable toy robot. Upon leaving the room, the experimenter told half the children that there would be a severe punishment if they played with that particular toy and told the other half that there would be a mild punishment. All of the children in the study refrained from playing with the toy. Later, when the children were told that they could freely play with whatever toy they wanted, the ones in the mild punishment condition were less likely to play with the toy, even though the threat had been removed.
This is another example of insufficient justification. The children who were only mildly threatened had to justify to themselves why they did not play with the toy. The degree of punishment by itself was not strong enough, so the children had to convince themselves that the toy was not worth playing with in order to resolve their dissonance.
In a different type of experiment conducted by Jack Brehm, 225 female students rated a series of common appliances and were then allowed to choose one of two appliances to take home as a gift. A second round of ratings showed that the participants increased their ratings of the item they chose, and lowered their ratings of the rejected item. This can be explained in terms of cognitive dissonance. When making a difficult decision, there are always aspects of the rejected choice that one finds appealing and these features are dissonant with choosing something else. In other words, the cognition, 'I chose X' is dissonant with the cognition, 'There are some things I like about Y.' More recent research has found similar results in four-year-old children and capuchin monkeys.
Challenges and qualifications
Daryl Bem was an early critic of the theory of cognitive dissonance. He proposed self-perception theory as a more parsimonious alternative explanation of the experimental results. According to Bem, people do not think much about their attitudes, let alone whether they are in conflict. Bem interpreted people in the Festinger and Carlsmith study as inferring their attitudes from their behavior. Thus, when asked 'Did you find the task interesting?' they decided that they must have found it interesting because that is what they told someone. Bem suggested that people paid $20 had a salient, external incentive for their behavior and were likely to perceive the money as their reason for saying the task was interesting, rather than concluding that they actually found it interesting.
In many experimental situations, Bem's theory and Festinger's theory make identical predictions, but only dissonance theory predicts the presence of unpleasant tension or arousal. Lab experiments have verified the presence of arousal in dissonance situations. This provides support for cognitive dissonance theory and makes it unlikely that self-perception by itself can account for all the laboratory findings.
In 1969, Elliot Aronson reformulated the basic theory by linking it to the self-concept. According to this new interpretation, cognitive dissonance does not arise because people experience dissonance between conflicting cognitions. Instead, it occurs when people see their actions as conflicting with their normally positive view of themselves. Thus, in the original Festinger and Carlsmith study, Aronson stated that the dissonance was between the cognition, 'I am an honest person' and the cognition, 'I lied to someone about finding the task interesting.' Other psychologists have argued that maintaining cognitive consistency is a way to protect public self-image, rather than private self-concept.
During the 1980s, Cooper and Fazio argued that dissonance was caused by aversive consequences, rather than inconsistency. According to this interpretation, the fact that lying is wrong and hurtful, not the inconsistency between cognitions, is what makes people feel bad. Subsequent research, however, found that people experience dissonance even when they do not do anything wrong.
Consensus theory of truth
A consensus theory of truth is any theory of truth that refers to a concept of consensus as a part of its concept of truth.
Varieties of consensus
An ancient criterion of truth, the consensus gentium (Latin for agreement of the peoples), states 'that which is universal among men carries the weight of truth' (Ferm, 64). A number of consensus theories of truth are based on variations of this principle. In some criteria the notion of universal consent is taken strictly, while others qualify the terms of consensus in various ways. There are versions of consensus theory in which the specific population weighing in on a given question, the proportion of the population required for consent, and the period of time needed to declare consensus vary from the classical norm.
Consensus as a regulative ideal
A descriptive theory is one that tells how things are, while a normative theory tells how things ought to be. Expressed in practical terms, a normative theory, more properly called a policy, tells agents how they ought to act. A policy can be an absolute imperative, telling agents how they ought to act in any case, or it can be a contingent directive, telling agents how they ought to act if they want to achieve a particular goal. A policy is frequently stated in the form of a piece of advice called a heuristic, a maxim, a norm, a rule, a slogan, and so on. Other names for a policy are a recommendation and a regulative principle.
A regulative ideal can be expressed in the form of a description, but what it describes is an ideal state of affairs, a condition of being that constitutes its aim, end, goal, intention, or objective. It is not the usual case for the actual case to be the ideal case, or else there would hardly be much call for a policy aimed at achieving an ideal.
Corresponding to the distinction between actual conditions and ideal conditions there is a distinction between actual consensus and ideal consensus. A theory of truth founded on a notion of actual consensus is a very different thing from a theory of truth founded on a notion of ideal consensus. Moreover, an ideal consensus may be ideal in several different ways. The state of consensus may be ideal in its own nature, conceived in the matrix of actual experience by way of intellectual operations like abstraction, extrapolation, and limit formation. Or the conditions under which the consensus is conceived to be possible may be formulated as idealizations of actual conditions. A very common type of ideal consensus theory refers to a community that is an idealization of actual communities in one or more respects.
Critique of consensus theories
It is very difficult to find any philosopher of note who asserts a bare, naive, or pure consensus theory of truth, in other words, a treatment of truth that is based on actual consensus in an actual community without further qualification. One obvious critique is that not everyone agrees to consensus theory, implying that it may not be true by its own criteria. Another problem is defining how we know that consensus is achieved without falling prey to an infinite regress. Even if everyone agrees to a particular proposition, we may not know that it is true until everyone agrees that everyone agrees to it. Bare consensus theories are frequent topics of discussion, however, evidently because they serve the function of reference points for the discussion of alternative theories.
A conspiracy theory alleges a coordinated group is, or was, secretly working to commit illegal or wrongful actions, including attempting to hide the existence of the group and its activities. In notable cases the hypothesis contradicts what was, or is, represented as the mainstream explanation for historical or current events. The phrase is also sometimes used dismissively in an attempt to portray a person or group's views as being untrue or outlandish.
The term 'conspiracy theory' may be a neutral descriptor for any conspiracy claim. To conspire means 'to join in a secret agreement to do an unlawful or wrongful act or to use such means to accomplish a lawful end.' However, conspiracy theory is also used to indicate a narrative genre that includes a broad selection of (not necessarily related) arguments for the existence of grand conspiracies, any of which might have far-reaching social and political implications if true.
The word 'theory' is in this usage is informal as in 'speculation' or 'hypothesis' rather than scientific. Also, the term conspiracy is typically used to indicate powerful figures, often of the establishment, who are believed to be deceiving the population at large.
The first recorded use of the phrase 'conspiracy theory' dates from 1909. Originally it was a neutral term but during the political upheaval of the 1960s it acquired its current derogatory sense. It entered the supplement to the Oxford English Dictionary as late as 1997.
The term 'conspiracy theory' is frequently used by mainstream scholars and in popular culture to identify secret military, banking, or political actions aimed at stealing power or money from 'the people'. Less illustrious uses refer to folklore and urban legend and a variety of explanatory narratives which are constructed with methodological flaws. The term is also used in a pejorative sense to automatically dismiss claims that are deemed: ridiculous, misconceived, paranoid, unfounded, outlandish, or irrational by the establishment. For example, the term 'Watergate conspiracy theory' refers to the darker aspects of the assorted events connected to that burglary at the Watergate, not the generally accepted version in which several participants actually were convicted of conspiracy, and others pardoned before any charges were filed. The darker version proposes alternative and additional theories positing that the source(s) of information called 'Deep Throat' was a fabrication .
Daniel Pipes, in an early essay 'adapted from a study prepared for the CIA', attempted to define which beliefs distinguish 'the conspiracy mentality' from 'more conventional patterns of thought. He defined them as: appearances deceive; conspiracies drive history; nothing is haphazard; the enemy always gains power, fame, money, and sex .
A world view, that centrally places conspiracy theories in the unfolding of history, is sometimes termed 'conspiracism'. The historian Richard Hofstadter addressed the role of paranoia and conspiracism throughout American history in his essay The Paranoid Style in American Politics, published in 1964. Bernard Bailyn's classic The Ideological Origins of the American Revolution (1967) notes that a similar phenomenon could be found in America during the time preceding the American Revolution. Conspiracism then labels people's attitudes as well as the type of conspiracy theories that are more global and historical in proportion.  The term conspiracism was popularized by academic Frank P. Mintz in the 1980s. Academic work in conspiracy theories and conspiracism presents a range of hypotheses as a basis of studying the genre. Among the leading scholars of conspiracism are: Hofstadter, Karl Popper, Michael Barkun, Robert Alan Goldberg, Daniel Pipes, Mark Fenster, Mintz, Carl Sagan, George Johnson, and Gerald Posner.
According to Mintz, conspiracism denotes: 'belief in the primacy of conspiracies in the unfolding of history':
'Conspiracism serves the needs of diverse political and social groups in America and elsewhere. It identifies elites, blames them for economic and social catastrophes, and assumes that things will be better once popular action can remove them from positions of power. As such, conspiracy theories do not typify a particular epoch or ideology'.
Throughout human history, political and economic leaders genuinely have been the cause of enormous amounts of death and misery, and they sometimes have engaged in conspiracies while at the same time promoting conspiracy theories about their targets. Hitler and Stalin would be merely the most prominent examples; there have been numerous others. In some cases there have been claims dismissed as conspiracy theories that later proved to be true. (for examples, see 'Proven historical conspiracies') The idea that history itself is controlled by large long-standing conspiracies is rejected by historian Bruce Cumings:
'But if conspiracies exist, they rarely move history; they make a difference at the margins from time to time, but with the unforeseen consequences of a logic outside the control of their authors: and this is what is wrong with 'conspiracy theory.' History is moved by the broad forces and large structures of human collectivities.'
The term conspiracism is used in the work of Michael Kelly, Chip Berlet, and Matthew N. Lyons.
According to Berlet and Lyons, 'Conspiracism is a particular narrative form of scapegoating that frames demonized enemies as part of a vast insidious plot against the common good, while it valorizes the scapegoater as a hero for sounding the alarm'.
Conspiracy theories are the subject of broad critique by academics, politicians, and the media.
Perhaps the most contentious aspect of a conspiracy theory is the problem of settling a particular theory's truth to the satisfaction of both its proponents and its opponents. Particular accusations of conspiracy vary widely in their plausibility, but some common standards for assessing their likely truth value may be applied in each case:
Occam's razor - does the alternative story explain more of the evidence than the mainstream story, or is it just a more complicated and therefore less useful explanation of the same evidence?
Logic - Do the proofs offered follow the rules of logic, or do they employ Fallacies of logic?
Alternative Explanations - Are there other ways to explain the phenomena, even if unlikely or a bit more complex, the alternative ways may still be correct.
Methodology - are the proofs offered for the argument well constructed, i.e., using sound methodology? Is there any clear standard to determine what evidence would prove or disprove the theory?
Whistleblowers - how many people — and what kind — have to be loyal conspirators?
Falsifiability - Is it possible to demonstrate that specific claims of the theory are false, or are they 'unfalsifiable'?
The US academic Noam Chomsky contrasts conspiracy theory as more or less the opposite of institutional analysis, which focuses mostly on the public, long-term behaviour of publicly known institutions, as recorded in, e.g. scholarly documents or mainstream media reports, rather than secretive coalitions of individuals.
Aside from controversies over the merits of particular conspiracy claims (see catalog below), the general discussion of conspiracy theory is itself a matter of some public contention.
The term 'conspiracy theory' is considered by different observers to be a neutral description for a conspiracy claim, a pejorative term used to dismiss such a claim without examination, and a term that can be positively embraced by proponents of such a claim. The term may be used by some for arguments they might not wholly believe but consider radical and exciting. The most widely accepted sense of the term is that which popular culture and academic usage share, certainly having negative implications for a narrative's probable truth value.
Given this popular understanding of the term, it can also be used illegitimately and inappropriately, as a means to dismiss what are in fact substantial and well-evidenced accusations. The legitimacy of each such usage will therefore be a matter of some controversy. Michael Parenti, in his 1996 essay which examines the role of progressive media in the use of the term, 'The JFK Assassination II: Conspiracy Phobia On The Left', states,
'It is an either-or world for those on the Left who harbor an aversion for any kind of conspiracy investigation: either you are a structuralist in your approach to politics or a 'conspiracist' who reduces historical developments to the machinations of secret cabals, thereby causing us to lose sight of the larger systemic forces.'
Certain proponents of conspiracy claims and their supporters argue that the term is entirely illegitimate, and should be considered just as politically manipulative as the Soviet practice of treating political dissidents as clinically insane.
But critics of this view claim that the argument bears little weight and that the claim itself serves to expose the paranoia common with conspiracy theorists. A similar complication occurs for terms such as UFO, which literally means 'unidentified flying object' but connotes alien spacecraft, a concept also associated with some conspiracy theories, and thus possessing a certain social stigma. Michael Parenti gives an example of the use of the term which underscores the conflict in its use. He states,
'In most of its operations, the CIA is by definition a conspiracy, using covert actions and secret plans, many of which are of the most unsavory kind. What are covert operations if not conspiracies? At the same time, the CIA is an institution, a structural part of the national security state. In sum, the agency is an institutionalized conspiracy.'
The term 'conspiracy theory' is itself the object of a type of conspiracy theory, which argues that those using the term are manipulating their audience to disregard the topic under discussion, either in a deliberate attempt to conceal the truth, or as dupes of more deliberate conspirators.
When conspiracy theories are offered as official claims (e.g. originating from a governmental authority, such as an intelligence agency) they are not usually considered as conspiracy theories. For example, certain activities of the House Un-American Activities Committee may be considered to have been an official attempt to promote a conspiracy theory, yet its claims are seldom referred to as such.
Further difficulties arise from ambiguity regarding the term theory. In popular usage, this term is often used to refer to unfounded or weakly-based speculation, leading to the idea that 'It's not a conspiracy theory if it's actually true'.
According to some psychologists, a person who believes in one conspiracy theory tends to believe in others; a person who does not believe in one conspiracy theory tends not to believe another. This may be caused by differences in the information upon which parties rely in formulating their conclusions.
Psychologists believe that the search for meaning is common in conspiracism and the development of conspiracy theories, and may be powerful enough alone to lead to the first formulating of the idea. Once cognized, confirmation bias and avoidance of cognitive dissonance may reinforce the belief. In a context where a conspiracy theory has become popular within a social group, communal reinforcement may equally play a part.
Some research carried out at the University of Kent, UK suggests people may be influenced by conspiracy theories without being aware that their attitudes have changed. After reading popular conspiracy theories about the death of Diana, Princess of Wales, participants in this study correctly estimated how much their peers' attitudes had changed, but significantly underestimated how much their own attitudes had changed to become more in favour of the conspiracy theories. The authors conclude that conspiracy theories may therefore have a 'hidden power' to influence people's beliefs.
Some historians have argued that there is an element of psychological projection in conspiracism. This projection, according to the argument, is manifested in the form of attribution of undesirable characteristics of the self to the conspirators. Richard Hofstadter, in his essay The Paranoid Style in American Politics, stated that:
...it is hard to resist the conclusion that this enemy is on many counts the projection of the self; both the ideal and the unacceptable aspects of the self are attributed to him. The enemy may be the cosmopolitan intellectual, but the paranoid will outdo him in the apparatus of scholarship... the Ku Klux Klan imitated Catholicism to the point of donning priestly vestments, developing an elaborate ritual and an equally elaborate hierarchy. The John Birch Society emulates Communist cells and quasi-secret operation through 'front' groups, and preaches a ruthless prosecution of the ideological war along lines very similar to those it finds in the Communist enemy. Spokesmen of the various fundamentalist anti-Communist 'crusades' openly express their admiration for the dedication and discipline the Communist cause calls forth.
Hofstadter also noted that 'sexual freedom' is a vice frequently attributed to the conspiracist's target group, noting that 'very often the fantasies of true believers reveal strong sadomasochistic outlets, vividly expressed, for example, in the delight of anti-Masons with the cruelty of Masonic punishments.'
It is possible that certain basic human epistemic biases are projected onto the material under scrutiny. According to one study humans apply a 'rule of thumb' by which we expect a significant event to have a significant cause. The study offered subjects four versions of events, in which a foreign president was (a) successfully assassinated, (b) wounded but survived, (c) survived with wounds but died of a heart attack at a later date, and (d) was unharmed. Subjects were significantly more likely to suspect conspiracy in the case of the 'major events' — in which the president died — than in the other cases, despite all other evidence available to them being equal.
Another epistemic 'rule of thumb' that can be misapplied to a mystery involving other humans is cui bono? (who stands to gain?). This sensitivity to the hidden motives of other people may be an evolved and universal feature of human consciousness. However, this is also a valid rule of thumb for detectives to use when generating a list of suspects to investigate. Used in this way 'Who had the motive, means and opportunity?' is a perfectly valid use of this rule of thumb.
For relatively rare individuals, an obsessive compulsion to believe, prove or re-tell a conspiracy theory may indicate one or more of several well-understood psychological conditions, and other hypothetical ones: paranoia, denial, schizophrenia, mean world syndrome.
Christopher Hitchens represents conspiracy theories as the 'exhaust fumes of democracy', the unavoidable result of a large amount of information circulating among a large number of people. Other social commentators and sociologists argue that conspiracy theories are produced according to variables that may change within a democratic (or other type of) society.
Conspiratorial accounts can be emotionally satisfying when they place events in a readily-understandable, moral context. The subscriber to the theory is able to assign moral responsibility for an emotionally troubling event or situation to a clearly-conceived group of individuals. Crucially, that group does not include the believer. The believer may then feel excused of any moral or political responsibility for remedying whatever institutional or societal flaw might be the actual source of the dissonance.
Where responsible behavior is prevented by social conditions, or is simply beyond the ability of an individual, the conspiracy theory facilitates the emotional discharge or closure that such emotional challenges (after Erving Goffman) require. Like moral panics, conspiracy theories thus occur more frequently within communities that are experiencing social isolation or political dis-empowerment.
Mark Fenster argues that 'just because overarching conspiracy theories are wrong does not mean they are not on to something. Specifically, they ideologically address real structural inequities, and constitute a response to a withering civil society and the concentration of the ownership of the means of production, which together leave the political subject without the ability to be recognized or to signify in the public realm' (1999: 67).
Sociological historian Holger Herwig found in studying German explanations for the origins of World War I:
Those events that are most important are hardest to understand, because they attract the greatest attention from myth makers and charlatans.
This normal process could be diverted by a number of influences. At the level of the individual, pressing psychological needs may influence the process, and certain of our universal mental tools may impose epistemic 'blind spots'. At the group or sociological level, historic factors may make the process of assigning satisfactory meanings more or less problematic.
Alternatively, conspiracy theories may arise when evidence available in the public record does not correspond with the common or official version of events. In this regard, conspiracy theories may sometimes serve to highlight 'blind spots' in the common or official interpretations of events (Fenster, 1999).
Media commentators regularly note a tendency in news media and wider culture to understand events through the prism of individual agents, as opposed to more complex structural or institutional accounts. If this is a true observation, it may be expected that the audience which both demands and consumes this emphasis itself is more receptive to personalized, dramatic accounts of social phenomena.
A second, perhaps related, media trope is the effort to allocate individual responsibility for negative events. The media have a tendency to start to seek culprits if an event occurs that is of such significance that it does not drop off the news agenda within a few days. Of this trend, it has been said that the concept of a pure accident is no longer permitted in a news item. Again, if this is a true observation, it may reflect a real change in how the media consumer perceives negative events.
In his two volume work The Open Society and Its Enemies Popper used the term 'conspiracy theory' to criticize the ideologies driving fascism, Nazism and communism. Popper argued that totalitarianism was founded on 'conspiracy theories' which drew on imaginary plots driven by paranoid scenarios predicated on tribalism, racism or classism. Popper did not argue against the existence of everyday conspiracies (as incorrectly suggested in much of the later literature). Popper even uses the term 'conspiracy' to describe ordinary political activity in the classical Athens of Plato (who was the principal target of his attack in The Open Society & Its Enemies).
In his critique of Marx and the twentieth century totalitarians, Popper wrote, 'I do not wish to imply that conspiracies never happen. On the contrary, they are typical social phenomena.'
He reiterated his point, 'Conspiracies occur, it must be admitted. But the striking fact which, in spite of their occurrence, disproved the conspiracy theory is that few of these conspiracies are ultimately successful. Conspirators rarely consummate their conspiracy.'
Popper proposed the term 'the conspiracy theory of society' to criticize the methodology of Marx, Hitler and others whom he deemed to be deluded by 'historicism' - the reduction of history to an overt and naive distortion via a crude formulaic analysis usually predicated on an agenda replete with unsound presuppositions.
Main article: List of conspiracy theories
Extraterrestrials are being hidden by governments either to preserve public order or as part of a deal between aliens and a secret government. The Robertson Panel guidelines are cited AS govt. policy placed to ridicule people who have seen a flying saucer, aliens, or both. The 'Secret Government' conspiracy is a major theme of the popular The X-Files TV show.
9/11 conspiracy theories, theories which attempt to explain what happened with the September 11, 2001 attacks, such as elements within the intelligence community committing a psychological warfare operation or to allow the US to attack Iraq in 'retaliation'.
Saddam Hussein and al-Qaeda link allegations.
The John F. Kennedy assassination was an operation carried out by government officials and not Lee Harvey Oswald acting alone. Oliver Stone's film JFK is based on this premise.
The New World Order theories claiming a powerful and secretive group plans to institute a one-world government.
World domination by Jews, one of the oldest extant conspiracy theories (often incorporating various existing or historical secret societies and most major conspiracy theories)
The Apollo Moon-Landing Hoax Theory suggests that some or all elements of the Apollo missions were faked by NASA.
The theory of Satanic ritual abuse, a widespread belief that a conspiracy of child molesters and Satanists are engaging in child sexual abuse.
The Paul is Dead theory, stating that Paul McCartney of The Beatles died in 1966 and was replaced by a look-alike while clues were hidden in songs and album cover art.
The Death of Marilyn Monroe who died in 1962. There are rumours that Marilyn was actually murdered by the government to keep her from telling the world information she learned while having an apparent affair with U.S. President John F. Kennedy or that she was murdered by the mob to settle a score with the Kennedys.
The death of US rapper Tupac Shakur is surrounded by many conspiracy theories that he is actually still alive and healthy.
Main article: Conspiracy fiction
Because of their dramatic potential, conspiracies are a popular theme in thrillers and science fiction. Complex history is recast as a morality play in which bad people cause bad events, and good people identify and defeat them. Fictional conspiracy theories offer neat, intuitive narratives, in which the conspirators' plot fits closely the dramatic needs of the story's plot. As mentioned above, the cui bono? aspect of conspiracy theories resembles one element of mystery stories: the search for a possibly hidden motive.
Dr. Strangelove was a 1964 comedy about modern nuclear warfare. The end of the world is precipitated by the delusions of General Jack D. Ripper who happens to be in control of a SAC nuclear air wing. General Ripper believes there is a Communist conspiracy which threatens to 'sap and impurify' the 'precious bodily fluids' of the American people with fluoridated water.
Conspiracy Theory is a 1997 thriller about a taxi driver (played by Mel Gibson) who publishes a newsletter in which he discusses what he suspects are government conspiracies, and it turns out that one or more of them are true.
The X-Files was a popular television show during the 1990s and early 2000s, which followed the investigations of two intrepid FBI agents, Fox Mulder and Dana Scully, who were sometimes helped by a group of conspiracy theorists known as The Lone Gunmen. Many of the episodes dealt with a plot for alien invasion overseen by elements of the U.S. government, led by an individual known only as the Cigarette Smoking Man and an even more mysterious international 'Syndicate'. The famous tag line of the series, 'The Truth Is Out There', can be interpreted as reference to the meaning-seeking nature of the genre discussed above.
Umberto Eco's novel Foucault's Pendulum is a broad satire on conspiracism in which the characters attempt to construct an all-embracing conspiracy theory starting with the Templars and including the Bavarian Illuminati, the Rosicrucians, hollow Earth enthusiasts, the Cathars, and even the Jesuits.
The three-part novel Illuminatus! by Robert Shea and Robert Anton Wilson (published in 1975) is a highly satirical, psychedelic novel dealing with complex, Byzantine conspiracies nested within other larger conspiracies--with the scale of the plots and the audacity of their plotters expanding to enfold more and more minds as the story progresses, evolving to wrap itself around many extant conspiracy theories such as the ones revolving around the Bavarian Illuminati, the Masons, the Vatican, the Mafia, governments large and small, and fringe groups of both left and right-wing persuasions. Their plottings merge with the overarching plans of several fictitious organizations--and also an actual 'religion' which conceives of itself as a joke (the Discordians.) In an ironic twist of fate, [[Illuminatus!]] may have even caused the development of a real-world Discordian society (which manifests in loose clusters of affiliation, rather than as any formalized group) when the novel's cult success as a countercultural mainstay brought the 'holy writ' of the Discordians, the [[Principia Discordia]], out of obscurity over the final three decades of the twentieth century. Shea and Wilson used witty quotes drawn from this comedic pamphlet glorifying Eris, the Greek goddess of chaos and discord, as opening lines for chapters of the Illuminatus! books.
Critical thinking consists of mental processes of discernment, analysis and evaluation. It includes possible processes of reflecting upon a tangible or intangible item in order to form a solid judgment that reconciles scientific evidence with common sense. In contemporary usage 'critical' has a certain negative connotation which does not apply to this specific case. Though the term 'analytical thinking' may seem to convey the idea more accurately, critical thinking clearly involves synthesis, evaluation, and reconstruction of thinking, in addition to analysis.
Critical thinkers gather information from all senses, verbal and/or written expressions, reflection, observation, experience and reasoning. Critical thinking has its basis in intellectual criteria that go beyond subject-matter divisions and which include: clarity, credibility, accuracy, precision, relevance, depth, breadth, logic, significance and fairness.
Critical thinking is a form of judgment, specifically purposeful and reflective judgment. In using critical thinking one makes a decision or solves the problem of judging what to believe or what to do, but does so in a reflective way. Critical thinking gives due consideration to the evidence, the context of judgment, the relevant criteria for making that judgment well, the applicable methods or techniques for forming that judgment, and the applicable theoretical constructs for understanding the nature of the problem and the question at hand. These elements also happen to be the key defining characteristics of professional fields and academic disciplines. This is why critical thinking can occur within a given subject field (by reference to its specific set of permissible questions, evidence sources, criteria, etc.) and across subject fields in all those spaces where human beings need to interact and make decisions, solve problems, and figure out what to believe and what to do.
Within the framework of scientific skepticism, the process of critical thinking involves acquiring information and evaluating it to reach a well-justified conclusion or answer. Part of critical thinking comprises informal logic. However, a large part of critical thinking goes beyond informal logic and includes assessment of beliefs and identification of prejudice, bias, propaganda, self-deception, distortion, misinformation, etc. Given research in cognitive psychology, some educators believe that schools should focus more on teaching their students critical thinking skills, intellectual standards, and cultivating intellectual traits (such as intellectual humility, intellectual empathy, intellectual integrity, and fair-mindedness) than on memorizing facts by rote learning.
In a seminal study on critical thinking and education in 1941, Edward Glaser defines critical thinking as follows:
The ability to think critically, as conceived in this volume, involves three things:
An attitude of being disposed to consider in a thoughtful way the problems and subjects that come within the range of one's experiences,
Knowledge of the methods of logical inquiry and reasoning,
Some skill in applying those methods.
Critical thinking calls for a persistent effort to examine any belief or supposed form of knowledge in the light of the evidence that supports it and the further conclusions to which it tends. It also generally requires ability to recognize problems, to find workable means for meeting those problems, to gather and marshal pertinent information, to recognize unstated assumptions and values, to comprehend and use language with accuracy, clarity, and discrimination, to interpret data, to appraise evidence and evaluate arguments, to recognize the existence (or non-existence) of logical relationships between propositions, to draw warranted conclusions and generalizations, to put to test the conclusions and generalizations at which one arrives, to reconstruct one's patterns of beliefs on the basis of wider experience, and to render accurate judgments about specific things and qualities in everyday life.
Critical thinking is important, because it enables one to analyze, evaluate, explain, and restructure our thinking, decreasing thereby the risk of acting on, or thinking with, a false premise. However, even with the use of critical thinking skills, mistakes can happen due to a thinker's egocentrism or incorrectly extending ones own belief system beyond its reasonable limits or failure to be in possession of the full facts. In addition, there is always the possibility of inadvertent human error.
Universal concepts and principles of critical thinking can be applied to any context or case but only by reflecting upon the nature of that application. Critical thinking forms, therefore, a system of related, and overlapping, modes of thought such as anthropological thinking, sociological thinking, historical thinking, political thinking, psychological thinking, philosophical thinking, mathematical thinking, chemical thinking, biological thinking, ecological thinking, legal thinking, ethical thinking, musical thinking, thinking like a painter, sculptor, engineer, business person, etc. In other words, though critical thinking principles are universal, their application to disciplines requires a process of reflective contextualization.
One can regard critical thinking as involving two aspects:
a set of cognitive skills, intellectual standards, and traits of mind
the disposition or intellectual commitment to use those structures to improve thinking and guide behavior.
Critical thinking, in the strong sense, does not include simply the acquisition and retention of information, or the possession of a skill-set which one does not use regularly; nor does critical thinking merely exercise skills without acceptance of the results.
Critical thinking is based on concepts and principles, not on hard and fast, or step-by-step, procedures. Critical thinking does not assure that one will reach either the truth or correct conclusions. First, one may not have all the relevant information; indeed, important information may remain undiscovered, or the information may not even be knowable. Furthermore, one may make unjustified inferences, use inappropriate concepts, fail to notice important implications, use a narrow or unfair point of view. One may be a victim of self-delusion, egocentricity or sociocentricity, or closed-mindedness. One's thinking may be unclear, inaccurate, imprecise, irrelevant, narrow, shallow, illogical, or trivial. One may be intellectually arrogant, intellectually lazy, or intellectually hypocritical. These are some of the ways that human thinking can be flawed.
Human thinking left to itself often leads to various forms of self-deception, individually and socially; and at the left, right, and mainstream of economic, political, and religious issues. Further analysis and resources about this interaction may be found in Roderick Hindery (2001): Indoctrination and Self-deception or Free and Critical Thought.
Critical thinking is useful only in those situations where human beings need to solve problems, make decisions, or decide in a reasonable and reflective way what to believe or what to do. That is, just about everywhere and all the time. Critical thinking is important wherever the quality of human thinking significantly impacts the quality of life (of any sentient creature). For example, success in human life is tied to success in learning. At the same time, every phase in the learning process is tied to critical thinking. Thus, reading, writing, speaking, and listening can all be done critically or uncritically. Critical thinking is crucial to becoming a close reader and a substantive writer. Expressed most generally, critical thinking is “a way of taking up the problems of life.”
Irrespective of the sphere of thought, “a well cultivated critical thinker':
raises vital questions and problems, formulating them clearly and precisely;
gathers and assesses relevant information, using abstract ideas to interpret it effectively
comes to well-reasoned conclusions and solutions, testing them against relevant criteria and standards;
thinks open-mindedly within alternative systems of thought, recognizing and assessing, as need be, their assumptions, implications, and practical consequences; and
communicates effectively with others in figuring out solutions to complex problems; without being unduly influenced by others thinking on the topic.
Critical thinking is about being both willing and able to think. Ideally one develops critical thinking skills and at the same time the disposition to use those skills to solve problems and form good judgments. The dispositional dimension of critical thinking is characterological. Its focus in developing the habitual intention to be truth-seeking, open-minded, systematic, analytical, inquisitive, confident in reasoning, and prudent in making judgments. Those who are ambivalent on one or more of these aspects of the disposition toward critical thinking, or who have the opposite disposition [biased, intolerant, disorganized, heedless of consequences, indifferent toward new information, mistrustful of reasoning, imprudence] are less likely to engage problems using their critical thinking skills. The relationship between critical thinking skills and critical thinking dispositions is an empirical question. Some have both in abundance, some have skills but not the disposition to use them, some are disposed but lack strong skills and some have neither. Two measures of critical thinking dispositions are the California Critical Thinking Disposition Inventory and the California Measure of Mental Motivation.
Critical thinking may be distinguished, but not separated, from emotions, desires, and traits of mind. Failure to recognize the relationship between thinking, feeling, wanting, and traits of mind can easily lead to various forms of self-deception, both individually and collectively. When persons possess intellectual skills alone, without the intellectual traits of mind, weak sense critical thinking results. Fair-minded or strong sense critical thinking requires intellectual humility, empathy, integrity, perseverance, courage, autonomy, confidence in reason, and other intellectual traits. Thus, critical thinking without essential intellectual traits often results in clever, but manipulative, often unethical, thought. In short, the sophist, the con artist, the manipulator often uses intellectually defective but effective forms of thought — serving unethical purposes. However, whereas critical thinking yields itself to analytical considerations readily and may be considered largely 'objective', few humans notice the degree to which they uncritically presuppose the mores and taboos of their society (and hence fail to discern their own “subjectivity.” and one-sidedness).
There is no simple way to reduce one's bias. There are, however, ways that one can begin to do so. The most important require developing one's intellectual empathy and intellectual humility. The first requires extensive experience in entering and accurately constructing points of view toward which one has negative feelings. The second requires extensive experience in identifying the extent of one's own ignorance in a wide variety of subjects (ignorance whose admission leads one to say, 'I thought I knew, but I merely believed'). One becomes less biased and more broad-minded when one becomes more intellectually empathic and intellectually humble, and that involves time, deliberate practice and commitment. It involves considerable personal and intellectual development.
To develop one's critical thinking abilities, one should learn the art of suspending judgment (for example, when reading a novel, watching a movie, engaging in dialogical or dialectical reasoning). Ways of doing this include adopting a perceptive rather than judgmental orientation; that is, avoiding moving from perception to judgment as one applies critical thinking to an issue.
One should become aware of one's own fallibility by:
accepting that everyone has subconscious biases, and accordingly questioning any reflexive judgments.
adopting an ego-sensitive and, indeed, intellectually humble stance
recalling previous beliefs that one once held strongly but now rejects
Tendency towards group think; the amount your belief system is formed by what those around you say instead of what you have personally witnessed.
realizing one still has numerous blind spots, despite the foregoing
An integration of insights from the critical thinking literature and cognitive psychology literature is the 'Method of Argument and Heuristic Analysis.' This technique illustrates the influences of heuristics and biases on human decision making along with the influences of thinking critically about reasons and claims.
The key to seeing the significance of critical thinking in the classroom is in understanding the significance of critical thinking in learning.
There are two phases to the learning of content. The first occurs when learners (for the first time) construct in their minds the basic ideas, principles, and theories that are inherent in content. This is a process of internalization. The second occurs when learners effectively use those ideas, principles, and theories as they become relevant in learners’ lives. This is a process of application. Good teachers cultivate critical thinking (intellectually engaged thinking) at every stage of learning, including initial learning. This process of intellectual engagement is at the heart of the Oxford and Cambridge tutorials. The tutor questions the students, often in a Socratic manner (see Socratic questioning). The key is that the teacher who fosters critical thinking fosters reflectiveness in students by asking questions that stimulate thinking essential to the construction of knowledge.
As emphasized above, each discipline adapts its use of critical thinking concepts and principles. The core concepts are always there, but
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they are embedded in subject specific content. For students to learn content, intellectual engagement is crucial. All students must do their own thinking, their own construction of knowledge. Good teachers recognize this and therefore focus on the questions, readings, activities that stimulate the mind to take ownership of key concepts and principles underlying the subject.
In the UK school system, Critical thinking is offered as a subject which 16-18 year olds can take as an A-Level. Under the OCR exam board, students can sit two exam papers for the AS: 'Credibility of Evidence' and 'Assessing and Developing Argument'. The full Advanced GCE is now available: in addition to the two AS units, candidates sit the two papers 'Resolution of Dilemmas' and 'Critical Reasoning'. The A-level tests candidates on their ability to think critically about, and analyze, arguments on their deductive or inductive validity, as well as producing their own arguments. It also tests their ability to analyse certain related topics such as credibility and ethical decision-making. However, due to its comparative lack of subject content, many universities do not accept it as a main A-level for admissions. Nevertheless, the AS is often useful in developing reasoning skills, and the full advanced GCE is useful for degree courses in politics, philosophy, history or theology, providing the skills required for critical analysis that are useful, for example, in biblical study.
There is also an Advanced Extension Award offered in Critical Thinking in the UK, open to any A-level student regardless of whether they have the Critical Thinking A-level. Cambridge International Examinations have an A-level in Thinking Skills. From 2008, Assessment and Qualifications Alliance will also be offering an A-level Critical Thinking specification; OCR exam board have also modified theirs for 2008. Many examinations for university entrance set by universities, on top of A-level examinations, also include a critical thinking component, such as the LNAT, the UKCAT, the BioMedical Admissions Test and the Thinking Skills Assessment.
The status of instruction in critical thinking
Unfortunately research shows that most universities are ineffective in fostering critical thinking. For example, in a three year study of 68 public and private colleges in California, though the overwhelming majority (89%) claimed critical thinking to be a primary objective of their instruction, only a small minority (19%) could give a clear explanation of what critical thinking is. Furthermore, though the overwhelming majority (78%) claimed that their students lacked appropriate intellectual standards (to use in assessing their thinking), and 73% considered that students learning to assess their own work was of primary importance, only a very small minority (8%) could enumerate any intellectual criteria or standards they required of students or could give an intelligible explanation of what those criteria and standards were.
This study mirrors a meta-analysis of the literature on teaching effectiveness in higher education. According to the study, critical reports by authorities on higher education, political leaders and business people have claimed that higher education is failing to respond to the needs of students, and that many of our graduates’ knowledge and skills do not meet society’s requirements for well-educated citizens. Thus the meta-analysis focused on the question: How valid are these claims? Researchers concluded:
“Faculty aspire to develop students’ thinking skills, but research consistently shows that in practice we tend to aim at facts and concepts in the disciplines, at the lowest cognitive levels, rather than development of intellect or values.”
“Faculty agree almost universally that the development of students’ higher-order intellectual or cognitive abilities is the most important educational task of colleges and universities.”
“These abilities underpin our students’ perceptions of the world and the consequent decisions they make.”
“Specifically, critical thinking – the capacity to evaluate skillfully and fairly the quality of evidence and detect error, hypocrisy, manipulation, dissembling, and bias – is central to both personal success and national needs.”
A 1972 study of 40,000 faculty members by the American Council on Education found that 97 percent of the respondents indicated the most important goal of undergraduate education is to foster students’ ability to think critically.
Process-oriented instructional orientations “have long been more successful than conventional instruction in fostering effective movement from concrete to formal reasoning. Such programs emphasize students’ active involvement in learning and cooperative work with other students and de-emphasize lectures...”
“Numerous studies of college classrooms reveal that, rather than actively involving our students in learning, we lecture, even though lectures are not nearly as effective as other means for developing cognitive skills.”
“In addition, students may be attending to lectures only about one-half of their time in class, and retention from lectures is low.”
“Studies suggest our methods often fail to dislodge students’ misconceptions and ensure learning of complex, abstract concepts. Capacity for problem solving is limited by our use of inappropriately simple practice exercises.”
“Classroom tests often set the standard for students’ learning. As with instruction, however, we tend to emphasize recall of memorized factual information rather than intellectual challenge.“
“Taken together with our preference for lecturing, our tests may be reinforcing our students’ commonly fact-oriented memory learning, of limited value to either them or society.”
William Graham Sumner offers a useful summary of critical thinking:
The critical habit of thought, if usual in society, will pervade all its mores, because it is a way of taking up the problems of life. Men educated in it cannot be stampeded by stump orators ... They are slow to believe. They can hold things as possible or probable in all degrees, without certainty and without pain. They can wait for evidence and weigh evidence, uninfluenced by the emphasis or confidence with which assertions are made on one side or the other. They can resist appeals to their dearest prejudices and all kinds of cajolery. Education in the critical faculty is the only education of which it can be truly said that it makes good citizens.
A delusion is commonly defined as a fixed false belief and is used in everyday language to describe a belief that is either false, fanciful or derived from deception. In psychiatry, the definition is necessarily more precise and implies that the belief is pathological (the result of an illness or illness process). As a pathology it is distinct from a belief based on false or incomplete information or certain effects of perception which would more properly be termed an apperception or illusion.
Delusions typically occur in the context of neurological or mental illness, although they are not tied to any particular disease and have been found to occur in the context of many pathological states (both physical and mental). However, they are of particular diagnostic importance in psychotic disorders and particularly in schizophrenia and mania in episodes of bipolar disorder.
Although non-specific concepts of madness have been around for several thousand years, the psychiatrist and philosopher Karl Jaspers was the first to define the three main criteria for a belief to be considered delusional in his book General Psychopathology. These criteria are:
certainty (held with absolute conviction)
incorrigibility (not changeable by compelling counterargument or proof to the contrary)
impossibility or falsity of content (implausible, bizarre or patently untrue)
These criteria still continue in modern psychiatric diagnosis. In the most recent Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders, a delusion is defined as:
A false belief based on incorrect inference about external reality that is firmly sustained despite what almost everybody else believes and despite what constitutes incontrovertible and obvious proof or evidence to the contrary. The belief is not one ordinarily accepted by other members of the person's culture or subculture.
There is some controversy over this definition, as 'despite what almost everybody else believes' implies that a person who believes something most others do not is a candidate for delusional thought. Furthermore, it is ironic that, whilst the above three criteria are usually attributed to Jaspers, he himself described them as only 'vague' and merely 'external' (General Psychopathology, Volume 1, p. 95). He also wrote that, since the genuine or 'internal' 'criteria for delusion proper lie in the primary experience of delusion and in the change of the personality [and not in the above three loosely descriptive criteria], we can see that a delusion may be correct in content without ceasing to be a delusion, for instance - that there is a world-war.' (General Psychopathology, Volume 1, p. 106).
James Tilly Matthews drew this picture of a machine that he called an 'air loom', which he believed was being used to torture himself and others for political purposes.
The modern definition and Jaspers' original criteria have been criticised, as counter-examples can be shown for every defining feature.
Studies on psychiatric patients have shown that delusions can be seen to vary in intensity and conviction over time which suggests that certainty and incorrigibility are not necessary components of a delusional belief.
Delusions do not necessarily have to be false or 'incorrect inferences about external reality'. Some religious or spiritual beliefs by their nature may not be falsifiable, and hence cannot be described as false or incorrect, no matter whether the person holding these beliefs was diagnosed as delusional or not. 
In other situations the delusion may turn out to be true belief. For example, delusional jealousy, where a person believes that their partner is being unfaithful (and may even follow them into the bathroom believing them to be seeing their lover even during the briefest of partings) may result in the faithful partner being driven to infidelity by the constant and unreasonable strain put on them by their delusional spouse. In this case the delusion does not cease to be a delusion because the content later turns out to be true.
In other cases, the delusion may be assumed to be false by a doctor or psychiatrist assessing the belief, because it seems to be unlikely, bizarre or held with excessive conviction. Psychiatrists rarely have the time or resources to check the validity of a person’s claims leading to some true beliefs to be erroneously classified as delusional. This is known as the Martha Mitchell effect, after the wife of the attorney general who alleged that illegal activity was taking place in the White House. At the time her claims were thought to be signs of mental illness, and only after the Watergate scandal broke was she proved right (and hence sane).
Similar factors have led to criticisms of Jaspers' definition of true delusions as being ultimately 'un-understandable'. Critics (such as R. D. Laing) have argued that this leads to the diagnosis of delusions being based on the subjective understanding of a particular psychiatrist, who may not have access to all the information which might make a belief otherwise interpretable. R.D. Laing's hypothesis has been applied to some forms of projective therapy to 'fix' a delusional system so that it cannot be altered by the patient. Psychiatric researchers at Yale University, Ohio State University and the Community Mental Health Center of Middle Georgia have used novels and motion picture films as the focus. Texts, plots and cinematography are discussed and the delusions approached tangentially.. This use of fiction to decrease the malleability of a delusion was employed in a joint project by science-fiction author Philip Jose Farmer and Yale psychiatrist A. James Giannini. They wrote the novel Red Orc's Rage which, recursively, deals with delusional adolescents who are treated with a form of projective therapy. In this novel's fictional setting other novels written by Farmer are discussed and the characters are symbolically integrated into the delusions of fictional patients.This particular novel was then applied to real-life clinical settings. 
Another difficulty with the diagnosis of delusions is that almost all of these features can be found in 'normal' beliefs. Many religious beliefs hold exactly the same features, yet are not universally considered delusional. Similarly, Thomas Kuhn argued in The Structure of Scientific Revolutions that scientists can hold strong beliefs in scientific theories despite considerable apparent discrepancies with experimental evidence.
These factors have led the psychiatrist Anthony David to note that 'there is no acceptable (rather than accepted) definition of a delusion.' In practice psychiatrists tend to diagnose a belief as delusional if it is either patently bizarre, causing significant distress, or excessively pre-occupies the patient, especially if the person is subsequently unswayed in belief by counter-evidence or reasonable arguments.
Denial is a defense mechanism postulated by Sigmund Freud, in which a person is faced with a fact that is too uncomfortable to accept and rejects it instead, insisting that it is not true despite what may be overwhelming evidence.  The subject may deny the reality of the unpleasant fact altogether (simple denial), admit the fact but deny its seriousness (minimisation) or admit both the fact and seriousness but deny responsibility (transference). The concept of denial is particularly important to the study of addiction. The theory of denial was first researched seriously by Anna Freud. She classified denial as a mechanism of the immature mind, because it conflicts with the ability to learn from and cope with reality. Where denial occurs in mature minds, it is most often associated with death, dying and rape. More recent research has significantly expanded the scope and utility of the concept. Elisabeth Kübler-Ross used denial as the first of five stages in the psychology of a dying patient, and the idea has been extended to include the reactions of survivors to news of a death. Thus, when parents are informed of the death of a child, their first reaction is often of the form, 'No! You must have the wrong house, you can't mean our child!'
Unlike some other defense mechanisms postulated by psychoanalytic theory (for instance, repression), the general existence of denial is fairly easy to verify, even for non-specialists. On the other hand, denial is one of the most controversial defense mechanisms, since it can be easily used to create unfalsifiable theories: anything the subject says or does that appears to disprove the interpreter's theory is explained, not as evidence that the interpreter's theory is wrong, but as the subject's being 'in denial'.
A commonly-cited example of spurious denial is the psychologist who insists, against all evidence, that his patient is homosexual: any attempt by the patient to disprove the theory (as by pointing out his strong desire for women) is evidence of denial and thus evidence of the underlying theory. This tension can become serious, especially in areas such as child abuse and recovered memory. Proponents often respond to allegations of false memory by asserting that the subjects are genuine victims who have reverted to denial. Critics reply (some seriously, some less so) that it is the proponents who are in denial about the tenuousness of their theories.
The concept of denial is important in twelve-step programs, where the abandonment or reversal of denial forms the basis of the first, fourth, fifth, eighth and tenth steps. The ability to deny or minimize is an essential part of what enables an addict to continue his or her behavior in the face of evidence that, to an outsider, appears overwhelming. This is cited as one of the reasons that compulsion is seldom effective in treating addiction — the habit of denial remains.
Understanding and avoiding denial is also important in the treatment of various diseases. The American Heart Association cites denial as a principal reason that treatment of a heart attack is delayed. Because the symptoms are so varied, and often have other potential explanations, the opportunity exists for the patient to deny the emergency, often with fatal consequences. It is common for patients to delay mammograms or other tests because of a fear of cancer, even though this is clearly maladaptive. It is the responsibility of the care team, and of the nursing staff in particular, to train at-risk patients to avoid such behavior
Types of Denial
Denial of fact: This form of denial is where someone avoids a fact by lying. This lying can take the form of an outright falsehood (commission), leaving out certain details in order to tailor a story (omission), or by falsely agreeing to something (assent, also referred to as 'yessing' behavior). Someone who is in denial of fact is typically using lies in order to avoid facts that they think may be potentially painful to themselves or others.
Denial of responsibility: This form of denial involves avoiding personal responsibility by blaming, minimizing or justifying. Blaming is a direct statement shifting culpability and may overlap with denial of fact. Minimizing is an attempt to make the effects or results of an action appear to be less harmful than they may actually be. Justifying is when someone takes a choice and attempts to make that choice look okay due to their perception of what is 'right' in a situation. Someone using denial of responsibility is usually attempting to avoid potential harm or pain by shifting attention away from themselves.
Denial of impact: Denial of impact involves a person's avoiding thinking about or understanding the harms his or her behavior has caused to self or others. Doing this enables that person to avoid feeling a sense of guilt and it can prevent him or her from developing remorse or empathy for others. Denial of impact reduces or eliminates a sense of pain or harm from poor decisions.
Denial of awareness: This type of denial is best discussed by looking at the concept of state dependent learning. People using this type of denial will avoid pain and harm by stating they were in a different state of awareness (such as alcohol or drug intoxication or on occasion mental health related). This type of denial often overlaps with denial of responsibility.
Denial of cycle: Many who use this type of denial will say things such as, 'it just happened.' Denial of cycle is where a person avoids looking at their decisions leading up to an event or does not consider their pattern of decision making and how harmful behavior is repeated. The pain and harm being avoided by this type of denial is more of the effort needed to change the focus from a singular event to looking at preceding events. It can also serve as a way to blame or justify behavior (see above).
Denial of denial: This can be a difficult concept for many people to identify in themselves, but is a major barrier to changing hurtful behaviors. Denial of denial involves thoughts, actions and behaviors which bolster confidence that nothing needs to be changed in one's personal behavior. This form of denial typically overlaps with all of the other forms of denial, but involves more self-delusion.
Faith healing is the attempt to use religious or spiritual means such as prayer, mental practices, spiritual insights, or other techniques to prevent illness, cure disease, or improve health. Faith healers say they can summon divine or supernatural intervention on behalf of the ill and say their practice may afford gradual relief or bring about sudden 'miracle cures.' It has been criticized as not effective and on the grounds that those who use it may delay seeking conventional medical care. This is particularly problematic when parents use faith healing on children.
Scam baiting is the practice of pretending interest in a fraudulent scheme in order to manipulate a scammer. The purpose of scam baiting might be to waste the scammers' time, embarrass him or her, cause him or her to reveal information which can be passed on to legal authorities, get him or her to waste money, or, in the great majority of cases, simply to amuse the baiter.
The primary goal of scambaiting is stopping 419 Advance fee fraud, which bilks hundreds of millions of dollars from victims, and can lead to victims committing crimes to raise enough money to feed the fraudulent schemes.
Scam baiters often simply attempt to waste the scammer's time by pretending to be a victim; they labour the misconceived notion that if a scammer is busy communicating with a baiter, he is not communicating with a legitimate victim. In “Conversations with a Nigerian Bank Scammer”, writer Karl Mamer documents verbose “conversations” over email with several Nigerian 419 scammers. After statements like “Marco, my good and soon to be prosperous friend, you have correctly intimated from my writings on religion and Elvis that indeed, like you, I whole heartily [sic] agree that the separation of church and state is both unnatural and ungodly”, “Marco” finally says “I am so scared to meet you with this amount of talking”.
Another common practice amongst scambaiters is to ask the scammer to do something in order to prove their identity or their intentions, such as send a photograph of himself or herself in a compromising position. Baiting forums relish in a special bait they term 'safari' in which they attempt to persuade scammers into traveling long distances to meet phantom victims or to pick up bogus wire transfers.
A small number of scam baiters have convinced their scammers to send money to them, although the actual occurrence of this is disputed. Tom Craig, a former Scotland Yard officer, says that it would be unprecedented for 419 con artists to part with money and suggests that scam baiters could easily forge the scanty 'evidence' of such successes. Other baiters have succeeded in getting their scammers to send them art or other 'trophies' as evidence of completed work for the baiter, which is, of course, never paid.
In a paper titled “Scamming the Scammers - Vigilante Justice in Virtual Communities”, Lauri Tuovinen and Juha Röning of the University of Oulu, Finland address the ethical issues of Patrick Cain's “Internet's First Blood Sport” . They also use the term “digilantism” to describe the subculture of scam baiting and vigilante justice on the Internet.
Basically, scam baiting describes the act of stringing a scammer along by pretending to be interested in his bogus 'deal'. To achieve this, the baiter may initially reply to a scam email feigning interest. When the scammer responds, the baiter will make every effort to keep him 'hooked' for as long as possible. The goal is to 'scam the scammer' and waste his time and money. Baiters may use a series of delaying tactics to keep the scammer interested. They may introduce other fictional characters to spin out the time it takes to close the supposed 'deal'. Or they might trick the scammer into arranging fictional meetings, making expensive phone calls, booking hotel rooms for guests that never arrive, complying with eccentric requests or driving to pick up non-existent travellers from the airport.
Of course, the scammers deserve everything they get. Scam baiting has sometimes aided law enforcement authorities to apprehend criminals by providing useful information about their identity or whereabouts. Baiting can also divert scammers into wasting a considerable amount of time on a 'victim' that they will never actually con. Time that may have otherwise been spent scamming real victims.
Unfortunately, in my opinion, a lot of scam baiting has tended to move away from this primary goal of thwarting criminals and into the realm of pure entertainment. Ironically, perhaps because of language and cultural factors, some scammers seem to be very naive and they are easily manipulated by astute baiters. The prolonged exchanges between baiter and scammer can appear quite funny to an observer who is in on the 'sting'. In fact, there are entire websites devoted to scam baiting and publishing these humorous exchanges.
Therein lies a problem. Naturally, such sites tend to focus on the funniest and most prolonged of these scam baiting exchanges. Thus, it is quite easy for observers to draw the erroneous conclusion that all scammers are inherently dumb and thus easily manipulated. However, it could be very dangerous to underestimate these individuals. We should always keep in mind that, foolish and naive or not, these people are unscrupulous and unpredictable criminals. There have been violent attacks, abductions and even murders associated with Nigerian scams and the criminals that run them should not be trifled with.
'Professional' scam baiters go to great lengths to ensure that their real identity is protected. They use disposable email addresses and names, locations and circumstances used in the baiting will be entirely imaginary. Experienced baiters are very careful to ensure that no sensitive personal information is inadvertently leaked to their targets. However, given the increasing tendency to present scam baiting as entertainment, there is real potential for less experienced Internet users to jump headlong into what they perceive as a new and interesting Internet 'sport' without taking the necessary steps to protect their identity. I know of cases in which amateur 'baiters' have initiated a baiting session by simply replying directly to a scam email that arrived in their personal inbox - replies that include their real name and other personal information.
Moreover, having viewed a great many scam baiting exchanges, I sometimes wonder who is baiting whom. The scammer may not be as dumb as you think. Given his 'trade', he may actually be quite skilled at collating small pieces of information until he has enough to identify his baiter. You really do not want one of these scammers to know where you live or work, especially if you have antagonized him by a prolonged baiting session.
Thus, while scam baiting can play a useful role, it should only be practised under very controlled conditions by people who know how to effectively disguise their identity. And, personally, I do not think it should be carried out 'just for fun'. As I'm sure the many thousands of scam victims around the world would testify, there is nothing remotely funny about these scammer scumbags or their activities.
People fall victim to scammers simply because they are unaware of how such scams operate. If you really want to get back at the slimeball that sent you that Nigerian scam email, don't bait him, tell your friends instead. Spread the word! Talk to your friends, neighbours and workmates about such scams. Show them an example of the scam email you received. Make sure they know how to avoid becoming the scammer's next mark. Ultimately, that is likely to be a lot more productive than a game of scam baiting, however entertaining it may seem at the time.
While most Internet users are wise enough to avoid online scams, there are still people out there who fall victim to these fraudulent schemes every day. They can be taken for hundreds and even thousands of dollars. Sometimes, however, the tables are turned on these scammers, the people running the scams, in a process known as scam baiting.
Scam baiting starts when a person is fully aware that someone is attempting to rip them off in one of many different styles of online fraud. They might get a suspicious email, see an online auction scam or make contact with a fake escrow website. This scam baiter will use several different techniques in order to give the scammer nothing but a difficult time, and ultimately attempt to defraud or humiliate them. He or she can also cost the scammer money or sometimes even get them caught by the authorities. The main point of scam baiting is to do everything possible to keep scammers from stealing money from innocent people, and to aggravate and humiliate them in the process.
The most popular type of scam that is targeted in scam baiting is the 419 scam, also known as the Nigerian 419 scam. In this type of fraud, the scammer will promise the victim large amounts of money on the condition that the victim first sends them a smaller amount of money, usually via a wire transfer. The scam baiting begins when the scam baiter pretends to be the potential victim and responds, usually via email, to the person running the scam. The scam baiters will usually make themselves out to be someone eccentric or peculiar. The point of this is so they can later post the thread of emails online. This is to show how gullible the people perpetrating the scams themselves can be.
One of the major goals of scam baiting is to get the perpetrators to pose for a picture and then to post it online for people to see. The scam baiter will promise to send the scammer the money they are attempting to steal only if the scammer sends a picture in which he or she is doing something ridiculous or holding a sign that says something funny or humiliating. Since there is a language barrier between the scammer and the scam baiter, the scammer will often be oblivious to the humor in the sign they are taking their picture with. In retaliation, the scammer will often use someone else to take these pictures. Sometimes the scammer will become aware that they are being “taken for a ride” and simply cut off communication from the scam baiter.
Scam baiting raises some ethical questions. One is that it is a form of vigilante activism. Another is that the scam baiter cannot be sure if the picture they are posting online is of the scammer or just another one of their victims. Finally the scam baiter’s motives are not always to do justice and often are simply for their own amusement. Journalist Patrick Cain has referred to scam baiting as “the Internet’s first blood sport.”
Internet vigilantism (sometimes e-vigilantism or digilantism) is the phenomenon of vigilantic acts taken against the Internet (the communication network or its service providers) or carried out using applications (World Wide Web, e-mail) that depend on the Internet. The term encompasses vigilantism against scams, crimes, and non-Internet related behaviour.
Some have suggested that the Internet's lack of central control has prompted a tendency towards vigilante reactions against certain behaviours in the same way that they have prompted those behaviours to occur in the first place.
Methods of Internet vigilantism that have been used or proposed for use have included:
The social networking tools of the World Wide Web have been used as a tool to easily and widely publicise instances of perceived anti-social behaviour.
In 2005 in South Korea, bloggers targeted a woman who refused to clean up when her dog defecated on the floor of a Seoul subway car, labelling her 'dog shit girl' (rough translation into English). Another commuter had taken a photograph of she and her dog, and posted it on a popular Korean website. Within days, she had been identified by internet vigilantes, and much of her personal information was exposed on the World Wide Web in an attempt to punish her for the offense. The story received mainstream attention when it was widely reported in South Korean media, and was discussed in Korean communities in the United States as well. The public humiliation led the woman to quit her university, according to reports.
The reaction by Korean netizens to the incident prompted several Korean newspapers to run editorials voicing concern over Internet vigilantism. One paper quoted Daniel Solove as saying that the woman was the victim of a 'cyber-posse, tracking down norm violators and branding them with digital Scarlet Letters.' Another called it an 'Internet witch-hunt,' and went on to say that '[t]he Internet is turning the whole society into a kangaroo court.'
Other notable instances also include the case of Evan Guttman and his friend's stolen Sidekick II, and the case of Jesse McPherson and his stolen Xbox 360, Powerbook and TV.
David Furlow, chairman of the Media, Privacy and Defamation Committee of the American Bar Association, has identified the potential privacy concerns raised by websites facilitating the distribution of information that is not part of the public record (documents filed with a government agency), and has said that such websites 'just [give] a forum to people whose statements may not reflect truth.'
A number of serious cases of internet vigilante behaviour occurred in China. In 2007 two college boys filmed themselves making trouble in class and harassing their 70 year old teacher. Their film was posted on Youtube as Beijing Boy' Netizens found the school, posted details of the culprits and hacked into their online accounts. The case was taken up in mainstream Chinese media.
In 2008, a girl called Zhang Ya (张雅) from Liaoning province, Northeast China, posted a 4 minute video of herself complaining about the amount of attention the Sichuan earthquake victims were receiving on television. An intense response from Internet vigilantes resulted in the girl's personal details (even including her blood type) being made available online, dozens of abusive video responses on Chinese websites and blogs. The girl was taken into police custody for three days.
Distributed Denial of Service
A DDoS attack can be used to take down malicious websites, such as those being used for phishing or Drive-by downloads. Basically, thousands of people generate traffic to a website, flooding it such that it goes over quota or simply can't serve that many requests in a timely manner.
People engage in internet vigilantisms trying to further many causes.
Shannen Rossmiller is an American judge, serving in Montana, who has a controversial role as a vigilante online terrorist-hunter, posing as militant anti-American Muslim radicals online, hoping to attract the eye of those with similar mindsets.
Perverted Justice is a well-known example of an anti-pedophile organization that aims to expose and convict adults who, using email or web sites, solicit minors in order to commit child sexual abuse. They often collaborate with law enforcement and television crews. Some freely hosted blogs claim to expose real or potential child sex offenders.
Another initiative, Predator Hunter, headed by Wendell Kreuth, aims to track down and expose the pornography-related activities of alleged 'sexual predators'. In 2002, Kreuth disclosed details of his activities in an interview with Minnesota Public Radio. Members of the subculture 'Anonymous' have also been credited for seeking out pedophiles and collaborating with law enforcement.
Many online use tactics similar to anti-pedophile activists to combat racism, harrassing and destroying racist groups on MySpace and other social web services.
Identity theft activism
Organizations similar to vigilante action against pedophiles also target ID theft. Posing as ID thieves, they gather stolen personal information such as 'dumps' (the raw encoded information contained on a payment or identification card's magnetic stripe, microchip or transponder), bank account numbers and login information, social security numbers, etc. They then pass this information on to the associated banks, to credit monitoring companies, or to law enforcement.
Other groups specialize in the removal of phishing websites, fake banks, and fraudulent online storefronts, a practice known as 'site-killing'. Artists Against 419 is a web site specializing in the removal of fake bank websites. Such groups often use tactics like DDoS attacks on the offending website, with the aim of drawing attention to the site by its hosting service or rapid consumption of the site's monthly bandwidth allowance. The Artists Against 419 always argued their tools were not a denial-of-service attack. At any rate they abandoned such tactics some time ago.
Some companies engage in internet vigilantism for profit. One such example is MediaDefender, a company which used methods such as entrapment, P2P poisoning, and DDoS attacks.
Groups may engage in internet vigilantism to spread a political message, or to exert nationalism. One example is the Heart China phenomenon which occurred within the People's Republic of China and various overseas Chinese diaspora communities. Chinese netizens were outraged by events such as protests during the 2008 Olympic Torch Relay and claims of biased reporting from western media, and so blogs, forums and websites throughout the Chinese-speaking world were filled with nationalistic sentiment. One website, Anti-CNN, claimed that media such as CNN and BBC reported selectively regarding the 2008 Tibetan unrest and provided a one-sided argument. The Anti-CNN website provided screenshots of news reports with what many claimed to be 'evidence' of media bias. Additionally, statistics show that more than one million MSN Messenger users added '(L)China' to the beginning of their display name prior to the torch relay incident in Paris, in protest to the Tibetan independence movement. Chinese hackers also claim to have hacked the websites of CNN and Carrefour (a French shopping chain, allegedly supporting Tibetan independence), while websites and forums gave tutorials on how to launch a DDoS attack specifically on the CNN website.
In 2002 in the United States, Representative Howard Berman proposed the Peer to Peer Piracy Prevention Act, which would have protected copyright holders from liability for taking measures to prevent the distribution, reproduction or display of their copyrighted works on peer to peer computer networks. Berman stated that the legislation would have given copyright holders 'both carrots and sticks' and said that 'copyright owners should be free to use reasonable, limited self-help measures to thwart P2P piracy if they can do so without causing harm.' Smith College assistant professor James D. Miller acknowledged the threats to the privacy of legitimate Internet users that such actions would pose, but drew comparisons with other successful crime-fighting measures that can invade privacy, such as metal detectors at airports.
TO: anonymous from Argentina and anonymous United States
RELEVANT EXTRACTS FROM YOUR VERY LONG POSTS:
'People fall victim to scammers simply because they are unaware of how such scams operate.
If you really want to get back at the slimeball that sent you that Nigerian scam email, tell your friends instead.
Spread the word!
Talk to your friends, neighbours and workmates about such scams.
Show them an example of the scam email you received.
Make sure they know how to avoid becoming the scammer's next mark.' (END)
The above points are exactly what most people on this website are doing, without being crude!!!
anonymous from United Kingdom
Internet Dating Scams
There are a great many quite legitimate dating service websites that allow members to establish online relationships. Often, these online friendships blossom into genuine long-term relationships. An increasing number of people have found life-partners via relationships started online.
Sadly however, scammers have managed to effectively exploit this trend to further their own nefarious ends. Many people around the world have been duped into sending money to Internet fraudsters posing as would-be girlfriends or boyfriends.
A typical Internet dating scam goes like this:
A person registers at an online dating service and creates a profile. The profile will include information, and possibly a photograph, of the person along with a way for interested people to make contact.
In due course, a scammer contacts the person posing as someone interested in exploring a possible romantic relationship.
The victim responds and the pair begins corresponding regularly. They may soon bypass the dating service contact system and start communicating directly, usually via email.
Over time, the scammer will slowly earn the trust of the victim. He or she may discuss family, jobs and other details designed to make the correspondent seem like a real person who is genuinely interested in the victim. Photographs may be exchanged. However, the 'person' that the victim thinks he or she is corresponding with, is likely to be purely an invention of the scammer. Photographs may not even show the real sender. The victim's apparent love interest may look completely different to the person in the photograph and, in reality, may not even be the same gender.
After the scammer has established the illusion of a genuine and meaningful relationship, he or she will begin asking the victim for money. For example. the scammer may claim that he or she wants to meet in person and ask the victim to send money for an airfare so that a meeting can take place. Or the scammer may claim that there has been a family medical emergency and request financial assistance. The scammer may use a variety of excuses to entice the victim to send funds.
If the victim complies and sends money, he or she will probably receive further such requests. With his or her judgement clouded by a burgeoning love for the scammer's imaginary character, he or she may continue to send money.
Finally, the victim will come to realize that he or she has been duped, perhaps after waiting fruitlessly at the airport for a 'lover' who, will, of course, never arrive.
Meanwhile, the scammer pockets the money and moves on to the next victim. In fact, the scammer may be stringing along several victims simultaneously.
In many cases, the victim will not only have lost out financially, but will also be left broken-hearted and thoroughly disillusioned. These scammers tend to pray on victims that may be especially lonely, shy or isolated and therefore more vulnerable.
There are a number of variations on the same basic scam. In some cases the scammers may be the one to create a profile on a dating site and wait for a potential victim to contact them. Typically, the profile will include a photograph of a very attractive young woman who will have no trouble attracting would-be suitors.
In other cases, the scammers may simply send out random unsolicited emails professing a desire to begin a relationship in the hope that some gullible recipients will favourably respond. Alternatively, they may strike up a conversation with a potential victim via an Internet chat room.
In some variations of the scam, the fraudsters may not ask for money directly. Instead, they may ask their victim to cash money orders or cheques and wire them the proceeds. The money orders or cheques will turn out to be fake or stolen and the victim will be left out of pocket and possibly held responsible for receiving stolen funds. The scammers may also try to trick victims into revealing sensitive information such as credit card numbers.
If you begin corresponding with a person with a view to a possible romantic relationship, remain cautious even if the relationship seems to be progressing very well. These scammers are very skilled at building trust and know how to make vulnerable victims fall in love with them. Regardless of the strength of your feelings towards a correspondent, you should view any requests for money as highly suspicious. If you do suspect a scam, you may be able to find information on a dating blacklist website such as the Russian women dating scam list . These sites publish information and photographs of known dating scammers. Internet dating scammers often used the same names, family details and cover stories in multiple dating scams. Therefore, you may be able to expose a scam by conducting Internet searches on the names used by the scammers or key phrases from their emails.