Conspiracy Theory, Personal Epistemic Crisis and Epstein: Riggio on Trying, Lee Basham

The old world is dying, and the new world struggles to be born; now is the time of monsters.[1]—Antonio Gramsci

Society is a prison. Some of us are prisoners but most of us are guards.[2]—Robert Zimmerman … [please read below the rest of the article].

Image credit: gary riley via Flickr / Creative Commons

Article Citation:

Basham, Lee. 2022. “Conspiracy Theory, Personal Epistemic Crisis and Epstein: Riggio on Trying.” Social Epistemology Review and Reply Collective 11 (12): 42-51.

🔹 The PDF of the article gives specific page numbers.

This article replies to:

❧ Riggio, Adam. 2022. “On the Worth of Trying.” Social Epistemology Review and Reply Collective 11 (11): 29-37.

Articles in this dialogue:

❦ Riggio, Adam. 2022. “The Dangers of Intellectual Honesty in a World of Lies: A Reply to Lee Basham.” Social Epistemology Review and Reply Collective 11 (3): 61-69, pages 41 and 42.

❦ Basham, Lee. 2022. “An Autopsy of the Origins of HIV/AIDS.” Social Epistemology Review and Reply Collective 11 (1): 26-32.

As is now known, far too late, Jeffery Epstein was a brilliant mass pedophilia marketer, a conspiracy by Epstein and those in his employ. It compromised, by self-insulating design, our political and economic upper class. Adam Riggio begins his latest essay advocating the pathologizing of rational conspiracy theorizing with an intimate moment. It’s touching,

[Some claim] the free play of knowledge must proceed without constraint. Anything short of this freedom introduces authoritarian strictures in the production of knowledge. … I found this notion so shocking because I had become accustomed to a world without the good faith such freedom requires. Seeing the content of COVID conspiracies themselves given serious attention in the SERRC community as legitimate alternatives to mainstream scientific consensus shocked me…[3]

Life is full of surprises. Riggio’s newest apologetic for mass suppression/pathologizing of conspiracy theorizing is premised on a personal, autobiographic moment.[4] His argument places his personal trust over evidence. So we should be cautious but also clear. While the epistemic is always personal no matter how socially it is underwritten, this is not why or how epistemic honesty should matter. We all can become accustomed to cognitive subjugation. More gently, “mental conformity”. That some have “gone over the wall” and asked painful questions about leadership might shock us. To see when and where conformity is misguided is a noble moment in our intellectual development, however shocking it may prove. How many Jeffery Epsteins are there? And the attendant conspiracies they require and induce?

One door closes, others open. Demand always meets up with supply: Economics 101. Perhaps dozens of doors, already open. By “good faith” Riggio means political piety and subsequent self-censorship. A tragic series is supplied by Epstein. This is, admittedly, a rational conspiracy theory. But we of this snare must not speak. Instead, Epstein is to be, as the corporate media treated the tragedy, a singularity.[5] Yet in the background, we must unfortunately ask, “How many media millionaires favored themselves on those beaches?”. This question alone drops Riggio’s public trust epistemology into deeply troubled waters. The emerging pedophile pornography catastrophe at Twitter only exponentially multiplies the problematic nature of Riggio’s trust approach.[6]

Our question: If the reality of Epstein’s island and its attendant conspiracy of extensive participation by public officials, corporate officers and top tier celebrities, and no doubt “islands” like it could be ignored by the mainstream media and hidden from the larger population, what does this tell us about any role of trust in our mass media information hierarchy? At best it is naiveté, at worst, powerfully enabling, or both.

One of the virtues of social epistemology is we are not shocked but fascinated by surprise and relatively dispassionate. The Epstein Island conspiracy theory—a conspiratorial accusation—was met by reasonable people with neither surprise nor shock, but a demand for accountability; who went there and what did they do to the young teens trapped there? Trust had nothing to do with it. Rational persons do not forsake evidence out of umbrage or shock, even if there is momentary temptation. However, salience plays a powerful role. If a friend falls through the spring ice, you will be suspicious of ice skating in the spring. Let’s recall the well-evidenced hypothesis that HIV originated in a polio vaccine produced by Hilary Koprowski and tested en mass on Africans in the Congo.[7] The HIV was lurking within the kidneys used to grow the virus necessary for vaccines’ production. Brian Martin explains,

[Key] events sometimes make a big difference. … In the vaccination discussion, a major vaccine disaster could play a similar role. The full story of the impact of Covid vaccines is yet to play out, but it is reasonable to say that when promoters endorse a vaccine that is widely seen as disastrous, they jeopardise the rest of the vaccination programme.[8]

Many have commented on the mRNA vaccines apparent effect of creating blood clots and heart swelling, often both killing healthy professional athletes and young children. This is now conceded by the US National Institutes of Health (NIH). Time will tell the reach of these tragedies.[9] Riggio proffered example of perfect trust in the current Covid vaccines shatters on the rocks of these findings. Public awareness of the same is hardly an offense in an open society nor to sound epistemology. It is an issue of personal choice.

Most of the professional concerns about COVID-19 lockdowns widely disseminated, even under the heavy hand of suppression, came true. As did the biological issues. This is largely because they originated in clinical psychology and molecular biology communities. The “consensus” Riggio cites never existed in mainstream science. The term is now intermixed with conformity. The same phenomena were witnessed in the USSR and its satellites under the reign of Trofim Lysenko over Soviet biology. Millions starved in the Lysenko inspired great famine of 1959-1961.[10] This far exceeds the suicides induced by COVID lockdowns, but these suicides are considerable.[11] “Consensus” means the agreement of all, not merely the majority report. Unfortunately, this understanding degraded as the term developed into a political bludgeon, no longer a precise concept. It carries the original connotation, but no longer requires the requisite reality. Our current issues include the lab leak origin theory, the relative uselessness of masks with corona viruses, the inefficacy of messenger RNA therapeutics (they are not vaccines in any ordinary sense but prophylactics) and the list goes on. As Isaac Newton put it, a child on the beach, tossing a few stones into the sea,

I do not know what I may appear to the world, but to myself I seem to have been only like a boy playing on the seashore, and diverting myself in now and then finding a smoother pebble or a prettier shell than ordinary, whilst the great ocean of truth lay all undiscovered before me.[12]

But the physical reality Newton faced on the beach is what we often face in the social realm; we don’t know the depths and breath of the political sea, and it seemed to him, we should.[13] He took us far out to sea and was essentially correct in most of his conclusions—the slight adjustments to his structure (hardly “revolutions” as Kuhn once famously had it and later declined)—not withstanding. The thoughtful conspiracy theorist is like Newton.

The reality of Jeffery Epstein’s pedophilic island, and the probability of more to meet high placed demand, is a bitter pill. Our democratic societies have not been able or particularly willing to counter this and other horrible realities. It’s rather like in Richard Adam’s acclaimed allegorical novel, Watership Down, where rabbits take the role of Jungian archetypes, we are not to speak of the snares.[14]

The plot at that point was simple: The local farmer fed the otherwise wild rabbits rotten vegetables, but he would place snares to occasionally kill some for profit. The rabbits knew but had learned “say nothing”; the phrase “the snares” was forbidden. They grew weak and delusional and lost themselves in poetry, art and other social distractions. The truly wild rabbits—free people, represented by Hazel and his wandering companions, thinking they had found a new home with these new rabbits, discovered the horror of the system. Strawberry, a member of the deluded tribe, rebelled and spoke the forbidden phrase, “the snares”. The conspiracy of silence was shattered. The leader tried to kill Strawberry. That is, silence him. This is, as far I understand it, Riggio’s approach to rational conspiracy theory.

In my discussion of Edward Hooper’s arguments, we see Hooper’s arguments are lengthy and well evidenced: That the origin of the AIDS disaster appears to be a result of a HIV contaminated vaccine tested on Africans by Hillary Koprowski. Riggio took the same approach; don’t speak of this, regardless of the evidence for it.[15] Is this “good faith” or avoidance? Is there a difference?  Not in sound epistemology. He did not contest the arguments in Hooper’s extensive The River, he argued we should not talk about it but resort to the anti-democratic, elitist doctrine that the public is mentally impaired and incompetent. An unusual claim for someone who presumably advocates democratic institutions over quasi-benevolent dictatorship. I would invite Riggio to become Strawberry,

We must also now consider our own actions in terms of how even the basic matter of “just raising questions” has been weaponized by extremists [emphasis added] to launder into mainstream media racist and misogynist propaganda, as well as calls for mass violence against socialists, liberals, and minority rights activists. It is not enough for us, as researchers and intellectuals, to raise controversial and dangerous questions and deny responsibility for when others use our speech to manipulate others in dangerous ways.[16]

While any significant acquaintance with mainstream media does not confront one with a vast conspiracy of racist and female-hating propaganda—rather the opposite—let’s turn to evidential “weapons”. There is no “weaponization” here, simply evidence. “Weaponization” is another term prominent in pathologizing literature of many kinds, not just those about conspiracy concerns. It’s not “just raising questions”. It’s healthy, informed democratic public conduct.

Information is increasingly horizontal, not hierarchical. Riggio appears to wish a return to the old adage we opened with, “Society is a prison. Some of us are prisoners but most of us are guards.” He appears to wish us to be guards, as if we should live in the Stanford prison experiment,[17]

Someone could share Basham’s article on Telegram channels [or Twitter] that promote anti-vaccination propaganda, and guide conversations about it to make people further distrust any vaccines. If a parent’s conversation about that article solidifies an anti-vaccination belief such that they refuse all vaccinations for their children, not only against COVID, but also chickenpox, measles, pertussis; if one or more of those children contracts a virus and dies or suffers injury, Basham and SERRC bear some share of the responsibility.[18]

Individuals are responsible for their conduct, we, the people, are not responsible in any manner for their rare, misplaced responses to the facts any informed populace has the right to. I hope the article, “An Autopsy of the Origin of HIV/AIDS” is shared, unlikely as that might or might not be.[19] I think this is something that could be agreed to by Riggio. We must not live in a convenient society. A rational polis requires the sharing of historically accurate information so it can make informed future choices, both as individuals and as a society. Sharing the truth about vaccination’s great successes and also its catastrophic failures is a responsibility we all have a portion of on a moral and epistemic level; a necessary condition for informed democracy.  This proposition is difficult for some because of political piety. Riggio’s three monkeys, “hear no evil, see no evil, speak no evil” approach fails. The historical examples, even quite recent, are legion. Any responsible social epistemology must recognize it.

Public Trust

Public trust arguments, first introduced in Brian Keeley’s classic essay, “Of Conspiracy Theories”[20] have been shown to fail when, as a democracy, we most need them to succeed. Vaccines are political objects. So we might try to resurrect Keeley’s arguments (even if he would not). Riggio writes; “When I take a COVID vaccine, I do so trusting that the institutions and organizations involved in developing and distributing this medical technology have the knowledge they claim to have.”[21]

Is trust is what properly determines whether a person decides to be vaccinated? Or an epistemic simplicity? Presumably high trust leads to choosing to be vaccinated in a particular way and scenario, and low trust choosing not to be vaccinated in a particular way and scenario, political heresy.

There is a better position, not “trust” but that people look at evidence available to them (from authorities, critics, friends, personal experience) and consider their circumstances (e.g., living with someone who is immune compromised), and make a decision accordingly. Governments and corporations are not literally people we know, they are vast organizations, and the term trust, one of personal relationship, is misplaced. This problem was once labeled a “category mistake” and here the problem is clear.[22] It would be possible to trust authorities but still decide against vaccination if, for example, one had had a previous adverse reaction, or to distrust authorities but still decide that vaccination is the better option. Evidence, not trust, is what matters. Riggio continues: “A minority of the wellness community’s extremists [emphasis added] were vaccine skeptics, who justified their beliefs largely on fraudulent research in the fashion of the corrupt Andrew Wakefield.” No evidence is provided for this claim about justifying beliefs.[23]

While evidence was provided, including an established critique within the molecular biologist community of mRNA therapies in the 1970s. There is also a documented plethora of unexpected deaths now attributed to the mRNA methodology.[24] But moving forward, we can set that aside.[25] For the present: Then these skeptics are subject to (a) evidence and clarification for a claim that rests on a vague characterization, “fashion”, and (b) evidence their concerns are false in particular cases where they arise. Talk of “extremism” is, unhappily, epistemically disabling, a label of unargued rejection and an attempt to reestablish cognitive conformity, as in the pointed and aggressively put question “Are you an extremist?”.

By Riggio’s lights my ancestors were because they actively opposed King George III, alongside Patrick Henry and Thomas Paine; one even signed the notorious American Declaration of Independence.[26]

Guilt by Association: QAnon and the Ghosts of Epstein

Riggio then moves on to a guilt by association tactic. He points to “QAnon” in an attempt at enforcing—by whatever means—trust as the new task of a functional democracy.[27] QAnon alleges considerable pedophilia among the power elite. No surprise, the resort to pedophilia among the power elite as beyond the pale backfires.

Let’s not delve too deeply into the shocking and both well-established conspiracy theory and so reality that Jeffery Epstein enticed, entrapped and then supplied very young teens as sex-slaves to hundreds of powerful corporate and government officials. But it should go without saying “QAnon” is a red herring in our current context. Setting aside Epstein’s tragic, pedophilic island—and I think we should with high-placed public officials who enjoyed this island’s beaches and hospitality, at least in the absence of considerable evidence of child rape in each particular case—a resort to QAnon stereotyping is not effective.[28] The fact Epstein was mysteriously murdered in his jail cell only weakens Riggio’s reference. The family of theories broadly called “QAnon”, apparently developed by numerous people, have many bizarre, extravagant and absurd dimensions. But to our disgust, high-placed, well-organized, what we might term “luxury pedophilia”, is no longer among these.

Another problem with Riggio’s attempt to resurrect the public trust approach is Epstein’s alleged suicide in jail; a “shocking” event. Most of us believe he was murdered. Of course, it may never have occurred. Far from suicide, he may be free, alive and among us. Island paradise videos can do that. We have to admit this. The ability to raise this question rationally, which we easily can, is a significant measure of the fragility of our current social epistemic situation in these contexts.

Some could share this shocking fact as a cause for concern about the moral orientation of elements of our power elite and SERRC might share some measure of responsibility for that. This is a virtue of social epistemology, not a vice. And I would add, preventing some instances of Epstein-style replication. Or Riggio might demand that SERRC be suppressed for the same reason; are we giving people ideas? We should doubt it. Riggio’s resort to QAnon is, however, symptomatic of a last handhold on what remains afloat of public trust style arguments. Like the classic scene in Cameron’s Titanic when the protagonist finally lets go and sinks into the cold dark sea. As with nostalgia for the mainstream media’s idealized past, guilt by accusation is not epistemically relevant: “Dissent and its language of righteousness can also be a vehicle for regressive and destructive movements. We see this in QAnon adherents who harass left-wing political activists and celebrities …” Harassment is not the same thing as dissent. If QAnon adherents just dissented but didn’t harass, would that be a problem?[29]

“The fact of opposing the mainstream is no guarantee of value.” Agreed. But what is “harassment” in a moralized epistemology, besides concerted disagreement? If it is only disagreement, then a functional democracy is mass-harassment. As Brian Martin has noted, it is unclear what Riggio’s argument is.[30] The politics of the argument are authoritarian and censorial, perhaps on the Chinese model of the 21st century, to date—and a model worth examination and rejection—but it is hard to tell what is the argument Riggio offers, besides it might appear “regressive” to the nonconformist: “The effectiveness of journalism and science depends on the trust of the public. If a population lacks such trust in these professionals, then journalistic investigations and scientific research will be equally believable as fabrications and fascistic screeds like The Protocols of the Elders of Zion …”[31]

But it doesn’t but the opposite. That’s why conflicts of interested are inquired about and studies must be critiqued and replicated. Any reference to the “protocols” in a serious discussion is discrediting. For brief time it flourished in European culture and its hierarchical, mainstream media. It was not confidence in the media that killed it, but main street scepticism. Riggio seems to assume that the alternative to total trust is a belief that all knowledge claims are equally credible: “If calling out paranoid and false beliefs for the real dangers they manifest in people’s actions is censorship, then one must never argue against false, dangerous, or violent beliefs.” Calling out (or arguing against) a belief is not censorship.”[32]

We might think not. Riggio cites Merchants of Doubt.[33] The method in Merchants of Doubt is a brilliant tool of cognitive submission and ironic marketing of the same. Doctrinal texts can be brilliant, though clearly flawed from an epistemic perspective. Consider the famous defense attorney Clarence Darrow’s infamous use of a cigar to distract a jury. In his day smoking was allowed in courts. During the prosecution’s summary before the jury Darrow had already inserted a wire into the cigar. He smoked it furiously. The jury became distracted, then mesmerized by the seeming miracle that the ash never fell from the cigar, but only grew to almost its entire length while the prosecution made their closing arguments, ones now largely unattended to. The theatric worked. The defendants were acquitted. Or so goes the story.

While I wouldn’t attribute anything like that level of brilliance to Merchants of Doubt (hereafter MOD), the title of the book and its selective examples and relentless innuendo of insincerity and carnival hocking is not to be mocked. Given the actual facts, the book is a failure as epistemology and gathers dust, but it made a clever case because it did so in a clever way. I’ve made this clear in all correspondence. To call public concerns and watchfulness commodities sold to them for profit by a subversive monitory reminds us of McCarthyism and its pathologizing, disease model of free thought, association and discussion.

Riggio’s gloss of MOD:

1. Conspiracy theories are marketed to consumers as true; also know as persuasion.
2. This destructive marketing is illustrated by reference to a conspiracy between scientists and tobacco corporations.
3. This conspiracy succeeds and kills millions.
4. Conspiracy theorists point out there is clearly a conspiracy between scientists and tobacco corporations.
5. Society as a whole loses faith in the tobacco industry and reasonably suspects there are other programs of organized deception.
6. So in general, conspiracy theorists and their theories are to be rejected, because the tobacco industry lied to the public and killed millions.[34]

The problem with the argument is it fails to understand the bottom up, not top-down nature of conspiracy theories. Had conspiracy theorists—”merchants of doubt”— not confronted tobacco corporations, these authors’ example would not exist. That’s why the title of the book flips against itself and appears to self-refer. The authors are unknowingly the cigarette scientists.

Properly Journalistic

Riggio continues in his defense of cognitive submission or at least overt silence,

Too Many Institutions of Reason Have Become Untrustworthy

The first virtue of our rational polis that knowledge and discourse would always aim for deeper and more comprehensive truth, as a goal in itself. In practical political terms, this is about how a society’s most popular sources of knowledge would inform the public.

In a rational polis, people would learn about the world from properly journalistic sources. The workplace and professional cultures of journalistic businesses and state media would prioritize truth, peace, and public safety. There would be a large number and variety of reliable news sources across all available media. An especially important journalistic institution to keep strong is local news so that people throughout a society can learn truthful information about what affects their communities and immediate circumstances.[35]

If “Too Many Institutions of Reason Have Become Untrustworthy” I suggest they are untrustworthy. They should be seen that way as a mechanism of accountability; all of them.

Here is common ground. This is a question for any scenario a rational polis is encountering; not to insist they are irrational to realize their predicament. “Properly journalistic” appears to mean “properly constrained” and “properly constrained” means well-censored from both within and without.[36] I noticed,

Flushed with ambition, our colleagues declare, contrary to a number of previous statements,[12] that warranted conspiracy theories, “do simply not exist, because conspiracy theories may in our view be defined as irrational suspicions of conspiracy based on errant data about the official version…” [13] Well yes, you may so define; you may just as well define them as croissants.[37]

Conclusion: Epistemology and Public Trust

Epistemology concerns itself with warranted belief, evidentially justified belief and knowledge. Riggio’s insistence on a public trust standard would have sheltered Epstein to the very end. Trust in the Media, not evidence. Why would the Media hide the nightmare for as long as they did? The island and Epstein’s gigabytes of clandestine video of his clients’ “frolic”. The short list in the media hierarchy now appears to be those who refused to go.[38] There were no government statements, there were no mainstream media editorials of significant concern.

Positions that support conformity to public trust and the integrity of public officials, be they corporate or governmental, are misguided for the same reason denial the larger relevance of Epstein’s Island and others unknown is. But this is what Riggio’s reasoning leaves us with. Historical literacy and acknowledgement is the better path. In defense of trying, we should try to recognize if faced with a crisis of public trust we are not faced with a mass pathology, but in all likelihood, a welcome mass rationality. It was rumor that finally brought down the nightmare of Epstein. Riggio’s arguments reveal he senses the times are changing, tide are turning, for the better. Even in dictatorial China, where the CCP spares no expense in lives or otherwise to suppress and even annihilate the well-placed skepticism of over a billion, a horizontal system of information has still emerged that proves “properly journalist” as Riggio conceives it, is obsolete. Kurtis Hagen writes: “…[Cognitive] sophistication requires taking conspiracy theories seriously, based on the totality of their individual merits. One can do this by first identifying and familiarizing oneself with the most plausible conspiracy theory. Only then can one make an informed judgement about its warrant.”[39]

We need intellectual and psychological honesty about the power of power to corrupt, not the blind eye of trust. Logic and evidential evaluation take the place of fear and politically oppressive pieties of “trust”. A sound social epistemology requires no less, no more. Let’s give that a try. This is the virtue of trying. What the world of democracy needs now is an honest epistemic tension, not submission to intellectual coercion and suppression. We need free flowing information. Try to stop it.

Author Information:

Lee Basham,, is a professor at South Texas College known for his research on conspiracy theories, conspiracy in a hierarchical society and its significant implications for a functional democracy.

[1] I owe this quote to Kurtis Hagen. See Conspiracy Theory: A Philosophical Defense. Fomite Press, 2018.

[2] Sometimes attributed to Robert Zimmerman. Its origins are unclear.

[3] See: “On the Worth of Trying” (hereafter OWT), Riggio, Adam. 2022. “On the Worth of Trying.” Social Epistemology Review and Reply Collective 11 (11): 29-37.

[4] In discussion, Riggio’s explains his employment includes an endowment by a billionaire—one also funding other scholars. I see nothing problematic in this sort of academic philanthropy absent an explicit agreement to defend an information establishment with a history of failure.

[5] See, for instance, Vanity Fair: (retrieved December, 1 2022).

[6] See, for instance: (retrieved 12/08//2022).

[7] See: “An Autopsy of the origins of HIV-AIDS, SERRC”, (retrieved 11/07/2022).

[8] See: (retrieved 11/15/2022). Martin, a physicist, is one of the leading researchers on suppression, its prevention and successful response. See Martin, Brian. 2014. Controversy Manual, Irene Publishing, Sweden.

[9] See:

[10] See: and
Great_Chinese_Famine (retrieved 12/02/2022). This was prior to the divorce of Russia and China as allies, where Russia had dominated the relationship via Lysenko and others.

[11] See: Sher, Leo. 2020. “The Impact of the COVID-19 Pandemic on Suicide Rates.” QJM Oct 1, 113 (10): 707-712.

[12] See, for instance, Trenchard More, Louis. 1934. Isaac Newton: A Biography. New York: Charles Scribner’s Sons, page 664.

[13] It is interesting that Newton was elected to the British parliament, and to speculate on some sense of his disdain for the professionally political and its integrity, the only request he ever made was that someone close the window.

[14] The character of “Strawberry” somewhat resembles that of the youthful Socrates. The main difference being this “rabbit” was happy to leave “The City”, as Socrates was not. See:

[15] See, (retrieved 12/01/2022) and Hooper, Edward. 199. The River: A Journey to The Source of HIV and AIDS. Little Brown and Company.

[16] Riggio, Adam. 2022. “The Dangers of Intellectual Honesty in a World of Lies: A Reply to Lee Basham.” Social Epistemology Review and Reply Collective 11 (3): 61-69, pages 41 and 42.

[17] We must be very cautious with these impulses. See, (retrieved 12/03/2022).

[18] OWT.

[19] Basham, Lee. 2022. “An Autopsy of the Origins of HIV/AIDS.” Social Epistemology Review and Reply Collective 11 (1): 26-32.

[20] Keeley, Brian. 1999. “Of Conspiracy Theories,” Journal of Philosophy, 96, 3, 109-26.

[21] OWT.

[22] See (retrieved 12/09/2022).

[23] OWT.

[24] See footnote 9 above.

[25] It’s important that while the mRNA therapies have been implicated in a significant number of surprising blood clot deaths and heart-inflammation responses, but appear on the whole beneficial, especially among the obese and our older community. They have been, most importantly, a confidence-building ritual for a return to normal commerce and social life.

[26] Samuel Adams. See: (retrieved 12/02/2022).

[27] Not all conspiracy theories are true, as is the case with any type of theory; “pizza gate” for instance.

[28] See: (retrieved 12/03/2022).

[29] OWT.

[30] Personal correspondence.

[31] OWT.

[32] OWT.

[33] Oreskes, Naomi, and Erik Conway. 2010. Merchants of Doubt: How a Handful of Scientists Obscured the Truth on Issues from Tobacco Smoke to Global Warming. New York: Bloomsbury Press.

[34] One may insert “war industry” for “cigarette” where appropriate.

[35] Riggio, Adam. 2022. “The Dangers of Intellectual Honesty in a World of Lies: A Reply to Lee Basham.” Social Epistemology Review and Reply Collective 11 (3): 61-69. Bold in original.

[36] OWT. However, see: Basham, Lee. 2018. “Joining the Conspiracy.” Argumenta 3 (2): 271-290.

[37] Basham, Lee. 2019. “‘They are Back (and still want to cure everyone): Psychologists’ Latest Bid to Curtail Public Epistemology.” Social Epistemology Review and Reply Collective 8 (7): 23-33.

[38] See, for instance: (retrieved December 5, 2022).

[39] Hagen, Kurtis. 2018. Conspiracy Theory: A Philosophical Defense. Burlington, VT: Fomite Press, page 32.

Categories: Critical Replies

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2 replies

  1. Lee, I really do think that you’re making a straw person of my position so that you can describe my position as a kind of censorship. There’s a problem in your own gloss on my thinking here: I’m not arguing against conspiracy theorists because I don’t think of ‘conspiracy theories’ or ‘conspiracy theorists’ as a single, unified class. There are several classes of thinking about conspiracies: 1) Actual conspiracies to commit nefarious or violent acts and cover them up (a conspiracy theory that turns out to be true); 2) False conspiracy theories that direct people against innocent people; 3) Political actors and organizations that persuade people of falsehoods and spread (2) conspiracy theories to protect their interests or for other ideological reasons.

    I’d consider the Epstein case as (1), the Sandy Hook truther case as (2), and oil industry lobbies persuading people that climate change isn’t happening as (3). I think we need to be able to distinguish all these to guide our political and social action to the best outcomes. Otherwise, we’re paralyzed because we have to take all these incompossible perspectives on what’s happening and what’s a lie as equally legitimate. We can’t exist together in a society if we can’t tell right from wrong, or who is trustworthy and who isn’t. My talk of “good faith” isn’t about censoriousness; it’s about whether I can trust that the people with whom I talk about serious issues aren’t lying or dissembling. After this year, I honestly don’t think I can trust that Lee Basham isn’t going to twist any argument I make in a way that accuses me of authoritarian censorship. I think there’s a real difference between persuasion about something you sincerely believe and persuasion about something you know to be a lie. Basham appears to reduce all this to entirely legitimate persuasion.

    Yes, we need to take a skeptical attitude toward authorities and what they claim because many people in positions of institutional authority, and many people who claim authority through their scientific knowledge and research, are acting against the people’s best interests. But we can’t stop with universal skepticism, because that paralyzes us. We need some kind of decision process(es) that will let us sort (1) from (2) from (3). Maybe there’s something in Basham’s positions that I still don’t understand after nearly a year of engaging this debate, but I don’t see anything in what he offers that can tell the difference. We simply have different ways of understanding the world, and any attempt to say that one is correct and the other is false reduces to censorship.

    Basham’s position is, so it seems to me, that to accuse a conspiracy of falseness is to censor free thought. But I don’t see how it’s censorship to make arguments and gather evidence to support your argument that one group of people is wrong, or that the arguments they make to support their own position aren’t sound.

  2. Riggio is concerned that recognition of his defense of censorship is a “straw person”, even though he has consistently invokes “shock” and similar reactions to speech he dislikes. This includes an account of the most likely source of the HIV crisis as uncovered by Tom Curtis, Louis Pascal and Edward Hooper documented from an HIV infected polio vaccine tested en mass in Africa, and later an general reject of public rationality of a rational polis. Riggio announced that SERRC was blameworthy for allowing these discussions,
    “Someone could share Basham’s article on Telegram channels [or Twitter] that promote anti-vaccination propaganda, and guide conversations about it to make people further distrust any vaccines. If a parent’s conversation about that article solidifies an anti-vaccination belief such that they refuse all vaccinations for their children, not only against COVID, but also chickenpox, measles, pertussis; if one or more of those children contracts a virus and dies or suffers injury, Basham and SERRC bear some share of the responsibility.

    SERRC is killing kids?

    This is like arguing if a gas station sells Riggio gas and Riggio goes out and commits arson the gas station is in some mysterious measure to blame. Absurd. They have no blame. And no, this is not a straw person, it is a straightforward entailment of you position. Perhaps one should focus on entailments, not evasions. I mean this in kindness. Shed the censorial mindset for just a week and see how that goes for you. It will be a better way.

    All the best,

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