Dieguez and his colleagues looked at three separate studies, including a large-scale French survey (1,252 participants) and two smaller questionnaires (157 and 733 participants). In their answers, they found a strong correlation between creationism and conspiracism. After all, at the heart of each, is the idea that some form of conscious will dictates the unfolding of events.
"Conspiracy theories are kind of social creationism, because they involve seeing some new event in the world, say a terrorist attack or a natural disaster, and immediately explaining it by the final cause," Dieguez says. "And the final cause of course is not god, but some kind of hidden individual or group of individuals — the conspirators."
Now, as you're reading this, you might think, "Well this doesn't apply to me. I only read about conspiracy theories for amusement. I only tune into 'Ancient Aliens' for a few laughs." But, as Dieguez points out, the underlying teleological framework of the ideas – no matter how ludicrous on the surface – might affect our abilities to think clearly. You certainly don't have to believe in order to engage their dangerous allure.
"In fact, the sample we used in the different studies, most of the people are not hard-core conspiracy theorists," Dieguez says. "The level of agreement with conspiracy theories was actually pretty low. They don't really accept conspiracy theories as such; it's just that they are suspicious of the official story, they reject established knowledge, epistemic authorities – such as scientists and also journalists. And so they tend to prefer alternative beliefs, 'alternative facts' as they say, rather than official statements."
As for the future, Dieguez says that a lot more work is required to flesh out the theoretical bones of conspiracism psychology, but that the more immediate front is educational. They're currently working in France to design and evaluate efforts to teach teenagers to exercise caution concerning conspiracy theories, fake news and misinformation.
"So we'll see what works, and what doesn't work to help improve trust in science and in the media, hopefully in a few years," Dieguez says.
So think critically. Think skeptically. Apply the tenets of scientific reason against the forces of conspiracy theory, false news and misinformation.
In the words of Carl Sagan, science is ever our "candle in the dark."