Do your rEsEaRcH-What doyou call the type of research Qanons try to do?
February 10, 2021 3:14 AM   Subscribe

I’m writing something up about Qanon researchers competencies and skills. I don’t know what kind of research they are trying to do, but I need to identify the closest type to tie it to relevant skills. My first instinct is investigative journalism but I think that’s a stretch. Historical research focusing primarily on primary sources, secondary, tertiary, quaternary and beyond as well? Bonus if you can suggest a book or resources to understand the relevant suggested research methodology.

I’ve been intrigued by the entire “Do your research”, “I did my research” phenomenon that is typical of Qanon followers. One of the large draws to the conspiracy/cult seem to be doing your own research. Obviously, their research is pretty flawed based on their results to date, and, you know, with all their efforts, Hillary Clinton has not been caught eating children. I don’t know if there are even research processes or techniques that can be organized into a methodology. This is part of what I am trying to get at. I don’t know if individual researchers have any organizational methods to their collected ‘data’ or are even aware that research requires learned skills.

I want to come up with a competency model of the closest research methodology, identify their relevant knowledge, skills and abilities and whether they have the competencies to perform their tasks. I’m going to be looking at literature on the psychology of training & learning, metacognition, self-awareness (Dunning-Kruger Effect is in here somewhere), defines vs. ill-defined task performance, novice vs. expert differences and the associated cognitive aspects. I’m not really concerned about motivation, mental illness or personality. That’s been done.

I have no idea what they were doing on Facebook or Twitter as much of that is now gone. I did go to 8chan and some other Qresearch pages and they are busy little bees. There seems to be some kind of organization between the ‘dank memes’ Qdrops (breadcrumbs) and their results which are called buns or bread. I guess the proper term for researcher is ‘baker’. I’m not linking to any of this.

If you can suggest the name of a relevant research type it is appreciated. Even cooler if there are available handbooks or other resources to learn about it. Otherwise, I think that I have everything I need. Any other input is welcome of course.

This is for the moment just for fun. Maybe it will be a blog post? I’ve got a lot of assumptions at the moment, but I don’t have any real hypothesis yet. My goal is to see how I can piece something together(*) to get inside the mind and process of the bakers.

(*) Yes, I see the irony in what I just typed.
posted by Che boludo! to Science & Nature (36 answers total) 8 users marked this as a favorite
I'm not quite sure what you are looking for here- the "do your research" people basically mean "watch this YouTube clip" and you can't trust Snopes or any of the fact checks (Reuters, etc)
posted by freethefeet at 3:27 AM on February 10, 2021 [12 favorites]

Q-style “research” seems to be closer to numerology If you are looking for a word.
posted by rockindata at 3:43 AM on February 10, 2021 [6 favorites]

There's no research, per se. It all amounts to magical thinking.
posted by emelenjr at 3:45 AM on February 10, 2021 [4 favorites]

This game is a meditation on the kind of thinking behind Qanon.
posted by johngoren at 4:03 AM on February 10, 2021 [1 favorite]

I think you really need to think about this not as research but more like orchestrated beliefs. Someone is guiding these people to find little pieces and let some congative processes people have connect the things together.

So in that way the methodology is more of a craft and less research. You could use something like the discovery learning model as a framework .
posted by AlexiaSky at 4:09 AM on February 10, 2021 [2 favorites]

Theology? Apologetics?
posted by eotvos at 4:31 AM on February 10, 2021 [4 favorites]

Cherry picking? I mean, all they're doing is finding/accepting "evidence" that confirms their pre-formed conclusion and denying, or not even acknowledging, any evidence that refutes that pre-formed conclusion.

There is nothing really new here. Both Carl Sagan and Stephen Jay Gould often wrote about this in a science context decades ago. It's just a variation on the pseudoscience or "sciencey" thing that global warming deniers, creationists, anti-vaxxers, the "Holy Blood, Holy Grail" guys, the Strauss-Howe generations "theory," etc. have done through the years in which they come to a conclusion first and then only find evidence that supports their conclusion.
posted by plastic_animals at 4:36 AM on February 10, 2021 [12 favorites]

This piece from the New Yorker Radio Hour interviews Reed Berkowitz about how QAnon is an alternate reality game. The research they are doing is to find the puzzle pieces to fit together, like a game of Clue. Instead, though, they are overmatching patterns they see.

I think this type of game is also a bit self-perpetuating, as even when someone tells a real believer that its a game and is fake, they are likely to think that "ah, my research skills are being tested!"
posted by chiefthe at 5:33 AM on February 10, 2021 [12 favorites]

Yes, it's cherry picking. It's a consequence of 'information' being freely available through the internet.

This kind of stuff existed before, but now it's so much easier to access, and if you type in a few keywords, you feel you are finding 'new things' or doing 'research'.

Unfortunately, most of the opposition to this kind of thinking is learning about actual research practice, which you have already described... and we know that if someone believes something, then it's almost impossible to change their mind - especially if they have 'research' available via youtube etc. ( Iain Stewart and his colleagues and students have done some great work looking into this and the results, for actual scientists, are grim. At the moment, with information and disinformation being the way they are, feelings overule and dominate beliefs. I

posted by sedimentary_deer at 5:41 AM on February 10, 2021 [3 favorites]

If you want to describe what Q adherents are doing, you might be better off starting with DSM-5 than a syllabus of historiography.

For example, you could start with ideas and delusions of reference. You could also look at paranoid personality disorder and shared psychotic disorder.

Taken as an intentional form of manipulation, you could look at gaslighting and brainwashing.

Circling back, the "research" they do is initially akin to reading newspapers and watching news shows. But they have bad sources, and then work themselves into a closed self-reinforcing information space. At that point an urgent addictive element comes into play. There are lots of elements to it, including a search for meaning, community, significance, and belonging. There are lots of comparisons that could be made, but as others have said, comparisons to formal research methodologies aren't likely to be the most fruitful.
posted by Winnie the Proust at 6:05 AM on February 10, 2021 [6 favorites]

Point of clarification relating to the last paragraph above: Are you asking about the individual believers who read a few articles that were linked in their Facebook news feeds and decided to look for more? Or are you asking about the people who write those articles, synthesizing (for lack of a better word) various facts ("facts") into a narrative?

Because I think using the term "research" to describe the former might be overstating it. That's really not any different than hearing a song on the radio, googling the lyrics to find out who sings it, reading the Wikipedia page for the band, and then reading a Pitchfork review of the album. I guess you could term that "research", but it's really just reading the first couple of results on Google. There's not really any systematic methodology to it.
posted by kevinbelt at 6:18 AM on February 10, 2021 [3 favorites]

It’s DIY semiotics, isn’t it? It’s all “Look at the coded message through symbols like how many flags are behind Trump when he gives a speech” and similar attempts to find meaning from breadcrumbs. There are some academic books and chapters about semiotics and conspiracy theories, but as a non-expert, I’m not sure which would actually be useful to you.
posted by alligatorpear at 6:29 AM on February 10, 2021 [8 favorites]

They're exercising confirmation bias. They're looking to confirm what they already suspect.

It's key to note the crucial differences between what they are doing, and research. By using the term research, they are trying to appeal to the credibility that scientific research itself carries. However, they do not understand what research is. They are failing to apply critical thinking, to address a clear hypothesis or consider its alternatives, or to question what their "evidence" can and cannot determine, deny, confirm, or distinguish. It is important to call it out: what they are doing is not research in any sense.

So what they're doing is at best an exercise in confirmation bias.

Disclaimer: IAARBNYR (I am a researcher but not your researcher).
posted by ashy_sock at 6:44 AM on February 10, 2021 [17 favorites]

Related to my comment up-thread, another podcast about alternative reality games from Slate's Decoder Ring gives more insight to this concept. This was a bit before mainstream media was looking at Q-Anon, so I can't recall if the parallels are discussed. But, in the spirit of "research" it fits!
posted by chiefthe at 7:20 AM on February 10, 2021 [1 favorite]

Seconding ashy_sock, I'm a researcher in the basic sciences and my assessment is that QAnon's canon is achieved through a form commitment to google-fishing for keywords and phrases from content algorithmically delivered to people who have already shown an interest in conspiracy. So, quite literally, applied confirmation bias.
posted by late afternoon dreaming hotel at 7:22 AM on February 10, 2021 [1 favorite]

The most articulate comment I've seen from a Q believer included the phrase "All information is information, it is assigned no value". That is, he had excised his own ability to distinguish fact from falsehood.

He (white dude, of course, who claimed to be 47, ex-military and current LEO) went on to cite OAN and Newsmax as good sources because "they carry everything without redacting and cutting away". The manipulation from these sources was either invisible or acceptable to him; he saw them as objective.

(His profile disappeared before the Capitol riots, but I still sent the FBI all my screenshots of his crap, because *boy howdy* did he fit the profile.)
posted by Pallas Athena at 7:23 AM on February 10, 2021 [4 favorites]

Point of clarification relating to the last paragraph above: Are you asking about the individual believers who read a few articles that were linked in their Facebook news feeds and decided to look for more? Or are you asking about the people who write those articles, synthesizing (for lack of a better word) various facts ("facts") into a narrative?

Strong second for this point.

I don’t know if individual researchers have any organizational methods to their collected ‘data’ or are even aware that research requires learned skills.

Right, they don't, which is why I think "investigative journalism" - at least a cargo cult version, mixed with maybe some "citizen journalism" is probably a pretty close approximation of what's going on with a LOT (if not most) of the "research."

"Cargo cult" because what they're doing might seem like research on a superficial level - they're following "clues" from a FB post to an Instagram video to another Instagram picture with comments to a YouTube video to a Reddit thread to someone's DM's - but they're not actually following the real practices of investigative journalism, citizen or otherwise. They're not finding primary sources (documents, records of phone calls, interviews with people directly involved) or even secondary sources (interviews with, say, staff members for the people involved who might not have witnessed events first hand) and then collecting, comparing, and collating all of this evidence to come to conclusions.

Instead, a ton of the "research" they're doing is finding stuff from other people doing the same thing they're doing - following from a FB post to a YouTube video to etc etc etc, and then posting their own FB thing. Which then gets picked up by someone else who goes from that post to an Instagram video & etc etc etc. The whole thing is like this massive Ouroboros snake eating its own tail where very little of the "research" is actually first hand, original, coherent evidence. It's just a constant recycling & recombination of ideas and "proof" from people who are not doing real research themselves.

If you can suggest the name of a relevant research type it is appreciated.

TBH, it sounds like you are to some extent DIY'ing some stuff that has already been done by people who are "conspiracy-theory" or "disinformation" researchers and social scientists. I don't have much specific to suggest, but here's a Nature article - Tracking QAnon: how Trump turned conspiracy-theory research upside down - that might give you some ideas of who's been working in this field already.
posted by soundguy99 at 7:23 AM on February 10, 2021 [3 favorites]

I just call it "confirmation bias". They don't conduct research for research. They go online only looking for stuff to confirm their own biases, and their confirmation bias does the rest. This guy is biased because he's anti-Trump (real reason: he doesn't agree with me). Not reading anything except Fox News because they are all left-leaning (esp. CNN who's practically ran by Commies)... You get the idea.

There's also a lot of superficial vetting. The Anderson Cooper standing in chest-high water story was one such example. Someone found an old photo of him doing so and thought it was for the most recent hurricane season. It got retweeted by Trump Jr, IIRC, and it went viral among right wingers, because it's what they BELIEVE lefties will do to prop themselves up and discredit Trump. Nobody stopped and asked: Is this photo captioned correctly? Are we just spreading manure around and we end up smelling like crap? It's just motivated reasoning on top of confirmation bias.

In a way, it's also entitled people behavior. I've never been wrong. So I can't be wrong now. I can't POSSIBLY be wrong. If you somehow prove I am wrong, it's obviously a conspiracy to manipulate the truth and you're obviously evil incarnate. Etc.
posted by kschang at 7:40 AM on February 10, 2021 [2 favorites]

@chiefthe -- Good point. And it is indeed self-perpetuating, as it is self-healing much like a conspiracy theory. Anything that doesn't fit can be blamed on the conspiracy. If you are looking for a conspiracy, you will see it EVERYWHERE. Baader-Meinhoff Effect. And that just makes the conspiracy theorists look for more supposedly needles in the haystack, when it wasn't actually a pine needle, not a needle. ;) When EVERYTHING can be blamed on a cover-up, you can NEVER be wrong.

I thought I read somewhere that Qanon started as a troll joke? I.e. someone posted some **** to troll the believers, and the believers took it seriously because they have an inability to detect sarcasm, much like RNC invited Stephen Colbert to the RNC not recognizing they were the material for his lampooning?
posted by kschang at 7:48 AM on February 10, 2021 [1 favorite]

I don't know if this really answers your question, but this Reddit comment succinctly highlights the various levels of "research", including what "Do your research" typically means, which is skipping the primary, secondary, and tertiary sources altogether.
posted by China Grover at 7:49 AM on February 10, 2021

I studied Holy Blood, Holy Grail in a college course, and my professor framed this kind of conspiracy writing as synthesis rather than analysis - stringing together bits of information rather than interpreting them using any recognizable research methods.

Holy Blood, Holy Grail is, of course, where Dan Brown got a lot of the material for The Da Vinci Code. I think the comparison to an alternate reality game is really apt - the folks who create this material are storytellers, not researchers.
posted by toastedcheese at 7:51 AM on February 10, 2021 [5 favorites]

The podcast Rabbit Hole from the New York Times might give you a few interesting examples of the "mind and process of the bakers". They do a deep dive into the YouTube history of someone who fell down an alt-right rabbit hole (and back out) and later talk with someone who got into QAnon.
posted by verity kindle at 8:18 AM on February 10, 2021

I’d say the main thing they’re missing, that shows that they probably have not done actual research for a living or that they’ve forgotten the lessons they learned from it once they were outside of that environment, is that actual research is full of disagreement and argument and having to answer pointed questions from people both within and outside your field. The “arsenic life” debacle is a great example of what happens when you don’t get adequate critique from the right people before going public with your findings. Liz Gould’s research on adult human neurogenesis would conversely be a (somewhat pathological) example of the lengths you have to go to just to get an unorthodox idea taken seriously in your own field. I’m not saying that last example is how things should be, either. But these people have never been upbraided for sloppy controls or gaps in reasoning by an angry graybeard at a conference, and it shows.
posted by en forme de poire at 8:25 AM on February 10, 2021

I think that at least some of them are thinking more along the lines of what is meant by "do your research" before buying a big ticket item. So not any sort of formal research, but the equivalent of checking reviews or comparisons, or looking for more detailed information. So you Google X and click on a couple of links, and very quickly you're down a conspiracy theory rabbit hole with "multiple sources" all telling you the same thing - so it must be true. Some of them even have "verifiable" info which "proves" something. (I can't remember the last ridiculous "proof" I came across - something about 17 words in a sentence obviously referring to the 17th letter in the alphabet meaning that the speaker was giving a shout-out to Q, and possibly even "obviously" meaning that the statement wasn't true. The 17 words part can be verified, and is used to "prove" the rest is true.)

(I also blame movies and tv to a certain extent - as they tend to have narratives where conspiracy theories are right and the "crackpot" turning out to be right all along. So people are already primed to believe the crackpot, even before taking any sort of partisanship or anti-elite bias into account.)
posted by scorbet at 11:45 AM on February 10, 2021 [3 favorites]

Q cultists seem to feel that hearing someone say something they agree with and accepting it as fact purely because it lines up with their preexisting beliefs constituents 'research'.

Also its impossible to prove a null hypothesis, so you cant 'prove' in any scientific sense that say, Hilary Clinton is not eating babies. Since they don't seem to know this, they take that to mean that she must be.

Add to that how they discount anything (ironically, usually actual science or facts) that doesnt mesh with their world view as 'fake news', means that real research isnt going to hold any weight.
posted by ananci at 11:54 AM on February 10, 2021 [1 favorite]

I think it's a direct descendant of the "Google Ron Paul" school of "research".
posted by a humble nudibranch at 12:17 PM on February 10, 2021 [1 favorite]

Seconding alligatorpear, I think this is jerry-rigged semiotics.
posted by Mchelly at 12:59 PM on February 10, 2021

If you can suggest the name of a relevant research type it is appreciated.

I'm a librarian and we have a few terms that we talk about here when we discuss people's information-seeking behaviors, which may be a better term to be looking up since honestly, these people are not doing research regardless of what they are saying.

- cherry picking is actually something you can look up in the research. Wikipedia citations can give you some starting points
- where the light is better -- one of the things we learn in library school is that people prefer to ask their friends for information even if their friends are not the best places to go for that information.
- a lot of people receive information passively initially and then this is the seed of their information seeking moving forward. This can be enough to get QAnon people stuck in their ruts because the stuff they are seeking--"evidence" of a conspiracy--is really only going to exist in these QAnon pockets. Southern Poverty Law Center talks about this with Dylann Roof looking up "black on white violence" (not a thing) and the internet was only too happy to tell him it WAS a thing, and a covered-up thing at that
posted by jessamyn at 1:59 PM on February 10, 2021 [8 favorites]

This article on the rhetoric of David Ickes calls it epistemological pluralism, although that's more about how this "research" is laid out than how it is done. Apologetics is close, and cherry-picking is central to it, but I think esoteric hermeneutics is closer to what you're pointing out if you're looking for a proper methodology that Qanonists seem to be using, to varying degrees of rigor.
posted by All hands bury the dead at 3:19 PM on February 10, 2021 [2 favorites]

Response by poster: Wow. There is some great stuff in here. Thanks. I actually just found an epistemic psychologist that may be able to help me out too.
posted by Che boludo! at 4:08 PM on February 10, 2021

Response by poster: I just saw somebody elsewhere translate "do your research" more appropriately as "do your homework"
posted by Che boludo! at 8:15 PM on February 10, 2021

One thing I wouldn't overlook is the community aspect of all this: Q-Anon is a phenomenon solidly anchored in social media and all of the distributed, gamified technology that implies. There's a sense in which "doing the research" is more akin to joining and building community and shared meaning than "real" critical inquiry. I.e. it serves a social function and not an intellectual one

Also L M Sacassas had some pretty interesting writings about Database vs Narrative media that you might find relevant here.
posted by ropeladder at 7:42 AM on February 11, 2021

On reflection, there’s also a lot of misuse of statistical analysis - using the wrong methods, making a big thing of dodgy correlations, or just simply using a lot of fancy maths to obscure faulty premises, small study sizes or just bad data. Matt Parker did a couple of videos explaining the issues with some of the claims regarding fraud in the election (for example, this one about Biden’s win in swing states being alleged to be a one in quadrillion) which illustrate the type of thing I mean - the actual maths is right, it’s just being misapplied.
posted by scorbet at 12:10 PM on February 11, 2021

Probably not surprising, I've seen a lot of these same tactics being used by anti-vaxxers, or as I prefer to call them, vaccine deniers, as they behave much the same as other deniers (such as holocaust deniers).

I find this old article "Science Denial for Dummies" by Austin Cline to be quite useful.
posted by kschang at 3:02 AM on February 12, 2021 [1 favorite]

My heart is breaking a little, but I found another statement I thought might be useful to post here.

This is a Facebook comment from a guy I knew when we were teenagers. He’d be maybe 50ish now. We lost touch when we went to college, but the guy I knew was a good person. He has mild learning difficulties, but a profoundly curious mind and a desire to understand the world. And he’s been drawn into this shit, and these fucking sinister crackpot websites have taken that mind and bent it back on itself, like breaking a limb.

Anyway. Sorry. He posted a meme from Collective Evolution this morning. Someone else a link to a fact check site debunking them, and here’s what he wrote in response:
[name], it is possible the fact checkers are biased ones?? Who specifically is doing the checking? Why do you and I need somone to "check" for us? It is not just the "facts" that matter, but who do those facts serve or what do those facts potentially reveal?? Or maybe not reveal, but imply? Could it potentially drive a person to research further and find something? I love you my brother, but i have lived and worked in hospitality for 16yrs. Even at an ex presidents hotel. In arguably the most diverse financially powerful city in the world. I have had more interactions, intimate interactions with more people of every strata, race, creed, color, económic status, positions in society already; than most people would experience in 3 to 5 lifetimes. I would not believe that picture had i lived most other places and not Been in hospitality!!! I dont Blame people for being utterly brainwashed AND THEY ARE!! I probably couldnt convince you if i tried and I intuit based on experience. Research and MANY eye opening conversations with MANY diferent people that that statement is true.. It was a death waking up to discover true is false and false is true so to speak. It is a kind of spiritual awakening that only happened TO ME via experiences it was not something i consciously sought. It just happened over a period of time and drove me to research and research deeply, very deeply. I discovered the truth is NEVER OBVIOUS. I cant explain an experience to you that you Will probably never have. I used to believe what I assume most people believe. USED TO! like i said, it is like trying to explain skydiving to somone Who has never experienced it. never will and has no interest. I wish i could give you my five Year odyssey. i went through all the stages of grief. Actually I dont!! it was terrifying at times. I am reticent to press the blue arrow to send this. It SEEMS to fantástical, although sometimes their is a choice between integrity and conformity. for this moment i choose integrity. If only you could see through my eyes. With AI that may be possible sooner rather than later. Who knows? I dont have much in the way of intelligence or writing ability!!! I hope [name of commenter’s spouse] doesnt read this!! The grammar police Will be at my door pronto Lol., but God has blessed me with a huge desire for truth and to know the why of things. Hence all my damn books!! I hope this finds you well and happy. How do I end this? I believe There is a spirit underlying the totality of things! Which i Fail to listen to most of the time!! and Eben Alexanders near death experience on you tube is amazing.i think it is titled A NEUROSCIENTISTS JOURNEY INTO THE AFTERLIFE. It gives me hope that in spite of it all we are headed somewhere many people call heaven and boy do i look forward to that! Here goes......
These aren’t the words of a hate-filled person. I think he’s seeking something— reassurance, meaning?... and found that these sites can give him something that reality can’t. But the meme he initially posted was:

“Why do we have wars? Because we are ruled by a group of elite psychopaths who own the banks that control the governments and media. They fund both sides of war for profit and manufacture consent of the public through the propaganda of the media.”

Of course, you and I can hear the anti-Semitic dogwhistles here, loud and clear. The next step is to persuade him that this “elite” are Jews. And given that Collective Evolution also promotes the theory that the “elite” kill babies, we’re then one step away from blood libel, and that leads to some very dark places indeed.

I wish I knew what to do about this.
posted by Pallas Athena at 1:04 AM on February 15, 2021

It's motivated thinking combined with a couple bits of science denial and cherry-picking.

The book he talked about was actually titled "Proof of Heaven: A Neurosurgeon's Journey into the Afterlife" by Dr. Eben Alexander. NOT a neuroscientist... a neurosurgeon. TL;DR: He caught bacterial meningitis in 2008 and was in a coma for a week and had a near-death-experience (NDE). He made a full recovery and his NDE gave him a new view on life and our perception of life. But NDEs have been studied for decades. Can ONE person's view really be that "ground-breaking"? Nope. He's fitting what he "learned" into what he knew, and morphing the story later to fit what he later learned, like a dead biological sister he never knew, yet insist guided him during his NDE. Does that prove anything? Who knows?

Back to your friend. He's just cherry-picking what he believed to support his slanted world view that elite cabal is in control of everything and we are all doomed, and because he knew "the truth", anyone who argues with him must therefore be a part of the conspiracy. Common "self-sealing" views from motivated reasoning.
posted by kschang at 11:24 AM on February 15, 2021

« Older Help me remember an early internet cartoon art...   |   Friend needs full care-assisted living, costly... Newer »
This thread is closed to new comments.