Throughout history, conspiracy theories have been used to explain complex phenomena by blaming supposedly shadowy elites or ascribing guilt to secret plots designed to mislead, control or hurt us. The corona virus has underlined once more how many people are susceptible to conspiracy theories, such as that Covid-19 was created in a lab to infect us or that the 5G network causes the virus.
It has, in other words, become clearer than ever that conspiracy theories are very much alive, undermining the validity of academic values, as conspiracy theories are not (or only selectively) evidence based and often poorly thought through. Such a challenge requires a multidisciplinary academic answer, which the Utrecht Young Academy aims to provide.
Given the fact that people come into contact with such conspiracy theories at an early age, that children are possibly more susceptible to them and yet that they are also more likely to be open to alternatives, Theorielab is aimed specifically at secondary school pupils. The project aims to provide both pupils and their teachers with evidence-based information on the context in which conspiracy theories arise and which people become susceptible to them.
As such, the project aims to raise awareness of conspiracy theories and their consequences in order to make children more resistant to them. This will be done through guest lessons - based partly on the advice from pedagogical experts and teachers – taught in the children’s own classrooms. The Utrecht Young Academy closely collaborates with TerInfo during this project. TerInfo is a project led by Beatrice de Graaf to help teachers at primary and secondary schools to discuss terrorism and political violence in their classrooms. Theorielab will also provide information specifically meant for teachers through the website of TerInfo.