Budapest Forum 2023 - Keynote discussion with Michael Shermer



  • Michael Shermer, Founding Publisher, Skeptic magazine; host, The Michael Shermer Show; Presidential Fellow, Chapman University
  • Moderator: Péter Krekó, Executive Director, Political Capital Institute

Main takeaways

  • Democracies are open societies in which free speech is protected and people are free to speak and think whatever they want, and that often includes conspiracy theories.
  • It is not irrational to suspect that there are conspiracies going on; therefore, being a conspiracy theorist is not some deviant position to take. Shermer wants to change the tone of the discussion to remove the kind of pejorative nature of the term conspiracy theories.
  • A theory is less likely to be true if more people have to be involved and the more elements that have to come together at the right time and place. That is because of randomness, contingency and incompetence, and just that's the way the world works. It is not as smoothly run and controlled as people think.
  • The bottom-up way to regulate social media is the favourable way and we all do it ourselves by going from one platform to other. Shermer pointed out that in order to protect people's freedom to think and speak in a free democratic society, the government's power has to be reined. The default position for thousands of years in all government agencies and anyone with power is to censor other people.
  • Shermer highlighted the significant rise in the acceptance of conspiracies, touching upon its effect on the upcoming US election. But Shermer pointed out that people who are committed to their political party or candidate, are not going to be swayed by some tweets. It can incite polarization and anger in people, but that does not mean they are going to swap their votes.

Policy recommendations

  • Free speech has to be protected constantly, regularly, every day or it is going to default into censoriousness. In a free democratic society, the government should not be in the business of censoring people or forcing them to say and think certain things.