Volume 8, Issue 2
  • ISSN 2211-4742
  • E-ISSN: 2211-4750
Buy:$35.00 + Taxes



In this paper, we analyze the persuasive effects of conspiracy theories from a rhetorical and argumentative perspective. In particular, we scrutinize a case-study – the story of the “Stamina cure” in Italy –, interpreting it as a particular instance of conspiracy theory. First, we explain what conspiracy theories are, and why they are relevant within the contemporary health debate. Second, we situate our analysis in relation to other theoretical accounts, explaining why a discursive approach may be required to study conspiracies. Third, we investigate our case-study through the lenses of the three “entechnic” proofs of rhetoric: , and . We conclude that a rhetorical approach can shed significant light on how conspiracies achieve their persuasive effect and it provides a first step toward the elaboration of a more comprehensive model to better address the practical and political implications of conspiracy argumentations.


Article metrics loading...

Loading full text...

Full text loading...


  1. Abbott, Alison
    2016 “Stem-cell scandal gets fresh scrutiny.” Nature539, 17November 2016:340. 10.1038/539340a
    https://doi.org/10.1038/539340a [Google Scholar]
  2. Amossy, Ruth and Roselyne Koren
    2009 “Rhétorique et argumentation: approches croisées.” Argumentation et Analyse du Discours2|2009 doi:  10.4000/aad.561
    https://doi.org/10.4000/aad.561 [Google Scholar]
  3. Angenot, Marc
    2008Le dialogue de sourd. Traité de rhétorique antilogique. Paris: Mille et une Nuits.
    [Google Scholar]
  4. Aristotle
    Aristotle, Rh.: Ars Rhetorica ed. by W. D. Ross . Oxford: Clarendon Press; 1959.
    [Google Scholar]
  5. Brotherton, Rob
    2015Suspicious Mind. Why We Believe Conspiracy Theory. New York: Bloomsbury Sigma.
    [Google Scholar]
  6. Brotherton, Rob and Christopher C. French
    2014 “Belief in Conspiracy Theories and Susceptibility to the Conjunction Fallacy.” Applied Cognitive Psychology28:238–248. 10.1002/acp.2995
    https://doi.org/10.1002/acp.2995 [Google Scholar]
  7. Brotherton, Rob , Christopher C. French and Alan D. Pickering
    2013 “Measuring Belief in Conspiracy Theories: The Generic Conspiracist Beliefs Scale.” Frontiers in Psychology4:279. 10.3389/fpsyg.2013.00279
    https://doi.org/10.3389/fpsyg.2013.00279 [Google Scholar]
  8. Buckley, Thea
    2015 “Why Do Some People Believe in Conspiracy Theories?” Scientific American Mind, 1July 2015 10.1038/scientificamericanmind0715‑72a
    https://doi.org/10.1038/scientificamericanmind0715-72a [Google Scholar]
  9. Byford, Jovan
    2011Conspiracy Theories. A critical introduction. London: Palgrave Macmillan. 10.1057/9780230349216
    https://doi.org/10.1057/9780230349216 [Google Scholar]
  10. Capocci, Mauro and Gilberto Corbellini
    (eds.) 2014Le cellule della speranza. Il caso Stamina tra inganno e scienza. Torino: Codice Edizioni.
    [Google Scholar]
  11. Cattaneo, Elena and Gilberto Corbellini
    2014 “Taking a stand against pseudoscience.” Nature510, 19June 2014:333–335. 10.1038/510333a
    https://doi.org/10.1038/510333a [Google Scholar]
  12. Danblon, Emmanuelle
    2005La fonction persuasive. Anthropologie du discours rhétorique: origines et actualité. Paris: Armand Colin.
    [Google Scholar]
  13. Danblon, Emmanuelle and Loïc Nicolas
    (eds.) 2010Les Rhétoriques de la conspiration. Paris: CNRS Éditions.
    [Google Scholar]
  14. Duesberg, Peter H.
    1995Infectious AIDS: Have We Been Misled?USA: North Atlantic Books.
    [Google Scholar]
  15. French, Christopher C. and Anna Stone
    2014Anomalistic Psychology: Exploring Paranormal Belief and Experience. London: Palgrave Macmillan. 10.1007/978‑1‑137‑36806‑5
    https://doi.org/10.1007/978-1-137-36806-5 [Google Scholar]
  16. Greenwald, Glenn and Ewen MacAskill
    2013 “Boundless Informant: the NSA’s secret tool to track global surveillance data.” The Guardian, 8June 2013.
    [Google Scholar]
  17. Hamilton, Lawrence C.
    2011 “Education, politics and opinions about climate change evidence for interaction effects.” Climatic Change104(2):231–242. 10.1007/s10584‑010‑9957‑8
    https://doi.org/10.1007/s10584-010-9957-8 [Google Scholar]
  18. Hofstadter, Richard
    1964 “The Paranoid Style in American Politics”. Harper’s MagazineNovember 1964:77–86.
    [Google Scholar]
  19. Kahan, Dan M. , Ellen Peters , Maggie Wittlin , Paul Slovic , Lisa Larrimore Ouellette , Donald Braman and Gregory Mandel
    2012 “The polarizing impact of science literacy and numeracy on perceived climate change risks”. Nature Climate Change2:732–735. 10.1038/nclimate1547
    https://doi.org/10.1038/nclimate1547 [Google Scholar]
  20. Klonoff, Elizabeth A. and Hope Landrine
    1999 “Do blacks believe that HIV/AIDS is a government conspiracy against them?” Preventive Medicine28:451–457. 10.1006/pmed.1999.0463
    https://doi.org/10.1006/pmed.1999.0463 [Google Scholar]
  21. Labinaz, Paolo and Marina Sbisà
    2014 “Certainty and uncertainty in assertive speech acts.” InCommunicating Certainty and Uncertainty in Medical, Supportive and Scientific Contexts, ed. by Andrzej Zuczkowski , 31–58. Amsterdam/Philadelphia, John Benjamins Publishing Company.
    [Google Scholar]
  22. Leman, Patrick J. and Marco Cinnirella
    2013 “Beliefs in conspiracy theories and the need for cognitive closure.” Frontiers in Psychology4:378. 10.3389/fpsyg.2013.00378
    https://doi.org/10.3389/fpsyg.2013.00378 [Google Scholar]
  23. Lewandowsky, Stephan , Gilles E. Gignac and Klaus Oberauer
    2013 “The Role of Conspiracist Ideation and Worldviews in Predicting Rejection of Science”. PLoS ONE10(8):e0134773. doi:  10.1371/journal.pone.0134773
    https://doi.org/10.1371/journal.pone.0134773 [Google Scholar]
  24. Lewandowsky, Stephan , Klaus Oberauer and Gilles E. Gignac
    2013 “NASA Faked the Moon Landing – Therefore, (Climate) Science Is a Hoax. An Anatomy of the Motivated Rejection of Science”. Psychological Science24(5):622–633. 10.1177/0956797612457686
    https://doi.org/10.1177/0956797612457686 [Google Scholar]
  25. Miller, Joanne M. , Kyle L. Saunders and Christina E. Farhart
    2016 “Conspiracy Endorsement as Motivated Reasoning: The Moderating Roles of Political Knowledge and Trust.” American Journal of Political Science60:824–844. 10.1111/ajps.12234
    https://doi.org/10.1111/ajps.12234 [Google Scholar]
  26. Nicolas, Loïc
    2014 “L’évidence du complot: un défi à l’argumentation. Douter de tout pour ne plus douter du tout”. Argumentation et Analyse du Discours13|2014 doi:  10.4000/aad.1833
    https://doi.org/10.4000/aad.1833 [Google Scholar]
  27. Oliver, J. Eric and Thomas J. Wood
    2014 “Conspiracy Theories and the Paranoid Style(s) of Mass Opinion.” American Journal of Political Science58(4):952–966. 10.1111/ajps.12084
    https://doi.org/10.1111/ajps.12084 [Google Scholar]
  28. Oswald, Steve
    2016 “Conspiracy and bias: argumentative features and persuasiveness of conspiracy theories.” OSSA Conference Archive168. scholar.uwindsor.ca/ossaarchive/OSSA11/papersandcommentaries/168
    [Google Scholar]
  29. Oswald, Steve and Thierry Herman
    2016 “Argumentation, Conspiracy and the Moon: a Rhetorical-Pragmatic Analysis.” Case Studies in Discourse Analysised. by M. Danesi and S. Greco , 295–330. Munich: Lincom Europa.
    [Google Scholar]
  30. Peirce, Charles Sanders
    1931–1958Collected Papersed. by C. Hartshorne , P. Weiss (voll.1–6) and A. Burks (voll.7–8). Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press.
    [Google Scholar]
  31. Popper, Karl R.
    [1945] 2002The Open Society and Its Enemies. London and New York: Routledge.
    [Google Scholar]
  32. Quattrociocchi, Walter and Antonella Vicini
    2016Misinformation. Guida alla società dell’informazione e della credulità. Milano: Franco Angeli.
    [Google Scholar]
  33. Ross, Michael W. , E. James Essien and Isabel Torres
    2006 “Conspiracy Beliefs about the Origin of HIV/AIDS in Four Racial/Ethnic Groups.” J Acquir Immune Defic Syndr41(3): 342–344. 10.1097/01.qai.0000209897.59384.52
    https://doi.org/10.1097/01.qai.0000209897.59384.52 [Google Scholar]
  34. Serra, Mauro
    2017Retorica, argomentazione, democrazia. Per una filosofia politica del linguaggio. Roma: Aracne editrice.
    [Google Scholar]
  35. Sunstein, Cass
    2014Conspiracy Theories and Other Dangerous Ideas. New York: Simon & Schuster Paperbacks.
    [Google Scholar]
  36. Sunstein, Cass R. and Adrian Vermeule
    2009 “Symposium on Conspiracy Theories. Conspiracy Theories: Causes and Cures.” The Journal of Political Philosophy17(2):202–227. 10.1111/j.1467‑9760.2008.00325.x
    https://doi.org/10.1111/j.1467-9760.2008.00325.x [Google Scholar]
  37. Swami, Viren , Rebecca Coles , Stefan Stieger , Jakob Pietschnig , Adrian Furnham , Sherry Rehim and Martin Voracek
    2011 “Conspiracist ideation in Britain and Austria: Evidence of a monological belief system and associations between individual psychological differences and real-world and fictitious conspiracy theories.” British Journal of Psychology102(3):443–463. 10.1111/j.2044‑8295.2010.02004.x
    https://doi.org/10.1111/j.2044-8295.2010.02004.x [Google Scholar]
  38. Taguieff, Pierre-André
    2013Court Traité de complotologie. Paris: Mille et une nuits.
    [Google Scholar]
  39. Taïeb, Emmanuel
    2010 “Logiques politiques du conspirationnisme.” Sociologie et sociétés42(2):265–289. 10.7202/045364ar
    https://doi.org/10.7202/045364ar [Google Scholar]
  40. Wood, Michael J. and Karen M. Douglas
    2013 “What about building 7? A social psychological study of online discussion of 9/11 conspiracy theories.” Frontiers in Psychology4:409. 10.3389/fpsyg.2013.00409
    https://doi.org/10.3389/fpsyg.2013.00409 [Google Scholar]
  41. Yazdannik, Ahmadreza , Alireza Yousefy and Sepideh Mohammadi
    2017 Discourse analysis: A useful methodology for health-care system researches. J Edu Health Promot6:111. 10.4103/jehp.jehp_124_15
    https://doi.org/10.4103/jehp.jehp_124_15 [Google Scholar]
  42. Zagarella, Roberta Martina and Annoni, Marco
    2018 “Conspiracy Ideations in Healthcare: A Rhetorical and Argumentative Analysis”, in S. Oswald and D. Maillat (eds.). Argumentation and Inference: Proceedings of the 2nd European Conference on Argumentation, Fribourg 2017. London: College Publications, Vol.II: 973–988.
    [Google Scholar]
  43. Zarefsky, David
    1984 “Conspiracy Arguments in the Lincoln-Douglas Debates.” Journal of the American Forensic Association21:63–75.
    [Google Scholar]
  • Article Type: Research Article
Keyword(s): conspiracy theories; health communication; inference; rhetoric; Stamina case
This is a required field
Please enter a valid email address
Approval was successful
Invalid data
An Error Occurred
Approval was partially successful, following selected items could not be processed due to error