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Champlain teacher publishes new book

Champlain faculty member Michel Jacques Gagné has just published a new book called Thinking Critically About the Kennedy Assassination: Debunking the Myths and Conspiracy Theories. The book, published with Routledge this month, uses the tools of critical thinking, historical research, and philosophical inquiry to debunk the many myths and conspiracy theories surrounding JFK’s shocking and untimely death.

A teacher in Champlain’s Humanities since 2006, Gagné has long been interested in the phenomenon surrounding Kennedy’s death and is a self-described “recovering conspiracist.”

Gagné’s personal interest led him to research deeper into the causes and consequences of paranoid thinking in contemporary public discourse.

“What attracts people to the Kennedy assassination and repels them from books like mine is that this is not the story they want to hear,” said Gagné.

“Ultimately, what I argue in this book is that all your facts can be correct but they are all attached together in a way that becomes a false narrative. It becomes an exercise in trying to reverse engineer a thesis to fit facts that have been cherrypicked.”

Over the course of his research and in his personal experience, Gagné has seen that many people who become conspiracy theorists are attracted by the sense of community created around shared knowledge.

“Conspiracy theories bring in people who feel ostracized from society and offer them some form of special knowledge,” said Gagné.

“The idea is that the conspiracy theory tells you that you’re on the good side and there’s an existential war going on against evil. Helpless people feel empowered with a powerful narrative that places them in the middle of human history, not in the margins.”

Gagné teaches his students that critical thinking is an essential tool in the debunking of conspiracy theories, advising that “logic allows us to identify gaps in reasoning,” while self-esteem can help us avoid emotional reasoning.

Beyond his work as a teacher and an author, Gagné also runs a podcast called “Paranoid Planet” which focuses on conspiracy theories and critical thinking.

Thinking Critically About the Kennedy Assassination: Debunking the Myths and Conspiracy Theories is available for purchase as of March 28, 2022.