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Why Do Many Reasonable People Doubt Science?

We now face risks we can’t easily analyze

Our existence is invaded by science and technology as never before. For many of us, this brings comfort and rewards, but this existence is also more complicated and sometimes agitated.

Our lives are full of real and imaginary risks, and distinguishing between them isn’t easy. We have to be able to decide what to believe and how to act on that.

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Why Do Many Reasonable People Doubt Science?

Why Do Many Reasonable People Doubt Science?

https://www.nationalgeographic.com/magazine/2015/03/science-doubters-climate-change-vaccinations-gmos/

nationalgeographic.com

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Key Ideas

Living in the age o doubt

We live in a time when all scientific knowledge (the safety of fluoride, vaccines, climate change, moon landing, etc.) faces coordinated and vehement resistance.

The access to all sorts of information sources and their own interpretations of what they research made doubters to oppose consensus of experts.

We now face risks we can’t easily analyze

Our existence is invaded by science and technology as never before. For many of us, this brings comfort and rewards, but this existence is also more complicated and sometimes agitated.

Our lives are full of real and imaginary risks, and distinguishing between them isn’t easy. We have to be able to decide what to believe and how to act on that.

Marcia McNutt  - Geophysicist

Marcia McNutt - Geophysicist

“Science is not a body of facts. Science is a method for deciding whether what we choose to believe has a basis in the laws of nature or not.”

Rejecting what contradicts our naive beliefs

The scientific method exposes us to realities that are less obvious, sometimes mind-blowing, and even hard to accept.

When Galileo Galilei stated that Earth spins on its axis and orbits the Sun (in the early 17th century), he rejecting church doctrine and also asked people to believe something that defied common sense ( The Sun is going around the Earth, and you can’t feel the Earth spinning). Galileo was put on trial and forced to recant.

Relying more on stories than on statistics

Someone might get a prostate-specific antigen test for example, even if it’s no longer commonly advised, simply because that test caught cancer for a person they know, but they are less influenced by statistical evidence and research conclusions that point to the fact that the test rarely saves lives and instead generates many unnecessary surgeries.

The scientific method: a hard discipline

This is true even for scientists, because they’re exposed confirmation bias too (searching for and picking up only evidence that confirms what someone already believes).

But unlike the rest of us, they submit their ideas to formal peer review before publishing them. Once their results are published, other scientists will try to reproduce them (if they have enough relevance and importance) and, being naturally skeptical and competitive, they will denounce them if they don’t hold up.

Scientists rarely proclaim an absolute truth

Scientific results are always provisional, susceptible to being overturned by some future experiment or observation. Scientists rarely proclaim absolute certainty. Uncertainty is inevitable at the frontiers of knowledge.

Reason and emotion

Science make appeal to our rational brain, but our beliefs are driven mostly by emotion, and our biggest interest is fulfilling the need to fit in.

This need to fit in is so strong, that local values and local opinions are always exceed science. And they will continue to do so.

Scientific thinking needs to be taught

The scientific method doesn’t come naturally, but neither does democracy. For most of human history neither existed.

SIMILAR ARTICLES & IDEAS:

The Scientific Mind
The Scientific Mind

The mind of a scientist cannot be that just a set of beliefs. It has to be an objective, open and experimental mind. A scientific way of thinking is always systematic, based on testing, bui...

Not Trusting Scientific Knowledge

Though science has helped humanity for centuries, it is not fully trusted. Part of the reason is that scientific knowledge is incomplete.

It is often resisted by a section of people, who don’t believe in vaccines, climate change, or the man-made genetic advancement in crops. As an example, many families believe vaccination causes autism in children, and no matter what is done to counter it, the belief is stuck in people’s brains.

Science And Pseudoscience

Many people from all sections of society do not trust in science, as they don’t trust the authority of the scientific community. The Pseudo Scientists try to debunk science by:

  • Arguing that the entire scientific consensus is a conspiracy.
  • Getting fake experts to produce information that contradicts scientific findings.
  • Argue using selective data, and using a small example to discredit the entire field.
  • Deploying false analogies and other fallacies that appear logical.
  • Setting impossible expectations and counter-arguments towards the scientists.

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Explaining Science
Explaining Science

There is a lot of misinformation about scientific knowledge among the general public. Scientists assume that by explaining science to people they can inform the defend science from public misinform...

Science Literacy

Studies prove that merely increasing science literacy straightforwardly is not going to change mindsets. Simply knowing more and lecturing about it is not going to convince the audience.

Scientists should consider how they are deploying knowledge. Facts aren't enough, and they need to tap into the emotions of the audience for fruitful interaction.

Communicating about Science

Strategy and rhetorician skills need to be deployed, as merely lecturing like a university professor isn't going to do any good: 

  • Simply explaining science does not tell the audience why it matters to them, and doesn't 'hard sell' the purpose or the motivation of the right information.
  • Communicating science without first gaining the audience's trust is bound to be a vain exercise.
  • Trying to debunk a myth by repeating it and saying it's false, doesn't do any good, as the audience ends up remembering the myth only. A better way is to reframe the issue.
Cherry picking

It is a logical fallacy and it happens when we choose and focus only on evidence that supports our views and arguments while ignoring anything that may contradict us.

The problem with cherry picking
  • It fails to take into consideration all the available information
  • It presents information in a misleading way.
  • It might lead to improper analysis and might cause someone to paint a misleading picture of a certain outcome.
The principle of total evidence

Also referred to as Bernoulli’s maxim, it states that, when assessing the probability that a certain hypothesis is true, we must take into account all the available information.

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The role of identity in denial
The role of identity in denial

Some psychologists state that the denial of facts is frequently based on identity and belonging, not on ignorance and. If this is the case, changing minds would require more than proper rea...

Denial: Rejecting the evidence

Denial refers to the rejection or diminution of a phenomenon that has a large and even overwhelming body of supporting evidence.

Our aversion to cognitive dissonance

Cognitive dissonance is a negative, tensed emotional state that is caused by holding beliefs or behaviors that are inconsistent with one another.

Because cognitive dissonance brings discomfort, we try to escape it. There are 2 options to get rid of it: to change a behavior or to change a belief. Most people choose the second option.

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Secularism's Rise is Halted

A Social Sciences prediction that all cultures would converge and become something resembling the secular, western liberal democracy has proven to be false.

There is a shift in many countries...

A decline in Religious Belief
  • Religious belief has seen a steady decline across the world.
  • Close to 30% of people in Australia claim to have no religion, and countries like western Europe report low levels of religious commitment.
  • Even in the U.S., the number of atheists has risen to 3%.
David Martin
David Martin

"There is no consistent relation between the degree of scientific advance and a reduced profile of religious influence, belief and practice.:

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Survival of The Fittest

The famous Charles Darwin theory, 'survival of the fittest' has turned into a cultural cliché. The theory proposes that living beings naturally fight and compete with each other to survive.

T...

Collaborative Interdependence

Hundreds of studies on plants and animal behavior in recent years reveal that living things, including humans, are in reality multispecies events of collaboration and interdependence.

This is seen in the way fungus helps nurture and connect trees, or the way algae and coral form a partnership to create colorful coral reefs.

Life is more complex and collaborative than previously thought.

The Climate Crisis

The recent findings which prove that competition is not natural, at least not more than collaboration, pave the way to think about our relationship with the planet, and the millions of species inhabiting it.

Environmentalists are tackling the climate crisis assume that people are by nature bound to harm ecology, and will consume and plunder the natural resources. This leaves them with a narrow set of solutions to control the crisis.

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Paradox of knowledge

The increased access to information and knowledge we have today does not empower us or make us more cognitively autonomous.

Instead, it makes us more dependent on other people's judgments and...

From Information to Reputation

There is a fundamental paradigm shift in our relationship to knowledge from 'information age', moving towards the 'reputation age'.

This shift involves valuing information only if it has already been filtered, evaluated and commented upon by others. From this perspective, reputation has become a central pillar or gatekeeper of collective intelligence. We become reliant on biased judgments of other people.

Reliant on reputation

If you are asked why you believe in, for instance, the big changes in climate, you might answer that:

  • You trust the reputation of scientific research and believe that peer-review is a reasonable way of sifting out 'truths'. 
  • You trust newspapers, magazines or TV channels that endorse a political view that supports scientific research to summarise its findings for you. (Here you are twice-removed from the source - you trust other people's trust in science.)
Even in conspiracy theories, people trust secondhand information based on the reputation of the sources.

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Conspiracy Theories
Conspiracy Theories

In the earlier times, conspiracy theories were a convenient way to cover up the inadequacies of the government, and putting a set of helpless people as a scapegoat, cloaking the misdeeds or mismana...

We Love A Good Story

The organic and unpredictable nature of conspiracy theories had led many researchers to investigate the cause of the phenomenon.

  • Successful conspiracy theories always tend to invent a great villain, have a backdrop or a backstory, and a morality lesson that can be easily understood by most.
  • Great stories are by nature more magnetic and appealing than the truth.
  • Human beings think and understand in stories. For thousands of years, fairy tales, legends, anecdotes and mysteries have helped our brains make sense of the world.
Collective Hysteria

Every society has its own, unique anxieties and obsessions, and the conspiracy theories that gain good mileage are the ones that tap into these primal fears.

Example: Many people fear vaccination of the children due to fears that the mass drive to vaccinate such a large population has some ulterior motive, like a mass medical experiment. The dodgy past record of the health care system, and the fact that the vaccination is free of charge, of course, adds fuel to the fire.

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Power of belief over evidence
Power of belief over evidence
It's the result of two factors: 
  • cognitive dissonance: the uncomfortable tension that comes from holding two conflicting thoughts simultaneously.
  •  the backf...
How to convince someone when facts fail
  • keep emotions out of the exchange;
  • discuss, don't attack;
  • listen carefully and try to articulate the other position accurately;
  • show respect'
  • acknowledge that you understand why someone might hold that opinion;
  • try to show how changing facts does not necessarily mean changing worldviews.