Why Do Many Reasonable People Doubt Science?

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.


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Why Do Many Reasonable People Doubt Science?

Why Do Many Reasonable People Doubt Science?


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.



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.
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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