Why do people believe what they believe in regard to science?

I enjoy trying to understand what makes people tick, and found this review interesting:
The blog reviews this study but brings in other information:

While there are a lot of topics addressed, one quote is interesting to our position here:
" Some patterns did emerge, in line with previous research, showing a strong correlation between an analytical style of thinking and acceptance of the scientific consensus. There was also a positive correlation with a liberal ideology, and a negative correlation with religious belief and conspiracy ideation.

So, it appears the best approach to science denial is not putting forth facts, but rather teaching critical thinking skills. Nothing really new there, but something …to think about.


We are also not doing this alone – we are social creatures and have a robust social network through which we spread ideas. In many cases motivated reasoning comes prepackaged. All the work of inventing creative reasons, cherry picking evidence, twisting logic, attacking scientists and institutions, and making emotional appeals has already been done. It’s even been market-tested, tweaked, and improved. The result is slick (and often well-funded) science-denial that takes real dedication to unpack.

I’m sure a lot of us could name names on this point!

The good news is that critical thinking skills are broadly applicable. That’s why I often encourage teaching critical thinking around topics that are less emotional (for the target audience), and then slowly encouraging the application of those critical thinking skills to more and more emotionally held beliefs. This is actually a life-long process, and it’s never done.

Maybe that’s why I had to accept vaccines and GMOs before I could accept evolution. :wink:


Thank you. There is certainly lots to think about here! Our state (Michigan) just legalized recreational marijuana, and I’ve had conversations with folks who simultaneously reject all vaccines and believe that pot is a health food (or healthy tobacco), when each joint is worth 20 cigarettes in terms of lung–not to speak of immune system, mental and liver-- damage. However, this article helped me some of my own pride and lack of empathy when I try to oppose an idea head on without understanding where others are coming from.

Ahhh – those gateway drugs.

One place I felt a bit of personal bite from the article was here:

Then there are those who will dismiss entire swathes of science out of hand. This is commonly done through an appeal to conspiracy theories, such as references to “Big Pharma”, or the notion that doctors lie to make money, that the system is broken and cannot be trusted, or even that science itself is broken.

So would this author suggest that there is nothing but conspiracy myth in concepts like Big Pharma? Maybe not, or at least I hope not. Just because concepts like “Big Pharma” or “Big Tobacco” or “Big Oil” will no doubt play host to all sorts of falsehood, they will also have a lot of truth in them too. Probably the world is not under the control of some tight-knit, super-secret cabal running all such big things, but neither does it sound remotely plausible to suggest there have never been loose conspiracies of self-interest sacrificing the common good on the altar of personal power and gain - thus provoking well-warranted suspicions to apply well-earned monikers.

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My favorite example of ‘Big Pharma’ is from the traditional medicine community that unfortunately actually did have the power to throw a doctor in jail for speaking against their pseudoscience:

I’d also toss out some of the tactics of ‘big tobacco’ include science denial and buying scientists with their pocketbooks to talk about ‘the controversy’ that isn’t even a real one:

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And the climate denial folks use the same playbook that “big tobacco” uses. .

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Similar, but in the case of tobacco and climate change (and other fake controversies) it was the George C. Marshall Institute.

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It is sort of ironic that “big supplement” has become such a powerful political and economic force that that they prevent meaningful regulation of their industry. Of course, Big Pharmacy and Big Insurance had a major seat at the table with Obamacare and got their interests written in with their buddy Big Government.
All of which as Merv stated at least partially represents our bias and willingness to want to see conspiracy theories (but also agree that the forces of evil are real).
I agree that a big part of the answer is education to enable people to judge what is put out there, but that is inadequate in many cases as most will not have the skill and knowledge to make good decisions. We must to some extent have authorities we can trust and who will represent us well. Sigh.


I’d like to obtain drilling rights to Big Essential OIl.


“Do You Believe In Magic” is a great review of how fear can elevate naturopathy above science, but also a humble assessment of how no one (docs included, who used to give strychnine 100 years ago to stimulate the heart!) can recommend anything without fair testing. My partner gave me a copy and it changed the way I look at herbs and supplements:

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These things are a wonderful way to have expensive urine.


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