Psychologists ask: What makes some smart people so skeptical of science?

Discussion in 'General Science & Technology' started by paddoboy, Jan 27, 2017.

  1. paddoboy Valued Senior Member


    Washington, D.C., revelers and protesters are marking the ascendance of a new president and the populist movement he says he has mobilized.

    Some 1,600 miles away in San Antonio, thousands of psychologists from around the world are also marking the dawn of the Trump era by focusing their attention on the thought processes that prompt some people to resist and reject science. Matters for which there is a broad scientific consensus — including man-made climate change, the safety of childhood vaccines and Darwin’s theory of evolution — have been attacked as hoaxes and lies by senior members of the new administration.

    Psychologists have come up with a name for this trend: the “anti-enlightenment movement.”

    To better understand it, these professional observers of human behavior will draw from a recent election campaign in which fake news exploded, conspiracy theories flourished and derision was heaped on elites of all kinds.

    “We were motivated by anxiety,” said social psychologist Matthew Hornsey, who organized a symposium on the issue for this weekend’s annual meeting of the Society for Personality and Social Psychology.

    The popular rejection of scientific thinking — and sometimes of facts that are plainly evident — didn’t begin with the campaign that brought forth Donald Trump’s presidency, Hornsey and others said. But if anyone doubted its existence before, they could do so no longer.

    ”We’re asking, ‘What are these biases leading people to resist science? Where do they come from? How do they operate and what can be done about them?’” said University of Oregon social psychologist Troy H. Campbell, who will be speaking at the symposium.

    Those questions won’t be easy to answer. Psychologists will have to delve into the guts of human decision-making. They will dissect the ways in which we discount information — however well evidenced — that conflicts with what we want to believe about ourselves and the ways things work. They will examine the role of our social networks, and the cognitive shortcuts we take to interpret scientific conclusions we don’t really understand. They will consider the role that declining trust plays in people’s decision to believe what they’re told.

    “People don’t act like scientists, weighing up evidence in an even-handed way,” said Hornsey, a professor of psychology at the University of Queensland in Australia. “When someone wants to believe something — for whatever reason — then they act more like lawyers trying to prosecute what they already want to be true. And they selectively attend to and critique the evidence to be able to do that.”

    more at link.....
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  3. sculptor Valued Senior Member

    Vere Gordon Childe
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  5. iceaura Valued Senior Member

    From someone who has found themselves on the wrong side of a self-proclaimed and unsinkable "scientific consensus" more than once, and in a couple of cases has had the satisfying experience of seeing that "consensus" broken on the iceberg of subsequent circumstance, a word of caution:

    however you proceed in analyzing this "anti-enlightenment movement", keep in mind that the "scientific consensus" has a problematic track record of its own.

    The wariness of people who have in the past been deceived or misled by "scientific consensus" not actually well based in science, should be treated with courtesy, at a minimum not unduly mocked. Imho. And that may save some embarrassment in the long run, as well as improving the brand image.

    Because this
    is going to be met with "oh really" by some well-justified people.

    And this:
    seems to omit one of the elephants in the room: the prevalence of concerted and well funded media efforts to deceive and confuse people about science, scientists, and scientific fact. Declining trust is after all an effect, which has causes of its own.
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  7. DaveC426913 Valued Senior Member

    Agree. I don't think people distrust science per se; they distrust the dissemination of information as agenda-based.

    Note the phrase: "...facts that are plainly evident...". There's not a lot that's "plainly evident" to even science-minded people these days. You can't do your own studies of climate change in your backyard.
    river and Yazata like this.
  8. sculptor Valued Senior Member

    "scientific consensus" = groupthink?
  9. Schmelzer Valued Senior Member

    The first "problem" is the change of the technology of distribution of information. The internet makes paper press unnecessary, and everybody can, with a simple blog, for free, distribute information. This is good. It is no longer a small minority of the rich which can distribute information to a wide public.

    The other problem was the concentration in the mass media. There are technical aspects as well: In the past, you needed a printing press and some journalists, and some boys to sell the newspaper in your town. What you need today to manage a newspaper? Marketing and so on? Lawyers? I don't know, but quite probable that concentration makes sense already from such technical as well as "technical" (bureaucratic, legal) reasons.

    But what is much more important was that control of the press gives much more, namely political power. You don't like a politician, but own the press? No problem, a smear campaign and the problem is solved. The press is no longer the fourth power, but the first, it decides who wins elections in democracies. So it was bought by the power-hungry. Once the power-hungry buy it, they buy it not to make profit - they buy it to reach their political aims. They do not sell this tool even if it gives no profit. There is competition, so, finally the same profit rate for all, and, once some key players do not care about profit made by the paper itself, but about politics, and the resulting much bigger profits they own if their own puppets rule the country, they survive, while the classical profit-makers go out of the unprofitable market.

    Once a small local paper has no own political power, it makes no sense to have one, except as part of a bigger media corporation where it helps to increase the political power. Thus, the result will be media concentration. And once the most important income is that from political influence, and it depends on the political influence, it makes sense to unify even media which, otherwise, have nothing in common, like TV and newspapers.

    But the most important consequence is that without the use of the political influence - which is the ability to lie in a coordinated way so that masses can be influenced - to have media is unprofitable. So, the market forces will be unable to solve the problem with lying media.
    river and sculptor like this.
  10. C C Consular Corps - "the backbone of diplomacy" Valued Senior Member

    An amusing irony here is that mitigated skepticism can result from just informed people being aware for circa a decade of the "publish or perish" problems afflicting the very social sciences which these alarmist organizers reside in. As well as such outputting a bevy of hypothetical musings treated as fact (after circulating into socio-psychological pop media), which outright eluded being tested, much less replicated.

    And an array of skewering measurement complexities, too small sampling studies (sometimes even without control groups) and correlations regarded as causal... That besiege flip-flopping biomedical research, and the questionable funding dependencies in the pharmaceutical industry. Not to mention an uptick in basic, classic fraud.

    The inevitable evolution of bad science

    Science is in a reproducibility crisis: How do we resolve it?

    How science goes wrong

    The truth wears off

    But only "mitigated skepticism" because there is balance. When one self-deprecating part of an institutional body comes out of the closet to shoot itself in the foot, another part belonging to the classic idealization of the enterprise will race in for damage control...

    JOHN HORGAN: [...] Consequently, science yields not truth but what comedy talk-show host Stephen Colbert calls "truthiness." None of this should surprise veteran science watchers—or anyone who's taken a course in the history or philosophy of science. I've whacked fields such as clinical psychology and behavioral genetics for churning out claims [...] that don't stand up to scrutiny. But Lehrer does a good job pulling together multiple strands into a unifying narrative of doubt. He cites the remarkable recent work of the epidemiologist John Ioaniddis, who has presented evidence that "most published research findings are false."

    So why does Lehrer's article make me uneasy? First of all [...] only gradually does Lehrer make it clear that he attributes the effect to reporting bias. Some readers might still conclude that Lehrer is talking about an objective rather than subjective phenomenon [...] Moreover, Lehrer too quickly rules out fraud, especially in the case of reporting on drug trials, where the financial stakes are huge; he attributes the decline effect to "subtle omissions and unconscious misperceptions, as researchers struggle to make sense of their results."

    But these are quibbles. My main complaint is that Lehrer makes science as a whole sound much "truthier" than it really is. [...] Lehrer himself seems to have realized that he went too far. On his blog The Frontal Cortex, he dismisses the notion that "The Truth Wears Off" implicitly undermines the status of the theory of evolution by natural selection and global warming, which are "two of the most robust and widely tested theories of modern science." He also denies that he is "some sort of Derridean postmodernist, trying to turn publication bias into an excuse to not believe in anything."
  11. Yazata Valued Senior Member

    Her intro reveals this "journalist's" own personal biases. She wants to write another anti-Trump newspaper opinion piece.

    What really happened was that a professional organization called the Society for Personality and Social Psychology held its 2017 meeting in San Antonio, with upwards of a thousand social psychologists in attendance. The meeting hosted upwards of 80 presentations. Only one of them addressed the issue that she wants to discuss, so it's just false to suggest that the entire meeting was "focused" on this one issue discussed in a single presentation.

    At least one other presentation addressed the 'replicability crisis' in psychology, so it would be just as accurate to say that the convention was focused on the problem that fewer than half of psychological "studies" appear to be replicable.

    I don't know that a widespread sense of skepticism qualifies as a "movement". Or that it represents a wholesale rejection of enlightenment values. It's probably mistaken to even spin this as "rejecting" science.

    Three points:

    1. Laypeople untrained in science have no alternative but to take the pronouncements of scientists on faith. From the point of view of laymen, scientists are really no different than theologians.

    2. When would-be intellectual authorities appear to have an agenda, and when they appear to have their conclusions already in hand even before they begin the research that always seems to support their preexisting beliefs, reasonable doubts arise regarding the objectivity of the process.

    3. That's doubly true when particular topics appear to have become thoroughly politicized. Many people quite reasonably think "I'm not convinced". It's not entirely clear why they should be.

    I think that what makes laypeople doubtful is the perception that sometimes scientists are doing exactly that.

    The real issue here is how people should respond to the pronouncements of purported intellectual authorities. On one hand, it's difficult to go through life without trusting people who have expertise in areas we don't. (Even scientists have to do that.) But it's equally foolish to be entirely credulous, believing everything that supposedly authoritative people tell us. Critical thinking becomes necessary.

    That's when one's judgement of the objectivity and possible preexisting biases of the purported authorities becomes relevant.
  12. paddoboy Valued Senior Member

    I'm not saying that science, and the scientific method is perfect...I'm merely presenting an article that covers the rejection of some scientific views on matters of great concern. Climate change and what man contributes to it, anti vaccination nonsense, just to name two.
    The article presents one side of course, and while the scientific methodology and how it operates is not perfect, and has presented problems in the past, it still without doubt, is the best system that we have.

    I actually agree. I'm sure also that if situations were to present themselves, such as perhaps a catastrophic meteor hit, that most would gladly turn towards science as its saviour.
    Sure lay people take science on faith in many instances, but we all take many things on faith everyday but to equate that with theology is silly.
    I have no doubt that that has happened and probably will happen again, but again to decry all of science for the action/s of a few is silly. Nothing is perfect, sadly.
    Also reasonable to accept why people may remain unconvinced.
    But when the consequences are as serious and as threatening as say global warming and climate change, I would personally rather err on the side of caution. What about you?
    See my previous example.
  13. river

    Smart people know that gov. secrecy , politics , money , power , ego , distort the truth.
  14. spidergoat Venued Serial Membership Valued Senior Member

    That's not a smart statement.
  15. paddoboy Valued Senior Member

    Smart people also are able to sort myth from scientific fact or theory,
  16. river

    river said:
    Exactly , hence what I do .
  17. paddoboy Valued Senior Member


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  18. karenmansker HSIRI Banned

    What makes some smart people so skeptical of science (OP)? Most 'smart' people can easily recognize biased/ignorant pseudoscientists for what they are!
  19. river

    Smart people are Truth seekers .
  20. paddoboy Valued Senior Member

    The smart people certainly recognise the pseudoscience nuts from reputable scientists, but that isn't really hard to do.....most of those nuts seem to congregate on forums such as this thankfully!

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    Leaves the reputable scientists to do the proper research.
  21. river

  22. sculptor Valued Senior Member

    That is because it was a question?
    I had thought that the "?" made that obvious...
    Vere Gordon Childe
    Klaus Schmidt
  23. paddoboy Valued Senior Member

    If conformity is closer to reality, then so be it...rather more crazy and ridiculious to be anti mainstream just for the sake of it and wearing it like some badge of honour..

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