Research results not consistent with your world view? Then you’re likely to believe science can’t supply all the answers
Ben Goldacre writes, “What do people do when confronted with scientific evidence that challenges their pre-existing view? Often they will try to ignore it, intimidate it, buy it off, sue it for libel or reason it away.”
How deep do these views go, and how far do they generalise? Professor Geoffrey Munro took about 100 students and told them they were participating in a study on “judging the quality of scientific information”, now published in the Journal of Applied Social Psychology. First, their views on whether homosexuality might be associated with mental illness were assessed, and then they were divided into two groups.
The first group were given five research studies that confirmed their pre-existing view. Students who thought homosexuality was associated with mental illness, for example, were given papers explaining that there were more gay people in psychological treatment centres than the general population. The second group were given research that contradicted their pre-existing view. (After the study was finished, we should be clear, they were told that all these research papers were fake, and given the opportunity to read real research on the topic if they wanted to.)
Then they were asked about the research they had read, and were asked to rate their agreement with the following statement: “The question addressed in the studies summarised … is one that cannot be answered using scientific methods.”
As you would expect, the people whose pre-existing views had been challenged were more likely to say that science simply cannot be used to measure whether homosexuality is associated with mental illness.