Not News: When the scientific evidence is unwelcome, people try to reason it away

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.”

The entire editorial is a good one. Read it here.

Here’s another highlight:

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.

One thought on “Not News: When the scientific evidence is unwelcome, people try to reason it away

  1. I bet they could get some similar results when it comes to political biases and how that relates to how one dismisses or embraces various news outlets, factcheckers, government websites run by one party in power or the other, etc, etc, etc.

    One interesting phenomenon that keeps popping up (including recently) is how many of the republicans now are distrustful of the Bureau of Labor Statistics official numbers, with conspiracy theories about how they’re being distorted to help Democrats, and beliefs in urban legends about the methodology for the same.

    Democrats tend to be far more trustful of the numbers now and are eager to debunk the conspiracy theories, urban legends, and inaccurate methodologies floating around.

    This is the exact opposite behavior during the Bush years… and yet the conspiracy theories, urban legends, and inaccurate methodologies used have all been the exact same ones (with a rare exception on changed details here or there).

    The BLS hadn’t done anything different to gain/lose confidence in all those years. The various arguments to distrust them were and still are factually wrong. People just gravitated towards trusting or distrusting things in a way that helped confirm what they already believed. Psychology makes cynics of even the most objective political scientists. We’re a bunch of yahoos. 🙂

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s