7 November 2015

When Facts Don’t Matter

Posted by Dan Satterfield

Screen Shot 2014-12-08 at 6.10.30 PMLast month, I wrote a two-part post last month about the psychology behind science denial. I thought it worth sharing, because understanding how your brain makes massive judgement errors can lead to fewer of them! Now, Joe Hanson at It’s OK To Be Smart has produced a great video that summarizes the psychology of science denial, and it’s really worth watching.

While at a weather conference in Oklahoma City last month, I had a conversation with an atmospheric science professor from Colorado who often talks to groups about climate science. We found that we were both fascinated by the psychology of denial, and I mentioned The Authoritarians by Altemeyer, while he gave me a tip on two more. I’m currently reading Thinking Fast/Thinking Slow, (More about the author and his research from Chris Mooney here) and next up is The Righteous Mind. Also, Joe Hanson mentions another one in his video as well. 

No, I’m not trying to discover how to convince science deniers to see the light, or some silly Texas politician that NOAA isn’t secretly cooking the books on climate (By the way, kudos NOAA/ AMS!). Frankly, the psychology makes it clear: I’d be wasting my time, because facts DON’T MATTER to hard-core science deniers.

Watch the video and scroll down for some final thoughts.

Ctsy XKCD.com

Ctsy XKCD.com

Read the comments about that video on YouTube (If you dare), and you’ll see the Dunning-Kruger effect (and much of the rest of this psychology) in action. I feel for those trying to reason with people who are immune to reason, but they’re spinning their wheels. You often hear these people accusing researchers of “refusing to debate” with them. Now you know why.

In short, understanding more about how we think will not to keep you from saying something really ignorant on YouTube, (or the campaign trail?). However, it just may keep you from doing that, and having no clue THAT PEOPLE ARE LAUGHING AT YOU! This is a good enough reason for all of us to read up on the subject!

So, reading these books will make you a better critical thinker, but it won’t help you convince the science deniers. You’ll just have more empathy for them, and that’s not a bad thing.