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Science, Evidence, Belief

“Faced with the choice between changing one’s mind and proving that there is no need to do so, almost everyone gets busy on the proof.” So said economist John Kenneth Galbraith, sardonically suggesting that people are more likely to follow their pre-existing prejudices than they are to be swayed by evidence.

A new paper makes the same point in sober academic language and raises a serious challenge to scientists.

Writing in the Journal of Applied Social Psychology, Geoffrey Munro of Towson University details experiments conducted to gauge how people react to having deeply held beliefs “refuted” by scientific studies (40: 3 [2010], 579–600). Their reaction—predictably, perhaps—was to challenge the nature, assumptions, and methodology of the study.

Please, please, pretty please don’t make me change my mind!

It gets worse. The research also showed that people who experience their preexisting bias on a particular subject being disproved by science are likely to reject not just the particular result, but the efficacy of scientific analysis in all situations. 

Since most of us have favorite shibboleths that we think are exempt from scientific challenge, it’s no wonder that the public’s overall confidence in science is shaky.

So what to do about this erosion of trust in the scientific method? Not an easy problem, but my reaction is to be more vigilant in my own life in accepting a culture of evidence rather than a culture of inchoate biases. If we all did so, we might just swing the pendulum a wee bit toward a more coherent and humane society.

Posted In: Education | Policy

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