Conspiracists of a feather flock together

This study is controversial and not without its problems, topmost being it was self-selected and not randomized but it does reveal some characteristics scientists should ponder.

Why people reject science (Science Alert)

Researchers from The University of Western Australia have examined what motivates people who are greatly involved in the climate debate to reject scientific evidence.

The study Motivated Rejection of Science, to be published in Psychological Science, was designed to investigate what motivates the rejection of science in visitors to climate blogs who choose to participate in the ongoing public debate about climate change.

More than 1000 visitors to blogs dedicated to discussions of climate science completed a questionnaire that queried people’s belief in a number of scientific questions and conspiracy theories, including: Princess Diana’s death was not an accident; the Apollo moon landings never happened; HIV causes AIDS; and smoking causes lung cancer. The study also considered the interplay of these responses with the acceptance of climate science, free market ideology and the belief that previous environmental problems have been resolved.

The results showed that those who subscribed to one or more conspiracy theories or who strongly supported a free market economy were more likely to reject the findings from climate science as well as other sciences.

Tip: JREF Forum

The full paper is available here (PDF).

Crank magnetism is already a well-known phenomena as anybody who has spent more than an hour on the internet is aware and this research tends to support that casual observation. But remember the first rule of skepticism: be especially skeptical of things you want to be true.

Another important point made here was the value of the perception of scientific consensus:

[...] a major determinant of the acceptance of science was the perceived consensus among scientists. The more agreement among scientists, the more people were likely to accept the scientific findings.

This suggests two things – that scientists should present their findings in a very positive way, possibly doing their darndest to downplay the “uncertainty” and that efforts to sow doubt works. We can learn from this. Dr. Lewandowsky has an excellent website here (Skeptical Science). [John Cook actually runs the site Skeptical Science.] Check out the free handbook on Debunking co-writen by Dr. Lewandowsky (at Skeptical Science site).

  5 comments for “Conspiracists of a feather flock together

  1. September 8, 2012 at 2:14 PM

    Small correction: the excellent Skeptical Science web site is actually run by John Cook, he and Lewandowsky co-wrote the Debunking handbook together.

  2. One Eyed Jack
    September 8, 2012 at 2:44 PM

    http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=uVnQPGE36P4&feature=player_embedded#!

    Great BBC show on what happens when conspiracy theorists are confronted with evidence that contradicts their view.

  3. peter
    September 10, 2012 at 8:00 AM

    phenomenon singular, phenomena plural
    a phenomenon

    • Chew
      September 10, 2012 at 9:11 AM

      D’oh!

      Thanks.

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