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Science Politics

When Beliefs and Facts Collide 725

Posted by samzenpus
from the what-do-you-think dept.
schnell writes A New York Times article discusses a recent Yale study that shows that contrary to popular belief, increased scientific literacy does not correspond to increased belief in accepted scientific findings when it contradicts their religious or political views. The article notes that this is true across the political/religious spectrum and "factual and scientific evidence is often ineffective at reducing misperceptions and can even backfire on issues like weapons of mass destruction, health care reform and vaccines." So what is to be done? The article suggests that "we need to try to break the association between identity and factual beliefs on high-profile issues – for instance, by making clear that you can believe in human-induced climate change and still be a conservative Republican."
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When Beliefs and Facts Collide

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  • Not surprising. (Score:5, Insightful)

    by Anonymous Coward on Sunday July 06, 2014 @08:47AM (#47392745)

    Humans aren't motivated by logic. Instead, they use logic as a tool to satisfy their emotional needs. No tool suits every problem.

    • Re:Not surprising. (Score:5, Insightful)

      by Anonymous Coward on Sunday July 06, 2014 @08:57AM (#47392811)

      One thing that we all need to realize is that ALL of us have this same issue, not just the people who disagree with you.

      • Re:Not surprising. (Score:5, Interesting)

        by MightyMartian (840721) on Sunday July 06, 2014 @11:23AM (#47393677) Journal

        True, but some of us are willing to accept that the universe doesn't give a fuck about ideology.

        When AGW first became a big issue in the 1990s I was talking against it as a big scam on Usenet; particularity my old haunt talk.origins. it was when one of the regulars, a biologist (why any scientist would waste his time debating Creationists I'll never understand), pointed out to me that the theory was reasonably well supported, there were a boatload of papers and that science isn't the product of emotional need, and I finally accepted that AGW, even if it suggested things that I didn't like, was legitimate science.

        • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

          by chipschap (1444407)
          That's what GW needs to be all about, legitimate science and letting the science speak for itself. Unfortunately the likes of Al Gore have been a real problem for obtaining wide acceptance of GW. Let's please drop the hype and posturing on both sides and follow the science. This isn't about what someone would like to believe or wants to believe. It's about finding and accepting the scientific truth, and then doing what's necessary (and not doing what's not necessary). And please don't imply anything from th
      • Re:Not surprising. (Score:5, Interesting)

        by ultranova (717540) on Sunday July 06, 2014 @11:36AM (#47393729)

        One thing that we all need to realize is that ALL of us have this same issue, not just the people who disagree with you.

        The problem is that admitting it puts you at a significant disadvantage at debates. If you can no longer summon the (self-)righteous fury your opponent can, not only are you more likely to give in from sheer exhaustion, but people viewing the debate are likely to consider your opponent as dominant and confuse that as being right. This, in turn, can have unfortunate consequences if the topic is something actually important, rather than just a means to establishing pack hierarchy.

        I don't know if it's possible to tame your inner alpha male to the point where you can let it handle poo-flinging contests with other monkeys while still keeping your human intelligence in control of what you believe in or do, but if it is we'd better learn how fast, because we're running out of time. Or perhaps the problem is precisely the idea that it needs to be "tamed", rather than recruited as a member of the internal team. Perhaps we should simply accept that humans tend to establish pecking order, and practice how to do so without slipping into abuse or idiocy.

        Then again, that would require admitting that people who think mainly in terms of pack hierarchy and territory aren't necessarily any less intelligent than people who think mainly in terms of logic and science, they just interpret the same message through a different lens. And that might be an unbearable blow to quite a few egos.

    • Re: (Score:2, Informative)

      by fustakrakich (1673220)

      Yes we know. We've all discussed this [slashdot.org] a very short time ago. The intellect serves the primitive brain.

    • Re: (Score:2, Insightful)

      by Spazmania (174582)

      "97 percent of climate scientists believe human activities are causing global warming."

      That's not a scientific statement, it's a political one. Science doesn't vote, it either provably is or it isn't.

      When we push beliefs on people and claim it's science, we shouldn't be surprised when they treat it as flexibly as they do any other belief. Nor should we be surprised when such misuse of science erodes their faith in its overall veracity.

      Is climate change human caused? Hell if I know. But I know it's been push

      • Re: Not surprising. (Score:3, Informative)

        by Anonymous Coward

        The percentages come from looking at all studies, papers, research, etc. and determining the number one one side or the other. The "voting" is indirect through statistics, not scientist going to the polls, so to speak.

      • Re:Not surprising. (Score:5, Insightful)

        by ShanghaiBill (739463) on Sunday July 06, 2014 @09:55AM (#47393115)

        But I know it's been pushed on the public about as unscientifically as Eugenics and Phrenology.

        Whoa! Phrenology has no scientific basis, but Eugenics certainly does. If you take all the people with traits you don't like, and murder them, you will have fewer of those traits in the next generation. That is a scientific fact. Just because you don't like the political act of mass murder, doesn't make it scientifically invalid.

        • by mark-t (151149)

          If you take all the people with traits you don't like, and murder them, you will have fewer of those traits in the next generation. That is a scientific fact. Just because you don't like the political act of mass murder, doesn't make it scientifically invalid.

          Do you have a case study that you can reference which substantiates this claim?

          • Re:Not surprising. (Score:5, Insightful)

            by TubeSteak (669689) on Sunday July 06, 2014 @10:51AM (#47393449) Journal

            Do you have a case study that you can reference which substantiates this claim?

            I'm not sure why you need a case study to support research that was originally done almost 150 years ago,
            but If you'll accept "not allowing the undesirables to breed" as a proxy for "murder them,"
            here's a more recent long term study: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Domesticated_silver_fox [wikipedia.org]

            Or you could just read about Mendel's original research with pea plants and honey bees.

        • by Spazmania (174582)

          Phrenology has no scientific basis, but Eugenics certainly does. If you take all the people with traits you don't like, and murder them, you will have fewer of those traits in the next generation. That is a scientific fact.

          That's basic animal husbandry. Eugenics takes it a step further - to a belief that weeding out the undesirables in a population will improve the species. But the last century of animal husbandry and now genetics suggests a different result - that from bulldogs to dairy cows the more thoroughly bred the animal, the more fragile it becomes. That a loss of genetic diversity leads to extinction.

          Eugenics was presented as science -- look everybody, we can control attributes through breeding. Surely if we breed ou

        • It could work if it was done according to proper scientific management. The historic approaches tended to involve determining that the lowest social classes somehow happened to carry all the bad genes.

          A more modern approach could be, for example, tracking down everyone who carries a Huntington's disease gene and offering them free sterilization, and the promise of access to PGD should they wish to breed in the future (Or, if you're on a budget, you could just kill them - either way works). Thus an undesirab

        • Re:Not surprising. (Score:5, Interesting)

          by MightyMartian (840721) on Sunday July 06, 2014 @11:28AM (#47393709) Journal

          If you shot all the people you believe are demon possessed, there will be far less people you believe to be demon possessed. That doesn't make demon possession real.

          Eugenics is based in part on gross oversimplifications of genetics and in part on the absurd idea that attributes like economic status are biologically heredity.

        • Re:Not surprising. (Score:5, Insightful)

          by AthanasiusKircher (1333179) on Sunday July 06, 2014 @12:15PM (#47393923)

          Whoa! Phrenology has no scientific basis, but Eugenics certainly does. If you take all the people with traits you don't like, and murder them, you will have fewer of those traits in the next generation.

          While it is certainly true that selective breeding is a scientific fact, almost all historical eugenicist movements have NOT been based on scientifically verified traits. Take some time and read about the nonsense criteria that eugenics people would use -- measuring ear size or facial characteristics to determine "degenerate" people more likely to be stupid or commit crimes.

          You seem to think that "eugenics" is just a synonym for "selective breeding" or something. While the proponents of eugenics often claim that, in fact their criteria for selection were generally based on bogus "science" (even phrenology) and generally tend to be motivated more by politics or class distinctions than science.

          So, no, actual eugenics as practiced does NOT have a scientific basis, even if the general principle might theoretically work.

      • by rwa2 (4391) *

        Is climate change human caused? Hell if I know. But I know it's been pushed on the public about as unscientifically as Eugenics and Phrenology.

        Null hypothesis: Does human activity have no impact on the environment?

      • Re:Not surprising. (Score:5, Insightful)

        by Nemyst (1383049) on Sunday July 06, 2014 @10:27AM (#47393313) Homepage
        I'm sorry but that is extremely wrong. Science isn't math: it doesn't prove. The best you can do as a scientist is gather data and construct a model which fits this data. You then attempt to predict things and confirm those predictions with more data. The longer the model holds up, the more likely it is to be "right", but it's always just a model and it always could be shown wrong tomorrow.

        When a claim such as "97 percent of climate scientists believe human activities are causing global warming." is given, what it means is that 97% of climate scientists currently accept the model that humans are causing global warming. It means that, according to the data they have available and the models they have analyzed and/or constructed, the notion that humans drive global warming is prevalent in just about every model that accurately fits the data.

        The only reason this whole thing is political (or a debate in the first place) is because there are people who stand to lose significantly from environmentally friendly measures and a move away from hydrocarbons.
      • Re:Not surprising. (Score:5, Insightful)

        by Jawnn (445279) on Sunday July 06, 2014 @11:03AM (#47393541)

        "97 percent of climate scientists believe human activities are causing global warming."

        That's not a scientific statement, it's a political one.

        Actually, it is neither. It just is. As in "just is" a fact, readily observable and incontrovertible. Now, the suggestion that it is something else is, itself, a highly "political" statement clearly aimed at diminishing the weight of the fact that an overwhelming majority of those best equipped to assess the data have arrived at the same conclusion. No, the matter is not "settled". No scientist worthy of the title would even suggest as much, but the constantly repeated meme that we should thus do nothing until it is "settled" is simply insane.

        • You exaggerate here: "readily observable and incontrovertible". The study of abstracts of assorted scientific papers was done very subjectively. Some authors said they were counted as on one side when they were aren't on any side. And so on.

          That said, it's clearly a majority of climate science.

          Climate science finds itself in the unusual position of making quantitative predictions of chaotic systems based on numerical digital simulations, which in turn are based on limited data. Compare that to, oh say

      • by comp.sci (557773)
        "That's not a scientific statement, it's a political one." How else can you convince a layperson at all? Wikipedia tells me that Fermat's last theorem was proven after hundreds of years but when I look at the proof it is 150 pages long and inaccessible to me. If you tell me that 97 of 100 mathematicians who reviewed this proof stated it is correct I would happily agree that the problem has been solved. Essentially what it does is show you that the vast majority of individuals in the environmental sciences h
    • Re:Not surprising. (Score:5, Insightful)

      by ColdWetDog (752185) on Sunday July 06, 2014 @12:10PM (#47393893) Homepage

      Humans aren't a rational animal. They are a rationalizing animal.
      -- Heinlein.

  • Yep (Score:5, Funny)

    by Black Parrot (19622) on Sunday July 06, 2014 @08:50AM (#47392753)

    Those damb religio-political dogmatists keep blocking publication of my papers on the theory of anturgic phrogneal boropathy.

  • by fche (36607) on Sunday July 06, 2014 @08:51AM (#47392767)

    "for instance, by making clear that you can believe in human-induced climate change and still be a conservative Republican."

    Unsurprisingly, TFA/NYT chose that polarity as an exemplar instead of its opposite.

    • Re:quelle surprise (Score:4, Insightful)

      by Charliemopps (1157495) on Sunday July 06, 2014 @09:02AM (#47392849)

      Yes, but climate change is scientific fact. The opposing view that you're referring to would be that Liberal republicans could believe in the fantasy that climate change does not exist... and while it's true there are such democrats out there, they are not relevant to this topic. I think that, if you wanted to include democrats in a similar light you'd have to ask them about nuclear power. They tend to completely disregard science when it comes to technologies they fear. Thought this is a generalization. Which is the funny thing about this story. They seem to be reporting "Generalizations about an entire group of people are not 100% accurate!" Well, duh...

      • Re: (Score:2, Insightful)

        by Imrik (148191)

        Gravity isn't a scientific fact, exaggerating your position doesn't make it stronger.

        • Gravity isn't a scientific fact, exaggerating your position doesn't make it stronger.

          Yes it is. The argument you're making is silly, and old.
          It's called href="http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Argument_from_ignorance">Ad ignorantiam

          Using that argument I could disprove every "Fact" that's ever occurred. Are we all living in the matrix? Is this all the dream of a sleeping baby floating on a cloud? Yes, anything is possible, there are no "facts."

          But baring the dreams of floating sleeping babies, gravity is a FACT. Just like climate change. In science we deal with probobilities, and the probobil

  • Belief in Dupes (Score:2, Informative)

    by Anonymous Coward

    http://science.slashdot.org/story/14/05/28/0332258/belief-in-evolution-doesnt-measure-science-literacy?sdsrc=popbyskid

    It's not like it was a buried Slashdot post. It had >500 comments to it and has appeared for over a month in the "Stories you Might Like". How about reading Slashdot once in a while, Slashdot editors?

  • by Mr D from 63 (3395377) on Sunday July 06, 2014 @08:58AM (#47392823)

    for instance, by making clear that you can believe in human-induced climate change and still be a conservative Republican

    How about making it clear that people have a wide variety of views on things like GWT, and its not simply true believers vs deniers. How about making it clear that not all Democrats believe in gun control.

    • by itzly (3699663)
      The problem is that only laymen have a wide variety of views, while scientist are mostly share the same view.
      • Do you think scientists are all exactly in line on the rate of GW, the extent to which it is exacerbated by human activities, which of those activities are most impacting, to what extent we can improve the situation, and the expected impacts in the future?
        • Do you think scientists are all exactly in line on the rate of GW, the extent to which it is exacerbated by human activities, which of those activities are most impacting, to what extent we can improve the situation, and the expected impacts in the future?

          No. But that's not the claim that's being made. The claim is that 97% of climate scientists agree (based on their research and the data underpinning that research) that AGW (climate change due to human impact) exists. Questions about severity, impact and potential mitigation/solutions are not included in that claim. Understand now?

    • by pepty (1976012) on Sunday July 06, 2014 @09:34AM (#47392995)
      All of the Democrats in the house believe in gun control. But then again, so do all of the Republicans:

      http://www.politicususa.com/2013/12/03/gop-house-decides-2nd-amendment-limits-approves-gun-control-measure-voice-vote.html

      The republicans are much better at drawing people together based on commonalities in what they hate and fear than the Democrats. That has worked best by pushing simple yes/no good/bad simplified versions of issues - like gun control - and burying the complications.

      • Re: (Score:2, Insightful)

        by Mr D from 63 (3395377)

        The republicans are much better at drawing people together based on commonalities in what they hate and fear than the Democrats. That has worked best by pushing simple yes/no good/bad simplified versions of issues - like gun control - and burying the complications.

        Better? How about the "war on women" for example? Nobody has a monopoly on expertise in using those tactics.

  • I'm relatively literate from a scientific perspective, I hate all politicians equally and I have no religious beliefs.
    Where does that put me?

    • Re: (Score:2, Funny)

      by Anonymous Coward
      That puts you on NSA watchlist.
  • we need to try to break the association between identity and factual beliefs on high-profile issues

    I suspect that there are more than a few groups and people with influence who disagree. And from the evidence, they're likely to continue to get their way.

  • Something like this might go a long way in providing an alternative to the usual suspects:

    http://ideologicalfootprint.org/

  • by mark_reh (2015546) on Sunday July 06, 2014 @09:24AM (#47392945) Journal

    " for instance, by making clear that you can believe in human-induced climate change and still be a conservative Republican."

    But you can't. The Republicans won't have you.

    Ignorance is a choice, just like belief. The real problem is to get people to reject ignorance. The difficulty in that is that ignorance, like belief, is easy. Rejecting ignorance requires effort. That is why there are so many people who choose ignorance and belief over reason and fact.

    For many, being identified as a member of a specific group, even if that group wants you to believe stupid things, is more important than objective reality. They must get something from that group membership that outweighs what they would get from reality. Reality CAN be a bitch.
     

    • by mark-t (151149)

      But you can't. The Republicans won't have you.

      What...like they would supposedly go and tell them to vote for someone else?

    • Ignorance is a choice, just like belief. The real problem is to get people to reject ignorance. The difficulty in that is that ignorance, like belief, is easy. Rejecting ignorance requires effort. That is why there are so many people who choose ignorance and belief over reason and fact.

      Interesting belief you have there.

      I believe that belief is inherent to the human mind, necessary for operation in the world. I see belief in two general categories: rigid and fluid. When rigid, a belief is maintained even in

  • Increased scientific literacy increases sceptism toward those who claim to be the standard bearers of truth. "The more I learn the more I learn how little I know." Some old smart dude said something like this once.
  • by Karmashock (2415832) on Sunday July 06, 2014 @10:20AM (#47393271)

    The big mistake the AGW people made was letting politicians control the discussion.

    They allowed some politicians to use it as a weapon against other politicians which turned the issue into a partisan weapon.

    Around the time you saw Al Gore pushing an inconvient truth, that was when the AGW movement shifted from being about science to being a weapon.

    Seriously... Al Gore has personally done more damage to the AGW cause then anyone else in the world.

  • Our entire economic and political systems the world over are faith based. It is imperative that things remain as they are, or there will be chaos :-/

  • by RichMan (8097) on Sunday July 06, 2014 @11:57AM (#47393813)

    Being religious and "accepting science" is just drawing the boundaries in a different place. There is still a science no-go zone so they really do not accept science they just define the boundaries differently.

    How about on all beliefs should be rejected and replaced with reality. A belief system that contradicts with the world we live in should be diagnosed as a phsycological disorder.

    Psychosis is a loss of contact with reality that usually includes: False beliefs about what is taking place or who one is (delusions) ; Seeing or hearing things that aren't there (hallucinations).

    Why does society accept the mass relgious psychosis yet reject other forms?

    Science is about changing our "belief" system to match what we know about the world we live in. Religion is about denying the world we live in for a belief system that is a mental fugue.

  • by hey! (33014) on Sunday July 06, 2014 @03:46PM (#47394957) Homepage Journal

    God made humans rational beings.

  • by penguinoid (724646) <spambait001@yahoo.com> on Sunday July 06, 2014 @09:29PM (#47396823) Homepage Journal

    for instance, by making clear that you can believe in human-induced climate change and still be a conservative Republican."

    When it comes to politicians, the question is not what they believe, but what they say they believe. Politicians are not as dumb as they pretend to be, and would stop pretending the day we start treating continuous incompetence the same as malice.

    For example, there already are lots of Republican politicians who believe in global warming -- they just know better than to admit it. It would weaken their position, both during elections and during negotiations (since they intend to vote against any spending on curbing CO2). For what benefit? Honesty? They gave that up when they decided to win elections.

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