Author Topic: Why People Fly From The Facts  (Read 1264 times)

Offline stromboli

Why People Fly From The Facts
« on: March 04, 2015, 11:16:37 AM »
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“There was a scientific study that showed vaccines cause autism.”

“Actually, the researcher in that study lost his medical license, and overwhelming research since then has shown no link between vaccines and autism.”

“Well, regardless, it’s still my personal right as a parent to make decisions for my child.”

Does that exchange sound familiar: a debate that starts with testable factual statements, but then, when the truth becomes inconvenient, the person takes a flight from facts.

As public debate rages about issues like immunization, Obamacare, and same-sex marriage, many people try to use science to bolster their arguments. And since it’s becoming easier to test and establish facts—whether in physics, psychology, or policy—many have wondered why bias and polarization have not been defeated. When people are confronted with facts, such as the well-established safety of immunization, why do these facts seem to have so little effect?

Our new research, recently published in the Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, examined a slippery way by which people get away from facts that contradict their beliefs. Of course, sometimes people just dispute the validity of specific facts. But we find that people sometimes go one step further and, as in the opening example, they reframe an issue in untestable ways. This makes potential important facts and science ultimately irrelevant to the issue.
 
Let’s consider the issue of same-sex marriage. Facts could be relevant to whether it should be legal—for example, if data showed that children raised by same-sex parents are worse off—or just as well-off—as children raised by opposite-sex parents. But what if those facts contradict one’s views?

We presented 174 American participants who supported or opposed same-sex marriage with (supposed) scientific facts that supported or disputed their position. When the facts opposed their views, our participants—on both sides of the issue—were more likely to state that same-sex marriage isn’t actually about facts, it’s more a question of moral opinion. But, when the facts were on their side, they more often stated that their opinions were fact-based and much less about morals. In other words, we observed something beyond the denial of particular facts: We observed a denial of the relevance of facts.

In a similar study using 117 religious participants, we had some read an article critical of religion. Believers who were especially high (but not low) in religiosity were more likely to turn to more untestable “blind faith” arguments as reasons for their beliefs, than arguments based in factual evidence, compared to those who read a neutral article.

These experiments show that when people’s beliefs are threatened, they often take flight to a land where facts do not matter. In scientific terms, their beliefs become less “falsifiable” because they can no longer be tested scientifically for verification or refutation.

For instance, sometimes people dispute government policies based on the argument that they don’t work. Yet, if facts suggest that the policies do work, the same person might stay resolvedly against the argument based on principle. We can see this on both sides of the political spectrum, whether it’s conservatives and Obamacare or liberals and the Iraqi surge of 2007.

One would hope that objective facts could allow people to reach consensus more easily, but American politics are more polarized than ever. Could this polarization be a consequence of feeling free of facts?

While it is difficult to objectively test that idea, we can experimentally assess a fundamental question: When people are made to see their important beliefs as relatively less rather than more testable, does it increase polarization and commitment to desired beliefs? Two experiments we conducted suggest so.

In an experiment with 179 Americans, we reminded roughly half of participants that much of President Obama’s policy performance was empirically testable and did not remind the other half. Then participants rated President Obama’s performance on five domains (e.g., job creation). Comparing opponents and supports of Obama, we found that the reminder of testability reduced the average polarized assessments of President Obama’s performance by about 40%. 

To test this further test the hypothesis that people strengthen their desired beliefs, when the beliefs are free of facts, we looked at sample 103 participants that varied from highly to moderate religious. We found that when highly (but not more moderately) religious participants were told that God’s existence will always be untestable, they reported stronger desirable religious beliefs afterwards (e.g. the belief God was looking out for them), relative to when they were told that one day science might be able to investigate God’s existence.

Together these findings show, at least in some cases, when testable facts are less a part of the discussion, people dig deeper into the beliefs they wish to have— such as viewing a politician in a certain way or believing God is constantly there to provide support. These results bear similarities to the many studies that find when facts are fuzzier people tend to exaggerate desired beliefs.

So after examining the power of untestable beliefs, what have we learned about dealing with human psychology? We’ve learned that bias is a disease and to fight it we need a healthy treatment of facts and education.  We find that when facts are injected into the conversation, the symptoms of bias become less severe. But, unfortunately, we’ve also learned that facts can only do so much. To avoid coming to undesirable conclusions, people can fly from the facts and use other tools in their deep belief protecting toolbox.

With the disease of bias, then, societal immunity is better achieved when we encourage people to accept ambiguity, engage in critical thinking, and reject strict ideology. This society is something the new common core education system and at times The Daily Show are at least in theory attempting to help create. We will never eradicate bias—not from others, not from ourselves, and not from society. But we can become a people more free of ideology and less free of facts.

A scientific way of saying people believe what they want to believe and screw the evidence.
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Offline Solitary

Re: Why People Fly From The Facts
« Reply #1 on: March 04, 2015, 11:23:38 AM »
If you can make people believe in imaginary creatures as being real, you can make them believe in almost anything accept the truth. Solitary
There is nothing more frightful than ignorance in action.

Offline SGOS

Re: Why People Fly From The Facts
« Reply #2 on: March 04, 2015, 12:41:46 PM »
Quote
We found that when highly (but not more moderately) religious participants were told that God’s existence will always be untestable, they reported stronger desirable religious beliefs afterwards (e.g. the belief God was looking out for them), relative to when they were told that one day science might be able to investigate God’s existence.

I have been aware of this for a long time, and often wondered why it should be.  Normally, we would expect that when facts are not available, people would be more tentative, rather than more positive about their beliefs.  But lack of knowledge can be very compelling.  I do not know why.  For some people it simply is.  We see this with the "You can't prove God doesn't exist" argument.  I've heard Theists point to this empty statement, and treat it as evidence, actually as quite profound evidence, for their claim.

In the past I've have framed my observation as:  People seem to fight harder to defend something that can't be proven. It is a strange phenomenon, but seems ingrained in the human psyche.

Offline kilodelta

Re: Why People Fly From The Facts
« Reply #3 on: March 04, 2015, 09:23:17 PM »
Many people ignore pointed out logical fallacies too. I see that on the Atheist Experience all the time. A caller would have the base of their argument totally destroyed, but continue to build on it just to get to their flawed point.
Faith: pretending to know things you don't know

Offline Deidre32

Re: Why People Fly From The Facts
« Reply #4 on: March 04, 2015, 10:52:01 PM »
For some (many?) ...if they've been steeped in religion for so long, they might not know what true facts are anymore, especially if it contradicts their beliefs. :/
The only lasting beauty, is the beauty of the heart. - Rumi

Re: Why People Fly From The Facts
« Reply #5 on: March 05, 2015, 05:48:49 AM »

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A scientific way of saying people believe what they want to believe and screw the evidence.

Very interesting article worth posting.

Every one of us is susceptible to ignoring the facts and I would not be surprised to learn that even the most critical thinking person is susceptible to this behavior. I have seen some people talk about evolution like a Christian talks about the gospel and how the truth of science saved them from mental mistakes only the religious make.

We are wired this way. It is our fight or flight response system. Because of this, this problem is really quite pervasive in the population. I would go further. Everyone of us inherited this little problem. However, like many things, it is a survival skill like anger, and we know how anger turns out over-expressed and/or out of an appropriate context.

An Atheist, in my opinion, should carry a poet's pen in one hand a scientist's tool kit in the other; otherwise the magic of humanity and being human is lost.

To this can be added confirmation bias that works with our process of stereotyping information. This is another inborn behavior (IMO) that helps us survive. Again, when over-expressed and out of context, it is a problem.

Re: Why People Fly From The Facts
« Reply #6 on: March 05, 2015, 06:05:55 AM »
It is also appropriate to not forget why we behave so irrationally at times. One of those reasons surely has to do with our love/hate relationship with death and evil. Without these, our stories are boring. Yet we hate the death of a loved one for obvious reasons.

It is traumatic to simply exist in the human condition and the heart knows and seeks answers for which science can never answer.

The point is that I think our hearts should be tempered with critical thinking and never forgotten. If we were to pursue the agenda of some scientific apologists, we might forget our humanity. Anyone who comforts another because of the death of a loved one is going to have to get in touch with their heart. Scientific facts do little to comfort.

In truth, I think we are a fantastic mix of magic and light.

Offline SGOS

Re: Why People Fly From The Facts
« Reply #7 on: March 05, 2015, 07:46:58 AM »
There is nothing wrong with compassion.  But I'm not buying "magic".  Compassion is a human emotion.  It is real, and it can be expressed.  It in no way negates science or logic, and should not be confused with magic.

 

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