Why People Deny Science
Dear Engaged Bystander: When there is scientific consensus, why do people still deny science (e.g., climate change doesn’t exist, vaccines cause autism)?
I recently read two great articles that address this question:
- “Living in denial: Why sensible people reject the truth” on the New Scientist magazine website .
- “Why scientific Consensus Fails to Persuade” on the Nation Science Foundation website
Both articles offer very interesting explorations of the science behind denial.
In the first article, the authors found that people believe science when it aligns with their cultural values and reject science when the results are in opposition to these core values. In their study of climate change, they found that when people believe in individualist values with strong support for business and industry, they are 70% less likely to believe in climate change than those who resent economic inequality and believe that business and industry has harmed the environment.
In the second article, the authors found that people are less likely to believe science when it results in a loss of control and are in favor of “alternative explanations that promise to hand control back to them even if those explanations are not supported by evidence.” It is this sense of loss of control that really matters. In such situations, many people prefer to reject expert evidence in favor of alternative explanations that promise to hand control back to them, even if those explanations are not supported by evidence.
“…. against emotion and anecdote, dry statements of evidence have little power. “
So why am I writing about all of this in a bystander blog? Part of the answer is that by nature, I am a nerd and just love science. But the larger answer is that these studies highlight the biases we carry when we look at difficult questions such as sexual violence and sexual violence prevention. When people deny the epidemic proportions of sexual violence, we may find that they need to deny these facts because they are threatening to their cultural values and commitments.
Our challenge is to present the facts and the reality in a way that people can hear the truth.