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Albert Einstein (1879-1955) in 1945 Archives, California Institute of Technology
NASA, the US National Aeronautics and Space Administration, has
released a video (see below) intended to put the world's mind at rest about
December 21, 2012 -- the much hyped end-date of the Mayan "Long Count" calendar.
Discovery News says the video does a sound debunking of the misinformation being
bandied about by doomsayers trying to make a fast buck out of people's fears.
The Mayans were not the stupid ones!
David Morrison, NASA scientist based at NASA Ames, has been combating the
doomsday misinformation for many years via questions submitted to his "Ask
an Astrobiologist" website (an excellent summary of the questions fielded by
can be found here). Morrison attributes the public's fear of this doomsday
to "cosmophobia" -- a growing trend that's based on people's fear of the cosmic
Also, the idea that there is some kind of grand conspiracy (i.e., the
government or some secret society has some privileged information about the end
of the world) is another strong factor. To many, NASA debunking various doomsday
scenarios from their ivory towers of science is "proof" that something weird is
going on. To those people, no amount of debunking or logic will stop them
believing in doom and gloom, despite the overwhelming evidence to the contrary.
The shortcomings of science and why even people with education reject facts on climate change?
People with education as distinct from being
educated often reject facts based on current knowledge on the risk of future
events or even in respect of actual events.
Climate change provides many
examples and Google provides access to a resource to provide support for any
view, no matter how wacky. However, scientists who ignore the shortcomings of
science and claim infallibility, are also fanning scepticism.
What are selected
as facts are often linked with emotion, set values and self-interest. For
example, why would an opponent of the waste incinerator project at Poolbeg in
Dublin also likely be against the growing of genetically modified food?
between the two may be an antipathy towards multinational companies rather than
the facts of each case.
John Maynard Keynes, the great British economist,
famously said: "Practical men, who believe themselves to be quite exempt from
any intellectual influences, are usually the slaves of some defunct economist."
American blogger says:"Everyone
has the compulsion to form immediate conclusions about their environment --
that’s how we survive. We use knowledge that we have accumulated from things
we’ve observed, experienced or 'heard about' and apply them to our lives with
the intent to avoid conflict and pursue future positive and beneficial
experiences. However, at a certain point, this hasty tendency becomes
worthless -- even detrimental."
Nikita Blue says when people assume that black women
are “sassy,” or that fat people have low self-esteem, or that girls love the
colour pink, or that gay guys are feminine, they begin to lose their ability to
know the individual. Fortunately, there is a way to fight these automatic
are a lot of clichés thrown around about the elderly, but one that seems to be
true - - or at least is backed up by research - - is the belief they tend to be
more prejudiced than younger people. This phenomenon -- noted in TheNew
York Timesas early as 1941 - -
is widely assumed to be the result of socialization. After all, today's senior
citizens grew up in an era when racism was widespread and gays stayed in the
closet. Of course they aren't as open-minded as their children and
A decade ago, a research team led by William von
Hippel of the University of Queensland challenged that assumption. The
psychologists proposed that older people may exhibit greater prejudice because
they have difficulty inhibiting the stereotypes that regularly get activated in
all of our brains. They suggested an ageing brain is not as effective in
suppressing unwanted information - - including stereotypes.
In the May/June 2011 issue of the popular American
liberal magazine Mother Jones, Chris Mooney hasa
long articleon how our brains
fool us on for example climate, creationism, and the vaccine-autism link.
Mooney writes: "A man of conviction is a hard man to
change. Tell him you disagree and he turns away. Show him facts or figures and
he questions your sources. Appeal to logic and he fails to see your point." So
wrote the celebrated Stanford University psychologistLeon
Festinger[pdf], in a passage
that might have been referring to climate change denial - - the persistent
rejection, on the part of so many Americans today, of what we know about global
warming and its human causes. But it was too early for that - - this was the
1950s - - and Festinger was actually describing afamous
case studyin psychology.
Festinger and several of his colleagues had
infiltrated the Seekers, a small Chicago-area cult whose members thought they
were communicating with aliens - - including one, "Sananda," who they believed
was the astral incarnation of Jesus Christ. The group was led by Dorothy Martin,
word Dianetics comes from the Greek dia, meaning 'through' and nous, meaning
'soul', and is defined as 'what the soul is doing to the body. ' Science fiction
author L. Ron Hubbard devised the term and the concept is practiced by followers
of Scientology) devotee who transcribed the interstellar messages through
Mooney says through her, the aliens had given the
precise date of an Earth-rending cataclysm: December 21, 1954. Some of Martin's
followers quit their jobs and sold their property, expecting to be rescued by a
flying saucer when the continent split asunder and a new sea swallowed much of
the United States. The disciples even went so far as to remove brassieres and
rip zippers out of their trousers - - the metal, they believed, would pose a
danger on the spacecraft.
his team were with the cult when the prophecy failed. First, the "boys upstairs"
(as the aliens were sometimes called) did not show up and rescue the Seekers.
Then December 21 arrived without incident. It was the moment Festinger had been
waiting for: How would people so emotionally invested in a belief system react,
now that it had been soundly refuted?
At first, the group struggled for an explanation.
But then rationalization set in. A new message arrived, announcing that they'd
all been spared at the last minute. Festinger summarized the extraterrestrials'
new pronouncement: "The little group, sitting all night long, had spread so much
light that God had saved the world from destruction."Their
willingness to believe in the prophecy had saved Earth from the prophecy!
From that day forward, the Seekers, previously shy
of the press and indifferent toward evangelizing, began to proselytize. "Their
sense of urgency was enormous," wrote Festinger. The devastation of all they had
believed had made them even more certain of their beliefs.
Mooney says that in the annals of denial, it doesn't
get much more extreme than the Seekers. They lost their jobs, the press mocked
them, and there were efforts to keep them away from impressionable young minds.
But while Martin's space cult might lie at on the far end of the spectrum of
human self-delusion, there's plenty to go around. And since Festinger's day, an
array of new discoveries in psychology and neuroscience has further demonstrated
how our preexisting beliefs, far more than any new facts, can skew our thoughts
and even colour what we consider our most dispassionate and logical conclusions.
Mooney says a large number of psychological
studies have shown that people respond to scientific or technical evidence in
ways that justify their preexisting beliefs.Results
have been found for how people respond to "evidence" about affirmative action,
gun control, theaccuracy
of gay stereotypes, and much else. Even when study subjects are explicitly
instructed to be unbiased and even-handed about the evidence, they often fail.
2008 Pew surveyonly 19% of
college-educated Republicans agreed that the planet is warming due to human
actions, versus 31% of non-college educated Republicans. In other words, a
higher education correlated with an increased likelihood of denying the science
on the issue. Meanwhile, among Democrats and independents, more education
correlated with greater acceptance of the science.
Mooney concludes that conservatives are more likely
to embrace climate science if it comes to them via a business or religious
leader, who can set the issue in the context of different values than those from
which environmentalists or scientists often argue. Doing so is, effectively, to
signal a détente in what has been called a "culture war of fact." In other
words, paradoxically, you don't lead with the facts in order to convince. You
lead with the values - - so as to give the facts a fighting chance.
Plenty of today’s scientific theories will one day be discredited; so should we
be sceptical of science itself?
Anthony Gottlieb, a former executive editor of The
Intelligent Life that if a claim is ambitious, people should indeed tread warily
around it, even if it comes from scientists; it does not follow that they should
be sceptical of the scientific method itself. But there is an awkward
public-relations challenge for any champion of hard-nosed science. When
scientists confront the deniers of evolution, or the devotees of homeopathic
medicine, or people who believe that childhood vaccinations cause autism -- all
of whom are as demonstrably mistaken as anyone can be - -they
understandably fight shy of revealing just how riddled with error and misleading
information the everyday business of science actually is.When
you paint yourself as a defender of the truth, it helps to keep quiet about how
often you are wrong.
Gottlieb says that fact partly explains why some
influential climate scientists today, and the UN’s Intergovernmental Panel on
Climate Change, are having a hard time. At the end of her book 'Science: A Four
Thousand Year History' (2009), Patricia Fara of Cambridge University wrote that
“there can be no cast-iron guarantee that the cutting-edge science of today will
not represent the discredited alchemy of tomorrow.”
Gottlieb says most laymen probably assume that the
350-year-old institution of “peer review”, which acts as a gatekeeper to
publication in scientific journals, involves some attempt to check the articles
that see the light of day. In fact they are rarely checked for accuracy, and, as
a study for the Fraser Institute, a Canadian think-tank, reported last year,“the
data and computational methods are so seldom disclosed that post-publication
verification is equally rare.”
Gottlieb says it is perhaps the biases of science
reporting in the popular press that produce the most misinformation, especially
in medicine. The faintest whiff of a breakthrough treatment for a common disease
is news, yet the fact that yesterday’s breakthrough didn’t pan out - - which
ought to be equally interesting to a seeker after truth - - rarely is.
While discredited research is regularly cited in
support of other research, Gottlieb says the shortcomings of science do not make
it rational to believe cranks instead.
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