Thursday, January 06, 2011

They also believe that the Earth is indeed flat, and that reports to the contrary are proof of a government plot.

As if we needed further evidence of the effect ideological and emotional investment can have on one's perception of facts, there's this story from CNN re the ongoing Wakefield/autism scandal.

Once again I'm reminded of the Simpson jury alternate who told a TV interviewer that she wouldn't accept OJ's guilt even if there existed a video of him committing the crime. "Those things can be rigged," she said.



Voltaire said...

This illustrates well why I live in fear of my fellow human beings. The kind of thinking that stupidly maintains itself in spite of evidence to the contrary I find to be very widespread. It's as if these people think there is something to be admired in believing something that really has no merit; as if their defiance is more important than facts.

What sets me apart is I don't think this way and I think it's stupid to maintain your position when the facts say otherwise, and I'm constantly baffled at why anyone would, for example, maintain their position that vaccinations increase the risk of autism when the research supporting it has been shown to be a complete fraud.

I don't know. Why are people like this, tilting at windmills? It just doesn't make sense to me.

RevRon's Rants said...

Voltaire, as I've stated before, I think Vonnegut nailed it in "Breakfast of Champions," when he stated that ideas are futile (If wishes were horses...), and have become little more than badges we wear to express friendship or enmity. The validity of the idea is rendered irrelevant, and all that matters is that our perspective mirrors that of the right people. When we programmed our computers with badges, rather than logic, "homicidal beggars could ride." Eerily prophetic, IMO.

Steve Salerno said...

Volty: I'm not sure anyone has a definitive answer to the questions you pose--certainly not an answer that's valid in all cases. I do think that for many people, the degree of ego-identification with the things they believe to be true is so extreme that a challenge to their ideas is, in a very real sense, a challenge to their self-worth. They simply can't allow themselves to be wrong, because in their mind, being wrong (or even merely incorrect about a subordinate aspect of something) diminishes them as people.

Steve Salerno said...

In postscript to Ron's comment, which I hadn't read prior to posting my own, I think many of us (if not most) arrive quite early in life at a sense of How Things Really Are, and then spend the balance of our lives fortifying that position and trying to proselytize others. It's a very sad situation, if you ask me.

RevRon's Rants said...

Especially when so damned many of them are WRONG, Steve! :-)

Steve Salerno said...

Well that goes without saying, doesn't it? ;)

Stever Robbins said...

I've been spending a lot of time around 18-30-year olds as part of being involved in a theater group at a local college. I've noticed that the 18-24 year olds are still very open-minded, willing to challenge their assumptions, and they mostly seem willing to consider that maybe they don't know everything.

By the time people hit their late 20s, however, they seem to shift into a mode that's defending the existing beliefs versus seeking out new learning.

I don't know if this has to do with brain development on some physical level (I know the executive functions aren't fully mature until mid-20s), or whether it's cultural (25 = "grown up" and thus knowledgable), or psychological.

But it's really struck me how pronounced this tendency is and how it seems to correlate with age. My observations are quite ad hoc, though. I wonder if anyone's done a serious scientifically rigorous study of belief flexibility, age, and brain/psych development?

Stever Robbins said...

P.S. Now that I've written that publicly, I believe it wholeheartedly and am prepared to defend it with all the pseudoscience at my command!

Anonymous said...

Stever, I would have to disagree with you there as my experience has been that as I get older I increasingly feel less and less certain that I know anything and looking back the younger I was, the more certain I was that I was right about everything.


Stever Robbins said...

Londoner, I was definitely writing in generalities. I think people like you (and I hope me) respond to the new and unusual with curiosity or a desire to learn/understand. (We may or may not agree, but we're actively curious.)

I'm also making my generalization from spending the last year in a college theater troupe, and relating to undergrads in a peer type relationship. It was only hanging around with them that made me realize how set-in-their-ways many of the over-30 people I know seem.

I think a lot of people stop being curious and retreat to a defensive/rejection reaction when confronted with the unfamiliar. Those folks get more and more rigid as they age.

My experience is that more people fall into the defensive category than the curiosity category. The Internet often reinforces this by letting people find pockets of others who will do nothing but confirm their pre-existing biases.

That's one reason I like reading on this forum: there are some really good points made by people whose ideas are quite different from mine.

I stumbled on this blog after being held up on Rick Ross's anti-cult forums as being Byron Katie's internet marketing mastermind (I'm not; other than taking her workshop in 2007, I have no relationship with her).

I went to RR and came here explicitly looking for alternate information and views on Katie. And even though he told me he was skeptical of my presence and motives, Steve has responded to my comments (and others') thoughtfully.

Whether or not I agree with the opinions that come up here, the community seems to be of people who at least are willing to enter into genuine discussion, rather than just ideological yelling. That seems the exception rather than the rule, these days. But I could be wrong...

Liz Ditz said...

From this morning's interview with Paul Offit MD at The Thinking Person's Guide to Autism

In your experience, how representative are the parents like J.B. Handley who refuse to go down the evidence path with regards to their children's autism?

I've actually come around 180 degrees from where I was five years ago. When I wrote Autism's False Prophets, I thought -- wrongly -- that most parents believed this vaccine-autism hypothesis. After the book came out, I started getting a lot of letters saying, "I don't know who you're talking about -- that's not me. Jenny McCarthy doesn't represent me."

A small group of parents represent anti-vaccination ideas. But they're very passionate, very vocal, very Internet savvy, very media-savvy. And so their voice is much louder than that of the silent majority. My email from parents is 10:1 favorable, thanking me for what I'm doing, etc. I'm encouraged -- and in the preface to the paperback edition of Autism's False Prophets, I apologized to those parents for misrepresenting them.

I think it's OK to be skeptical, and skeptical about anything you put into your child's body. But there's a difference between being skeptical and being cynical. And I think that people like Handley are cynical -- he thinks there's a big conspiracy to sell [vaccine] products and I'm part of that conspiracy. There is no convincing him. And he's wrong.

If I was the parent of a child with severe autism, I would be really angry with someone like JB Handley for presuming to represent me.

From my observation,following the revelation of Wakefield's fraud, the MSM made no attempt to contact parents who reject the "autism is vaccine injury" myth, thus adding to the illusion.

Also see Bill Heisel's 7-part series on In the Wake of Wakefield -- the link is to the first installment on the series of what reporters should learn from the debacle.

Steve Salerno said...

Liz: Once again, the old "squeaky-wheel syndrome" rears its ugly head.

As I pointed out in my own Skeptic piece on journalism and its foibles, there's no question that media types are at least co-conspirators in the cultural alarmism that attaches to every new wacko idea on what may cause what. Often, the crazier the theory, the more it makes for "good television"--especially where kids are concerned. And then, of course, the lawyers get involved, and at a certain point, whether or not there is any scientific validity at all to a given theory of causation, it becomes legally valid ... as we saw with Dow Corning and breast implants.