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The Daily Need

The science of truth

Donkeys are stubborn and elephants never forget. So maybe zoology explains the seemingly intractable divide between Democrats and Republicans. But author Chris Mooney would have us instead turn to psychology and neuroscience for answers.

Climate Desk partner Mother Jones has posted a must-read article by Mooney titled “The Science of Why We Don’t Believe Science,” which examines the rationalization of self-delusion, or “how our preexisting beliefs, far more than any new facts, can skew our thoughts and even color what we consider our most dispassionate and logical conclusions.”

It’s a fascinating look at how our interpretation of data plays out within an ideological context:

In a classic 1979 experiment, pro- and anti-death penalty advocates were exposed to descriptions of two fake scientific studies: one supporting and one undermining the notion that capital punishment deters violent crime and, in particular, murder. They were also shown detailed methodological critiques of the fake studies — and in a scientific sense, neither study was stronger than the other. Yet in each case, advocates more heavily criticized the study whose conclusions disagreed with their own, while describing the study that was more ideologically congenial as more “convincing.”

You might walk away with some questions: Has science denial really become more pervasive in recent years? Where does this “motivated reasoning” come from in the first place? What can we do to mitigate the effects of our emotional blinders? Do we need to?

Need to Know will be interviewing Chris Mooney for an upcoming broadcast segment and we’ll see if he has any answers. Stay tuned to our website for a first look at the interview footage.

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  • Anonymous

    It is pretty simple really. Belief over science is based upon two things an egoist based refusal to publicly admit a lack of understanding and the science presents an undesirable truth.
    So they ignore the science until the inevitable catastrophic failure and then blame the result on some one else. Often the scientists for failing to properly explain it, for failing to detail the consequences and for making it all to complicated.
    The lesson, don’t allow greedy people to influence stupid decisions.

  • Judy A Gogo

    People don’t communicate. When they open their mouths, they’re just marking their territory, including their most dearly held beliefs, which are more likely inherited than the result of objective scrutinization and careful contemplation.

  • Lmadams06

    Actually it’s a psychological tendency called “Confirmation Bias.” It has nothing to do with being egotistical or what your beliefs are. Psychologically speaking, people are more inclined to pay attention to and remember facts that support and confirm their already existing beliefs and opinions.

  • goatface

    Of course, the scientists in the study really were lying, so how does a learned mistrust of humans play into their conclusions? Maybe they hadn’t rejected science, only trust in scientists – which might br wise, rather than delusional. Why trust in a scientific conclusion that you cannot understand, simply because someone ‘credible’ said you should? This kind of trust is the same as believing in magic.

  • Louisa

    One person’s truth is another person’s bias conclusion merely based on experience and often masked by perception.

  • Mixolidian


  • AJ

    There are so many scientific studies that are overturned a few years later, is it any wonder that people don’t believe them all? Also, there are plenty of studies that “prove” opposite claims (similar to the fabricated studies in the experiment), so we cannot accept them all as fact. We must use personal experience or some other knowledge outside of the studies to sort through them and decide what to believe…

  • Stephen Dolle

    I was looking for info on the physiological benefits of truth. As life is very much guided by physics, cause and effect, and truth. Living in harmony w/ this would seem to have enumerable benefits. I do great work w/ drum circles and team-building, and it revolves around the science of the brain and human behavior, and the understanding of truth.

    In the developed world today, with such a wide availability and sharing of information (truth) thru photos, video, web pages, and other digital format, it would seem to be a good thing. But, with so much transparency, many people still do not want to embrace truth. In the animal world, trust is irrelevant! In the human world, it lies at the heart of “free will,” and this premise is at the center of most religions. No doubt free will and truth can lead to conflict, falability, crime, pain, and mental health issues. But, if you can learn to live within the framework of truth, there are numerous physiological benefits, many of which appear to be in the brain.

    My premise is that over time the benefits of living in truth in concert with the laws of cause & effect will lead to better resolution of problems, better use of time, a happy life, and a better world.