Why do some people not believe in science?

Ignorance: Why Some People Deny the Facts

Often enough there is still no reliable answer to a question; there is a lack of research or the data are ambiguous. But sometimes the matter is clear and yet people hold views that are blatantly contradicting the facts. Why is that?

It has little to do with education or thinking, as two new studies show. Rather with »motivated reasoning«, clinging to desired, albeit demonstrably false, assumptions. In other words, if someone takes a view that is inconsistent with the facts, it is not for factual, but for personal reasons.

Corey Cusimano and Tania Lombrozo from Princeton University examined the phenomenon using examples from everyday and private life. They presented case histories to around 1,900 test subjects in which the state of affairs suggested a certain point of view, but moral norms a different one. For example, cocaine was found in a good old friend's room but he claims it wasn't his. Are you supposed to believe him? The test subjects stated on the one hand what they believed to be the correct position in this situation and on the other hand what an objective observer would infer from the evidence.

If the socially desirable opinion was not within the limits set by the facts, these were postponed if necessary

The two judgments were on average close to one another. But the more the test subjects saw it morally imperative to ignore the facts, the more they did it - every third person even beyond the limits that he himself still considered justifiable by objective standards. And the more moral a view was in the subjects' eyes, the less evidence they found necessary. "The test subjects considered moral considerations to be legitimate reasons to represent a view that does not correspond to the objective, evidence-based judgment," explain Cusimano and Lombrozo in the magazine "Cognition".

As the psychologists showed in a follow-up study, the test subjects applied two different standards: If someone was morally obliged to ignore the situation, the permissible scope for what was still considered factual increased for him - but only for him. If the socially desirable opinion was not within the limits set by the facts, these were postponed if necessary.

Closing your eyes to the truth is understandable when it comes to friends and family. It is different with scientific questions: At first glance, there is no good reason to deny the facts. Matthew Hornsey of the University of Queensland has been researching what lies behind skepticism about science for many years. His conclusion in the journal “Current Directions in Psychological Science”: To understand such an attitude, one has to know the psychological background. The psychologist has found six reasons why people ignore scientific findings.