“…more people know what scientists think about high-profile scientific controversies than polls suggest; they just aren’t willing to endorse the consensus when it contradicts their political or religious views. This finding helps us understand why…factual and scientific evidence is often ineffective at reducing misperceptions and can even backfire on issues like weapons of mass destruction, health care reform and vaccines. With science as with politics, identity often trumps the facts.”
You might personally understand and even believe the science of evolution or climate change, but if your religion, ideology, or the group with whom you closely identify forbids such beliefs, you’ll find a way to suppress them.
This adds another important layer of complexity to the issues I raised yesterday. It’s not enough to worry about what constitutes high-quality evidence. Establishing facts is just the first hurdle. An even higher hurdle exists when the facts challenge peoples’ belief systems (other commenters made similar points).
One way through this dilemma is for icons of your movement to validate the facts. This reminded me of related research I’ve come across suggesting that it takes a surprising validator to change minds. That is, if a trusted and elevated leader essentially gives group members permission or clearance to accept facts that they already know, they’re likely to do so.
Someone may, for example, really understand and believe, at least in their logical mind, the process of evolution. But if they’re a member of group—a group that’s deeply important to them—wherein membership means disbelieving evolution, then the desire to maintain the emotional connection with the group will trump the known facts of evolution, despite the fact that the concept is endorsed by their logical mind.
However, if a group leader alters the belief system to allow evolution as an accepted explanation of how things work, then logic meets conviction and facts prevail. Such leaders work like gate keepers deciding which facts are allowed into the system and which are kept out.
That sounds like awfully tough going, however, especially when group identity is intimately tied up in denying some key set of facts. Disbelief of climate change or belief in trickle-down economics isn’t a pet, side-theory for anti-environmentalists (e.g., those who profit from extracting fossil fuels) and anti-tax crusaders. They’re the whole shooting match.
So if you believe this, your job of convincing people with fact-based evidence just got harder. Not only do you have to boost the weakening signal-to-noise ratio with strong, credible analysis. You’ve got to convince their leaders to open the gate and let these facts into their system.
Good luck with that…