An intriguing new study released last week in Psychological Science in the Public Interest reveals why people are more apt to believe false information being fed to them by the media and politicians.
According to the team of psychological scientists working on the study, led by Stephan Lewandowsky of the University of Western Australia, the main reason that people are more likely to believe false information (for example, that climate change is a hoax) is because it actually takes less brain power to believe a statement is false than to accept it as truth. Finding the truth takes time and effort that people often don’t care enough to spend on particular issues that aren’t of immediate concern.
A few excerpts from the report:The main reason that misinformation is sticky, according to the researchers, is that rejecting information actually requires cognitive effort. Weighing the plausibility and the source of a message is cognitively more difficult than simply accepting that the message is true – it requires additional motivational and cognitive resources. If the topic isn’t very important to you or you have other things on your mind, misinformation is more likely to take hold.
And when we do take the time to thoughtfully evaluate incoming information, there are only a few features that we are likely to pay attention to: Does the information fit with other things I believe in? Does it make a coherent story with what I already know? Does it come from a credible source? Do others believe it?
Misinformation is especially sticky when it conforms to our preexisting political, religious, or social point of view. Because of this, ideology and personal worldviews can be especially difficult obstacles to overcome.
Even worse, efforts to retract misinformation often backfire, paradoxically amplifying the effect of the erroneous belief.
In the United States, we’ve seen several major misinformation campaigns over the years, perpetrated by both the media and politicians. Some of the most prominent campaigns include attempts to convince Americans that climate change is a hoax, that Saddam Hussein was somehow involved in the attacks of 9/11, and that President Barack Obama wasn’t born in America. To refute all of these claims by “leaders” would take time and research by individuals, which is often neglected. As the report explains, this is how these misinformation campaigns become successful.
The harassment faced by U.S.-based climate scientists has been well documented in the media—but not the harassment of scientists in Europe, Canada or the rest of the world.
That’s because there hasn’t been much to report.
While outspoken scientists of human-caused climate change in the United States endure torrents of freedom of information requests, hate mail and even death threats from skeptics, their counterparts abroad have been free to do their work without fear.
Jochem Marotzke, managing director of the Max Planck Institute for Meteorologyin Hamburg, said there is “no systematic attempt by a political camp” to target climate scientists in Germany. “I get the odd critical email from a skeptic, but would not classify anything as personally aggressive,” said Marotzke. “Very different from the U.S. scene.”
“I feel for my American colleagues and what they’ve had to deal with,” said
Tim Lenton, an earth system scientist who specializes in climate tipping points at the University of Exeter in the UK. Lenton said he has never had to fend off skeptic attacks against his work or his integrity. “British scientists aren’t immune to attacks, but it is a very different level than compared to what is happening in the U.S.”
InsideClimate News contacted scientists working on climate change in Europe, Canada and Japan and learned that virtually everyone believes that the harassment is specific to the United States. They said that it could have long-term consequences for public understanding of global warming.
“The harassment has an intimidating effect—especially on young scientists,” saidStefan Rahmstorf, head of earth system analysis at the Potsdam Institute for Climate Impact Research in Germany. Rahmstorf said that watching colleagues be harassed often deters them from speaking to media or the public about their research, which skews the debate.
I can remember being called a “stupid liberal hippy piece of shit” even in the 90’s because I accepted that climate change was being caused by human activities.
It amazes me how far this kind of cliquish behavior can influence public opinion on something backed by sound evidence.
It’s a word that describes a build-up (or loss of) traits that gave an organism the opportunity to survive to produce offspring, or gives it a better chance to produce offspring, passing on those traits.
The way some people talk about it you’d think that it was a guided process or that it had a goal. It’s just a word to describe a set of naturally occurring processes.
Caddis fly larvae protect their developing bodies by building themselves sheaths of silk and incorporating substances found in their habitats. Artist Hubert Duprate placed a group of Caddis fly larvae into a tank with gold and other precious substances for the larvae to spin into their sheaths.
As I sit here, afraid of dying, I try to understand why such a thought terrifies me. Then, it hits me. All the evidence shows that when you die, your body breaks down and deteriorates. But most of all, your brain falls to the same fate, falling into a state of decomposition. But when I think of the brain, I think of everything that makes a person…a person.