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Light blogging: resistance is futile May 21, 2007

Posted by Johan in Academia, Developmental Psychology.
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I’m juggling something like 8 projects right now, 6 of which influence my degree – 2 of those to a frighteningly large extent. So I’m switch to light blogging for a bit: no extensive write-ups, no pretty pictures. Just links and a brief description. Normal service will resume around the end of June…

There is a review in the latest issue of Science on resistance to science. Bloom and Skolnick-Weisberg use findings from developmental psychology to show how non-scientific or even anti-scientific beliefs may develop. Essentially, their idea is that children are by default unscientific in their common-sense reasoning, and will remain such unless they are educated. This in itself is nothing new – many researchers in this area believe that, for instance, naive participants will not spontaneously realize the need for control groups in testing the validity of a claim (eg, to see if psychotherapy works you cannot merely give a group of clinically depressed people therapy and see if they improve). So scientific thinking is rational, yet not intuitive to us. So much for our supposed rationality.

The review reminded me of a quote that is usually attributed to Jonathan Swift: “You cannot reason a man out of a position he did not first reason himself into.” I think this drives home the point that using rational arguments to attack beliefs is a fool’s errand.

Rationality wins the day in science (or is supposed to), because the debaters share a belief in the value of rational thinking. In a context where rational thinking is not valued, rationality is unconvincing.

References
Bloom, P., and Skolnick Weisberg, D. (2007). Childhood Origins of Adult Resistance to Science. Science, 316, 996-997.

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