An intriguing, but not very rigorous, preliminary study on one aspect of "denialism".

"Scientific impotence" has been coined by psychologists to describe a phenomenon where a significant segment of the population rejects validated scientific data due to various pre-existing biases, such as religion (of course), political stance, or plain economics and their hip pocket. What differentiates the "scientific impotent" from common denialists or outright anti-science loons is that they maintain that they themselves are not anti-science and in fact take offense at the suggestion that they are. Article from Arstechnica -

When science clashes with beliefs? Make science impotent

It's hardly a secret that large segments of the population choose not to accept scientific data because it conflicts with their predefined beliefs: economic, political, religious, or otherwise. But many studies have indicated that these same people aren't happy with viewing themselves as anti-science, which can create a state of cognitive dissonance. That has left psychologists pondering the methods that these people use to rationalize the conflict.

A study published in the Journal of Applied Social Psychology takes a look at one of these methods, which the authors term "scientific impotence"—the decision that science can't actually address the issue at hand properly. It finds evidence that not only supports the scientific impotence model, but suggests that it could be contagious. Once a subject has decided that a given topic is off limits to science, they tend to start applying the same logic to other issues.

The actual study itself is not hot linkable to to cookie weirdness, but can be found at Wiley
if you search for "123328312". The article is not a
freebie, unless someone has member access -

The Scientific Impotence Excuse:
Discounting Belief-Threatening Scientific Abstracts

Abstract: The scientific impotence discounting hypothesis predicts that people
resist belief-disconfirming scientific evidence by concluding that the
topic of study is not amenable to scientific investigation. In 2
studies, participants read a series of brief abstracts that either
confirmed or disconfirmed their existing beliefs about a stereotype
associated with homosexuality. Relative to those reading
belief-confirming evidence, participants reading belief-disconfirming
evidence indicated more belief that the topic could not be studied
scientifically and more belief that a series of other unrelated topics
could not be studied scientifically. Thus, being presented with
belief-disconfirming scientific evidence may lead to an erosion of
belief in the efficacy of scientific methods.

Tags: antiscience, denialism, loons, scientific impotence

Views: 110

Replies to This Discussion

Scientific Impotence? This is a new psychological concept?

I'm not trying to be a smartass, here, either. I'm quite fascinated by psychology. I think if someone were, in modern, "free" society, today, to embrace mindless woo even when it's directly contrary to evidence, it would seem obvious that their software and/or hardware was badly fucked up, and they were, as Menken said, not merely an ass, but actually mentally ill.

I can understand easily how different it must have been, say thirty years ago, before cable tv (seriously, lol, programming such as you would find on the science channel) and DNA, and home computers, and the internet, and even the wealth of science vids on YouTube, and etc, etc. "Back in the day" so to speak, people did not have the easy access to quality information that they have today. I had already come to what I thought could be the only fucking possible conclusion, given the mountains of evidence for Evolution, which were only increased by a hundred fold after the advent of DNA techniques, and given the very easy access to this information we have today, that anyone remaining who thinks the world is 6000 years old is simply fucking insane...

In this modern society, with all the information people have at their fingertips, anyone who thinks the world is 6000 years old does not have faith, a belief without evidence, they have a delusion, a belief against evidence...

I agree with it, I'm even fond of the term they used... lol Accuse any Ahh-merri-kun conservative of "impotence" of any sort and they will go absolutely batshit, hehhehe, but damn... this is new? What a I missing here? Is it a study of some minutia within the delusion catagory? I'm just completely at a loss as to what is "new" about this field of inquiry...

Am I the only one? Help a brotha out...

What a I missing here? Is it a study of some minutia within the delusion catagory?

What you are missing is that this is about people who outwardly profess to have confidence in the sciences and inwardly tell themselves that they are rational, scientific thinkers. Unconsciously though, when science conflicts with their interests or conditioning, they dismiss science as unnecessary - as though their opinion is valid and and grounded and requires no further data (as postulated earlier, this sounds like a pretty good definition for "belief").

This is markedly different to creationists or homeopaths. "Scientific impotents" would more than likely laugh at both and call them ignorant morons, safe in the belief that they themselves are objective and rational.
Ahhhh. I thought it referred to resistance to and/or refutation of the sciences in general. Thanks, Felch... that was a helpful clarification for me.
Barriers to the Acceptance of Science

For those of us trying to increase scientific literacy – understanding of the methods, philosophical underpinnings, common pitfalls, and current findings of science – it can be a frustrating endeavor...

...some people don’t care about science because they don’t understand it, and they don’t want to learn about science because they don’t care. Even worse, at times (most times) we seem to be coming up against emotions and patterns of thought deeply rooted in evolution that nothing short of transcendence will solve...

...Lack of information is always the easiest problem to solve – make the information more readily available, especially to people when and where they are making decisions that will be informed by that information...

The other two elements are due to evolved human nature -
...people find stories much more compelling than data. It makes sense that our natural instincts would be inclined toward stories from our peers. It also makes sense that we would tend to believe and remember such stories, that they would be emotionally profound...

...Further, the study shows that people are more compelled by fear than reassurance. Medical decisions are best informed by a careful assessment of risk vs benefit – but emotionally we are much more compelled by the prospect of risk than the prospect of benefit... (the anti-vaxxers in particular)

I'm sure there are even more reasons most reject scientific evidence. I'm also sure it is hardwired in our brains for a reason that no longer exists. As I have said before, we (skeptics) are much better off than the rest of society, because we have superior thinking skills, even with the critical thinking, some run into information so compelling, or so ingrained for such a long time, that they forget what they have learned and revert back to ignorance for that specific thing (sacred cow).

Attempting to educate the masses about science, must begin at childhood. I don't believe we can convince a majority of adults, I don't believe anyone can. In order to do this, we must not only teach science in a way that children will retain the information and want to come back for more, (ie. fun) but also teach critical thinking skills at a young age. Does anyone here really see that happening? Certainly not in the US, where the opposite is happening. Little by little those with a bias against science have chipped away at the school curriculum. It has been going the wrong way for years. Certainly not in the UK, nor in Australia. I can't comment on any other countries as I am not familiar with what they have in place to teach their children.

It seems India and many Asian countries get it, they are far beyond the western world in scientific research and so many of their teenagers decide to go into a scientific field, they have an enormous advantage.

Why? What have they learned that we have not? How have they overcome the barriers that seem insurmountable?

Certainly they have the same evolutionary biases against critical thinking.

I'm worried that the interwebz merely serve to accelerate the dissemination of content, both good and bad. It is essentially impossible to scrub bullshit from the internet once propagated even minimally. People have limited memory capacity, so unless they insist on searching for reliably sourced info, they are not likely to encounter a proper debunking at the same time they encounter the thing needing debunking. I suspect our only real hope is to continually push the message that people need to critically examine sources of claims.
Amen! I look back as an adult and it's easy to understand why I liked physics so much, and hated biology so much. I had an outstanding teacher for high school physics, and by the end of the class I was fascinated by it, especially all things nuclear. Biology was insufferably boring. Memorize and regurgitate this phyla (sp?) and that genus, and this species and that sub-species, it was mind numbing to the point of bordering on torture at the ripe old age of 14. When I went to college I took another physics class, but didn't want to have anything to do with biology. I didn't recover from that bias for about 20 years or so... Now I read PZ's blog each day... go figure. The whole memorize and regurtitate form of education, with no exercises aimed at building critical thinking, has been quite frustrating to watch. I sit on the sidelines patiently waiting for that bit of social progress to finally take place
Sacha, I wouldn't be too sanguine about south and east Asia as staunch defenders of science. They are certainly big promoters of engineering and technical disciplines, but keep in mind that the educated classes are a tiny minority there. Yes, scientifically grounded careers offer a way out of poverty for them, and as many as can pursue that, but there's plenty of woo to go around in that population of three billion or so. From chi to reincarnation, "eastern wisdom" is the foundation, inspiration, or co-opted justification of most New Age horseshit.
I agree. There is certainly an enormous amount of woo, and of course much of it is perpetuated by a complete lack of any sort of education in a great majority (of Indians anyway, I don't know about the education levels in East Asia.) I know that in East Asia there are traditions and cultural barriers that do not allow for much if any dissent in certain regions and certain households.

Perhaps I was wrong in thinking that they have produced many more scientists than the US especially, but in the Western world in general. I was under the impression that a good percentage of educated Asian teenagers want to go into some sort of scientific discipline, and it is something like less than 2% in the US. Of course my memory is fuzzy, so I shall do a search for some quality information supporting or refuting this.

If anyone has this information at their fingertips, please post the information here, I hate being in limbo about a claim.

Yes, I know this is a bit of a derail from felch's original post topic, but it is along the same theme.

Yes, I know that India is in South Asia, I was delusional posting them as separate places.
OK, I've read thru this whole thread, and I get the distinct impression that people here are not using a sound definition of "cognitive dissonance". Cognitive dissonance is the uncomfortable feeling you get when you try to hold two opposing thoughts as simultaneously true; it is not the act or condition of simultaneously holding two conflicting ideas to be true. That's the cause. Cognitive dissonance is the symptom. It's an itching, burning, embarrassing mental rash. People who encounter this feeling have various coping mechanisms. They can reject one of the two competing ideas, or rationalize some way in which the two ideas are not actually in conflict. Either way, people do something to rid themselves of cognitive dissonance. It is not something that you just live with, unless you're into martyrdom (gay fundamentalist preachers, I'm looking at you).

On the other hand, some people are just too dim to notice that some of their ideas are in stark conflict with each other, so cognitive dissonance never arises. It is usually possible to draw the conflict into sharper contrast for such people, who then proceed with one of the coping mechanisms, but they're unlikely to do this on their own, because introspection is just not something they do. But if you do notice your belief system conflicting with itself, you resolve the issue somehow. If you find that you just keep having to patch that hole in your thinking, eventually you may be forced to reject a long-held belief that has continually been bested by reality. I think this is what happens in most deconversions from religion. I think most conversions to religion occur with an emotional rejection of reality in favor of a comforting fantasy. Note that this would predict that deconversions tend to be gradual, whereas conversions tend to be sudden, which is, in fact, the pattern we usually see.
Is corpus callosotomized good enough?
I usually think of Gould as an apologist regarding NOMA. Basically, he was papering over a fundamental problem, pretending it didn't exist. I think generally that's thought of as being in denial, or at least trying to have it both ways. I'm not sure if there's an accepted term for people who insist that there is more than one way of knowing, but I usually think of them as delusional. The scientific method is the only way we've ever increased human knowledge. If by knowledge we mean things that are verifiably true. If that's not what we mean by knowledge, then the term is meaningless.
Not really. I, for instance, believe that things will work out OK. Makes no sense at all, given the track record. My rationalization is that the definition of "OK" is extremely elastic.

But yeah, the list of famous intellects falling for silliness is long and illustrious. Linus Pauling and his walk down the garden path of vitamin C proves that even a Nobel in physics is no vaccine. You just have to keep going back to first principles and checking your data and algorithms for correctness.


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