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
Interscience
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: 106

Replies to This Discussion

Thanks, Jason. I was having the same problem but lack of time the last few days made it impractical to post. The same lack of time did not allow me, however, to extend my thinking through your deconversion scenario. Now, I don't have to. ;-)
I live to swerve.
An excerpt from:

Certainty versus knowledge in medicine

...There’s also another strategy that people use to dismiss science that doesn’t conform to their beliefs. I hadn’t thought of this one before, but it seems obvious in retrospect after I encountered a recent study that suggested it. That mechanism is to start to lose faith in science itself as a means of making sense of nature and the world. The study was by Geoffrey D. Munro of Towson University in Maryland and appeared in the Journal of Applied Social Psychology under the title of The Scientific Impotence Excuse: Discounting Belief-Threatening Scientific Abstracts.

There were two main hypotheses and two studies included within this overall study. Basically, the hypothesis was that encountering evidence that conflicts with one’s beliefs system would tend to make the subject move toward a belief that science can’t study the hypothesis under consideration, a hypothesis known as the “scientific impotence” hypothesis or method. In essence, science is dismissed as “impotent” to study the issue where belief conflicts with evidence, thus allowing a person to dismiss the science that would tend to refute a strongly held belief. The problem, of course, is that the major side effect of asserting scientific impotence discounting is that it leads a person to distrust all science in general, or at least far more science than the science opposing that person’s belief.

Munro makes the implication of scientific impotence discounting plain:

The scientific impotence method of discounting scientific research that disconfirms a belief is certainly worrisome to scientists who tout the importance of objectivity. Even more worrisome, however, is the possibility that scientific impotence discounting might generalize beyond a specific topic to which a person has strong beliefs. In other words, once a person engages in the scientific impotence discounting process, does this erode the belief that scientific methods can answer any question? From the standpoint of the theory of cognitive dissonance (Festinger, 1957), the answer to this question could very well be “Yes.”

Not surprising, the scientific impotence discounting strategy of denying science permits one to dodge the charge of hypocrisy:

Using the scientific impotence excuse for one and only one topic as a result of exposure to belief-disconfirming information about that topic might put the individual at risk for having to acknowledge that the system of beliefs is somewhat biased and possibly hypocritical. Thus, to avoid this negative self-view, the person might arrive at the more consistent — and seemingly less biased — argument that science is impotent to address a variety of topics, one of which happens to be the topic in question.

To test these hypotheses, basically Munro had a group of students recruited for his study read various abstracts (created by investigators) that confirmed or challenged their beliefs regarding homosexuality and whether homosexuality predisposes to mental illness. It turned out that those who read belief-challenging abstracts were more prone to use scientific impotence discounting as an excuse to reject the science, while those who read belief-confirming abstracts were less likely to subscribe to the scientific impotence excuse. Controls that substituted other terms for “homosexual” demonstrated that it was the belief-disconfirming nature of the abstracts that was associated with use of scientific impotence discounting as a reason to reject the conclusions of the abstract. A second study followed up and examined more subjects. The methodology was the same as the first study, except that there were additional measures performed to see if exposure to belief-disconfirming abstracts was associated with generalization of belief in scientific impotence.

In essence, Munro found that, relative to those reading belief-confirming abstracts, participants reading belief-disconfirming abstracts indicated more belief that the topic they were reading about could not be studied scientifically and more belief that a series of other unrelated topics also could not be studied scientifically. In other words, scientific impotence discounting appears to represent a generalization of discounting of science from just science that challenges a person’s beliefs to more areas of science, if not all science. Munro concluded that being presented with belief-disconfirming scientific evidence may lead to an erosion of belief in the efficacy of scientific methods, also noting:

A number of scientific issues (e.g., global warming, evolution, stem-cell research) have extended beyond the scientific laboratories and academic journals and into the cultural consciousness. Because of their divisive and politicized nature, scientific conclusions that might inform these issues are often met with resistance by partisans on one side or the other. That is, when one has strong beliefs about such topics, scientific conclusions that are inconsistent with the beliefs may have no impact in altering those beliefs. In fact, scientific conclusions that are inconsistent with strong beliefs may even reduce one’s confidence in the scientific process more generally. Thus, in addition to the ongoing focus on creating and improving techniques that would improve understanding of the scientific process among schoolchildren, college students, and the general population, some attention should also be given to understanding how misconceptions about science are the result of belief-resistance processes and developing techniques that might short-circuit these processes. ...

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