People who are overly confident in their own knowledge are more likely to have anti-scientific views
People who have too much faith in their own knowledge are more likely to hold anti-scientific views, a new study finds.
Experts surveyed thousands of people for their views on current scientific topics, such as climate change, Covid, vaccination, homeopathy and genetically modified foods.
They found that people who disagree most with the scientific consensus on these topics know less, but they think they know more.
The academics warn that too much self-confidence makes us less likely to change our mind about a subject, even when presented with overwhelming scientific evidence.
Consequences of “anti-consensus views” on these topics are “serious,” the team says, and include property destruction, malnutrition, disease, financial hardship and death.
The researchers surveyed people for their views on “anti-consensus” scientific topics — topics that are generally divisive today, such as Covid and vaccinations. Pictured are anti-vaccine activists protesting in Albany, New York, June 14, 2020
The new study was led by Professor Nicholas Light, a behavioral scientist at Portland State University’s School of Business in Oregon.
TOPICS WITH ‘ANTI-CONSENSUS’ VIEW
– Climate change
– Nuclear energy
– Genetically modified food
– The big Bang
– Homeopathic Medicine
“Essentially, the people who are the most extreme in their resistance to the consensus are the most overconfident in their knowledge,” he explained.
“There can be a problem that overconfidence gets in the way of learning because when people think they know a lot, they have minimal motivation to learn more.”
A problem can be that people consider their own views, consciously or unconsciously, more important than the scientific truth.
So to re-educate them, it may be necessary to take some first steps to reduce their own hubris.
“People with more extreme anti-scientific attitudes may need to learn about their relative ignorance of the issues before learning specific scientific knowledge,” said Professor Light.
“The challenge then becomes to find appropriate ways to convince individuals who oppose the consensus that they are probably not as knowledgeable as they think they are.”
People are constantly striving to better understand the world, but this often requires a willingness to change or abandon previous truths, according to the team.
For example, in 1543, the Polish mathematician Nicolaus Copernicus presented the theory that the Earth, along with the other planets, revolves around the sun.
The theory was radical at the time because most people believed that the Earth was the center of the universe.
Since then, the scientific evidence on various topics has been so consistent, overwhelming, or clear that a scientific consensus has emerged, but some topics create “anti-consensus views.”
Polish mathematician Nicolaus Copernicus (pictured here) presented the theory that the Earth, along with the other planets, revolves around the sun
For example, there are significant differences in agreement between scientists and the public as to whether GM foods are safe to eat, whether humans have evolved over time, or whether climate change is the result of human activity.
For the study, Professor Light and colleagues surveyed 5,618 people, all of whom were US citizens or students attending US universities.
The respondents were asked to rate their own knowledge and confidence in their own knowledge.
For example, participants were asked about their willingness to receive a Covid vaccination and their knowledge of how such a vaccine would work.
In general, as people’s attitudes on an issue deviated further from scientific consensus, their assessments of their own knowledge of that issue increased, but their factual knowledge decreased, they found.
For example, the less someone agreed with the Covid vaccine, the more they thought they knew, but their factual knowledge was probably lower.
Overall, the team found that people who are the most extreme in their opposition to the consensus are the most overconfident in their knowledge when it comes to five of the eight topics.
“Our findings suggest that this pattern is quite common,” says Professor Light. “However, we haven’t found them for climate change, evolution or the big bang theory.”
As people’s subjective knowledge (assessments of their own knowledge) increases, so does their resistance to the scientific consensus, researchers found. Here are four of the eight problems. These four issues all showed the link between opposition to the consensus and being overconfident in their knowledge
The degree to which attitudes about an issue are tied to political or religious identities can influence the pattern’s existence.
“On climate change, for example, liberals tend to take a scientific stance, while on an issue like genetically modified food, liberals and conservatives are quite divided in their support or opposition,” said Professor Light.
“If we know that our in-groups have a strong feeling about an issue, we may not think much about our knowledge of the issue.”
In their paper, published in the journal scientific progressthe researchers warn of the ‘serious’ consequences that ‘anti-consensus views’ could have.
For example, death and illness can occur from refusing a vaccine or relying on homeopathic remedies, while refusing genetically modified (GM) foods can lead to malnutrition.
Since the first widespread commercialization of GM foods in the 1990s, there has been no evidence of adverse effects associated with the consumption of an approved GM crop, the Royal Society points out.
SOCIAL MEDIA THREATS ‘SCIENTIFIC CREDIBILITY,’ REPORT SAYS
British confidence in science is high after the Covid pandemic, a report reveals – but misinformation on social media remains a ‘threat to scientific credibility’.
The 3M State of Science Index, published in June, shows that 90 percent of UK residents will rely on science in 2022, compared to 85 percent in 2019.
This statistic is also comparable to 88 percent of Europeans and 89 percent of people worldwide who trust science in 2022.
In the UK, 57 per cent of Britons say they now have a greater appreciation for science after the pandemic, likely as a result of scientists’ efforts to create Covid vaccines.
However, disinformation “is rife” on social media and threatens the future of public understanding of science, the report said.