Extensive observational studies, surveys and meta-analysis moved scientists a step closer to understanding how highly-educated people can still contradict scientific facts. The result is a refined guide to effectively addressing skeptics, and it´s not based on presenting evidence, but rather identifying their underlaying motivation.
Rejection of scientific proof represents a major obstacle to prospering societies and had probably caused more headaches in the scientific community than caffeine deprivation. To this day, heated debates still linger around surrounding gene therapy, GMOs and vaccination, despite extensive evidence supporting their benefits. Although objective skepticism is an invaluable trait each researcher should possess, subjective skepticism can lead to threats on a global scale.
“Keeping an open mind is a virtue – just not so open that your brains fall out.” said James Oberg in a famous quote.
In contrary to popular belief, people form opinions and views almost exclusively based on facts, regardless of our religious, political or philosophical stance. The difference however, is in which facts we decide prevail over the rest and better fit our pre-existing ideologies, according to researcher Matthew Hornsey from Queensland University. In other words, people tend to cherry-pick ideas and bits of information to reach conclusions they want to be true.
“We find that people will take a flight from facts to protect all kinds of belief … even simple personal beliefs such as whether they are good at choosing a web browser,” says Troy Campbell from University of Oregon.
These findings could explain why merely providing evidence or data to a skeptic will likely not make them change their mind. A better way of achieving that, according to the study, is to understand the person´s perspective on the matter and identify their so-called “attitude roots” as Hornsey puts it. The next step is to then tailor the message to align with their motivation. A good idea is to also provide analogies to which the other person can better relate.
As researchers, it is our duty and privilege to advance science and apply our findings for the greater common good. However, no less important is our responsibility to communicate it in a relatable way that anyone can understand and internalize within their individual frame of mind. Maybe then, “haters” might not necessarily “gonna hate”.
Learn more about the scientific skepticism in the video bellow:
By Luka Zupančič, MSc, University of Applied Sciences Technikum Vienna