Tuesday, 13 April 2010

Delusional disorder: Part III

Continuing the series (see Part I and Part II), that attempts to explain why people object to science, I want to clarify a few things. First, my suggestion they suffer from a delusional disorder is in no way a scientific observation. It is only my contention that the criteria for mass psychosis appear to cover most of the anti-science movement. Calling it delusional is merely my way of describing a certain characteristic: the dismissal of anything (read: scientific evidence) that contradicts the anti-science stance. Second, I was asked whether the suggested traits apply to all manifestations of the denialist-disorder. Intuitively I would say yes, but let's review that position in more detail among those that refute the scientific method. In my opinion the anti-science movement engage in:
  1. Cult-like behaviour: dogmatically supporting the all-knowing Leader,
  2. Conspiracy theory: there is a global conspiracy to hide The Truth,
  3. Misunderstanding what science entails: i.e. if there is one thing science cannot explain that proves all those things that have been elucidated (evolution, germtheory) are wrong,
  4. Double standard: even if science is right it does not apply to their specific case, i.e. because of their unique nature Intelligent Design, homeopathy, paranormal claims, et cetera, should not be held to the same standard as the scientific community,
  5. Thinking that attending Google University (Dah Google) equals years of study, and doing reseach, in a certain field -expert opinion is just that: opinion,
Regarding its applicability to the entire anti-science movement, this time I made a more elaborate, though not comprehensive, analysis:
  • Anti-vaccination, a.k.a. infectious diseases promotion movement: 
1.   Cult-like behaviour: The Leader (Andrew Wakefield) discovered The Truth (vaccines are dangerous) and it is treated as dogma,
2.   The Truth is a highly unlikely theory which ignores a multitude of evidence disproving it,
3.   Conspiracy: Scientists and Big Pharma are hiding The Truth from us, vaccines are dangerous and do not work,
4.   Misrepresentations and logical fallacies: the fall of The Leader is because of point 3 and absolutely not related to the scientific quality of his claims,
5.  Double standard: claiming unethical behaviour of scientists while ignoring actual misconduct by "sceptics."
  • Anti-global warming:
1.    Cult-like behaviour: The Leader (lobbying groups) discovered The Truth (global warming is non-existent) and it is treated as dogma,
2.    The Truth is a highly unlikely theory which ignores a multitude of evidence disproving it,
3.    Conspiracy: climategate proves scientists are hiding The Truth,
4.    Misrepresentations and logical fallacies: the fact scientists debate the details proves there is no scientific consensus,
5.  Double standard: claiming unethical behaviour of scientists while ignoring actual misconduct by "sceptics."   
  • Anti-evolution:
1.    Cult-like behaviour: The Leader (god through preachers) pointed out The Truth (the bible and not evolution explains life) and it is treated as dogma,
2.    The Truth is a highly unlikely theory which ignores a multitude of evidence disproving it,
3.    Conspiracy: scientists refuse to accept Intelligence Design as mainstream science because they oppose god, and/or work for satan,
4.    Misrepresentations and logical fallacies: Dover vs. Kitzmiller established that its most vocal proponents admitted that ID is not science, in public discourse they nevertheless keep claiming it is.        
  • Anti-HIV causes AIDS:
1.    Cult-like behaviour: The Leader (Duesberg) discovered The Truth (HIV does not cause AIDS) and it is treated as dogma,
2.    The Truth is a highly unlikely theory which ignores a multitude of evidence disproving it, most notably the numerous studies showing the efficacy of current treatment, aimed at the virus, in combatting AIDS,
3.    Conspiracy: scientists are hiding the fact that AIDS is caused by the same treatments that are given to combat the disorder,
4.    Misrepresentations and logical fallacies:
  • Anti-rule of law: 
1.   Cult-like behaviour: The Leader (the Bush administration) discovered The Truth (terrorism by muslims is a new global threat and will cause the end of the world) and it is treated as dogma,
2.   The Truth is a highly unlikely theory which ignores a multitude of evidence disproving it, such as a) before 9-11 we already had terrorism, b) terrorism is not even remotely a credible major cause of death worldwide, c) terrorism is influenced by the policies adopted by the West, d) the War of Terror is anything but a success,
3.   Conspiracy: Lefties and civil rights advocates hide The Truth from us, terrorists are dangerous and if you do not give up basic civil and human rights they will destroy the world. Those pointing out the tyrannical and Orwellian nature of that premise effectively support terrorism,
4.   Misrepresentations and logical fallacies: by redefining the word terrorism it now includes almost all activities previously thought to be part of any democratic society: i.e. freedom of speech, dissent, 
5.  Double standard: any act by non-americans is terrorism but the same done by the U.S. is a priori not terrorism.
The common thread is a Leader disseminating The Truth, and the infallibility of The Leader (dogma!) means that no amount of evidence is sufficient to persuade the followers of The Truth that it is incorrect. (Is it me or does this sound like some sort of religion? Hmm, didn't somebody opine on religious concepts being evolutionary advantageous to the first hominids?) So, whatever the specific flavour of denialism, its adherents are incapable of incorporating any evidence contrary to their opinion. Any belief (but I know it is The Truth) that cannot be corrected by reality is called a delusion by psychiatrists.

Why is it these people are so resistent to fact? One study -Cultural Cognition Project; George Washington University Law School- introduces the cultural cognition of risk which:
posits that individuals tend to form perceptions of risk that reflect and reinforce one or another idealized vision of how society should be organized.
Thus, generally speaking, persons who subscribe to individualistic values tend to dismiss claims of environmental risks, because acceptance of such claims implies the need to regulate markets, commerce, and other outlets for individual strivings. Persons with more egalitarian and communitarian values, in contrast, resent commerce and industry as forms of noxious self-seeking productive of unjust disparity, and thus readily accept that such activities are dangerous and worthy of regulation. Finally, like those who subscribe to an individualistic ethos, persons who subscribe to hierarchical values resist claims of environmental risk, which they perceive as subversive indictments of social and governmental elites.
Regarding scientific consensus the article notes that:
The cultural cognition thesis predict that individuals will more readily recall instances of experts taking the position that is consistent with their cultural predisposition than ones taking positions inconsistent with it.
Personally, I divide the anti-science movement into two groups. The first consists of the purveyors of nonsense. They probably are aware of the inaccuracy of the claims but for monetary reasons, or other vested interests, insist on promoting non-fact based ideas: i.e. quacks, "journalists," lobbying groups, (oil, tobacco, weapons, et cetera). Then there are the adherents, disciples if you will, of nonsensical theories. This group has several reasons for ignoring reality:
  1. They lack adequate education to recognise the difference between science/facts and propaganda, a.k.a. marketing, which is amplified by
  2. The media adopting the "we report, you decide"-doctrine which creates controversies that are non-existent,
  3. Combined with the Kruger-Dunning-effect, which makes the least informed think they are the best to render judgement on a certain topic,
  4. They need arguments for not having to change their life-style (I have a right to waste as much resources as I want), or to keep hoping for that miracle cure.
In short, magical thinking refuses to be replaced by the scientific method since the worldview of the Dark Ages is so much better. Can this be understood using biology? Is our visceral response (dear leader tell me what to do) based on something akin to group-think which, when you are a wolf, may be advantageous in the wild but for a contemporary homo sapiens it is no longer necessary, even counterproductive, to survive. According to Skeptical Science:
In 2008 the Milinski group found that only if disaster was 90% certain, i.e. the individual would suffer irreversible losses, could humans be motivated to reach a given target of total required preventive investments.
Should that be true it will take alot more evolving for us to eradicate the denialist-virus.

Update: Just posted part IV.


    1. This is a great overview not just of climate change denial, but the similarities between the various science movements. If you don't mind, I'm going to post a link to these articles.

    2. I agree, good post. I wonder if there's a facet that you've missed/didn't include for some reason: the weight of personal experience. Certainly for evolution and climate change, the ideas involve gradual effects which are difficult or impossible for a person to observe themselves. Now that I think about it, the same goes for anti-vax and HIV.

      I don't see animals changing, and my grandparents were people too, so evolution is false.
      Last summer was hotter than this summer, so there's no such thing as global warming.
      People on HIV medication get aids, so there must be a link.

      To abstract thinking from personal experience, and consider a broader body of evidence, could be difficult or undesirable for some people. I'm not saying it's true in all cases or even most, but it might contribute to the factors you've described above (which I agree with!).

    3. Thank you very much for linking this, I read it with interest. One thing I'd like to add to 'anti-rule of law'; this doesn't need to be as formulated as abstractly; it seems to coincide closely to the 'eurabia' conspiracy theory. This is the somewhat fashionable idea that the arab countries have a long-term plan to make Europe one big Arab country. Dutch politician Geert Wilders, who is quite popular abroad also, adheres to this 'theory'.

      As far as anti-evolution goes, I don't think creationism is able to flock around a single leader. In that regard your model is less applicable.

      Ofcourse, two common similarities I'd also look for are an emphasis on popular rather than professional science and organization of a separate community.

    4. This is an interesting post, but I have to say I couldn't finish it. Green font on a black background? Yikes. It's a shame because I would like to read some of your other posts. Email me when you change the layout.

    5. This way of medicalising people who disagree with you is rather sinister. In the Soviet Union, people who didn't believe in the 'obvious' superiority of socialism were deemed insane and carted off to psychiatric hospitals. Perhaps you'd like to do the same to people who disagree with your pet theories?

      As is often the case with such ad hominem attacks, you come across sounding a lot like the people you attack, indulging in cult-like behaviour, following the leader, conspiracy theorising about the 'anti-science movement' - ooh scary! Do you check under your bed every night, in case a creationist is lying in wait?

    6. Trooper, who wrote this: http://englandsfreedome.blogspot.com/2010/04/unbearable-cuntness-of-our-nazified.html

      Comparing political opponents to Hitler and Nazis and calling them "deluded." But I suppose you are right, and Primum is wrong, so it's okay?

    7. Tony, yeah I wrote that. I tend to react with vitriol towards brainwashing kids at school with a political agenda. Feel free to defend the practice. However that's not relevant to the point I made. Whatever my foibles may be, doesn't affect whether my criticism above is justified.

    8. Got it. As long as I understand the double standard... Thanks.

    9. Thanks for the comments, in case you are interested there is a new one on the topic: http://contusio-cordis.blogspot.com/2010/05/delusional-disorder-part-iv.html