Is there something that you’ve always believed, whether it was something told to you as a child or a fact you just “know”, that despite evidence to the contrary you can’t for the life of you change? As a man of science I’m always researching many topics that I usually start out with little to no idea about, so my opinions generally follow the scientific community’s general consensus. However for a very long time I’ve had this uneasy feeling about climate change. Now I can’t remember when I formed the opinion but every time I see evidence about the subject (and even if you ask me, I’ll say that we humans are responsible for the majority of the drastic change in climate over the past century) I get this uneasy feeling that the scientific community is wrong somehow. Try as I might to educate myself on the matter, reading article after article and journal after journal, something in my head tells me that they’ve got it wrong. It’s like I have a climate change denier constantly whispering in my ear.
I’ve found this with a lot of other things too. Usually it stems from an insignificant fact that I might have learned many years ago and never got around to questioning or doing some research on. One of the biggest sources of these sorts of ideas is the media, who will usually report something without doing the proper fact checking. It is rare that a media outlet will publish a clarification when they’ve got something wrong and when they do it is often given a fraction of the time that the original was given. I think this is probably one of the biggest sources of frustration for the sceptic movement, since a lot of their time is dedicated towards fighting this unquestioned ideas.
Another more prevalent example is an expert in one field giving advice in another. We see this a lot when celebrities start giving out advice about things like government policy when in fact they’re no more qualified to speak on the subject than your average Joe on the street. I must admit that I fall victim to this to as people will come to me for advice on many different subjects and whilst I try to make sure they know I’m not the best person to talk to I’m sure a few of them took what I said as fact. I see it happening a lot in corporate environments with large projects being hinged on advice from a single person. It is all too easy for this kind of thing to happen, since everyone will go along with the expert they can all also point the finger at them when it doesn’t work out the way it should.
It’s a very introspective thing to question every little thing that might pass through your head but for someone like myself it has become an automatic ritual. If I think of something that I can’t explain how and why I “knew” that I’ll make sure I look into it. I can get into a bit of a loop when this happens though, since there’s a lot of things that I just know without any explanation.
I remember an experiment that a first year psychology student described to me where they found these subconscious biases during a lecture. I can’t for the life of me find it but I’d love to see if anyone has a link to the methodology or even a video of it being done. Either leave a comment or drop me a line at firstname.lastname@example.org