Research Shows Association Between Anti-Scientific Consensus, Overconfidence

Data demonstrate that as people following an anti-scientific consensus develop more trust in their own beliefs, their knowledge of the science decreases.

New research highlights the 8 most controversial issues associated with anti-scientific consensus and demonstrates how over-confidence may be contributing to this opposition.1

“For many years, smart people thought that the way to bring people more in line with scientific consensus was to teach them the knowledge they lacked," said Nick Light, a Portland State University (PSU) assistant professor of marketing. "Unfortunately, educational interventions haven't worked very well."1

However, some psychologists have found that people who reject scientific consensus are just as interested in these topics. The researchers noted that the data shows the issue is that people of an anti-scientific consensus ‘cherry pick’ facts that they believe are already true, which may validate their beliefs and increase their confidence in their assertions.2

Light published his findings in Science Advances, examining 8 main issues that scientists agree on, but spark the most opposition from anti-scientific consensus: climate change, nuclear power, genetically modified foods, the big bang, evolution, vaccination, homeopathic medicine, and COVID-19.1

Light observed in the data an association between an individual’s attitude, confidence, and actual knowledge. Specifically, as someone supporting an anti-scientific consensus grew more confident in their own knowledge on a topic, their actual knowledge in that topic decreased.1

"Essentially, the people who are most extreme in their opposition to the consensus are the most overconfident in their knowledge," said Light.1 He added that climate change, evolution, and the big bang theory were an exception to the pattern, though political and religious identities could also affect existent patterns for these issues.1

Light highlights climate change as an example of this pattern split. While liberals tend to align their beliefs with climate change science, both liberals and republicans are split in support or opposition for genetically modified foods, explained Light.1

"It could be that when we know our in-groups feel strongly about an issue, we don't think much about our knowledge of the issue," Light said.1

Light noted that the challenge will be convincing anti-consensus individuals that confidence in their own knowledge might be misguided. He and colleagues recommend shifting focus to the influence of experts instead.1

They also suggest the power of social norms to guide people to follow science. For example, Light said that Japanese residents used the social norms tactic to facilitate COVID-19 transmission-reducing masks during the pandemic.1

"People tend to do what they think their community expects them to do," Light said.1

If anti-consensus attitudes create dangerous situations for the community, including property destruction, malnutrition, financial hardship, or death, Light noted that it becomes incumbent on society to work to change these individuals’ minds in favor of following scientific consensus.1

Although researchers have found that the association between science, politics, and social affiliations creates further division, more research is necessary to understand this division more clearly.2

References

  1. Overconfidence bolsters anti-scientific views, study finds. Portland State University; July 20, 2022. Accessed July 26, 2022. https://www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2022/07/220720193702.htm
  2. Macdonald F. Researchers Say They've Figured Out Why People Reject Science, And It's Not Ignorance. Science Alert. January 27, 2019. Accessed July 26, 2022. https://www.sciencealert.com/researchers-say-they-ve-figured-out-why-people-reject-science-and-it-s-not-ignorance

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