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Thread: How/Why do scientifically-educated people fall for woo?

  1. #1
    Prehistoric Bitchslapper Sarahfeena's avatar
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    Default How/Why do scientifically-educated people fall for woo?

    I've been thinking a ton about this issue lately, as I've a bit of a hobby of reading woo-debunking blogs such as Respectful Insolence. Of course, most of the bad science spread around on the web is by laypeople, but nowhere near all of it. There are prominent people with scientific backgrounds who do so as well. One of the most obvious examples is Dr. Oz, who promotes Reiki on his television show, despite being a well-regarded cardiologist. And recently, I've learned that actress Mayim Bialik, who has a PhD in Neurobiology, is an anti-western medicine "holistic" mom who prefers to treat illness with homeopathy, and has declined any therapies at all for her children who both have relatively severe speech and motor delays.

    So my question is...isn't there (or shouldn't there be) some sort of cognitive dissonance there? I'm not going to go so far as to say that people educated in the sciences shouldn't believe in anything that can't be scientifically proven, but isn't it strange that they would be taken in by BS that contradicts the very field they were educated in? It makes no sense to me and it makes me wonder if there's a reason for it that I'm missing. Any thoughts?

  2. #2
    Oliphaunt Rube E. Tewesday's avatar
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    I honestly don't know how much being trained in a field actually helps you when it comes to matters where you feel a personal involvement. I've known plenty of lawyers who either do things to others or put up with things themselves that would appall them in a professional context, and I understand that Internal Affairs officers investigating cops use exactly the same tricks those cops have used on perps a hundred times. In the specific context of scientists and woo, I don't know if it comes down to much more than "magical thinking comes naturally, scientific thinking takes work".

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    Administrator CatInASuit's avatar
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    Because in quite a few cases, they consider themselves highly intelligent and think that they would not be caught by anything that could be considered bad science.
    In the land of the blind, the one-arm man is king.

  4. #4
    Oliphaunt
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    I agree with CIAS. I think that intelligent people can be more suceptible to the idea that they know something special that mainstream science/big pharma/etc. doesn't want them to know.

    One more way that special-snowflakeism is destroying western civilization.

  5. #5
    Elen síla lumenn' omentielvo What Exit?'s avatar
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    Have you ever seen the quote that it is easier for a charlatan to fool a scientist then a magician? Either Randy or Penn said it. I think this is the same idea.

  6. #6
    The Queen Zuul's avatar
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    This video explains it well, though it assumes that the person believing in the "woo" isn't also the person who understands science:



    One thing to keep in mind that just because someone has scientific training doesn't mean they use scientific thought. Even if you're getting a degree in a hard science, it doesn't mean that you're applying critical thinking to everything you encounter.
    So now they are just dirt-covered English people in fur pelts with credit cards.

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