|I Pity 'da Fool!|
Politicians love this adage. They will have you believing the Earth is flat even while you're in orbit peering down at its obvious roundness.
Why do everyday people—intelligent people—doubt things like Man-made climate change, the safety of vaccinations, and the evidence for the evolution of species? People still doubt well-established facts, even with the availability of overwhelming evidence derived through the scientific method.
How can this be?
It's not simply because they have been fed lies. The truth is, it's surprisingly easy for anyone to be fooled by faulty thinking.
Here are thirteen reasons why people can be fooled into believing nearly anything. And yes, I am guilty of #9 ;-)
1. Confirmation Bias - Favoring evidence that supports your position while ignoring contradictory evidence.
Just remember, Columbus concluded that he had arrived in India; thus, he called the natives "Indians".
2. Slippery Slope Fallacy - Arriving at an extreme or absurd conclusion in order to discredit the initial premise and conclude it too must also be absurd.
A popular fear in the automotive industry was that once robots were introduced, all of the human assembly jobs would be eliminated.
3. False Dichotomy - Considering only two possibilities for an argument, so if the first is falsified, then the alternative must be true by default.
The following phrase is an example of a false dichotomy, "if you're not with us, you're against us."
Actually, choosing "neither" is also a viable option, but it is ignored by this false dichotomy. Things aren't always black-and-white. That's why one of my favorite songs is "The Beauty Of Gray" by Live.
4. Correlation Does Not Imply Causation - A relationship between two events does not necessarily mean one event caused the other to occur.
In 2006, Airborne, an herbal supplement company, paid $23M to settle a class action lawsuit settlement for making claims their product boosted the immune system. David Schardt, a senior nutritionist for the Center for Science in the Public Interest, said, "There's no credible evidence that what's in Airborne can prevent colds or protect you from a germy environment."
This surprised many people who had never gotten sick after taking Airborne before entering crowed surroundings. But correlation does not imply causation. They would have likely experienced the same effect by taking sugar pill or nothing at all.
5. Popularity - Conforming to an ideology because of its popularity rather than its merits.
Slavery, need I say more?
6. Coincidence and Ignorance of Probabilities - Believing an improbable, (or inevitable,) event is caused by an unseen force or conspiracy.
This is related to #1 above. We tend to exaggerate the significance of seemingly unlikely events because we generally don't understand the true statistical probabilities involved.
Do you know someone who shares your birthday? The statistical probability that two people in a group of thirty randomly chosen people will have the same birthday is 0.71. (The closer that value is to 1, the higher the certainty.) Doesn't seem so profound now, does it?
7. Baby Goes Out With The Bathwater - Discarding every argument on the basis of falsifying only one.
This is a popular tactic in the courtroom. To discredit, or to raise reasonable doubt, of a single statement can be grounds to throw out the rest of the testimony.
8. Comfort Zone - Resisting ideas that run counter to one's familiar ideologies.
We have a vested interest in being 'right' in society, so we fight very hard to avoid admitting any flaws in our cherished ideas.
For example, it's easier to just vote for one particular political party because that's how your family has always voted, even though the party's current policies will actually cause you and your family significant trauma.
9. Hasty Generalization - Drawing a conclusion without considering all of the variables.
One bad apple spoils the bunch, is a hasty generalization.
10. Authoritativeness - Drawing a conclusion with an overreliance on authority.
The relative fame, or perceived intelligence of an expert can sway you to accept their position even if they are wrong. Look how many people were convinced not to vaccinate their children because of Jenny McCarthy's recklessness. (See #4.)
11. Burden of Proof - Not understanding that the burden of proof really lies with the person making the extraordinary claim against conventional wisdom.
This is how science works.
12. Ad Hominem Attack - Attacking the person making the argument, rather than their claim.
Politicians, lawyers, and pundits, oh my!
13. Easy Way Out - Deciding to believe 'simple and wrong' with certainty.
Often there is no simple answer to a complex problem.
Just remember, "There are two ways to be fooled. One is to believe what isn't true; the other is to refuse to believe what is true." — Søren Kierkegaard
Have you ever been fooled in any such manner?