Top 10 Examples When People Ignore Science in Favor of Emotion
We Americans like to think of ourselves as the most advanced nation on earth. We like to believe that as a nation we are far in advance of those societies that still succumb to crazy (or cruel) traditional practices such as female genital mutilation to keep women pure or practice wacky religious beliefs that worship the Queen’s husband.
However, the uncomfortable truth is that here in the US we have a number of weird and wacky beliefs of our own. Some that we like to hold on to even in the face of overwhelming proven scientific evidence to the contrary. While some of these strange beliefs are harmless and downright amusing, some blow up into full scale conspiracy theories whose adherents refuse to consider any evidence to the contrary. If anyone tries to disprove their beliefs they have, of course, become part of the conspiracy. Other strange beliefs cause unbelievable tension in our schools or even end up impacting on the health of people who become too scared to have routine vaccinations or take recommended medicines.
So here are our top 10 examples where a worryingly large number of Americans have disregarded science in favor of emotion – it is scary reading!
10. Global Warming is/is not happening
By now surely everyone accepts that the world is warming – yes? No! While there is a global scientific consensus that the temperature of the earth is increasing and that this increase is extremely likely to be caused by human activity, 54% of Americans believe that a lot of the problem is actually media hype. 59% of Americans believed that scientists were somewhat likely to have falsified their data to promote global warming and 35% thought that this was very likely indeed to have happened.
So why do some Americans persist in believing that Global Warming is not happening despite extensive evidence to the contrary? Partly this is because America is not getting hotter. In recent years there have been unprecedented cold snaps and heavy falls of snow. It is very difficult to believe that the climate (what we experience over many years) is getting warmer when the weather (what we experience right now) is colder.
Organizations that work to educate others on global warming, such as Greenpeace, claim that the reason many people refuse to believe that it is happening is down to successful lobbying by big business for whom proposed industrial restrictions to protect the planet would be a huge expense. Of course those who do not believe in Global Warming also believe that it is being promoted by a huge global warming industry, that the debate has been politicized and that there are flaws in the scientific studies that promote global warming as a problem. Those who refuse to accept global warming are condemned as ‘deniers’
Perhaps the reason many Americans do not believe global warming is happening is because they have legitimate doubts, perhaps the reason others do believe it is happening is because the earth is getting warmer. The truth is that there needs to be a rational debate on the topic with scientists allowed to publish papers which are fully peer reviewed and which have limited political and industrial input.
9. Genetically Modified Organisms are dangerous and can mutate our DNA
GMOs are amazing products that can help us eliminate childhood disease and go some way towards helping us feed the world. Anti-GMO campaigners would have us believe that ‘Big Ag’ is out to destroy the little farmer by making him pay for his seed every year rather than letting him save some from his crop to re-sow. The truth is that modern farming practice means most farmers do this whether they are growing GMO or non GMO crops.
Campaigners would have us believe that GMOs cause health problems when the truth is these cops have been proved to be health and are often more thoroughly tested and therefore safer than traditional foods.
Perhaps the most bizarre claim, however, is the newest one that Junk scientists have come up with. This is that micro RNA from modified crops gets into human cells and therefore has the potential to alter our DNA. On this basis these frightening foods could be responsible for dreadful cancers and who knows what other problems. This claim is one way to really frighten people; who is going to want to eat some ‘frankenfood’ that has the potential fundamentally to change the very essence of our being? Scary stuff, and no wonder that Americans are scared to eat GMOs.
These claims are bunkum; they are not worth the battery power used to read the screen. DNA in food is digested when we eat it. It is true that very small remnants can be found floating free in our systems but in blood plasma not in our cells. These remnants floating around in us come from all types of food not just GMOs and there is not one single documented event showing that human DNA has been altered by the food they eat.
So why do Americans believe that GMO food is dangerous? In part, because the anti-GMO lobby is well funded. It is also probably partly due to the fact that it is tempting to believe that the more organic a diet is, the closer it is to the simple foods our ancestors ate and so the better it is for us. That is, of course, demonstrably not true as, despite the claims of the organic lobby, we are healthier and live longer today than at any time in the past.
8. Creationism – the Earth is less than 10,000 years old
The Bible, specifically the Book of Genesis which is shared by the religious traditions of Christians and Jews tells us that God created the earth over a period of 6 days. The King James Bible sets the date of creation at 4004 BC and this view appears to have been common; Shakespeare believed the earth to be 6000 years old.
Because the Judeo-Christian tradition was so ingrained in western culture it is not surprising that for hundreds of years many people believed the earth to be relatively young. People believed that changes in the earth were made through a series of catastrophes. However even 200 years ago geological discoveries were leading scientists to postulate that the earth was much older than previously thought and that changes happened incrementally.
Currently our scientific understanding is that the Earth is over 4 billion years old. This is understood from analysis of certain isotopes used to date rocks, a review of the geologic and fossil record, analysis of meteorites and our growing understanding of the Solar System. The Earth could even prove to be older than we think.
However this is not good enough for some Americans. Over 40% of all Americans believe that God created humans less than 10,000 years ago. Some school boards require teachers teaching evolution to refer to it only as theory and underline that it has not been proved, encouraging students to consider the theory of Intelligent Design (that humans did not evolve but were create by God). It appears that a majority of Americans would prefer that creationism was taught alongside evolution and 38% would like it taught in place of evolution.
So why do so many Americans believe in creationism? It is extremely hard for someone who believes in the scientifically proven process of evolution to understand why anyone should choose to believe in an outdated model. It is fundamentally, however, a matter of faith and belief. Americans are lucky to live in a society that protects the right of people to believe in what they want while mandating that science not religious beliefs are taught at school.
7. Fluoride in water is making us all stupid
Many countries choose to add fluoride to mains water supplies in order to protect children and adults from developing dental cavities. This practice started in the US in the 1940s and is proved to be a safe and cheap method of protecting those people who may not otherwise have access to good dental care and has positive benefits for people from all social classes. The only known side effect is dental fluorosis which is a cosmetic effect on the surface of the teeth.
Almost from the very first moment fluoridation of drinking water was started people tried to paint it as a communist plot against the United States to reduce the intelligence and stamina of American children. In the 1980s people were told that fluoride in water would cause them to be subject to mind control and that Nazis and Soviets had made prisoners drink fluoridated water for this exact purpose, although the claim was debunked by survivors and historians. Fluoridation of drinking water has been hailed as a huge medical achievement by the CDC and the World Health Organization claims that it is a key measure in reducing the inequalities that people face in access to good dental health.
So why do Americans worry about fluoridation? Well there are problems and dangers associated with fluoride overdoses (it is used in rat poison) but you would have to drink a lot of water (i.e. an impossible amount of water) to get anywhere close to those levels. Many countries choose not to fluoridate their water supplies because of these controversies but the science shows us that fluoridation is safe in the concentrations currently used.
6. Subliminal Advertising makes us buy things we don’t want
Do corporations force us to buy their products through the use of subliminal mind control? In 1974 researchers claimed that advertisers were using subliminal messages to make us want to buy their products. The hype became so out of control that a music band was blamed for causing the suicide of a teenager with subliminal messages in their music. This very sad case was, however, thrown out of court.
These claims have been discredited when the scientist who ran the original study showing the effects of subliminal advertising admitted that he had lied. Of course many people would rather convince themselves that subliminal advertising rather than their own weak will is responsible for them reaching for junk foods or making unnecessary purchases.
5. Area 51 and the great UFO cover up
Something does appear to have crashed in Roswell New Mexico back in 1947 which was then analyzed in Area 51. From eye witness reports it appears that what crashed was not a UFO but a top secret high altitude balloon called Project Mogul which was being tested for use in the anti USSR spy program. The government response to reports of the crash was confused and secretive as it did its best to maintain the secrecy of the experiment.
The airstrip at Area 51 has a long history of use as a test facility, as in addition to Project Mogul, the area was used for U2 reconnaissance planes and project Oxcart (a replacement for the U2). Captured Soviet aircraft were also evaluated here. Because of the secretive nature of the work that was done there, access either on the ground or into the airspace is heavily restricted. It was normal for the government to refuse to provide any information on Area 51 and usually references in any published materials are redacted. It was only as late as 2013 that the CIA officially acknowledged that Area 51 even existed. The many UFO sightings that have been made in the area are almost all attributable to U2 and Oxcart flights.
Despite all the information available more than 1/3 of Americans believe that UFOs exist and 1 in 10 believes that they have seen one. Shockingly 80% believe that the US government has covered up information on UFOs. Why do people believe this in the face of the evidence? Possibly because reality is dry and dull but the stories of UFOs and government conspiracies are more accessible and, quite simply, fun!
4. The Moon Landings were faked
In 1969 the world watched with bated breath as two human beings explored another planet for the very first time…or did we? Some 6% of Americans believe that the moon landings were faked in order to allow America to win the space race and more than a quarter of younger Americans doubt that we ever went to the moon.
Conspiracy theorists believe that the astronauts were launched in a rocket but then transferred to a military plane before ‘re-entering’ the earth’s atmosphere in the lunar module eight days later. Fake photographs were made at Area 51 (see above). People spend hours viewing the photographs and trying to find inconsistencies in the lighting, shadows etc. They claim that all the moon rocks brought back (moon rocks have a unique geology) were actually brought back from a trip to Antarctica. While moon rocks are found in Antarctica as a result of meteorite impact the volume is very small, nowhere close to the volume brought back from the moon and they were not identified as originating from the moon until 1979.
In 2012 high resolution photographs of the lunar surface showed evidence of all of the moon landings and, just to debunk claims that these photographs were doctored to maintain the hoax many other nations such as Japan, India and China have taken photographs of the landing sites.
Why do so many people still believe the moon landings were faked? Well, the moon is a long way away and perhaps it is easier for some people to conceptualize a hoax than it is to believe that people flew all the way there and back again.
3. Vaccines cause autism
Vaccines enable us to protect our children against a wide range of diseases that, years ago, were the scourge of parents and put the lives of millions of children at risk. Thanks to vaccination smallpox is now extinct in the wild and polio almost. There will always be some possibility of an adverse reaction but these are usually mild and short term. The advantages outweigh the disadvantages by a long way and they are safe for the vast majority of the population. Indeed it is important to immunize as many people as possible in order to grant ‘herd immunity’ to those individuals who cannot, for whatever reason, have vaccines.
The main controversies surrounding vaccines related to their supposed potential to cause Autism either through vaccine overload (too many vaccines given at once) or the use of the MMR vaccine. The MMR is a combined vaccination against Measles, Mumps and Rubella. In 1998, a British doctor reported that it had the potential to cause autism. The study was later discredited as the data was manipulated and the study was funded by parents who were involved in litigation against vaccine manufacturers and there was therefore a conflict of interest. The CDC and many other reputable bodies have declared the vaccine safe and it has been proved that there is no link between MMR and autism. Nevertheless the controversy led to a widespread reduction in the number of children receiving the MMR (and other) vaccines. As the percentage of vaccinated children decreases the number of incidences of previously rare diseases is again on the increase.
So why do parents reject the science and refuse to protect their children from devastating diseases. Possibly because vaccines have been so effective for so long it is easy for us to convince ourselves that diseases like measles are no more serious than a mild case of chicken pox but we do see children suffering from mild cases of post immunization fever. Surely, people convince themselves, it is better for their children to maybe suffer a mild illness (which they probably won’t get because every other child in the community is vaccinated) than definitely expose them to the disease and other components of injections such as aluminum.
2. Medicines make people sick
Much like the controversies that surround vaccinations people like to think that the medicine companies are engaged in a conspiracy with doctors to keep us all sick and invent diseases. The drugs doctors prescribe, so they claim, are expensive, sometimes prove to be horrendously unsafe (think thalidomide) and often don’t make people better. While ‘Big Pharma’ wants to make money out of suffering, so the believers tell us, we could actually cure modern day scourges like cancer by eating grapes and drinking carrot juice – chemotherapy is simply unnecessary.
What those who propose these beliefs fail to remember is that many people who are in receipt of expensive medicines are very sick and these medicines do not work quickly or sometimes, sadly, at all. Put quite simply these claims are total rubbish and easily disproved. Diseases such as cancer and diabetes are not a creation of industry. These theories are not the musings of harmless crackpots, they can prevent people from seeking legitimate help for their illnesses in the hope that diet and alternative therapies can cure them. It is both cruel and dangerous. So why do people continue to believe? Perhaps it is a result of the high cost of medical care in the USA; with treatments costing thousands of dollars it is comforting to think that a trip to the grocery store is more effective!
1. Bigfoot is real
Bigfoot – the all American Yeti! Surveys have shown that 3% of respondents absolutely believe that Bigfoot exists while a further 13% believe that it is likely.
While some photographic and film evidence of Bigfoot exists these are likely to be hoaxes. No physical evidence has ever been found to prove the existence of Bigfoot (there are some plaster casts of footprints but they bear no relation to each other at all and are therefore most likely to be the product of many independent tricksters) and there is certainly no breeding population. Indeed the original footprints from back in 1958 appear to have been created by a logging company owner trying to scare off vandals who had been targeting his equipment.
So why do Americans believe in Bigfoot? Well, perhaps because it is fun to think he could exist.
So why are Americans prey to so many weird and wacky beliefs (these 10 just scratch the surface, think about the many theories surrounding 9/11, the assassination of JFK and the death of Princess Diana). Perhaps it is because at the heart of the American nation there is the tension between states’ rights and federal rights. It is easy for many Americans to believe that ‘big whatever’ be pharma, ‘the man’, agribusiness or any other organization is out to maximize their position at the expense of ordinary people. Scandals such as Watergate and Iran Contra do nothing to help this. Some of these strange beliefs are harmless, some, such as the concerns about vaccines are extremely dangerous. What we do know is that surveys show that believing in one ‘conspiracy’ makes it more likely that a person will believe in another and, of course, once people get into that mindset, it can be self-perpetuating as no evidence of a theory is, in and of itself, considered to be evidence of a cover up.