This site is not maintained. Click here for the new website of Richard Dawkins.

← Myth-Making: Say It Often, People Will Believe

Myth-Making: Say It Often, People Will Believe - Comments

QuestioningKat's Avatar Comment 1 by QuestioningKat

I found this beautifully illustrated quote that said essentially "What you don't understand, you can make mean anything." (Chuck Palahniuk?) I thought what a horrible quote. Unfortunately, I think most people function this way. If someone tells half story, most people will assume just about anything whether it is true or not. If someone gives them the story to believe, they'll buy that also.

The article uses the example of flu vaccines, but I think this is pervasive in every area of our lives. Make a random comment about someone to family or friends and watch how quickly they will jump to believe your perception even if it is not true. Belittle or exalt someone and see how your comment influences their view. Try also to make a comment that is untrue about yourself - say your so sloppy - and watch how quickly they will jump onto calling you sloppy. This is the type of stuff that ruins reputations and creates misunderstanding. The authors are seeing this in terms of science, but it needs to be examined as a core human problem.

Sat, 03 Sep 2011 18:19:44 UTC | #866955

Saganic Rites's Avatar Comment 2 by Saganic Rites

A classic example being Carl Sagan. Because Johnny Carson often used the phrase billions and billions when he did his impersonation of Sagan, the phrase was attributed to him despite his own denials to the contrary (as I read just last night in the first chapter of.......Billions and Billions).

Coincidence? Yep.

Sat, 03 Sep 2011 19:09:48 UTC | #866963

Jos Gibbons's Avatar Comment 3 by Jos Gibbons

Of course, Sagan never really said it. But this phenomenon of misattributing quotes, or exaggerating their frequency, is all too common. "Elementary, my Dear Watson." "Reverse the polarity of the neutron flow." "Beam Me Up Scotty."

Sat, 03 Sep 2011 19:37:17 UTC | #866973

Alan4discussion's Avatar Comment 4 by Alan4discussion

There's a whole advertising industry based on this, not to mention the market in tabloid gossip!

"It must be true - I read it in the papers! - There's no smoke without fire!"

Sat, 03 Sep 2011 19:58:57 UTC | #866981

drumdaddy's Avatar Comment 5 by drumdaddy

Bunk sells.

Sat, 03 Sep 2011 20:12:46 UTC | #866985

The Truth, the light's Avatar Comment 6 by The Truth, the light

Some of the comments on the article are very scary. They completely re-enforce exact what the article was talking about.

Sat, 03 Sep 2011 20:37:32 UTC | #866995

Neodarwinian's Avatar Comment 7 by Neodarwinian

Funny, but my Norton anti-virus keeps blocking an attack from something called Web Attacker at the " read more ' site. So, no playing of the videos here. Will try latter.

Sat, 03 Sep 2011 20:45:14 UTC | #866997

hemidemisemigod's Avatar Comment 8 by hemidemisemigod

One of my favourite myths is the classic school physics experiment designed to show that the air around us is about 21% oxygen.

A lighted candle is placed in a puddle of water and then covered by an inverted glass. As the candle flame dies out, the water lever rises. I remember measuring this change in level and getting the expected answer. Any slight difference was assumed to be an acceptable level of experimental error.

It turns out that people have been drawing the wrong conclusion from this text book experiment for years. It took some meddling kids to make people look again!

Sat, 03 Sep 2011 21:54:47 UTC | #867017

jbyrd's Avatar Comment 9 by jbyrd

This is the very reason why science is being attacked in America....

Organizations, like Faux News, just hammers the same old rumors over and over, and before you know it, people start believing it. Despite how non-credible the organization is... Climate change, Atheism, Global Warming, Abortion, Science Research, etc...

One of my favorite, "rumors", that the obviously non-credible Faux News organization likes to throw out is, FOX NEWS, FAIR AND BALANCED....

When questioned on that I believe the response given was, There are so many other organizations out here that are mid to left, that we HAVE to be Right wing nuts to balance it out.

Sat, 03 Sep 2011 23:04:23 UTC | #867028

Pete H's Avatar Comment 10 by Pete H

There’s a good pop psychology book about this:

“Made to Stick” by Chip and Dan Heath

The phenomenon has something in common with urban myths.

My favourite examples are the Bernoulli effect explanation of how sailing boats work and how aircraft wings fly. Everyone believes this but almost no one understands it. There’s something about the complexity and sciency aspects that make the explanation attractive even though it’s useless to help people understand it. This flawed explanation involves pressure differences owing to differential velocity of air flowing around an aerofoil shape. Only problem being that it doesn’t easily explain how an aircraft wing works to allow an aircraft to fly upside down, plus smoke pulses in wind tunnels prove that there is actually no difference in air velocity across the different surfaces – hence no significant air pressure difference. Nevertheless it was the preferred explanation that appeared in most physics texts. And so gets repeated by the older generation to kids even today.

A more harmful myth was in the news today: that there never has been scientific evidence supporting the idea that salt is bad for people. If anything there are people whose health has been harmed by a mistaken belief that they need to minimise their sodium intake.

http://www.stuff.co.nz/life-style/food-wine/5557009/Salt-facts-not-rock-solid

Apparently scientists remain unconvinced because they want proof that something everyone believes is true cannot be true. And to prove that eating salt is not harmful requires feeding people salt - which would be an unethical experiment because of the consensus medical belief that salt is toxic.

Sun, 04 Sep 2011 00:37:47 UTC | #867042

nancynancy's Avatar Comment 11 by nancynancy

This is why we're endlessly subjected to slogans like "compassionate conservatism" and the "religion of peace."

Sun, 04 Sep 2011 04:49:52 UTC | #867073

Bobwundaye's Avatar Comment 12 by Bobwundaye

I suppose that believing myths also has to do with the company you keep. Hence the popular atheist myths that "religion is evil," "raising kids as religious is child abuse," "you can't be a scientist and religious," etc.

Sun, 04 Sep 2011 07:26:13 UTC | #867087

Saganic Rites's Avatar Comment 13 by Saganic Rites

Comment 12 by SpirituallyAtheist :

I suppose that believing myths also has to do with the company you keep. Hence the popular atheist myths that "religion is evil," "raising kids as religious is child abuse," "you can't be a scientist and religious," etc.

Ooh, who got out of bed on the wrong side this morning? Your final example is a myth of your own making BTW, I believe it's the atheist view that you cannot be a good scientist and religious. Still, you have a point about atheists and myths; atheists are devil worshippers; Dawkins is shrill and strident; you can't be good without god; and of course there's the new one in the making, http://richarddawkins.net/videos/642933-atheists-and-sex-offenders.

Sun, 04 Sep 2011 08:35:30 UTC | #867099

MilitantNonStampCollector's Avatar Comment 14 by MilitantNonStampCollector

Say it often, keep it short: where is the missing link? (sarcasm)

Sun, 04 Sep 2011 08:50:19 UTC | #867102

mmurray's Avatar Comment 15 by mmurray

Comment 10 by Pete H :

A more harmful myth was in the news today: that there never has been scientific evidence supporting the idea that salt is bad for people. If anything there are people whose health has been harmed by a mistaken belief that they need to minimise their sodium intake.

http://www.stuff.co.nz/life-style/food-wine/5557009/Salt-facts-not-rock-solid

Apparently scientists remain unconvinced because they want proof that something everyone believes is true cannot be true. And to prove that eating salt is not harmful requires feeding people salt - which would be an unethical experiment because of the consensus medical belief that salt is toxic.

The media in NZ as well as elsewhere seem to have missed the point on this Cochrane Review. What it actually found was that getting people to lower dietary intake of sodium didn't achieve much of a sodium reduction, hence not much BP decrease, presumably hence not much health impact.

Professor Rod Taylor, the lead researcher of the review, is ‘completely dismayed’ at the headlines that distort the message of his research published today. Having spoken to BBC Scotland, and to CASH, he clarified that the review looked at studies where people were advised to reduce salt intake compared to those who were not and found no differences, this is not because reduced salt doesn’t have an effect but because it’s hard to reduce salt intake for a long time. He stated that people should continue to strive to reduce their salt intake to reduce their blood pressure, but that dietary advice alone is not enough, calling for further government and industry action.

The point is probably that there is just so much salt in processed food. See

http://www.sciencebasedmedicine.org/index.php/salt-more-confirmation-bias-for-your-preferred-narrative/#more-14376

for details.

The media love these kinds of "nanny-state" stories. So much so they seem to want to write their own.

Michael

Sun, 04 Sep 2011 08:55:18 UTC | #867104

paulmcuk's Avatar Comment 16 by paulmcuk

The article seemed to omit the "It happened to a friend/brother/cousin of mine" factor. People seem to have an inbuilt preference for anecdotal stories over scientific facts. And in the case of the MMR/autism debacle this combines with a basic misunderstanding of cause and effect. Parents of autistic children hear that the jab causes autism and recall that their own child wasn't diagnosed until after having the jab - ergo, the jab causes autism. They ignore the fact that, by it's nature, autism is unlikely to be diagnosable before the age that children get the jab. Then their anecdotal evidence gets spread to the wider population and is believed over the science (which anyway is tained by the fact that it's "official" and we all know you can't trust the Government).

I suppose it's similar to how conspiracy theories work. Simply make a statement that contradicts an established/official line but which appears logical on the face of it and/or supports the pre-existing bias of the listener. Just in the past week we've seen stories that a fair number of people (I think it was 1 in 7 in the UK and 1 in 6 in the US) think that the US Government carried out the 9/11 attacks, and publicity about a new film expounding the theory that Shakespeare didn't write his plays. In most cases, including the classic moon-landing conspiracy, the adherents are often highly educated, erudite individuals. But it seems like once they form an idea they lose perspective and concentrate of proving their theory, rather than establishing truth. So they twist or ignore evidence that doesn't support their claim, and exaggerate that which does. Very similar to religious belief in the face of scientific evidence.

Having written all that, I'm not sure what point I was trying to make...

Sun, 04 Sep 2011 09:07:38 UTC | #867105

Bobwundaye's Avatar Comment 17 by Bobwundaye

Comment 13 by Saganic Rites

Correction then, the myth that you cannot be a good scientist and religious.

Nevertheless, the point still stands that atheists are not immune to forming, holding and propagating myths.

Sun, 04 Sep 2011 09:19:13 UTC | #867107

Alan4discussion's Avatar Comment 18 by Alan4discussion

Comment 15 by mmurray

The point is probably that there is just so much salt in processed food.

If you like anecdotal evidence - According to my mother, my (maternal) grandfather was advising people coming to his chemist's shop (pharmacy), with various circulatory complaints, - to reduce their their salt intake! That was in 1920 !

Sun, 04 Sep 2011 10:31:08 UTC | #867113

aquilacane's Avatar Comment 19 by aquilacane

You won't ever see a job posting for a philosopher but that doesn't mean they aren't out there. You may spot one serving you food, teaching English in Korea or planting trees in the Great White North. Where ever you find them, the life of the philosopher is much like that of the artist... a dream.

That is, until today. For the first time in history, a philosopher has actually managed to accomplish something in the real world.

Now, that was a joke but here is the problem. I'm not sure which is the myth. Philosophers are glorified waiters or philosophers actually do stuff.

Sun, 04 Sep 2011 11:38:04 UTC | #867130

Alan4discussion's Avatar Comment 20 by Alan4discussion

Comment 19 by aquilacane

Now, that was a joke but here is the problem. I'm not sure which is the myth. Philosophers are glorified waiters or philosophers actually do stuff.

Don't some of them get jobs as journalists "debating controversies", or as theologians regurgitating and "reinterpreting" ancient writings?

Sun, 04 Sep 2011 12:45:09 UTC | #867142

mmurray's Avatar Comment 21 by mmurray

Comment 19 by aquilacane :

You won't ever see a job posting for a philosopher

So what are these ?

http://www.jobsinphilosophy.org/

Michael

Sun, 04 Sep 2011 12:52:53 UTC | #867145

Marc Country's Avatar Comment 22 by Marc Country

"What you don't understand, you can make mean anything."

Postmodernism, in a nutshell.

Sun, 04 Sep 2011 13:09:15 UTC | #867150

Tyler Durden's Avatar Comment 23 by Tyler Durden

Comment 12 by SpirituallyAtheist :

I suppose that believing myths also has to do with the company you keep. Hence the popular atheist myths that "religion is evil," "raising kids as religious is child abuse," "you can't be a good scientist and religious," etc.

Let's look at these "myths" individually:

  • "religion is evil" - have you read the Old Testament?

  • "raising kids as religious is child abuse" - raising kids with a fear of eternal damnation is child abuse.

  • "you can't be a good scientist and religious" - can you imagine a geologist who is also a YEC? Would you trust his/her findings? Would you publish his/her findings?

  • These aren't myths, merely truths you are unwilling to accept.

    Sun, 04 Sep 2011 13:11:00 UTC | #867151

    Bobwundaye's Avatar Comment 24 by Bobwundaye

    Comment 23 by Tyler Durden

    Let's look at your response's points individually:

    "religion is evil" - have you read the Old Testament?

    Not all rhetorical questions qualify as arguments, but I'll allow it assuming it to mean that the Old Testament is full of God telling one nation to kill another, etc. You are confusing the fact that the religious mind, like the atheist mind, has a natural morality that riles against this for the most part. Christians struggle with this OT God, and so gloss over those bits that are most morally indefensible. Thus their religion excludes such evils. And that is not just their personal religion, that is their official church religion too. I don't hear the pope or the archbishop of Canterbury calling for the slaughter of various people. In fact, I don't hear many religions or sects do that. Of course, there are one or two, and those are the ones most publicized, and should be criticized like they are. I will even agree that those individuals - and I loathe to extend it to communities - but even communities could be deemed evil. However, calling all religion evil because of the extremists is just nonsensical.

    "raising kids as religious is child abuse" - raising kids with a fear of eternal damnation is child abuse.

    Just stating something does not make it so. Can you explain how you came to the conclusion that it is child abuse?

    "you can't be a good scientist and religious" - can you imagine a geologist who is also a YEC? Would you trust his/her findings? Would you publish his/her findings?

    I would publish their findings if they make valid arguments based on empirical evidence, and their studies are done using proper scientific methods, and then passed a peer review. As a scientist you have to look at the evidence presented and not the person presenting it. But this is rather a diversion from the underlying false assumption that you make that all religious people are YECs (which would be yet another myth).

    Sun, 04 Sep 2011 13:53:34 UTC | #867164

    Valis's Avatar Comment 25 by Valis

    I don't hear the pope or the archbishop of Canterbury calling for the slaughter of various people.

    Wrong. When the Pope tells people not to use condoms that IS a call to slaughter people. Also, here in Uganda the church tried to get a law passed to execute people for being gay. Also, ever hear of Rwanda?

    Sun, 04 Sep 2011 14:25:13 UTC | #867172

    Schrodinger's Cat's Avatar Comment 26 by Schrodinger's Cat

    Comment 24 by SpirituallyAtheist

    Just stating something does not make it so. Can you explain how you came to the conclusion that it is child abuse?

    There can be few ideas more sick in the head than the idea of eternal punishment. It's bad enough inflicting such utter crap on adults........but to inflict it on children ranks alongside sexual abuse as a heinous crime. Yes, I'd say crime. If I had my way it would be a criminal offence to submit children to such psychological torture.

    Sun, 04 Sep 2011 14:32:10 UTC | #867174

    JuJu's Avatar Comment 27 by JuJu

    SpirituallyAthiest

    You are confusing the fact that the religious mind, like the atheist mind, has a natural morality that riles against this for the most part. Christians struggle with this OT God, and so gloss over those bits that are most morally indefensible. Thus their religion excludes such evils.

    That's right, they don't analyze all the evidence put forth. Instead they disregard the evidence (which is the evil parts of there religion) and pretend its not there. Its called cherry picking and that's not at all the proper way to build knowledge on a subject. Just because they pretend that is not evil doesn't make it so.

    As a scientist you have to look at the evidence presented and not the person presenting it.

    That's also correct, but as you have demonstrated above, the religious mind has a tendency to ignore the evidence that doesn't fit with how they want things to be. That's why you won't actually find a YEC that is also a good geologist

    Just stating something does not make it so. Can you explain how you came to the conclusion that it is child abuse?

    . Not that I need to answer for Tyler, he's more capable then I am, but, telling a child they will burn in hell if they don't commit to a belief without evidence is emotional child abuse.

    Also:

    Nevertheless, the point still stands that atheists are not immune to forming, holding and propagating myths.

    Also true, but the "myths" you've selected don't fit the definition. Try again.

    Sun, 04 Sep 2011 14:58:51 UTC | #867178

    Tyler Durden's Avatar Comment 28 by Tyler Durden

    Comment 24 by SpirituallyAtheist :

    Comment 23 by Tyler Durden

    "raising kids as religious is child abuse" - raising kids with a fear of eternal damnation is child abuse.

    Just stating something does not make it so. Can you explain how you came to the conclusion that it is child abuse?

    The brain of a child has not yet fully matured (not until approx 18-20 years), and so children have difficulty, from a cognitive sense, differing between reality and fantasy. How the brain of a child learns; the neurophysiology of the child brain; stages of development in learning; mirror stage; internal/external speech; thinking aloud; Preoperational stage vs Concrete operational stages; leading to a Formal operational stage, where children use abstract thought and can easily conserve and think logically in their mind (the Trust, Identity, Inferiority, Autonomy, Ego Integrity stages) are all vital in the psychological/cognitive development of children.

    Parents will teach children fantasy (e.g. "Santa", "fairies", "leprechauns") but will of course, at the relevant age, also teach children the difference between such fantasy and reality i.e. Santa does not actually exist - therefore aiding their cognitive development and skills. But, religious parents do not do the same for eternal damnation i.e "hell". It is taught as reality.

    Teaching children about "hell" is mental (psychological) abuse, and is proctected under child protection guidelines in most Western countries:

    WHEREAS children are entitled to protection from abuse and neglect; (b) “abuse”, in relation to a child, means physical, mental, emotional or sexual exploitation, mistreatment or injury of the child; (h) “child” means a person under the age of 18 years.

    UK Child Protection Act (June 1 2010) Chapter C-5.1

    While results from psychological studies show the adverse effect upon children subjected to such vile teachings:

    "Results indicate that although the basic characteristics of religion-related physical abuse are similar to nonreligion - related physical abuse, religion-related abuse has significantly more negative implications for its victims' long-term psychological well-being."

    Religion-related Child Physical Abuse: Characteristics and Psychological Outcomes

    Did you never watch the interviews between Richard and psychologist Jill Mytton on the subject of "hell" and it being child abuse?

    The children are also being frightened, they are taught about hell, fire and such. Looking back at her childhood, Jill Mytton says that it was dominated by fear of disapproval in the present and of eternal damnation in the future, because for a child, images of hell, fire and gnashing of teeth are not metaphorical at all, but very real. She also thinks that the people telling her about these things actually believe that they are reality.

    “What happens in hell?” asks Richard Dawkins, and Jill Mytton says that even after so many years, it still affects her. “Hell is a fearful place, it’s complete rejection by God.” “There is real fire, real torment, real torture, and it goes on forever, so there is no respite from it.”

    Sun, 04 Sep 2011 15:20:46 UTC | #867183

    Ignorant Amos's Avatar Comment 29 by Ignorant Amos

    Comment 24 by SpirituallyAtheist

    Just stating something does not make it so. Can you explain how you came to the conclusion that it is child abuse?

    Not read The God Delusion then I take it?

    Sun, 04 Sep 2011 15:25:00 UTC | #867186

    Bobwundaye's Avatar Comment 30 by Bobwundaye

    Comment 27 by Juju

    That's right, they don't analyze all the evidence put forth. Instead they disregard the evidence (which is the evil parts of there religion) and pretend its not there. Its called cherry picking and that's not at all the proper way to build knowledge on a subject. Just because they pretend that is not evil doesn't make it so.

    Cherry picking may be wrong ethically and indefensible intellectually, but that does not make it evil. I think it actually points the common sense and morality that is innate in all people in that even when confronted with such evil as killing other people, they would rather ignore certain parts of their religious books than be literal about it. These religious people develop convoluted theologies to help explain it away so that they can have their loving (as opposed to blood thirsty) God. I fear that your view of religious people is that they are all very much literalists, and that even those that are, interpret the literal words in a manner that would make them evil.

    In the same way I should not dare to point to some religious person who was moved by religion to do great good, and as a result, claim that all religion is good, I don't think atheists should fall into the trap of claiming that all religion is evil.

    That's also correct, but as you have demonstrated above, the religious mind has a tendency to ignore the evidence that doesn't fit with how they want things to be. That's why you won't actually find a YEC that is also a good geologist

    You're right, you won't find a YEC that is a good geologist. You also won't find a YEC who is a good teacher of evolution. However, not all religious people are YECs. I can point to that English pair of Polinghorne, and McGraph, as well as American Francis Collins, and I'm sure those are only a few. I'll concede (and its not much of a concession) that it is more difficult to be religious and a scientist because your mind has to make many contortions to accommodate faith, but that does not mean religious folk cannot make good scientists, or that they are all just silly unthinking idiots.

    Not that I need to answer for Tyler, he's more capable then I am, but, telling a child they will burn in hell if they don't commit to a belief without evidence is emotional child abuse.

    I know when you put the idea like that it sounds awful, but has there been any actual evidence that it is child abuse. In order to prove that it is child abuse (more specifically psychological child abuse) you would have to demonstrate that it may result in the child experiencing psychological trauma, including anxiety, chronic depression, or post-traumatic stress disorder. (wikipedia) It seems obvious, but it hasn't been demonstrated, and religious instruction, even about the hell, I'm not sure could be shown to be more harmful than unrealistic expectations of your kids, or even too much pressure, or some completely natural way parents mess up. Child abuse is a charged word which is needlessly and wrongly used by atheists in referring to religious parents instructing their kids.

    Also true, but the "myths" you've selected don't fit the definition

    Actually, you have not shown that they aren't myths.

    Sun, 04 Sep 2011 15:49:33 UTC | #867191