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

Comment

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

paulmcuk's Avatar Jump to 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