Links and Comments: Loners, Law and Religion, Our Anti-Science Leaders, the Roots of Science Denial

Atlantic: How Loners Are an Evolutionary Insurance Policy

This echoes my comments about how diversity is needed in the human race because different attitudes and skills may be needed in situations that require different ways to survive. Though the article isn’t about humans at all.

There are other contexts in which loner behavior might prove evolutionarily crucial as well. Couzin and others have found, for instance, that some forms of loner behavior can lead to the emergence of leaders in groups. “Are these differences predetermined?” Couzin says. Or are they products of “a decision-making strategy that depends on both the physical and the biotic environment around the animals?”

Finding answers to these questions will be difficult. But in the meantime, the work demonstrates that to truly understand how collective and cooperative behaviors evolved, and how they continue to operate, researchers may need to study the seeming misfits that don’t participate.


NY Times: Storytelling at the Supreme Court: Two recent cases on religion are about more than the tales they tell.

Why the law, and religion, is about story-telling, not truth or reason.

The court heard two cases dealing with religion during its recent weeks of telephonic argument sessions, and on the surface both display this quality of shared premise. You might call it the “of course” principle: Of course nuns shouldn’t be expected to subsidize birth control for their nonprofit institution’s employees. Of course a religious school should be free to hire and fire teachers whose job it is to impart to young students the core meaning of the faith.

In this column, I want to unpack those “of courses.” …


Salon, Mario Livio: Our anti-science leaders are the geocentrists of today: Galileo would have seen a familiar impulse in the politicians who reject scientific predictions on the coronavirus

Put bluntly, what Galileo established as separating science from other types of “revealed” truths was this: facts and the ability to make testable predictions mattered. There weren’t anymore your facts and my facts, neither were there facts and “alternative facts”. There weren’t revealed facts or aspirational facts. Facts came in only one flavor — observable. Observations, experiments, and reasoning based on reliable data became the only acceptable methods for discovering facts about the world.

Galileo was punished by the Church, of course.

Given his own experience, Galileo might not be that surprised to hear that political considerations would make grim predictions about the spread of the coronavirus targets for science deniers at high places. He would be far more surprised — in fact probably perplexed — by the anti-vaccine science deniers, because those are putting their own children at risk. He would be besides himself over the science deniers of climate change.


The Conversation (via Pocket Worthy): The Thinking Error at the Root of Science Denial: Could seeing things in black-and-white terms influence someone’s views on scientific questions?

This reflects my thoughts that religious fundamentalist thought, the need for certainty and “knowing” that God has a plan and everything happens for a reason, is uncomfortable with the perpetually provisional nature of science. (And in turn, when things happen that don’t seem to have a cause or reason, conspiracy theories are invented to explain them.)

This widespread rejection of scientific findings presents a perplexing puzzle to those of us who value an evidence-based approach to knowledge and policy.

Yet many science deniers do cite empirical evidence. The problem is that they do so in invalid, misleading ways. Psychological research illuminates these ways.


In my observations, I see science deniers engage in dichotomous thinking about truth claims. In evaluating the evidence for a hypothesis or theory, they divide the spectrum of possibilities into two unequal parts: perfect certainty and inconclusive controversy. Any bit of data that does not support a theory is misunderstood to mean that the formulation is fundamentally in doubt, regardless of the amount of supportive evidence.

There is no “proof” in science.

Proof exists in mathematics and logic but not in science. Research builds knowledge in progressive increments. As empirical evidence accumulates, there are more and more accurate approximations of ultimate truth but no final end point to the process. Deniers exploit the distinction between proof and compelling evidence by categorizing empirically well-supported ideas as “unproven.” Such statements are technically correct but extremely misleading, because there are no proven ideas in science, and evidence-based ideas are the best guides for action we have.

I have observed deniers use a three-step strategy to mislead the scientifically unsophisticated. First, they cite areas of uncertainty or controversy, no matter how minor, within the body of research that invalidates their desired course of action. Second, they categorize the overall scientific status of that body of research as uncertain and controversial. Finally, deniers advocate proceeding as if the research did not exist.

With examples from climate change deniers, creationists, and anti-vaxxers.

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