Links and Comments: Liars, Fear, Motivated Reasoning, Science Denial, Conservatives

Slate’s William Saletan on Republicans vs. liars; NPR on vaccine resistance; Salon on reactions of QAnon to Biden’s inaurguration; a long NYT piece about what goes on inside QAnon chatrooms; how science denial is a form of conspiracy theory; why conservatives hate science.

With some of these, the titles make the point, without quotes.

Slate: The Enemy Isn’t Republicans. It’s Liars., subtitled, “The case for a broad, fact-based alliance against fabrications.”

Here I think the problems are conservatives who value ideology over evidence, and the way the internet, especially social media, offers “evidence” for any wackadoodle notion some people want to believe, by “doing their research.” More on that below.


NPR: She Resisted Getting Her Kids The Usual Vaccines. Then The Pandemic Hit

Opening line:

“I just remember being very scared.”

This supports the hypothesis that a key motivation for being conservative is fear: how dangerous you think the world is. (And whether you trust other people or think them basically “wretches” who need to be saved by your religion, as in “Amazing Grace.”)


One more about QAnon. (No one in future decades will quite understand how completely wacky this conspiracy was, or why so many were taken in by it.)

Salon: “It’s over and nothing makes sense”: QAnon believers struggle to cope with Biden inauguration, subtitled “‘Well I’m the official laughing stock of my family,’ one QAnon follower said after Joe Biden was sworn in”


Major piece today: a long NYT feature from a writer who hung out on QAnon chatrooms, hearing them talk.

NYT: For the past three weeks, a group of Trump supporters and QAnon believers met online, swapped theories and eagerly awaited the conspiracy’s violent climax. I was listening in. This is what they sounded like.

Selected quotes:

When Mr. Biden’s inauguration played out as normal, participants were frustrated. By rejecting mainstream news, they embraced liars who fed them exactly what they wanted to hear.

If the Q movement had a slogan, it would be “Do your research.” The conspiracy is designed like a game. Discovering clues that clarify Q’s cryptic missives produces a eureka effect, which offers a hit of dopamine and improves memory retention. It’s the same satisfaction that comes from solving a puzzle or finding the answer to a riddle.

Believers apply the same approach to everyday news: Find information that confirms any existing beliefs, then use it to augment their understanding of the conspiracy. Reject facts or information that counter the existing beliefs. It’s one of the reasons they struggle to recruit their family members, unless they’re persuaded to do research themselves.

This last para is of course a casebook example of motivated reasoning: looking for evidence that supports your position and ignoring evidence that doesn’t.

And the trouble with “doing your research” is that you can find “evidence” for any wackadoodle idea you can imagine, somewhere out there on the web. The concept of doing research is only valid if you understand which sources are reliable and which aren’t, and some guy’s YouTube video is probably not.


And finally, to step out to the broadest issue linking all these articles. From Science-Based Medicine: All science denial is a form of conspiracy theory

Regular readers of this blog know that many forms of quackery and science denial have conspiracy theories associated with them, but a further examination suggests that all forms of science denial are a form of conspiracy theory. In the middle of a deadly pandemic, science denial represents a form of conspiracy theory with potentially deadly consequences.

Those who prefer ideology or scripture over the recent centuries-long accumulation of evidence about the reality of our universe, to maintain their positions implicitly assume that all those scientists, over all those centuries, are for some reason perpetuating a hoax. Which would require vast conspiracy theories involving all those scientists and all the educators in all the colleges and universities, and all the airline pilots and all the GPS manufacturers, to deny that the Earth is flat. Or deny the historical evidence about the reduction of infant mortality over the past century, to deny that vaccines work.


And this leads to an article on the UK site Church and State: Why DO conservatives hate science so much?.

The answer is obvious, I’d say. The article explores the decline of America on the world’s stage, because:

The Right has spent decades slowly eroding the foundations of intellectual America. Where once teachers were respected and scientists idolized, now they are pariahs. Teachers’ Unions are the cause of our failing schools! Educated people are elitists! Intellectuals are Socialists! Scientists are all lying to you about the environment! Except for this small handful of scientists and intellectuals that inexplicably agree with everything we paid them to say, you can trust them.

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