Why facts will never be enough to make people believe; and why journalists should learn to roll with that

Right now I’m reading Seth Mnookin’s Panic Virus — a book about the bad science, bad science media coverage, and quirks of human psychology that fostered the anti-vaccine movement (by parents concerned that vaccines cause autism, despite the wealth of peer-reviewed science to the contrary).

I’m reading it because I’m fascinated and concerned why people (sometimes in large numbers) tend to cling to beliefs/positions fiercely long after they’ve been factually debunked/disproven, whether by science or by journalistic, legal, or other systematic investigation. (WMD, anyone?)

This kind of anti-fact, anti-science backlash tends to really confuse and frustrate journalists and scientists.

It sucks when you work really hard to do the fairest, most systematic investigation of a topic that deeply affects many people’s lives — but the very people who are suffering most from the topic of your research refuse to believe what you have to say, or accuse you of being part of some conspiracy to hoodwink them. And meanwhile, your less skilled or less ethical colleagues are producing their own research and reports designed to foster fear, uncertainty, and doubt.

That generates considerable friction, controversy, and conflict. And worse, it delays the discovery and implementation of real solutions.

Why does this happen — and what can journalists and scientists do about it?…

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