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Why do people believe in things when the body of scientific evidence shows otherwise

(506 Posts)
technodad Fri 01-Nov-13 19:35:14

This is not intended to be an attack on any denomination of belief. The aim of this thread is to try to understand why people choose to believe things, when there are far more likely explanations and why people choose to not trust the scientific opinion.

I am not particularly thinking about a discussion about religion because clearly "faith", some old books and preaching make a difference there (although, please discuss religion if it is relevant). I am thinking more about things like:

- People don't believe global is happening when the vast majority of the scientific community can provide evidence that it is.

- People believe in ghosts when their existance violates all the laws of physics and pretty much all "ghost events" (if not absolutely all) can be explained without mystery.

- People don't get their kids vaccinated (e.g. MMR), when it is clear that not vaccinating is orders of magnitude more dangerous than vaccinating.

- People think that palm reading, tea leaf reading, etc actually works...

- People believe in "alternative" medicines work, when every "alternative" medicine that actually works is now simple called "medicine"!

The rules are as follows:

1) You can say what ever you like, and I don't care if you insult me.

2) If you post something, you may have someone say something that challenges your deeply held beliefs, so please only post if this is acceptable to you.

3) No one is allowed to complain about anyone being horrible, or arrogant, based upon the fact that people will only post here if they are up for a debate (see 2).

4) There is no 4.

CoteDAzur Fri 01-Nov-13 20:43:55

I think that you are wrong to lump all of the above together.

Many people on here have very valid reasons not to have vaccinated their DC with MMR, and in many cases they are supported by their GPs/paediatricians. It is not reasonable to point and laugh like you do at belief in homeopathy or tarot readings.

technodad Fri 01-Nov-13 20:49:55

Fair point.

Don't get me wrong. Any vaccination has risks associated with it, and some people are at higher risks (who are often advised to not vaccinate).

My issue is where people are not in a high risk group, but ignore the scientific evidence and elect to not vaccinate their DC.

Sometimes this is because they want to benefit from the herd immunity and not expose their own children to risk. But this is selfish, and also only works if they are the only person who has come up with this idea.

Usually, this is because they ignore scientific advice.

Tee2072 Fri 01-Nov-13 20:50:26


So should I submit my answers in writing to you first to make sure they don't violate your rules?

Faith and fact are not mutually exclusive. And something that was fact yesterday, sometimes isn't fact today.

technodad Fri 01-Nov-13 20:53:12

I don't mind if you break the rules.

Your post is a little cryptic and meaningless though. The existence of the bible is a fact. Some of the information within it are facts. It doesn't mean god exists.

Tee2072 Fri 01-Nov-13 20:55:45

It doesn't mean god doesn't exist either.

And 1,000 years ago, give or take, the sun revolved around the Earth and that was fact.

Who knows what will be fact 1,000 years from now?

CoteDAzur Fri 01-Nov-13 20:56:51

"My issue is where people are not in a high risk group, but ignore the scientific evidence and elect to not vaccinate their DC."

What exactly is the "high risk group", though? There is no definition of any such group. Some (admittedly very few) seem to be reacting very negatively to some vaccines, MMR included. After Wakefield's public flogging & hanging, no scientist will work on this subject and there is no funding to work on identifying exactly which children should not be vaccinated.

There are fascinating Game Theory analyses on the subject of vaccination. The clear conclusion is that where real or perceived risk* of the vaccine is higher than the expected benefit, the rational decision is not to vaccinate.

* Risk of an outcome = Probability of that outcome happening x Severity of that outcome

CoteDAzur Fri 01-Nov-13 20:59:19

1,000 years ago, we had very little observational capability and practically no scientific method. When those developed, our understanding of the universe suddenly changed, because we finally understood the things we were only guessing at before.

That doesn't mean everything will change once every 1000 years.

technodad Fri 01-Nov-13 20:59:42

You are right. What I wrote doesn't prove that god doesn't exist.

But 1000 years ago, there wasn't evidence that the sun revolved around the sun, it was a belief. There is however lots of evidence that the earth revolves around the sun.

Are you proposing that we might find out that the earth doesn't revolve around the sun???!

Your argument doesn't make sense.

paperlantern Fri 01-Nov-13 21:00:16

I rather dislike this thread.

People "belief" in things because it has personal value to them:
e.g. a "complimentary" form of medicine stopped DS being sick as a baby when "medicine" utterly failed.
e.g. I believe in tarot because I have experience of it "working", couldn't give tuppence if science says it doesn't work because my experience is it can

Vaccinations are different. there is enough evidence that several large payouts in various countries have been made relating to vaccine damage. So yes there MUST be evidence that vaccines can cause damage, yes non vaccinating can also be dangerous. Just because evidence doesn't exist yet doesn't mean something isn't true

Seriously, why imposed rules on a thread. Mumsnet has perfectly good rules. NO no one is allowed to attack you personally, to imply they can is wrong

Tee2072 Fri 01-Nov-13 21:01:12

In 1,000 years they may say the same about us.

Everything changes all the time. That's the only fact that never changes.

Take it shorter. 44 years ago, when I was a baby, my mom was told to give me solids at 6 weeks. That's not a typo.

So in less than 50 years, look at how far we've come.

CoteDAzur Fri 01-Nov-13 21:01:48

As for OP's question: "Why do people believe in things when the body of scientific evidence shows otherwise"

Because they want to believe (like Mulder's UFO poster).

Because thinking they know a secret scientists don't makes some feel important. (They are "sensitive" to paranormal phenomena etc)

Because people who don't understand the world, who have never understood much of it due to a lack in scientific education for example, are bound to think that science is fallible and only their "heart" show them the truth.

I can go on smile

CoteDAzur Fri 01-Nov-13 21:03:54

Belief in God is a bit different, imho, because most people are conditioned from a very young age to believe in that mythology. They can't question it - it is part of who they are. To such an extent that they say things like "It's only human to want to believe in God" or "... a God-shaped hole in every person" etc.

Tee2072 Fri 01-Nov-13 21:08:50

I was actually conditioned from a very young age to not believe in god.

I came to my beliefs in my own time in my own way.

There are things we don't know/can't explain. And, personally, I'm okay with that.

technodad Fri 01-Nov-13 21:08:51


If you don't like the thread, don't join in.

I only listed the rules as a joke against another thread where people are stipulating who can post and what they can post. Don't take it too seriously.

joanofarchitrave Fri 01-Nov-13 21:14:52

IMO because people can believe different things in different ways. I have a devout Catholic friend who has a PhD in some form of biological science. I don't think she believes in the power of prayer to alter the external world in the same way that she believes that a chemical reaction will happen in a lab. However, I also know that she prays and expects this to have an effect on her and therefore on her life, and that she finds this equally 'believable' as her lab work.

IIRC psychology shows that humans have short cuts to make working assumptions and spot patterns, many of which are illusions, because if we dealt with the stream of information we receive as if every piece was equally important, we would be unable to do anything.

BerstieSpotts Fri 01-Nov-13 21:19:35

Well surely 2, 4 and 5 are pretty obvious. People believe they work/exist because they have seen or experienced something (either a ghostly experience or alternative medicines working or a palm reading which came true or whatever) for themselves and that tends to be stronger than some abstract idea of science.

I don't believe in unicorns. But if I saw one with my own eyes, touched its horn, heard it breathe/stomp/whinny, then I would be inclined to change that belief even though science says that unicorns are impossible.

I think most people trust their own experiences and senses first. Science is a shortcut really - I don't have to have seen a wallaby in real life to believe that they exist because I have seen pictures, videos, there is a vast body of evidence about their existence, you can look up information about their skeletons or their eating habits etc. But really this is just an extension - I believe that wallabies exist because of the experience of others and I am inclined to trust it because so many people can confirm this.

1 is similar in that perhaps they don't trust the people putting across the evidence that it is happening. Or they are closed enough to accept only things which they have directly experienced, and they can't see any evidence of it themselves.

3, I don't think that is clear at all! "Orders of magnitude" hmm what kind of measurement is that? People have different ideas of risk and what kind of risk is acceptable to them. It might be clear to you that one thing is better than the other but is it so hard to see that somebody might find it the other way around? Or do you think that vaccination is completely without any risk at all, in which case it may be prudent to examine your own beliefs. I decided that while vaccines have risks it was, on balance, better to have it done, but in no way is it "orders of magnitude" better. I don't think it's that clear cut.

technodad Fri 01-Nov-13 21:19:56


I agree with your game theory assessment.

Problem is, that the statistics change based upon the number of people who "play".

If everyone vaccinated, then you are safe (and can be selfish in not vaccinating your DC). If no one vaccinated, you are at risk and so need to vaccinate. It is a bit of a paradox really.

I take the risk with my DC, because it is better overall for society that I do. I am not selfish.

High risk groups are defined to doctors. If your DC is in a high risk group, you will know.

paperlantern Fri 01-Nov-13 21:31:52

"High risk groups are defined to doctors"

In accordance with what they "know" now. They may well be high risk groups we don't yet know of or identify.

Eg if you have a child with autism and you go on to have a second child that child is at greater risk of autism, therefore a parent may choose not to vaccinate.

FWIW Autism is a classic example of where scientific opinion has historically got it wrong, repeatedly. what we know as fact 10 or 20 years ago is disproved in the intervening time.
Eg I know someone who was told roughly ten years ago that their second child couldn't possibly have autism because they already had a child with autism and the chances of having two children with autism was so small. hmm

There are so many example where accepted science "fact" turns out to be wrong when we know a little more. Nothing wrong with treating science with a healthy dose of cynicism once in a while

joanofarchitrave Fri 01-Nov-13 21:33:40

Vaccination is at its core a very difficult thing to do and against all common sense, hence why it has been accompanied by anything from controversy all the way to riots, at least since the 1832 cholera outbreaks. I couldn't help but [facepalm] at the news that one of the informants working towards finding Osama bin Laden had a cover story of being involved in a vaccination campaign. Like vaccination needs any more reasons for people to suspect it.

If you read the threads on here and in fact anywhere on the internet, you will actually find quite a lot of very impressive people with well-thought-out opinions who do not vaccinate their children for quite a lot of reasons. I am about as pro-vaccine as it is possible to be, but how does it help the cause of vaccination to make bald statements as aggressively as possible and as often as possible? What does science say about how to engage in constructive listening, and why don't you pay any attention to that?

How ridiculous does it sound to say 'I am not selfish'? I have never met anyone who is not selfish sometimes, and unless you are a monk who has spent decades working on the elimination of the self, you will not be the exception.

paperlantern Fri 01-Nov-13 21:34:23

To clarify the reason I didn't like this thread was the setting of rules in the opening post.

or for that matter the assumption that science is infallible or complete

technodad Fri 01-Nov-13 21:36:47

I don't think your example questions the scientific majority, is sounds like that particular doctor didn't understand statistics!

technodad Fri 01-Nov-13 21:38:21

I never said scientific is infallible

Also, like I said, the rules were a joke.

paperlantern Fri 01-Nov-13 21:40:41

No that was the "belief" at the time. it was in accordance with scientific "knowledge" at the time.

We are now starting to get the scientific evidence together to explain the how and why Autism runs in families

paperlantern Fri 01-Nov-13 21:52:56

again another case where where scientific "knowledge" actually committed a woman to prison
Canning case and sids

I think the big question is why trust scientific opinion implicitly when it so often gets it wrong? Science is simply another tool in our tool box in deciding what to believe

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