Skepticism about science and medicine

In search of disinterested science

Who looks at evidence? Almost no one

Posted by Henry Bauer on 2015/06/28

I’ve been a crank for a long time about Loch Ness Monsters, frustrated because I can’t get people to look at Tim Dinsdale’s 1960 film which shows quite clearly a huge animal swimming in Loch Ness, submerging while still throwing up a massive wake.

For more than a decade, I’ve been a crank about HIV not causing AIDS, frustrated because I can’t get people to look at the clear evidence that HIV tests don’t track something infectious, and that the numbers in plain sight on the website of the Centers for Disease Control & Prevention, rates of sexual transmission at less than 1 per 1000 acts of unprotected intercourse, mean that HIV cannot cause an epidemic.

Now I’ve become a crank about human-caused climate change, frustrated because people won’t look at the clear evidence that carbon dioxide has been increasing steadily even as the global temperature was level or dropping form the 1940s into the 1970s, when the experts were predicting an Ice Age; and as the global temperature has not increased since the end of the 1990s.

Why don’t people look at evidence?

Because, I’ve finally realized, they don’t want to risk having to change their mind. There is no positive incentive and plenty of negative incentive. It’s beyond cognitive dissonance, which is to evade the significance of evidence after having come across it. It’s obviously even better not to have come across the evidence at all.

On human-caused climate change (HCCC), disbelief is expressed loudly and publicly by “conservatives” (in my view more accurately described as reactionaries) who have that opinion for the wrong reasons, namely the belief that economic free markets are the most important thing and regulating anything is bad.

“Liberals” or “progressives”, on the other hand (who are actually not liberal or progressive but simply knee-jerk politically correct) don’t look at the evidence because they don’t need to, it’s of no interest to them, they would take their stance that humans cause environmental damage no matter what. And they maintain perfect deniability, they are blameless, they were just accepting what the authorities, the experts, have been saying loudly and incessantly.

Most of my family and friends treat my “reactionary” stance on HCCC as a minor flaw, allowing me space because I tend to get caught up in Quixotic stuff all the time. They have no interest in looking at the evidence because they are completely comfortable with the notion of HCCC because it fits their anti-reactionary political views — which I happen to share. If it turns out that this HCCC is mistaken, there would be all sorts of undesirable consequences, in particular that reactionary views might appear to have been vindicated.

I was distressed when Stephen Colbert took HCCC as proven. I am not happy when all the MSNBC crowd does so, but they’ve become too extreme for me anyway and I rarely watch. But I was very unhappy when Jon Stewart took HCCC as proven. And Pope Francis may have been the last straw (in the wind, as far as ever changing public opinion). Though I did get a sort of sardonic enjoyment from the pundits who pointed out that the Pope knew what he was talking about because he had been a chemist. And I am getting continuing Schadenfreude over the contortions of the Republican presidential candidates as they are forced to comment on the Pope’s encyclical.

Evidence-seeking, I realize, is an obsession of perhaps the tiniest minority there is. On the dangers of modern medical practice, there are just a few dozen voices crying out publicly in the wilderness. On HIV/AIDS, there is our Rethinking AIDS  group of some dozens of people, with a few thousand more quietly agreeing. On HCCC, there are a few academic types like myself who got here because of the evidence, and who subsist uncomfortably in the association with people whose political and social views we do not share, to put it mildly.

I’m beginning to accept that none of the items in my bucket list will see the light of an enlightened day within my lifetime: Nessie discovery, rejection of HIV=AIDS, rejection of carbon-dioxide-is-hurting-us.

But I do remain curious about how the “authorities” will adjust when reality eventually catches up with them irrevocably.

[Corrected 8 August 2015 in paragraph 7]


11 Responses to “Who looks at evidence? Almost no one”

  1. rosross said

    Climate change is now an industry and a system. Systems drive behaviour. We have vested agendas which drive outcomes. I do not believe a clear case exists for climate change as a reality, let alone causes if indeed it does exist. Like you, I don’t see the evidence for it and no, I am not an academic or a science professional, but I do have a background in journalism and editing which requires collating and assessing data to reach sensible conclusions.

    I also remember the pontifications of the Club of Rome. Keep speaking, some of us are listening.


  2. Carol S said

    Good morning, Henry ~

    What would you say is the single best website or book for the discussion of HCCC, with the best evidence laid out clearly?



  3. Mark said

    Yo, Henry. You pissed me off with some of the negative things you have said about artificial intelligence in the past, but I still tend to agree with you on most things, like this being a good post. I thought that this post, as well as many other posts on this blog, have something in common with my most recent post on my blog:

    Well, okay, my blog has a lot more anger, swear words, and complaining about random things, and this specific post that is at the link I posted, above, takes you to the post about a TV show, but it also has to do with how people reacted to the TV show under the assumption that people change with evidence, and that that is not true and is causing a mistaken reaction by the public. In short, the writers got it right and the public did not. Anyway, don’t read my post if you don’t like spoilers for the TV show (or anger, or swear words, or complaining about random things). If you’re cool with it, though, give it a look.


  4. Ban Trees Now! said

    Henry, I agree that only a minority base their opinions on evidence. However, there’s an important something else also required.
    (Btw, I see you are still stuck in your own groove of Bauer’s Holy Trinity of Denied Truths.)

    That something else is plausibility.
    I reject homeopathy regardless of evidence of curing animals’ cancer, because it is bonkers in theory and in origin (invented by one man).
    The hiv>>aids can be rejected as being logically bonkers, whereas the “denialism” makesgood sense.

    By contrast, it would be weird to have one lone big creature in Loch Ness with no fossil ancestry record and no clear food supply. I particularly find nessie to be unbelievable because in the youtube age there should by now be plenty videos and yet there are none. Furthermore even if Nessie existed it would be of no great importance. And it can all be understood as a tourismm-creating hoax by those raising the evidence.

    Climate change is different again. We need to reduce indulgent fossil fuel usage for other very important reasons anyway, so any false panic would not be anything like as harmful as a false indifference.


  5. emk said

    People care about what can harm them personally. These issues don’t pose much danger to the average individual. However, the position an individual takes on them can be very damaging to careers, livelihood, social standing etc. So the vast majority adopt the safest or least cost position on the issue. You don’t need to know the evidence to do that. You just need to know which way the proverbial wind is blowing.

    As to how the authorities will react once the ‘truth’ comes out. No need to speculate. They will react as they always do; everybody thought it was so and that makes it alright. It worked for Iraq and WMD, it will work for HIV/AIDS, HCCC, Nessies, Fluoride etc etc


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