Why do people believe things that science has proved untrue?

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Author's Note: Why do people believe things that science has proved untrue?

When I began addressing this topic, I was reminded of a conversation I had in college with a guy I would now call an extreme relativist. The discussion, which didn't produce much, did plant the seeds of what my mind would turn into this: A person can both believe, absolutely, in science, and still (at least tentatively) acknowledge that this belief may not be so very different than one in God. It's a potentially problematic position from which to write an article about the "irrational" rejection of scientific evidence, and my attempt to solve the conflict is in the introduction:

The thinking might be rational in people who don't buy science at all -- no germs leading to illness, no evolution or genetic code, no "heat-retention" nonsense. But in those who do believe in the principles of science, in the scientific method and in most of its conclusions, how does this happen?

I hope my readers feel this did the trick and that I carried distinction through to the end of the article -- that it is not the rejection of scientific evidence that is pathological but instead the inability to hear (let alone integrate) any new or conflicting evidence into one's belief system.

To read about a heartening example of the opposite, check out this Guardian article. That's courage (and good science).

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  • Castillo, Michelle. "CDC: US Whooping cough cases rising at epidemic rate." CBS News. July 19, 2012. (Nov. 2, 2012) http://www.cbsnews.com/8301-504763_162-57475858-10391704/cdc-us-whooping-cough-cases-rising-at-epidemic-rate/
  • Diethelm, Pascal and Martin McKee. "Denialism: what is it and how should scientists respond?" European Journal of Public Health. Vol. 19, Issue 1. P. 2-4. 2009. via EuroPub. (Oct. 31, 2012) http://eurpub.oxfordjournals.org/content/19/1/2.full
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  • Mooney, Chris. "Made-up minds." The Week. May 13, 2011. (Nov. 2, 2012) http://theweek.com/article/index/215257/made-up-minds
  • "Retracted autism study an 'elaborate fraud,' British journal finds." CNN Health. Jan. 5, 2011. (Nov. 2, 2012) http://www.cnn.com/2011/HEALTH/01/05/autism.vaccines/index.html
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