Being willing to evaluate information which contradicts our world view

Every couple weeks I stumble across an article about climate change, and I look in the comments and see that the climate change deniers are out in full force. A rational person would not waste her time, but it annoys me that nobody contests them when they spread misinformation on the internet.

Here is how it typically goes:

Denier: The 97% climate-change consensus is a myth. Emily here is incredibly poorly informed for a TED presenter. Thought this talk was on “I don’t do math” but it’s just another “climate deniers are morons” indoctrination.

Me: No, you are the one that is poorly informed. Read Cook et al. (2013):
http://iopscience.iop.org/article/10.1088/1748-9326/…/024024
If you still insist that those 2.9% of peer reviewed articles are correct and the 97.1% are incorrect, then read Benestad et al. (2016):
https://link.springer.com/article/10.1007/s00704-015-1597-5
If you are going to keep insisting that the 97% climate-change consensus is a myth, then you are a scientific illiterate, who has no idea how to evaluate scientific evidence.

At this point the response is interesting. Most climate change deniers don’t bother responding when confronted with evidence. Some concoct conspiracy theories to explain why 97.1% of peer reviewed articles agree with the scientific consensus on anthropogenic global warming. A few bother to look up the arguments from other deniers that try to debunk Cook et al. In my experience, none of them ever bother to read more than the abstract of Cook et al. They just repeat what other deniers have said about the article, rather than reading it and trying to evaluate the methodology of the study and the quality of the evidence.

I have never once had an interaction online with a climate change denier where they actually bothered to read the article I referenced. I try to make it easy for them by including a link, but they still don’t bother. It is strange that they will take the time to post online, but they don’t even bother to read studies that challenge their world view. Evidence which doesn’t fit their world view automatically gets discarded.

I know that I have not arrived at most of my own beliefs based on careful evaluation of evidence. I have my own world view and I automatically discard most information that don’t fit my world view. However, I would like to think that I will actually take the time to evaluate evidence which contradicts my world view, when someone challenges me to look at it.

People not being willing to even read articles that contradict their world view also happens on the left. Look at the reaction to Peter Schweizer’s book Clinton Cash or David Sorota’s reporting on the Clinton Foundation. During the 2016 election season, I never once had an online interaction with a Clinton supporter where they actually took the time to read Schweizer or Sorota, even when I gave them links. I encounter the same reaction when I post a link to my article about the environmental problems with long-range electric cars on a web site about electric cars. People appear to be afraid to even read something that challenges what they already believe.

I would like to think that I am immune to this sort of bias, but of course I am not. I immediately believed that Donald Trump and Roy Moore were sexual predators the moment articles appeared in the press about their past behavior with women. However, I found myself strangely reluctant to even read articles in the press about the sexual misconduct of Al Franken and John Conyers, because they are politicians who I like on the left. As I read those articles, my knee-jerk reaction was to look for ways to excuse their behavior or to say that it wasn’t that bad, so they shouldn’t be forced to resign their positions.

The behavior of Franken was very similar to George H. W. Bush’s touching of women and making jokes about it, yet I immediately believed it of Bush, and I looked for ways to excuse similar behavior from Franken.

I understand the reaction of climate change deniers, because I have a similar reaction to information that doesn’t fit my world view. The difference is whether we are willing to look at it and try to evaluate that the quality of that information. Most people are not even willing to try.

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