There are several reasons that an individual may have different views from a scientific consensus. They may lack subject knowledge, the “deficit model,” in which case more education is all that is needed. While a popular approach, it has shown little efficacy. This failure led to the consideration that “people’s beliefs are shaped more by their cultural values or affiliations,” selectively cherry-picking information to fit their worldview. The great success of hypertension management in the black community through barbers supports this view. The Dunning-Kruger effect, often mistaken, never doubted, adds a new wrinkle to the possibilities—that the most vehement anti-consensus are also the least knowledgeable but most confident in their views.
Researchers writing in Science Advances examined seven issues where we currently have a published scientific consensus:
- Safety of GMO foods
- Validity of anthropogenic climate change
- The benefits of vaccination outweigh its risks
- The validity of evolution in explaining human origins
- The validity of the Big Bang theory in explaining the origin of the universe
- Lack of efficacy of homeopathic medicines
- The importance of nuclear energy as a source of energy
They surveyed 3,200 participants online, asking 34 true and false questions to calibrate the individual’s “objective” knowledge. Additionally, they asked a series of questions to determine the individual’s confidence in that information, their “subjective” knowledge, the “never doubt” part of my family’s motto.
For these seven topics, the researcher found the Dunning-Kruger effect among those who most strongly oppose the scientific consensus. Their objective knowledge of the subject was inversely proportional to how strongly they held those beliefs. Here is the breakdown by topic.
While it is true that “often wrong, never in doubt” held true in all scenarios, there were some exceptions, notably the Big Bang and evolution, as explanations of our origins seemed to show a little less confidence in their meaning. .
Climate change also differed from other consensus issues. The researchers thought that political polarization influenced the topic and moderated the Dunning-Kruger effect. Researchers conducted additional studies targeting vaccination and mitigation behaviors against COVID. Lower willingness to vaccinate or follow palliative behaviors was again associated with insufficient objective knowledge and greater subjective belief in those beliefs. Interestingly, about 28% of participants rated their knowledge of mitigation strategies as more important than that of scientists. Unlike other studies, The researchers did not claim that political affiliation was the critical driver of COVID behavior.
There are a few key points to consider. Some of these consensus issues, notably nuclear power and, to a lesser extent, childhood vaccination, are trade-off issues, benefits versus harms. Belief in misinformation may not play such an important role. Among scientists, the consensus about nuclear energy stands at about 65%; consensus about the safety of GMO foods is 98%. From a policy perspective, more education will not convince those who challenge the scientific consensus. What can actually change their opinions is the behavior of others. The following article will reveal who those others are and their influence.
Source: Knowledge overconfidence is associated with anti-consensus views on controversial scientific issues Science Advances DOI: 0.1126/sciadv.abo0038