Tuesday, May 29, 2007

Why Americans resist scientific ideas.

Paul Bloom and Deena Skolnick Weisberg offer a fascinating review of the childhood origins of adult resistance to science (PDF here), pointing out that it derives from clinging to incorrect intuitive physics and psychology assumptions that are a normal part of child develpment. They review developmental data that suggests:
...that resistance to science will arise in children when scientific claims clash with early emerging, intuitive expectations. This resistance will persist through adulthood if the scientific claims are contested within a society, and it will be especially strong if there is a nonscientific alternative that is rooted in common sense and championed by people who are thought of as reliable and trustworthy. This is the current situation in the United States, with regard to the central tenets of neuroscience and evolutionary biology. These concepts clash with intuitive beliefs about the immaterial nature of the soul and the purposeful design of humans and other animals, and (in the United States) these beliefs are particularly likely to be endorsed and transmitted by trusted religious and political authorities. Hence, these fields are among the domains where Americans' resistance to science is the strongest.

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