Hide in Shouldland – find evidence to confirm your beliefs

If the beliefs we generate based on small amounts of evidence could be overturned by equally small amounts of counterevidence, they wouldn’t be such a concern. The incorrect belief could be rejected with evidence and logic. But this is the paradox of inductive reasoning – small amounts of evidence are sufficient to make us draw conclusions, but are not usually sufficient to make us revise them.

Unfortunately we (especially those in Shouldland) tend to give more weight to evidence that confirms our beliefs than evidence that challenges them. Kathryn Shulz refers to this as ‘confirmation bias’. An example quite topical at the moment is the debate between the damaging effects of climate change and the poor science that contradicts it. People believe this ‘evidence’ that denies man made climate change because it helps their agenda, be it political or financial gain.

Early evidence is treated preferentially, and is more difficult to remove. I have a young male colleague who has a boss who attempted to chastise my colleague over a minor incident at work. Even when all of the counter-evidence provided later by others discredited the boss’ claims, she maintained her position as the accusation confirmed her beliefs about young men. The outcome of this episode was that the boss had her bias exposed and she lost respect in the workplace. To not fall into this trap that so many do, you must always keep an open mind as the truth reveals itself.

Looking for counter-evidence often requires time, energy, education, freedom, and sufficient social capital to resist the suspicion and mocking from the defenders of the status quo. Unfortunately for those who the dominant or popular theory is against, it is likely that these are qualities they don’t possess. If the dominant or popular theory is to your advantage, why would you challenge it?

An example of someone having the time, energy, education, freedom, sufficient social capital, and most importantly the bravery, to resist the popular belief of the day is the legend of Charles Darwin. He came up with the theory of the evolution of man, even when he knew that it would bring strong resistance, and amazingly still does to this day in some religious groups.

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3 Responses to Hide in Shouldland – find evidence to confirm your beliefs

  1. solucas says:

    Great post, this also bothers me a lot! Another similar logic people use is the slipper slope falacy, where because someone is making an argument for X, then Y Z are “obviously” going to follow. This is most prominently used with the anti-marriage equality debate where if gays can marry, then “obviously” so will animals or pologymists.

    You might find this website interesting: http://yourlogicalfallacyis.com It explains all of the different arguments people make without any evidence. 🙂

  2. trokspot says:

    Really nice post! I have thought quite a bit about much of these same problems that you point out!

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