Pseudoscience and social networks

If scientific accuracy in the public sphere is your jam, is there really that much of a difference between Creation Museum founder Ken Ham, who seems to have made a career marketing pseudoscience about the origins of the world, and John Mackey, a founder and CEO of Whole Foods Market, who seems to have made a career, in part, out of marketing pseudoscience about health?
Michael Schulson “Whole Foods: America’s Temple of Pseudoscience”

This is not just a problem for the left or right. This is a basic function of how our brains (and social networks) function. We can’t know everything so we use heuristics. Much of what we believe is based not on fact, experience or scientific evidence but on what others believe. For people who trust the right it is denial of climate change and evolution. On the left it’s nutriceuticals and colon cleanses. The facts are often secondary to building social networks and support. From a basic survival perspective it is more important to bond with your local group than understand if the sun revolves around the earth or vise versa.

On the right, denial of climate change and evolution is clearly wrong, but dogmatic acceptance of market economics and deregulation frequently lead to outcomes that undermine other, more essential, conservative values.

Similarly, on the left, Organic and GMO crops are accepted or rejected without any understanding of context or distinctions. While there are great benefits from most organic growing practices there are times where small farm, local, non-organic are better. Similarly with GMOs, rapidly becoming the tobacco and DDT of the twenty-first century. But not all GMOs pose the same risk to health and society. Golden rice can prevent vitamin deficiencies that cause death and blindness in millions worldwide yet has none of the potential health concerns associated with other GMOs.

These social heuristics can be useful in a complex world. Yet, too often they get in the way of clearly sorting out complex open issues because we view them as a credo and not a hypothesis.

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~ by severalfourmany on February 27, 2014.

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