Science Denial in the Information Age
January 2022
Jan 2022-1
Hi there,

Welcome to yet another new year! It feels like just yesterday that so many of us were indulging in that most beloved of holiday traditions: mixing up some hot cocoa, throwing up a nice big sweater, and gathering around the TV to watch a fun little film about the impending end of the world. (You guys didn’t do that growing up?)

Don’t Look Up, a thinly-veiled allegory for climate change, has quickly become Netflix’s second-biggest release of all time. Its popularity is a telling encapsulation of our collective mental state: at its core, the movie is about the absurdity of science denialism, illustrating some of the myths and misperceptions that allow it to thrive. After a year of reaping the consequences of decades of such denial—from climate denial, to anti-vaxxers, to COVID policies that remain out of step with the evidence—it’s not hard to see why so many of us identify with the film’s embattled scientist protagonists.  

In reality, the widespread rejection of science is no comedy of errors. Our present moment owes a lot to systemic forces, and the deliberate choices of certain bad actors. But there is still something to be said for the behavioral factors that enable these forces to work so well—the elements of our psychology that so often put us at odds with what the evidence is telling us. In this newsletter, we’re exploring a few of them.

Until next time,
Katie and the team @ TDL

1. Why we turn away from science

+ Our politics guide our perceptions of science. While science denialism is generally more associated with the right wing, research has found that “motivated reasoning” persists across the political spectrum.
Source: Social Psychological and Personality Science

+ The internet is calibrated to outrage us. Algorithms that maximize engagement also tend to amplify content that appeals to our moral sensibilities, sparking disgust and anger that cloud our judgment.
Source: TDL

+ We're really bad at evaluating our own expertise. In the information age, it’s increasingly easy to “do your own research.” Unfortunately, we’re prone to overestimating our own research acumen.
Source: NYT

+ We look for bell curves where there are none. Our approach to problem-solving is often guided by the assumption that the world is normally distributed—but as it turns out, the symmetry and fairness we’re looking for often does not exist.
Source: HBR

+ The pandemic has made us more prone to conspiratorial thinking. When we feel anxious, we tend to go looking for explanations for this anxiety, opening us up to misinformation.
Source: The Philadelphia Inquirer
2. How we can give science back its power

+ Prioritize media literacy. Unsurprisingly, research has found that interventions that increase information literacy also decrease the likelihood that someone will fall for fake news.
Source: American Behavioral Scientist

+ Make science truly accessible. Explaining research in plain language, and leveraging new mediums such as animation, can help scientists reach a much wider audience.
Source: Nature

+ Work directly with the community. Research on vaccine hesitancy has shown that people are more receptive to pro-vaccine messaging when it comes from a trusted member of their community—a principle we should be leveraging elsewhere.
Source: TDL

+ Rethink our social media platforms. In this episode of The Decision Corner, David Rand explains how social media companies might address misinformation at scale.
Source: TDL

+ Give mindfulness a try. We know mindfulness is touted as a cure for infinite ailments, but there is some research to suggest that regular mindfulness practice can make people less susceptible to fake news. Here are some tips on being a more mindful news consumer.
Source: Mindful

3. Opportunities in Behavioral Science
+ Work with The Decision Lab
We are currently looking for bright, capable, and curious candidates to fill a number of roles on our team, both remote and Montreal-based. Check out our open positions and see how you can help us democratize behavioral science.
4. Get Involved

Interested in having your voice heard? Join us on our mission to change the world through better decision-making. We're interested in articles that get us thinking about human behavior so we can better understand why we do what we do. To learn more, visit our content submissions page.

5. Feedback

We would love to hear about how we're doing and what you would like to see from us. How can we help you use behavioral science to make an impact in your role? To give us feedback, simply reply to this email. We look forward to hearing from you.

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