Why (we do not need to learn more hard facts).

Why? The parade question nowadays. Asking why has become the synonym for an enlightened, well-balanced and youthful life. Being bored by the explanation of why butterflies are colorful is almost a neo-bohemian sin, which when vocalized on social platforms will be rectified by verbal stoning. Always keep on asking why! Today numerous youtube channels show you the fascination of every day’s banalities in an entertaining and easy-to-digest format. Undoubtedly, a lot of them are pretty entertaining and well-researched. The wide-spread dissemination of science-related content (just think of I fucking love science) might reflect the believe in the power of information on decision-making. At the same time, we witness a growing population doubting global warming and the effects of vaccinations. So, what impact does this science sensationalism really have? Can we lift the ‘average’ literacy and consequently protect the public from fake facts?

The simple equation of people + information = informed and rational decision has been explored in the Information Deficient Model already back in the 1980s. Social scientists postulated that the public does not possess the necessary information to understand science and technology and its implications, which leads to scepticism and in the worst case to hostility. Ergo, the solution is to transfer information from experts to people – thereby filling the lack of knowledge. Piles of data have proven this idea wrong over the last years. Being educated does not save you from denialism. Would have been too easy, right? Evidence is arising that shows that we are prisoners of our cultural worldviews. Basically, individuals with similar intellect but different values and norms are likely to infer different conclusion or consequences from presented data.

Motivated reasoning refers to the tendency of people to fit their assessments of information, of all kinds, to some interest or goal that is collateral to getting the right answer.” Dan Kahan.

Dan Kahan, a professor studying risk behavior in context of science communication, investigates a new route and has introduced the term of “science curiosity“, which describes the desire of a person to consume scientific knowledge just for pleasure. By doing so, a person will be satisfied by watching how a scientific discipline resolves an issue, rather than in the scientific information itself. The topic itself is less important, but the systematic way of reaching a solution is the common nominator. In his studies, Kahan observed a higher degree of openness towards new facts when the person was science curious. This and other results open up the question whether science curious individuals are more open to think about data, which are contradictory to their predisposition.

So watching our favorite youtube science channels will not necessarily make us smart enough to bury our conflicts on polarizing topics. However, the fact of doing it out of pure pleasure may be an indicator of learning how to address issues more openly.


If you want to know more about how people perceive and argue about and make decisions about risk:

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About Lisa Landskron

Being a scientist in the field of molecular biology & leading the TEDxVienna Blogger team, Lisa loves to do biochemical as well as digital experiments to create and spread ideas.

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