Readings on Tourette’s Syndrome and Science Denial

A MAN WITH A CONVICTION is a hard man to change. Tell him you disagree and he turns away. Show him facts or figures and he questions your sources. Appeal to logic and he fails to see your point.” So wrote the celebrated Stanford University psychologist Leon Festinger — Chris Mooney, quoted in Mother Jones

Some of our best friends do it. I recently became interested in writing an article about the rationale behind science denial, but frankly its complex underpinnings baffled me. We see perfectly ordinary people as well as exceptional people, both passionately opposed on principle to massively overwhelming evidence that mankind’s unrelenting injection of billions of tons of CO2 into the atmosphere is changing our climate. What drives normally reasonable people to conclusions, say, as extreme as the followers of Harold Camping’s Family Radio religious group who spread their message of doom prophesied for May 21?

“To the shock and distress of a handful of ultra-devout Christian believers, the sun went down yesterday on an America and a world that had signally failed to end. Instead of a series of earthquakes hitting successive countries at 6pm local time and heralding The Rapture – in which millions of the Faithful would ascend to heaven before the Second Coming of Christ – planet Earth simply carried on and, mostly, kept calm.” — guardian.co.uk

We’ve all seen down-and-out individuals shuffling down the street shouting obscenities. I always assumed this to be just the end result of too many drug and alcohol overdoses combined with the harsh circumstance of the life of the addicted and homeless. According to Wikipedia “Tourette’s was once considered a rare and bizarre syndrome, most often associated with the exclamation of obscene words or socially inappropriate and derogatory remarks (coprolalia), but this symptom is present in only a small minority of people with Tourette’s.”

Can individuals learn to control the symptoms of science denial? Continue reading

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