One question for Lee McIntyre, research fellow at the Center for Philosophy and History of Science at Boston University. McIntyre is the author of The Scientific Attitude: Defending Science from Denial, Fraud, and Pseudoscience, and How to Talk to a Science Denier.
We shouldn’t be dismissive of people who believe in pseudoscience. In many cases they’re victims who have fallen for disinformation that’s been put forward by someone else, often people who stand to profit in some way. Most people don’t consider themselves to be anti-science or science-deniers. They’ll say things like, “I did my own research.” They consider themselves to be picking up on something that has been tested and shown.
Maybe you’ve got a yoga instructor who teaches you about wellness and stress. That’s terrific. Maybe they really helped you. But one day they start to voice anti-vax opinions, and so you take that seriously as well. And then you “do your own research” on the internet, and you find all these people who are worried about it. Then maybe you go to your doctor and mention it, and the doctor says, “I’m surprised at you. How could a thinking person take that seriously? It’s ridiculous.” Then your ego is hurt. At that point, watch a few more YouTube videos, go to an anti-vax convention, and you’ve got an anti-vaxxer on your hands. That’s why it’s important for people who believe in good peer-reviewed science to treat science deniers with respect, because you don’t want to push them down that rabbit hole.
The appropriate pushback to people who have “done their own research” is to say, “Wonderful, we’re talking about data here. You think you’ve got evidence which shows that this is the case? Let’s take a look at that.” You know what you’re going to find. This is not a peer-reviewed study, it’s been debunked, and 99.9 percent of the profession is on the other side. It’s a case of them trusting the wrong people.