“Denying the Grave: Why We Ignore the Facts that Will Save Us” is the third of three books of three books to be reviewed from an article titled, “That’s What You Think: Why reason and evidence won’t change our minds” by Elizabeth Kolbert in the 27 February 2017 issue of “The New Yorker.”
The authors of this book are a psychiatrist, Jack Gorman, and his daughter, Sara Gorman, a public health specialist. They probe the gap between what science tells us and what we tell ourselves. Their concern is with those persistent beliefs which are not just demonstrably false, but also potentially deadly, like the conviction that vaccines are hazardous.
The Gormans argue that ways of thinking that now seem self-destructive must at some point have been adaptive. They dedicate many pages to the confirmation bias, which they claim has a physiological component. This research suggests that people experience genuine pleasure—a rush of dopamine—when processing information that supports their beliefs. They observe,”It feels good to ‘stick to our guns’ even if we are wrong.”
The Gormans do not just want to catalogue the ways we go wrong; they want to correct them. Providing people with accurate information does not seem to help; people simply discount it. They write that “the challenge that remains is to figure out how to address the tendencies that lead to false scientific belief.”