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Why is lack of evidence so attractive?

17 May 2013, 10:21

There are many illogical, irrational and outrageous things believed by millions of people around the world despite evidence to the contrary. Some are so extreme and obviously false and yet there are people who believe them to be true. Bigfoot, Roswell, homeopathy, water divining and tarot cards to mention a few.

Once a belief has taken root in the human brain, it seems very difficult or nearly impossible to remove. Planting the belief in the first place can be as easy as making a passing suggestion. This is a very worrying phenomenon given the plethora of false information available out there.

Take for example the MMR vaccination link to Autism. Andrew Wakefield published a fraudulent research paper in 1998 claiming the link between the two, which was fully withdrawn in 2010.

“The Lancet paper was partially retracted in 2004 and fully retracted in 2010, and Andrew Wakefield was found guilty by the General Medical Council of serious professional misconduct in May 2010 and was struck off the Medical Register, meaning he could no longer practice as a doctor.”*

Belief is such a strange phenomenon, even though this research paper has been discredited, the supporters of the idea are still scrambling around trying to prove it is true. If logic was applied, the initial cause has been discredited, so the belief should be abandoned – right? In practice this is not the case, the belief is immovable, logic is abandoned and any theory in support of the belief is taken onboard (conspiracy theory is very popular).

After a recent article in ‘The Mail online’, a research team lead by Dr Vijendra Singh, has revived the controversy.

Spokesman for the pressure group ‘Jabs’ Jonathan Harris said: 'The evidence is building up tremendously. I really feel there's a very, very strong case now for suspending MMR while further investigations are carried out.’

Note the language used ‘Tremendously’, ‘very, very strong case’. Whilst in the article it reads ‘suggesting a link’ ‘strong association’ ‘suggested’ ‘may be’.

(I have a feeling most ‘believers’ will miss the point being made. ‘Jabs’ are not saying vaccinations are bad; rather MMR should be split into its three components to reduce the shock to the patients system).

There are obvious repercussions to withholding vaccinations, which I’m not going to go into here, as my concern is with the power belief holds over our better judgment.

How much evidence does it take to undo a belief in relation to how much it took to instill that belief?

Would prevention be better than cure? Critical, skeptical thinking should be part of foundational phase education to combat false ideas being perpetuated.


P.S I’ve looked at the star chart of ‘Yell Newt Sir’ and see there will be a ‘Patella Jolt’ reaction.

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