Why Do So Many Distrust "The Science"?

There is an article in a recent issue of National Geographic concerning the war on science. “Skepticism about science is on the rise, and polarization is the order of the day. What’s causing reasonable people to doubt reason?”

There are two phenomenon described in the article that contribute to disbelief: confirmation bias and naïve belief. Confirmation bias is our natural propensity to seek and detect only evidence that explains what we already believe. Naïve belief has to do with subconsciously holding on to our intuitions even when we intellectually accept the tenets of science and the scientific method. These are two powerful forces of nature. Science appeals to our rational mind while our beliefs are driven mostly by emotion.

An example of confirmation bias: The winter of 2014-2015 was quite long, cold and full of snow where I live. It’s now May and trees finally have leafs. Global warming is a crock.

An example of naïve belief: It is difficult for me to truly believe that the earth revolves around the sun. Every day I see the sun rise in the east and set in the west. The sun must revolve around the earth.

How does this affect what we do as healthcare marketers? Think about the last time you were in market research testing the latest, greatest messages based on those can’t miss claims. Messages you think are award-winning fall flat. Why don’t these HCPs get it? It’s possible we need to take a step back, realize the role that confirmation bias and naïve belief may be playing, and use this insight to create something truly motivating.

When we have that conversation with HCPs and we are trying to convince with just the facts and can’t, always remember these two strong forces in play: confirmation bias and naïve belief. Keep them top-of-mind. It may lead to more fruitful discussions, debates, and outcomes.


Wolf gallwitz

SVP, Chief Scientific Officer
Medical strategy specialist. Believes in The Science—and in doing anything to make people's lives just a little bit easier.