From The Boston Globe: Can expectations influence how we judge the evidence?
SCIENTISTS AT CALTECH and Stanford recently published the results of a peculiar wine tasting. They provided people with cabernet sauvignons at various price points, with bottles ranging from $5 to $90. Although the tasters were told that all the wines were different, the scientists were in fact presenting the same wines at different prices.
The subjects consistently reported that the more expensive wines tasted better, even when they were actually identical to cheaper wines.
What they saw was the power of expectations. People expect expensive wines to taste better, and then their brains literally make it so. Wine lovers shouldn’t feel singled out: Antonio Rangel, the Caltech neuroeconomist who led the study, insists that he could have used a variety of items to get similar results, from bottled water to modern art.
After the researchers finished their brain imaging, they asked the subjects to taste the five different wines again, only this time the scientists didn’t provide any price information. Although the subjects had just listed the $90 wine as the most pleasant, they now completely reversed their preferences. When the tasting was truly blind, when the subjects were no longer biased by their expectations, the cheapest wine got the highest ratings. It wasn’t fancy, but it tasted the best.
With the foregoing observations in mind, how might expectations influence scientists when they look at evidence, or look for evidence? For example, do Darwinists find evidence for “transitional forms” because they expect to find them, or find evidence for the power of the blind watchmaker because no other possibility exists?
Of course, similar questions could be asked of ID proponents. With this in mind, I find Michael Behe’s example to be instructive. He was originally schooled to accept Darwinism as proven fact, and had no reason at the outset to doubt it. His expectations should have led him to find evidence for it in his scientific work, but once challenged to look at deficiencies in the theory, the hard evidence, objectively considered, led him to other conclusions. I went through a similar transition in my thinking.
In the ID versus Darwinism/materialism debate, who are the most likely victims of this expectations phenomenon? I vote for the Darwinists, because as evidence for design continues to mount at an ever-quickening pace, they seem most determined to prop up their expectations with ever-more desperate storytelling, conjecture, and appeals to the statistically impossible, to denounce their challengers with ever-more vitriol, and to attempt to silence them with ever-more coercive tactics.