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At Mind Matters News: We trust nonsense from lab coats more than from gurus

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This shocking study is relevant to how we decide what to believe from science sources about COVID-19:


An international team of researchers staged a revealing experiment on who we believe when they are talking nonsense. The test of 10,195 participants from 24 countries asked questions about the credibility of the statements and about their personal degree of religiosity.

How could the researchers be sure that the statements were nonsense? They were produced by the New Age Bullshit Generator, an algorithm that generates impressive sounding elements of sentences that make rough grammatical sense even if they make no other sense.

The results suggest that people generally find statements more credible if they come from a scientist when compared to a spiritual guru, with 76 percent of participants rating the ‘scientist’s’ balderdash at or above the midpoint of the credibility scale, compared with 55 percent for the ‘guru’.

Additionally, individuals who scored high for religiosity still showed a preference for the statement from the scientist compared to the spiritual guru; however, it was relatively weaker than the general sample. Religious individuals also gave higher credibility judgments to gurus compared to the general sample but were still lower than the scientist.

CONOR FEEHLY, “THE EINSTEIN EFFECT: PEOPLE TRUST NONSENSE MORE IF THEY THINK A SCIENTIST SAID IT” AT SCIENCEALERT (FEBRUARY 13, 2022) THE PAPER IS OPEN ACCESS.

The corona crisis has recently brought the subject of the credibility of science to the fore. Does keeping 1.5 meters apart really work? Are vaccinations safe? Does wearing a face mask help? In many cases, the answers to such questions ultimately boil down to who we trust most and consider the most credible authority. Should we take the word of an anti-vaxxer or listen to the national health authorities to guide our beliefs and behavior regarding the virus? “In our research, we looked at the influence that the source of the information has on its credibility, apart from the content of the information itself. We did that with a simple experiment using nonsense claims. They were not about corona, but our findings are also very relevant to the debates around corona,” says UvA psychologist Suzanne Hoogeveen, who led the study.

UNIVERSITY OF AMSTERDAM, “STUDY: SCIENTISTS CARRY GREATER CREDIBILITY THAN SPIRITUAL GURUS” AT PHYS.ORG (FEBRUARY 8, 2022)

If science is seen as “a powerful indicator of the reliability of information,” even when the information is nonsense, then it will certainly be easier for some to market nonsense as science than has been supposed.

Denyse O’Leary, “We trust nonsense from lab coats more than from gurus” at Mind Matters News (February 15, 2022)

Takehome: It’s hard to understand why the researchers take comfort from finding that, worldwide, people will believe absolute nonsense if it comes from scientists.

You may also wish to read: Royal Society: Don’t censor misinformation; it makes things worse. While others demand crackdowns on “fake news,” the Society reminds us that the history of science is one of error correction. It’s a fact that much COVID news later thought to need correction was in fact purveyed by official sources, not blogs or Facebook or Twitter accounts.

One Reply to “At Mind Matters News: We trust nonsense from lab coats more than from gurus

  1. 1
    polistra says:

    This really misses the point. Lab coats ARE gurus in post-religious society, and science IS a cult.

    Since 1700 we have been gradually eliminating the authority of experience and survival embodied in old wisdom. When old wisdom is punished by loss of jobs or loss of life, we naturally cling to the beliefs of the new leaders who will kill us if we fail to follow their beliefs.

    In previous centuries priests did the killing, so we believed them OR ELSE. Now the scientists are the killers and torturers, so we believe them OR ELSE.

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