Science That Threatens a Person's 'World View' can Backfire: Researcher

Using evidence to ‘back up' science can actually have the reverse psychological effect on some people, according to a researcher at The University of Queensland.

Thomas Claveirole, Flickr
Thomas Claveirole, Flickr

UQ Global Change Institute research fellow John Cook said reporting evidence that is perceived to threaten a person's view of the world can actually backfire.

“People derive a large part of their sense of identity from their world view, how they see the world. So they react defensively to any information that threatens their world view,” he said.

“What's fascinating, is that new, contradictory evidence can actually cause people to feel stronger in their initial beliefs.”

Mr Cook, the mastermind behind the successful Skeptical Science website, is developing a psychological model that simulates how people react to evidence that threatens their world view. One of the features of the model is that distrust of science is a key factor in the so-called “backfire effect”.

“If you distrust the science that threatens your world view, then more scientific evidence will make you react with suspicion, causing you to double down on your beliefs,” Mr Cook said.

Mr Cook hopes the model will shed light on how people process information and give way to better, more effective approaches in science communication.

“If distrust in science is a key element to denial, maybe we're better off targeting trust in the science - by explaining the peer-reviewed process and the checks and balances in the scientific method,” he said.

Mr Cook's model, however, predicts that this approach will have minimal impact at the extreme end of the ideological scale.

“When people have extreme views, you can't pull trust one way and world view the other. By and large, world view wins,” he said.

“A better tack is to attempt to reduce the biasing influence of the world view, by showing that science doesn't threaten it.”

According to Mr Cook's model, this works better when delivered by someone that shares the values of the recipient.


I distrust science to a greater or lesser extent depending on the source of the science information... e.g. Mainstream medical science asserts that the flu vaccine is a good thing, but fringe(?) science asserts that it is not. My own research shows that the flu vaccine is a bad thing. Another example: mainstream archaeology has a timeline for humans on earth, fringe(?) archaeology does not accept that timeline - see the archaeology anomalies such as dinosaur footprints and human footprints in the same rock. The issue is not just distrust of science but the source of the science...

When you talk about source I do hope that you research them. Find out who funds them, could they have a possible motive? If so, it is good to be cautious. However, if it peer reviews by many that don't seem to have a motive or anything to gain. For example "Smoking is good for you!!" Funded by Phillip Morris, could be a red flag. The danger is when we don't get to the bottom of it, and believe something that is harmful and untrue.

“The good thing about science is that it's true whether or not you believe in it.”
― Neil deGrasse Tyson

Take this quote (“The good thing about science is that it's true whether or not you believe in it.”― Neil deGrasse Tyson) and replace the word science with "God". “The good thing about GOD is that it's true whether or not you believe in it.” Science is another religion! re·li·gion [ri-lij-uhn] noun - a set of beliefs concerning the cause, nature, and purpose of the universe, especially when considered as the creation of a superhuman agency or agencies, usually involving devotional and ritual observances, and often containing a moral code governing the conduct of human affairs. (
When you question a source how deep do you go?

It is by far a more parsimonious explanation that these fossils are wrongly identified or are faked rather than the entire fields of paleontology, paleoichnology and anthropology are wrong. - Evolution Wiki

why would you cite wiki? you can't be serious

There is such a thing as questioning everything at an intellectual level because there is no 'absolute certainty' in science.
For that matter, people are too quick to accept everything being said by officials at face value.

Just because someone is a 'scientist' doesn't automatically makes them correct.

Furthermore, there is a legitimate concern over what is considered to be 'scientific evidence' and yet the scientific method as such was never properly utilized for that.

Finally, we live in a world which monetized virtually every aspect of scientific research, and as such should be examined with critical thought.
We don't live in a world where the officials (who manipulate information to suit their own ends) are honest with the public after all - and once we transition into a Resource Based Economy... there won't be any officials or money to worry about censoring research or potentially putting out (biased?) data that benefits a select group of people.

Izpop, I can go with some misidentification but there are still way too many anomalies aside from that, such as

and there are many, many others: the sphinx may have been weathered by water, how was stonehenge built, how were the pyramids built, etc, etc

We may need to agree to differ, no probs by me, but I remain convinced that mainstream archaeology has larger gaps than it acknowledges, much larger!

Thanks to the responders who completely illustrate the article's point.

oh, the irony.

Read my mind...

Science has nothing to do with our capability to acknowledge new information. Why should we say "ho science can be dangerous for us" instead of saying "we are simply not competent enough to process new information in our mind"


Brilliant! I play climate hawk several days a week, and I encounter this exact kind of resistance, in almost every forum. I've been reading the psychological material around world views vs science as fast as they come out. and thankfully, there have been many.

I really appreciate this work, although I came to the same conclusion he did, in my own encounters....this information has to come from with their own circle, one heart at a time...Just like our moves toward the Zeitgeist Movement were awakened in us, one heart at a time.

Thankfully, a few evangelical and conservative types do legitimately exist within the climate science fold, and it might be better for progressive minds to promote those scientists and their videos, than to rip the hearts of the science deniers, when they tell us it's cold outside, therefore climate change comes from Gore..blahblahblah. Maybe that's our variant of a come to Jesus moment? Hrmph.

Sounds like we're discovering Socratic method again! :)