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comment by kingmudsy

It must be a certain type of people who are apt to believe things like this. There are plenty of people who believe vaccines cause autism, despite all evidence to the contrary, and there's a whole plethora of conspiracy theories that we might never dispel.

I think these things come from a place of fear, and I think there's distrust of anything to the contrary baked into that. People are all good at justifying their biases and ignoring evidence they don't agree with. I don't think this is caused by people not knowing much about technology, but I think ignorance of technology makes people susceptible. For example, anti-vaxxers' ignorance of medicine and scientific process lets people exploit the natural desire for their child to be healthy (or fear that they won't be healthy).

kleinbl00  ·  1742 days ago  ·  link  ·  

Current vaccine skeptic thinking is not that vaccines cause autism, it's that they do all sorts of other random and spurious damage to development. Speaking from the front lines, the movement is largely dying out, even in the hotbeds. The Disneyland outbreak tested a lot of peoples' mettle and when it came down to "do I stand on principle" or "do I want my kid to not get measles" people went and vaccinated.

They do come from a place of fear, but they also come from a place of bigotry and moral superiority. Someone who says "I've heard that maybe vaccines cause autism, I'm worried about my kids" usually runs across a "skeptic" who lays down the basix of "you're a fucking idiot, science is proven, how dare you question 200 years of medical wisdom, how dare you endanger herd immunity, this isn't just about you it's about all of humanity and if you don't toe the fucking line you're literally Hitler." At this point the person who was a little worried about vaccines has now decided that the vaccine tribe is filled with assholes and assholes are often wrong.

There's this drive amongst the atheist/skeptic/rationalist community that feels the need to clobber anyone even vaguely outside of their dogma. They're their own worst enemies. If someone comes to you with some doubt about things you know to be true, your job is to walk them through your understanding such that it becomes theirs. yet for the past 15 years the "skeptics" have been on a "burn the witch" rampage that mostly just shows what a bunch of dicks they are.

And I say that with an autographed Shermer on the bookshelf.

    For example, anti-vaxxers' ignorance of medicine and scientific process lets people exploit the natural desire for their child to be healthy (or fear that they won't be healthy).

See, you're doing it. Someone who may be just a little bit less certain in their germ theory is guilty of "ignorance of medicine and scientific process." Meanwhile, you use phrases like "exploit" as if the anti-vax crowd were some sort of power-grabbing cult, rather than an insular group of confused and embattled moms who are sick of being shouted at every time they express doubt.

"Doubt" and "skepticism" are synonyms. If someone is "skeptical" of vaccines, the job of the "skeptic" is to answer their doubts ON THEIR TERMS so that they learn. But instead, "skeptics" shake their heads, conclude that anyone who doesn't believe exactly what they do must be "ignorant" and goes online and derides those idiots who endanger their community.

kingmudsy  ·  1742 days ago  ·  link  ·  

Oh, without a doubt you're correct. I wouldn't be trying to dissuade an anti-vaxxer by calling them ignorant (I probably wouldn't be trying to convince anyone of anything, I hate arguing over the internet), I just wasn't paying attention to my words. I was trying to point out that when people lack familiarity with a subject, they're susceptible to all sorts of misunderstandings. Sometimes people care about these misunderstanding, and its usually when they're socially damaging or frustrating in some way. It seems pretty self-evident, but I hear too many people saying, "I don't understand how anyone could believe that!" and I wanted to jot down a few thoughts.

Sorry if my post came across as condescending, I should really be watching my verbiage!

kleinbl00  ·  1742 days ago  ·  link  ·  

Naah, dude, you stepped in one of my own personal Waterloos. I've long been a "skeptic" (an atheist before it was cool!). My mom's a Ph.D microbiologist. My wife's undergrad degree is in math, and her dad is a Ph.D biochemist.

But she's a naturopathic doctor and a midwife, so all these people whose views are 100% aligned with ours have decided that her entire profession and client base should be burned as heretics.

It gets tiring.

kingmudsy  ·  1739 days ago  ·  link  ·  

Damn, I can't imagine. Hopefully that doesn't come up over thanksgiving dinner too often.

kleinbl00  ·  1739 days ago  ·  link  ·  

Oh on the family side things are 100%. My wife is a firm believer in science. So are most naturopaths. The AANP recently authored a position paper in favor of vaccines.

But there are outliers. Meanwhile, we get it from both sides.

am_Unition  ·  1742 days ago  ·  link  ·  

I used to have an account under this very username on physforum.com (lol just checked, it's probably offline forever!), where I would occasionally engage people who were more or less delusional about their pet theories: a university professor who was convinced the sun was made mostly of iron, anti-global warmers (this was a decade ago), and armchair cosmologists with no mathematical grasp of anything at all. There was never anything good that came of this relatively mild white-knightery, and I'm more or less done-skis with correcting folks who aren't reasonable in their scientific beliefs.

We have been living in an era where the technology of our everyday necessities is beyond most people's interest, area of expertise, or capacity of comprehension. It's a little weird. It probably wasn't too hard to explain the entire telegram system to a young adult. But understanding the full complexity of the internet is arguably a life-long endeavor. Do you ever miss the farm, where you just knew how all the tools worked because they broke all the time so you had to fix them? Or maybe way back when, the days of throwing spears at stuff; if you didn't know how everything in your world worked by the time you were an adolescent, you might die. Now, you've got kids needing to budget hopefully no more than 15 hours a week completing an exercise in which one mathematically derives the result of a guy's entire PhD study from less than a century ago.

So I agree, that's probably what some of this is, a primal rebellion against all the weird shit people don't understand.

kleinbl00  ·  1742 days ago  ·  link  ·  

If you can't explain it simply, you don't understand it well enough.

People forget that the guys posting their theories online are looking to learn, they just don't have better language than "prove me wrong." Unfortunately the Internet rewards thugs whose responses tend to be "DIAFN00B" as you learned (and as I mastered).

CrazyEyeJoe  ·  1742 days ago  ·  link  ·  

    If you can't explain it simply, you don't understand it well enough.

There is some truth to that, but some things are legitimately complex, and while you can give a simplified version to a layperson, you'll never be able to give them a full understanding. You might not even be able to give them a sufficient understanding.

Disclaimer: I'm no great physicist, so the physics details in this post might be off. They're besides my point.

Ultimately, when you're working with a simplified version of the truth, there's a lot of room for misunderstanding, not to mention doubt on the listener's part. You can say something like:

"The radiation coming from your phone isn't the kind of radiation that causes cancer".

This is true, and easy to understand, but what does the listener really learn from this? It's just a statement to them, something they can either choose to believe or not. You can add some minor details, to give them a slightly better understanding:

"The radiation coming from your phone has a completely different wavelength from, for example, X-rays or gamma rays, and consequently the energy they contain isn't high enough to cause damage to your cells".

Now they know a little bit more, and might have more reason to believe you. Still, they don't know where this knowledge comes from, nor do they really know anything about the interaction between EM waves and DNA. They might not even really know what DNA is, not to mention EM waves.

Okay, you can then give a simple explanation for each of those things, but the more things you need to explain, the more difficult it becomes to understand, and the room for doubt increases.

I'm an electronics engineer, working with computers. I understand computers quite well. However, when my mom asks me to explain how they work, I always end up hitting a wall at some point. I can give her a simplified version of everything, and she may understands each point, but by the end she can't remember enough about each point to understand the whole. It's simply beyond her grasp, and she's not stupid. She just has no understanding of technology. The best I can do in the end is say something like "Computers are a bunch of circuits which process numbers," but she pretty much already knows that, and her understanding doesn't really improve by much. What can I do then?

EDIT: Just thought of a classic example of this, from Richard Feynman (which I'm sure many of you have already seen):

I bet Feynman understood magnetism, he still couldn't give a simple explanation which feels satisfactory to a layperson.