Due deference to denialism: explaining ordinary people’s rejection of established scientific findings

Synthese 196 (1):313-327 (2019)
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There is a robust scientific consensus concerning climate change and evolution. But many people reject these expert views, in favour of beliefs that are strongly at variance with the evidence. It is tempting to try to explain these beliefs by reference to ignorance or irrationality, but those who reject the expert view seem often to be no worse informed or any less rational than the majority of those who accept it. It is also tempting to try to explain these beliefs by reference to epistemic overconfidence. However, this kind of overconfidence is apparently ubiquitous, so by itself it cannot explain the difference between those who accept and those who reject expert views. Instead, I will suggest that the difference is in important part explained by differential patterns of epistemic deference, and these patterns, in turn, are explained by the cues that we use to filter testimony. We rely on cues of benevolence and competence to distinguish reliable from unreliable testifiers, but when debates become deeply politicized, asserting a claim may itself constitute signalling lack of reliability.



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Neil Levy
Oxford University

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