All of us had this frustrating experience of trying to win an argument at least once in a lifetime. You collect a set of unquestionable facts supporting your claim and prepare yourself to fend off any counterargument. And yet there is always someone who simply knows better and won’t be ready to change his mind even in the face of bare facts. At this point you usually give up and end the conversation. You may feel a little bit irritated but you will probably forget all about it soon. However, though it may seem just one more unsuccessful attempt to display the futility of denialism, the problem is more common and more significant than you think.
Lies are captivating
One of the most recent examples of depending on uncorroborated and unreliable sources of information is the Brexit.
Before the referendum happened, the Leave side had claimed that the UK sent £350m a week to the European Union. This kind of statement really sticks in people’s minds.
And although reasonable counterarguments had proven the claim false, this lie is still being spread. Why? As I have already mentioned, facts are problematic…
Firstly, false statements are usually more captivating. Just think about clickbaits promising you to lose 10kg in a week or to make $1000 without having to step foot out of bed. Sounds ridiculous? Yet, a lot of people do click on such links in the hope of finding a perfect solution to their problems.
Secondly, lies are viral and spread faster than truth. The example of Brexit has shown that even if the very intention behind repeating a hoax is to debunk it (e.g. by entitling an article “Why Vote Leave’s £350m weekly EU cost claim is wrong”), the readers’ concentration span is too short to grasp the intended meaning, and the lie is transmitted further and further.
Misconceptions feed on fears and doubts
Studies have shown that when individuals are stuck in a certain mindset, it is nearly impossible for them to change it. Why? Because urban legends and myths often base on people’s darkest fears. For example, In 2011 scientist conducted a study where some of the parents of small children were shown a scientific proof that there is no correlation between vaccines and autism. Other parents were not presented with these facts. On the first glance, people who saw the proof were less likely to believe that vaccines can cause autism, but if the parents earlier had believed in it, they still would not want to vaccinate their children. Even though they said that they believe in the proof that they saw. Why? People will believe in the correction, but all their doubts and prejudices connected with vaccines may increase.
We are overwhelmed with information
Finally, searching for facts is time-consuming. We are sinking in the ocean of information, and verifying each piece of news costs us too much effort. Let us just look at the conflict between the government and environmentalists over the Białowieża Forest in Poland.
The last major primeval forest in Europe is on brink of collapse due to the state-sanctioned logging, which embraces 100 years old trees in Unesco-protected areas. The government argues that the logging is needed to protect the forest from a bark beetle outbreak and for reasons of public safety. The environmentalist supported by scientists and researchers, on the other hand, claim that the logging of infested spruces does not stop a bark beetle outbreak. They say that such “plagues” used to happen cyclically and are part of natural processes that the forest is ready to deal with. The alleged “protection” against “plague” is, according to conservationists, in fact profit-oriented and supports timber industry. Both sides support their opinions with “research” and “expertise”. Who is right? Who should we listen to?
Is truth lost forever?
It seems from the examples presented that the truth is in a lost position either because lies are more fascinating than facts or because we are too overwhelmed with contradicting opinions to even care about truth anymore. However, there is still hope! Researchers have found out that some of us have a characteristic called “scientific curiosity”, which reflects the level of our personal interest in exploring scientific content. It turned out that people with higher scientific curiosity tend to be less radical and more open to other people’s arguments. They won’t get discouraged by contradicting opinions. On the contrary, they find searching and analysing facts fascinating. Great, right? Unfortunately, not everyone is naturally curious.
What can be done to increase one’s scientific curiosity?
To my mind, we should find way to present facts in an interesting way. Not only scientific facts, of course, but political and social facts that are hard to be presented in an objective yet fascinating way. We need people like Hans Rosling that can show the statistics and data in a way that will appeal to audience.
How to not be ignorant about the world:
We need also tools that can enable people to grasp the complexity of the world. A great tool for that are social simulations, such as e.g. Energy Transition Game or Forest@Risk which help players experience frustration and confusion in the face of contradicting and overlapping interests. In real life, controversial disputes, such as e.g. the issue of Białowieża Forest need in-depth, multi-faceted analysis that can take months or years. In order to understand the nature of a problem, we would carry out extensive research, consulting biologists, environmentalists, researchers and foresters… and yet, probably few people would be able to embrace the complexity of the issue.
Play for facts
Meanwhile, social simulations enable the participants to compress time and space. Players immerse in new roles (be it government, ngo, environmental minister, ect.) and test out different strategies and solutions. In this way they experience both frustration and satisfaction, helplessness and hope, discouragement and motivation. The strength of simulations lies in dialogue. People of different backgrounds and opinions meet in one place and are forced to interact, negotiate and talk. Their “truths” may clash, their “facts” contradict but after all they all try to achieve a consensus. I like simulations for one more reason – that they base on curiosity. Curiosity to get to know other player’s motivations and to gain multi-perspective overview of a given problem. So, it seems to me that curiosity doesn’t kill but helps bridge the gaps between completely different people!
What other tools do you know to make people curious? Can you recommend any games, simulations or websites? Leave a comment and share your insights with us! And visit our Gamepedia for more games and simulations to increase scientific curiosity!