Why do so many people ignore facts?

We are awash with people who reject facts and embrace myths …

  • Creationism
  • Rejection of the scientific consensus that humans are the cause of climate change
  • The assertion that 9/11 was an inside job
  • The claim that vaccines cause autism
  • etc…

We are wholly familiar with much of this. This is because the realisation that it is like this has now entered the public consciousness due to the current occupant of the White House. Mr T is very much a vector for much modern  mythology, and almost each and every day via his twitter account something weird is claimed that is them embraced as “truth” by many of his followers regardless of the rebuttals that soon follow from the adults in the room.

Tristan Bridges has written an interesting article within Sociological Images. It catches attention because it highlights the rather interesting observation that facts just don’t matter to some.

He starts off with something we all know …

Facts about all manner of things have made headlines recently as the Trump administration continues to make statements, reports, and policies at odds with things we know to be true. Whether it’s about the size of his inauguration crowd, patently false and fear-mongering inaccuracies about transgender persons in bathrooms, rates of violent crime in the U.S., or anything else, lately it feels like the facts don’t seem to matter. The inaccuracies and misinformation continue despite the earnest attempts of so many to correct each falsehood after it is made.  It’s exhausting. But why is it happening?

Graphical Illustration

Tristan then proceeds to illustrate this with a few rather powerful graphs …

Many of the inaccuracies seem like they ought to be easy enough to challenge as data simply don’t support the statements made. Consider the following charts documenting the violent crime rate and property crime rate in the U.S. over the last quarter century (measured by the Bureau of Justice Statistics). The overall trends are unmistakable: crime in the U.S. has been declining for a quarter of a century.

Now compare the crime rate with public perceptions of the crime rate collected by Gallup(below). While the crime rate is going down, the majority of the American public seems to think that crime has been getting worse every year. If crime is going down, why do so many people seem to feel that there is more crime today than there was a year ago?  It’s simply not true.

Why this happens is a good question, but what is the right answer?

Tristan goes on to specifically discuss the “backfire effect”, but he does also correctly point out that there is more than one psychological reason for it all. You can find his interesting posting on that here. I would however like to make a couple of additional observations.

Observation 1 – It is not New

Humans have been ensnared by alternative facts for more or less our entire history and have at a social level been believing things that clearly conflict with reality. Perhaps the most obvious example of this is religion. It is a socially acceptable means for accepting things on the basis of no evidence at all. Popular variations of belief makes a virtue of this and promote people who just believe as heroes (Abraham). As a contrast, those that dare to ask questions are labelled morally dubious (doubting Thomas).

A comment that could have been written describing Trump is this …

The policy of the emperors and the senate, as far as it concerned religion, was happily seconded by the reflections of the enlightened, and by the habits of the superstitious, part of their subjects. The various modes of worship, which prevailed in the Roman world, were all considered by the people, as equally true; by the philosopher, as equally false; and by the magistrate, as equally useful. And thus toleration produced not only mutual indulgence, but even religious concord.

History of the Decline and Fall of the Roman Empire — Volume 1

Beyond just commenting on belief, there are also a few other quotes within that same text that contains echoes of what we now face …

But the zeal of fanaticism prevailed over the cold and feeble efforts of policy.

Augustus was sensible that mankind is governed by names; nor was he deceived in his expectation, that the senate and people would submit to slavery, provided they were respectfully assured that they still enjoyed their ancient freedom.

Every law, either human or divine, was trampled under foot; and as long as the party was successful, its deluded followers appeared careless of private distress or public calamity.

Observation 2 – A key driver is Emotion

What rests behind many modern cognitive biases such as Confirmation biasBelief bias, or the backfire effect, is that humans do not generally operate on a rational basis, but rather within an emotional modality.

In other words, misinformation that has been embraced for emotional reasons will often trump (no pun intended) cold hard facts. Vast swathes of the population feel left behind and are naturally drawn to an individual who issues sound bytes that pander to such feelings. You might also perhaps wonder why the religious right would get behind and support an individual who is the very opposite of almost every single value they embrace. But dig and you find that he offers them security by pandering to both their fears and insecurities.


If you label Trump supporters as “stupid” to their face, or perhaps simply cut them off, you are not in any way addressing the core problem.

Trump himself already has sown the seeds of his own inevitable downfall, it will be his failure to deliver what he has promised that will lead many of those that rallied around him to face disillusion and disappointment. Sadly a lot of damage will have been done before we get there. It will also not really change anything, the insecurities and feelings of being abandoned will remain and that simply prepares the stage for the next Trump like demagogue to pander and leverage the mob.

If there is truly going to be a real change, then these people need to be engaged in a meaningful way that actually addresses their real concerns.

10 thoughts on “Why do so many people ignore facts?”

  1. A former NIST employee of many years became exposed to the European Physical Society article published last year in their publication Europhysicsnews about the 9/11 building collapses and started his own investigation. This video is his story in his own words:


    The evidence for controlled demolition is strong while the likelihood of the alternative physics required to satisfy the official conspiracy theory about the destruction as illogical as ever. Have a look.

  2. Dave, you are ignoring facts, relying completely on unsubstantiated facts, when you include in your list the statement “The assertion that 9/11 was an inside job.” And you ought to know that. You have been presented with long descriptions of the failure in your logic and reasoning about the destruction of the twin towers and Building 7. You have been presented with the fact that NIST acknowledged free fall in the destruction of Building 7 but completely ignored it and the implications that follow from the admission.

    I can completely agree with you in the other specific cases you list here, but you are dead wrong on 9/11. And relying on unprofessional, specious commentary to dispute the hard facts about 9/11 is doubly unconscionable of you.

    Reading your reply to sorgfelt you list several organizations that have no scientific expertise to weigh in on the physics or structural mechanical aspects of the destruction yet you hold this out as evidence of factual analysis. The 9/11 Commission one such case, several news organizations as others.

    They organizations have no specific scientific expertise, nor do you provide any links to show what exactly you consider to be their expert analysis for criticism. What kind of logic is that? You rely on an ad populum logical fallacy that because these people don’t agree with the given alternative presented by many physicists, structural engineers, architects the alternative must be wrong. There is nothing logical in such an argument. It proves nothing.

    You hold out here and elsewhere Popular Mechanics as more of an informed publication than the official publication of the European Physical Society whose membership includes 41 physical societies. That’s not just nuts, that starts to take on an anti-science taint.

    Poor form, very poor form. I’ll have more to say whether you chose to confront my comments or not.

    • Hi Stephen,

      You might indeed feel that I am ignoring facts, and yes we did indeed play 9/11 whack-a-mole under a different posting. (sorgfelt jumped into the comments there as well). You presented many arguments and I in turn presented many rebuttals, none of which led to anything that actually convinced either of us to change our views. Tempting as it might be to engage (again), the actual context here is specifically a posting about people passionately believing things that are not actually true.

      You would argue that it is of course myself who is believing something that is not true, and I in turn would simply flip that coin the other way.

      Either way … the point stands.

      There are specific things that we do very much agree upon, for example our thoughts on Trump, or Climate change. However, when it comes to 9/11, then that is just something that I suspect we are not going to agree upon.

      • Fair enough, Dave, but I am compelled to strongly state my beliefs about the science that supports how those buildings came apart. I cannot let stand illogical, casual treatment of poorly framed arguments about this.

        This administration, specifically Lamar Smith’s Science Committee, is choosing politics over science in many ways. Many of the arguments that are used against the hard science put forward by physicists, structural engineers, chemical engineers, architects disputing the official story of the destruction of those buildings are nothing more than political arguments, political preferences.

        I happen to believe al Qaeda developed plans to attack well before the event. That is borne out by many sources and in my mind is indisputable. Not all “truthers” might believe that but their political beliefs about that doesn’t matter to my understanding of the physics and structural arguments for the destruction. The political arguments do not and cannot trump the hard evidence that is abundant and broad based. Planes and fire could not, thermodynamically, have caused the destruction as witnessed. I just don’t believe rank amateurs could have gotten so successful in the hours long events that took place without a great deal of help. Buildings like those don’t come apart after the relatively small amount of damage they sustained, relative to the size and structural integrity of the construction.

        A highly compartmentalized and organized program to accomplish the destruction seen would require secrecy, that being a valid point made by supporters of the official explanation against such a program. It is a valid question to consider, but it is not a sufficient argument to discount the hard science that supports the alternative to the official conspiracy theory and shut down further investigation. That question is ultimately a political question that is separate from the hard evidence in the physical attributes of the destruction. Such secrecy would be required, but someone arguing it could not be maintained is not proof it hasn’t been maintained. Politically speaking supporters of the official conspiracy theory have to assume secrecy could not be kept but they in truth have no way to prove it hasn’t been.

        Opinions about organizational questions simply don’t trump the hard evidence for controlled demolition. If CD was the source of the destruction, organizational questions naturally follow. The inverse is not true, organizational questions can’t trump hard evidemce. And the hard science points directly to large energy input to bring those buildings down in the way they did, not minimal energy input from 15 to 20 minute fires in specific locations, as NIST describes.

        We do agree on most things. I read most if not all of your climate postings. I will speak up when I see posts on 9/11 however.

  3. I have a degree in physics, and I and many other scientists and engineers know from a simple matter of physics that the WTC could not have possibly come down as quickly and uniformly as it did without the use of an extra source of energy such as explosives, which, by the way, can be clearly seen and heard by anyone not willing to throw out facts that they are unwilling to admit. Was it an inside job? I will leave it to the non-scientifically minded, but there are dozens of more facts that support that assertion. It is amusing to see an author decry something of which he himself is guilty.

    • The following organisations disagree with you …

      • The National Institute of Standards and Technology (NIST)
      • The civil engineering community in general
      • The 9/11 Commission (that incorporated intelligence information from the earlier FBI investigation)
      • Investigations by non-government organizations that concluded that the accepted account is correct – for example scientists at Purdue University.
      • The Many independent and technical journalists who looked into it all and published their findings within various articles that can be found in magazines such as Popular Mechanics, Scientific American, and Time
      • Various global news media outlets have also run investigations and found nothing that withstands critical analysis, for example The Times of India, the Canadian Broadcasting Corporation (CBC), the BBC, Le Monde, Deutsche Welle,the Australian Broadcasting Corporation (ABC), and The Chosun Ilbo of South Korea.

      Your “facts” have failed to convince rather a lot of people who have honestly looked into it all. The challenge you face is to persuade all of them, and not just me. I can only wish you the very best of luck with that.

      • Most of these, including the NIST report, ignore at least one basic law of physics and several facts regarding explosions at the WTC, make unwarranted assumptions, some of which have been proven false by the NIST itself, and do not carry their conclusions through to the full collapse of those buildings. I base my statement that they were controlled demolitions on these facts:

        The buildings fell at near free-fall acceleration, which uses up practically all of their potential energy by simply falling. There is not enough energy left to pulverize concrete and break and eject steel beams hundreds of feet away. If any of their energy was used in such matters, the collapse would have significantly slowed or stopped.

        I have read an analysis that claims that the weight of the top portion of the buildings, in addition to presumed deformation of the steel structure by heat, initiated the collapse. This is wrong on multiple fronts. First, if you watch the collapse, the upper portion is being destroyed and ejected from the bottom up as the bottom section is destroyed from the top down. About half way down, the section is gone, blown away, not accumulated on top of the bottom section, and the collapse would have stopped. But the collapse continues uniformly all the way down. Second, the presumed heat is not as great as would have been needed to deform the steel. Even the figure given in the NIST report is well below the melting point of steel. An experiment contracted by the NIST shows that there would have been no deformation at the claimed temperature and conditions. Most of the jet fuel was blown away immediately upon the collision, leaving nothing but furnishings and paper to continue the fire. The NIST report also ignores structural elements that existed that would have mitigated any warping to begin with. A recent finite element analysis contracted by Architects and Engineers for 9/11 Truth, conducted at the University of Alaska Fairbanks provides even more evidence that the collapse could not have happened, especially in the manner suggested by the NIST.

        If you watch the videos of the whole incident, in addition to eye-witness reports, you will observe that there was a very large explosion in the basement of at least one building before the start of the collapse, and there were smaller explosions consistent with controlled demolition all of the way down. In some cases, flashes of light can be seen, and the explosions were not consistent with claimed “puffs of air”.

        I could go on, but you could also continue. There is much less technical information proving that these collapses were known and engineered. At least on anonymous person has said he replaced fire extinguishers on the columns of the buildings with fake ones containing shaped charges.

        • Tempting as it might be to get into 9/11 now, I’ll not bite, that is not what the posting is about. Perhaps when time permits I write a posting on it at some point in detail and we can then explore it all.

        • I thought you might find this comment interesting in regard to Dave’s referencing a Purdue study. I’ll post the comment first and then the blog post from physicist David Griscom correcting Manuel Garcias’, another physicist, hand-waving physics in a CounterPunch series.

          “I don’t know if you have read the report on the simulations produced by Purdue University, but as a mechanical/aerospace engineer I had many questions about how the simulation was conducted.
          Upon reading their report the physics aspects (solids and material engineering principles) of their model seems to be irrelevant to the project, as they do not offer any validation of their FEA data. One example of this is their modeling of the aircraft which was based on photographs and published literature. I’m not quite sure how this method could possibly simulate the way aircraft structures would actually behave and frankly the simplifications to the aircraft structure insults me as an aerospace engineer. I would hope such things could be done using design drawings or at the very least pieced together with repair and maintenance manuals for the aircraft in question.
          The amount of time they spent on perfecting how pretty things appeared seemed to be of the utmost importance to them rather then the raw physics of the event.
          These simulations seem to have been swallowed hook line and sinker by the masses when very little critical thought has gone into producing these simulations.
          Are there any other independent studies of the event being conducted? The legitimacy of the Purdue project is in question if for only the fact that they reference a FEMA report for their data.”


      • One more thing: The organizations that you cite have mostly been infiltrated or compromised to some extent, and I have long ago lost respect for them. My father was a spy and, while most spies keep their families out of it, I learned a lot of things from him and eventually from my own work. I have so far convinced one criminal analyst and one mechanical engineer that these were controlled demolitions. I am having trouble with one civil engineer who won’t even examine the evidence. Some of the hardest people to convince are government employees, because the people they work with are open and honest and try to do a good job. Besides, the evidence points more to bankers than government workers, and most of the grunts involved probably did what they were told without asking questions.


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