The world is full of people who hold whacky views. This doesn’t make them nuts or stupid.
We can mock Donald Trump for being a birther, but this doesn’t make him a crazy person. We can ridicule Senator James Inhofe for believing that global warming is a big hoax cooked up by a cabal of climate scientists, but this doesn’t make him an idiot. We can laugh at Bill Maher for his anti-vaccine and anti-GMO tirades, but this doesn’t make him an anti-science loon.
Similarly, with respect to where people stand on some issues or who they vote for, we shouldn’t assume that intelligence or lack of information are major factors. Some of you may recall this now infamous Daily Mirror cover that appeared in the UK after George Bush’s reelection in 2004:
This kind of dumb logic was just exhibited by the American Thinker, a conservative online magazine:
The same low information type voter who elected President Obama have been taken in by the Luddites who are scaring the ignorant into thinking that genetically modified seeds are a danger.
Is it low information that leads the American Thinker to write another post headlined “Growing evidence we may be in for a mini-ice age”? No, just as it isn’t low information that leads Senator Inhofe to argue that global warming is a hoax. And just as it isn’t low information that leads Bill Maher to believe that vaccines are harmful and part of a nefarious Big Pharma plot. Inhofe and Maher undoubtedly know of the reams of evidence that contradicts their views. As Michael Shermer pointed out in an 2009 open letter to Maher, it is “cognitive biases and conspiratorial thinking” that is at work here.
On a similar note, there is a tendency among the climate concerned to believe that an unholy alliance between Big Oil and and climate “skeptics” is the main obstacle to public understanding of climate change. This was the implicit thrust of yet another round of media stories about the scientific consensus on global warming and the ensuing debate on the merits of emphasizing this consensus ad nauseam.
Those who care deeply about established facts of certain issues, such as climate change and GMOs, want desperately to believe that a more informed public will lead to greater understanding and acceptance of what science says about both.
Unfortunately, science also tells us that it is not ignorance or low information that prevents this from happening.