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The Big Answer


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Denying to the Grave: Why We Ignore the Facts That Will Save Us

a book by Sara E. Gorman

(our site's book review)

The Gormans Explain Why We Ignore the Facts That Will Save Us

Why do some parents refuse to vaccinate their children? Why do some people keep guns at home, despite scientific evidence of risk to their family members? And why do people use antibiotics for illnesses they cannot possibly alleviate? When it comes to health, many people insist that science is wrong, that the evidence is incomplete, and that unidentified hazards lurk everywhere.

In Denying to the Grave: Why We Ignore the Facts That Will Save Us, Gorman and Gorman, a father-daughter team, explore the psychology of health science denial. Using several examples of such denial as test cases, they propose six key principles that may lead individuals to reject "accepted" health-related wisdom:

  1. the charismatic leader
  2. fear of complexity
  3. confirmation bias and the internet
  4. fear of corporate and government conspiracies
  5. causality and filling the ignorance gap
  6. the nature of risk prediction
The authors argue that the health sciences are especially vulnerable to our innate resistance to integrate new concepts with pre-existing beliefs. This psychological difficulty of incorporating new information is on the cutting edge of neuroscience research, as scientists continue to identify brain responses to new information that reveal deep-seated, innate discomfort with changing our minds.

Vaccinations are very important—if we join the ranks of the anti-vaxers we may end up paying the ultimate price for our naivete: the big sleep, a long dirt nap, pushing up daisies
Vaccinations are very important—if we join the ranks of the anti-vaxers we may end up paying the ultimate price for our naivete: the big sleep, a long dirt nap, pushing up daisies

Denying to the Grave: Why We Ignore the Facts That Will Save Us explores risk theory and how people make decisions about what is best for them and their loved ones, in an effort to better understand how people think when faced with significant health decisions. This book points the way to a new and important understanding of how science should be conveyed to the public in order to save lives with existing knowledge and technology.

"In Denying to the Grave: Why We Ignore the Facts That Will Save Us, the Gormans explain not just how people fall for the false claims of politicians, but also how intelligent people wind up in cults or why a nation wracked by gun violence continues to reject gun-control measures... [The Gormans are] equal opportunity debunkers, taking on GMO fear-mongering and anti-vaxers along with the National Rifle Association."—The Atlantic

The Gormans explain not just how people fall for the false claims of politicians, but also how intelligent people wind up in cults
The Gormans explain not just how people fall for the false claims of politicians, but also how intelligent people wind up in cults (Moonies, Scientology, The Brethren, Twelve Tribes, Raelism)

The Gormans Have the Credentials to Figure Out Why People Ignore Facts

Sara Gorman, PhD, MPH, is a public health specialist at a large multinational healthcare company, where she works on global mental health, increasing the quality of evidence in the global health field, and alternative funding models for global health. She has written extensively about global health, HIV/AIDS policy, and women's health, among other topics, for a variety of health and medical journals, including PLoS Medicine, the International Journal of Women's Health, and AIDS Care. She has worked in the policy division at the HIV Law Project and as a researcher at the Epidemiology Department at Harvard School of Public Health. She has also analyzed mental health policy under the ACA for the Vera Institute of Justice and researched the effectiveness of semi-mobile HIV clinics in rural Kenya for HealthRight International.

Jack M. Gorman, MD, is CEO and Chief Scientific Officer of Franklin Behavioral Health Consultants. Dr. Gorman was on the faculty of Columbia University's Department of Psychiatry for 25 years, eventually serving as Lieber Professor of Psychiatry. He then became the Esther and Joseph Klingenstein Professor and Chair of Psychiatry and Professor of Neuroscience at the Mount Sinai School of Medicine.

It has been suggesed that Denying to the Grave: Why We Ignore the Facts That Will Save Us should be read, digested and implemented by those involved in battling against science denialism. The damage done by the anti-vaxxers and other denialists needs to be rectified. This book lucidly explains the psychological mechanisms that need to be dealt with, and suggests means for doing so. Scientists dealing with the public, health care professionals, journalists and others on the front line need this book.

Is there a chance the climate change deniers will wise up before Earth is renamed Hell?
Is there a chance the climate change deniers will wise up before Earth is renamed Hell?

The Gormans Tell Us We Can't Just Dismiss Conspiracy Theories—Big Tobacco's Conspiracy Was Real

The authors say that we can't just dismiss conspiracy theories off-hand. They talked about the tobacco industry and how the companies involved in it were able to, for years, threaten scientists, fudge data, and promote misleading reports in order to dismiss claims about the harmful effects of smoking. By exploring this example, the authors make it clear how difficult it can be to know which side of a scientific debate is true until you look carefully at the supporting evidence. The cognitive biases of smokers pushed them to dismiss evidence of harm and accept evidence of harmlessness. See Conspiracy Theory in America (Discovering America) and American Conspiracies: Lies, Lies, and More Dirty Lies That the Government Tells Us.

The tobacco industry was able to, for years, threaten scientists, fudge data, and promote misleading reports in order to dismiss claims about the harmful effects of smoking
The tobacco industry was able to, for years, threaten scientists, fudge data, and promote misleading reports in order to dismiss claims about the harmful effects of smoking

Denying to the Grave: Why We Ignore the Facts That Will Save Us is a great study of the fears and cognitive biases that lead people to adopt and hold onto irrational positions in the face of overwhelming evidence to the contrary. The book is much deeper, broad-ranging, and empathetic than one would expect but it is a slow read and is boring at times.


The Book's Lessons Are Readily Applied to Other Domains, Such as Politics

The lessons learned from the book are readily applied to other domains, such as politics. It deserves to be widely read. The authors advocate for higher standards from journalists, as well as educators, when presenting scientific topics.

Fake news dominated the 2016 election, but it also is central to the propaganda the mainstream media reports to us
Fake news dominated the 2016 election, but it also is central to the propaganda the mainstream media reports to us

The outcome of the 2016 presidential election adds irony to the reading of current social science books, such as those that examine truth and reason as well as fact and science. The incoming fact-impaired and anti-science administration fails to understand these virtues and considers ideas that don't agree with their ideas to be fake news, and further, the reporters and networks doing the disagreeing are fake, failed, lying, and stupid—exactly what one would expect from a demagogue. See Poll: 6 in 10 Americans think traditional news outlets report fake news and Freedom of the Press—an American Delusion.

And that makes it all the more urgent to read these books and learn what lessons we can. But keep in mind that simple education will not suffice to reverse scientific denials—it's more complex than that. People decide not because of facts or data or evidence but because of pre-existing beliefs, and because of being exploited by fake or faulty science in talk shows or videos or political speeches that take advantage of emotional appeals having little or no relationship to truth or facts but lots of relationship to using fear, intolerance, racism, and implied threats as weapons to win votes with.

Trump will be the first anti-science president we have ever had—he has openly stated that he believes that vaccines cause autism (wrong) and that climate change is a hoax supposedly invented by the Chinese (wrong)
Trump will be the first anti-science president we have ever had—he has openly stated that he believes that vaccines cause autism (wrong) and that climate change is a hoax supposedly invented by the Chinese (wrong)

Trump will be “the first anti-science president we have ever had,” says Gorman. Trump has openly stated that he believes that vaccines cause autism and that climate change is a “hoax” supposedly invented by the Chinese. And let’s not forget his completely hysterical response to the Ebola epidemic, demanding that people from the U.S. who went to Africa to respond to the crisis and ended up contracting the disease not be allowed back in the country because they should "suffer the consequences." Perhaps if he'd been president in the 60s, he'd have kept astronauts away from the moon so they wouldn't sink in all the green cheese!

Perhaps if Trump had been president in the 60s, he'd have kept astronauts away from the moon so they wouldn't sink in all the green cheese!
Perhaps if Trump had been president in the 60s, he'd have kept astronauts away from the moon so they wouldn't sink in all the green cheese!

Sophisticated politics is done not with the appeal to facts but with pushing people's buttons so as to manipulate them to vote a certain way. They throw in enough facts (except for Trump) to look like they are knowledgeable and have command of the issues, but the persuading is done at the emotional level. People do not think of themselves as dolts whose emotions are manipulated for desired results, but the psychological consultants and public relations specialists think of them that way. They're not seen as mice, sheep, or dolts because they are stupid, but because they are so easy to manipulate—even to go against their own interests (Republican voters under Reagan, Dubya, and Trump). The sheep never realize they were conned, fooled, bamboozled, and led down the garden path by cynical politicians manipulating their emotions, but the psychological consultants and public relations specialists know it and they count on it.

The sheep never realize they were conned, fooled, bamboozled, and led down the garden path by cynical politicians manipulating their emotions, but the psychological consultants and public relations specialists know it and they count on it
The sheep never realize they were conned, fooled, bamboozled, and led down the garden path by cynical politicians manipulating their emotions, but the psychological consultants and public relations specialists know it and they count on it

Abraham Maslow's Deficiency Cognition Shines More Light on the Gormans' Lessons

The psychological consultants and public relations specialists count on emotional immaturity and naivete, or, technically, deficiency-cognition, the ontological condition to be found in the average citizen. Abraham Maslow, in his wonderful classic Toward a Psychology of Being, says that being-cognition is when a person perceives from a context of being, not neediness, not clouded by deficiency-cognition. And deficiency-cognition is when a person perceives from a context of neediness, not being. Most people are in deficiency-cognition states most of the time, which is the only reason that cynical politicians can get away with manipulating their emotions and getting their votes. If everyone was mature and wise, politics would work the way it is supposed to work as spelled out in the Constitution and the various other documents written by the Founders, and government would be of the people, by the people, and for the people. But everyone is not mature or wise, so politics works to make the rich richer and the nonrich less rich, as outlined in one of the most important books of the 21st century: Requiem for the American Dream: The 10 Principles of Concentration of Wealth & Power. As a result, U.S. politics manipulates citizens so the government is of the oligarchs, by the oligarchs, and for the oligarchs.

The ladder of class mobility is rigged by greedy oligarchs so that it is not climbable, so the little guy has no way to get ahead
The ladder of class mobility is rigged by greedy oligarchs so that it is not climbable, so the little guy has no way to get ahead

"Denying to the Grave, Why We Ignore the Facts that Will Save Us is a fascinating exploration of the psychological and social underpinnings of denial. With Jack providing the psychiatric expertise and Sara the public health angle, they make for a great writing team, approaching this contentious topic with a personal flair and embodying the empathy they highlight as vital to overcoming denial. For those of us that follow denial research closely, there are probably not many surprises in the book, which uses examples from anti-vaxxers and pro-gun communities most frequently, though also touching on GMOs and nuclear power at times. Overall, the problems they identify are generally pretty well-understood among climate communications professionals. It’s not that people are dumb, it’s that we make decisions based on emotions . . . It’s not that deniers are simply ignorant . . . but that they’re drawn into a community of denial by charismatic leaders with ulterior motives. (Source: Book Review: Denying to the Grave, Why We Ignore the Facts that Will Save Us , ClimateDenierRoundup, dailykos)


Gormans: Cognitive Behavioral Therapy Works Better Than Antidepressants for Depression

Cognitive Therapy teaches us that by changing the way we think we can alter our moods and deal with emotional problems
Cognitive Therapy teaches us that by changing the way we think we can alter our moods and deal with emotional problems

Denying to the Grave, Why We Ignore the Facts that Will Save Us helps us accept the fact that we can deal with depression successfully without drugs. Cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT) was designed by Aaron T. Beck, and it works better than antidepressants for depression, in spite of Big Pharma's prevarications (a.k.a. ads) to the contrary. The best way for the layman to familiarize himself with this stuff if with David D. Burns' book Feeling Good: The New Mood Therapy.

Big Pharma spreading 'good health via medicine' across the land
Big Pharma spreading "good health via medicine" across the land

Unlike the Gormans, We Realize That Talk Shows Don't Care What a Valid Scientific Debate Is

Members of the media need to be better trained to understand what a valid scientific debate is and what is not, say the Gormans. Of course, if one looks at how talk shows work and how politics works, one realizes quickly that talk shows are not there to inform, but to sell toothpaste, burgers, cars, and other products, so if valid scientific debate is presented, less products will be sold because the guests should be screaming at one another for maximum ratings, therefore maximum sponsor satisfaction. Screaming happens not during valid scientific debates, but instead when a fake science guest tries to out-shout a real science guest. Also, Fox News will make sure the real science guy is drowned out by the fake science loser, because Fox is the G.O.P.'s mouthpiece and the G.O.P. is taking antiscience positions to please Republicans and Trump and the Kochs (who use lots of money to get their way). So it does little good to get the media to better understand what a valid scientific debate is—they're still stuck with the depressing reality of how talk shows work and how politics works.

Talk shows are not there to inform, but to sell toothpaste, and they surely don't care what a valid scientific debate is—they prefer cacaphony,              drama, put-downs, hollering, juicy sound bites
Talk shows are not there to inform, but to sell toothpaste, and they surely don't care what a valid scientific debate is—they prefer cacaphony, drama, put-downs, hollering, juicy sound bites

The problem is the authors fail to see who is in charge. But scientist Janine R. Wedel sees: The simple answer to who is in charge: unelected neoconservatives with a radical not-so-democratic agenda. "The rise of a new breed of confidence men and women—think-tank members, government advisers, business consultants and television pundits—upend our democracy. . . . Players are making up the rules as they go along, and said rules are written for their own benefit, sort of like how loopholes are pre-built into disingenuous legislation so those it's meant to regulate slip through the cracks—yet again. The system is built to be a fraud, rigged to benefit the corporatocracy and politicians. We send representatives to Congress to represent us, but they represent corporations, themselves, and their buddies, but us? Not so much. This shadow elite undermines democracy and capitalism. The new rules they make take us beyond traditional corruption and conflict-of-interest to the slippery areas of non-accountability. . . . And lack of accountability is one of the most dire results of all this. The players in this rigged system ultimately answer only to each other. These movers and shakers frequently appear to the public as objective field experts, yet they often have other unmentioned roles and interests tied directly to the topic at hand." (Source: Shadow Elite: How the World's New Power Brokers Undermine Democracy, Government, and the Free Market)


Unlike the Gormans, We Realize That Guns CAN Fit into a Home Protection Plan

If you are not ready to use a gun to protect yourself, get trained on using a gun for self-defense; if you cannot handle shooting someone who is armed and threatening, do not get a gun
If you are not ready to use a gun to protect yourself, get trained on using a gun for self-defense; if you cannot handle shooting someone who is armed and threatening, do not get a gun

Some people keep guns at home, despite scientific evidence of risk to their family members, and this seems to tell the Gormans that not having a gun would be better, and in some cases they would be right. If one has a well-equipped safe room that no criminal could get into, it might make sense to be gun-free. This safe room is a room in a house or other building that is invulnerable to attack or intrusion, and from which security operations can be directed. Most people do not have this or room for this in their home or the needed funds to build one, so if they do not have a tunnel under the house with a hidden floor hatch for entering, a gun may just be a good idea. But only if they train with the gun and are familiar with it, and only if it is locked up in families with kids. If a person doesn't have the courage to shoot an armed intruder, there is no reason to get a gun, as it will be taken away from and used against the person while he's thinking bleeding-heart liberal thoughts about how precious life is, forgetting to consider his OWN life as precious. If you are a veteran, you are likely to be weapons trained and okay with shooting armed intruders. People with no training who are unsure if they could shoot an intruder should definitely plan security around hiding or escaping and avoid guns entirely. Just having it in no way makes one safer—it makes gun virgins much less safe.


The Gormans Called the Big Bang an Indisputable Fact; They're Wrong

The Gormans have called the Big Bang an indisputable fact; that's wrong: it's merely an accepted theory from charismatic leaders, which makes it popular, but not necessarily true or factual
The Gormans have called the Big Bang an indisputable fact; that's wrong: it's merely an accepted theory from charismatic leaders, which makes it popular, but not necessarily true or factual

"Clearly, we need to do more work to help people understand that the Big Bang and evolution are real and indisputable phenomena and that even religious people for the most part agree with that fact," say the Gormans. We, the majority of the public, and dozens of brilliant scientists, are not convinced that the Big Bang is a "fact"—certainly not that it is "indisputable." It is neither fact nor indisputable—they are incorrect. What IS a fact is that lots of scientists doubt the Big Bang, and bemoan the lack of funding to investigate alternative ideas, and none of these people consider the Big Bang theory to be either fact or indisputable, nor do we. They dispute it constantly. It is a theory that fits the current mathematical models best, but it is important to realize that once the most popular theorists decided that the Big Bang explained things, they stopped exploration in all other directions and all research was aimed at adding more evidence for the Big Bang. They weren't going where the evidence took them, but where their beliefs—and egos—took them. There's a difference.

There are several other theories with potential that have been overlooked, because it was thought heretical to challenge the Big Bang proponents—the charismatic leaders, as the Gormans have called them. If these guys make sure to block research into other theories—which they did, it prevents evidence against the Big Bang from being discovered which would embarrass egotistical Big Bang proponents. If they were so confident in their theory, why did they try to stop other research? Evolution, like the speed of light, is an indisputable fact with overwhelming evidence. But the Big Bang is just a popular theory with some supportive evidence. See Wrinkles In Time.

Many—like us—prefer alternate theories. Or these theories. Or these. Or these. Or these. Tons of scientists doubt the Big Bang, and bemoan the lack of funding to investigate alternative ideas and others do too. Like us.

Even the Gormans can form flawed opinions based on charismatic leaders which they warned us about, but they're not alone; millions do it daily
Even the Gormans can form flawed opinions based on charismatic leaders which they warned us about, but they're not alone; millions do it daily