Denying the evidence – Why do people stick to their beliefs in the face of so much evidence? Emma Hazelwood

It has been accepted in the scientific community that climate change is a result of human activity for almost twenty years. However, a study in 2016 found that less than half of U.S. adults believed that global climate change is due to human activity. In 2012, Trump tweeted that “The concept of global warming was created by and for the Chinese in order to make U.S. manufacturing non-competitive”. In a world with overwhelming evidence to the contrary, how can people continue to believe that global warming doesn’t exist?

Once people believe an argument, it is very hard to persuade them otherwise, even if they are told that the information they based their opinion on is incorrect. In a study conducted at Stanford University, two groups of students were given information about a firefighter named Frank. One group were told that Frank was a good firefighter; the other that Frank was a poor firefighter. Participants were then told that the information they’d been given was fake. Afterwards, they were asked to give their own opinion on how Frank would respond to a high-risk situation. Those who had initially been told that Frank was a good firefighter thought that he would stay away from risks, but those who had been told that he was a poor firefighter thought that he would take risks. This study shows that, even though they were then told it was fabricated, the initial information influenced participants’ opinions.

Confirmation bias is when people are more likely to believe facts which support an opinion they already had, rather than evidence to the contrary. A study in Stanford in 1979 involved two groups of students. One group was for capital punishment, the other against. Both groups were shown two fabricated articles. One contained data that supported capital punishment, the other data that opposed it (the statistics were designed to be equally strong in each article). Both groups stated that the source which supported their argument was more reliable. Furthermore, when asked to express their opinions on capital punishment after the study, both groups supported their standpoint even more than before. This demonstrates human nature to selectively believe what we want to be true.

It is believed that humans act this way because it was beneficial in early hunter-gatherer societies. Confirmation bias not only encouraged humans in societies to collaborate, but it was also important for social status to be considered correct. One theory for why seemingly rational humans continue to think irrationally is that we get a rush of dopamine when we see evidence which validates our opinion.

However, early human societies were not teeming with “fake news” and fabricated studies as we are now. It is increasingly clear how having a public swayed by confirmation bias can be dangerous to modern society.

We live in an illusion, where we think we know more than we actually do. For instance, one study found that when people were told about the new (fictitious) discovery of a rock that glowed, if they were told that the scientists who discovered it did not know why it glowed, participants did not claim to know as much about the rock as those who were told that scientists understood how it works (even though the subjects were not given any information on why the rock glowed). This phenomenon of people thinking they understand more than they do is common, and has actually been advantageous in terms of scientific progress. As scientists, we do not need to understand every scientific discovery there has ever been – we rely on the knowledge of our ancestors and those around us.

Humans are programmed to be influenced by information which they are then told is fake, and to think of sources which support their pre-existing opinion as more reliable than those which question it. However, this can be dangerous in areas such as politics. For example, if people around an individual claim to know why Brexit would be economically beneficial to the country, then even when presented with evidence to the contrary the individual is less likely to believe it. Likewise, if a person believes that global warming is a conspiracy, they are more likely to believe Trump when he says it was created by the Chinese than ecologists who say we are pushing our planet to critical levels. In a world where we are bombarded with clickbait and fake news, it is more important than ever to think rationally and critically about every piece of information.

The Teenage Brain – Charlie Delilkan

We’ve all been there. “I’m leaving home and I’m never coming back!” “It’s not just a phase, Mum.” Slammed doors. Smashed plates. My Chemical Romance t-shirts and “bold” eyeliner. If you haven’t guessed already, I’m referring to those golden teenage years. Whilst we may have given our parents a hard time, we may not be completely responsible for that increased phone bill.

When we’re born, our brains aren’t fully formed so the first few years of our existence involve an expansion of connections – synapses – between cells. Approximately 10,000 different connections are made between the hundred billion brain cells you were born with by the time you are six-years-old!

But during our teenage years, these numerous connections are trimmed down; the brain decides which connections are important enough to keep, and which can be let go, depending on how frequently each neural link is used. This process is called synaptic pruning. This process actually continues well after we stop calling people “teenagers” – some researchers believe this only ceases in our mid twenties, sometimes later! But sometimes this process can go wrong, leading to important connections being lost which could lead to psychiatric disorders such as schizophrenia.

The synapses that are kept are then subjected to a process called myelination, where the synapse is given a sheath that helps them transmit signals more quickly. That is why the teenage years are so critical to your future development! Skills and habits laid down at this point are likely to stay in the long run.

Interestingly, the prefrontal cortex is the last part of the brain to fully mature (or finish pruning). However, this is the part that allows us to be an adult – it controls our emotions and helps us to empathise with others. Therefore, if your prefrontal cortex isn’t functioning fully, you tend to be impulsive and insensitive to other people’s feelings. Sound familiar? Don’t worry though – as teenagers mature, the prefrontal cortex is used a lot more when making decisions, showing that they start to consider others when making choices.

What about that stereotype that teenagers are “hormonal”? Well stereotypes usually come from some truth! Teenagers are hypersensitive to pleasure; rewards such as the neurotransmitter dopamine release is at its peak during adolescence. Any action that causes dopamine release is positively reinforced, but the actions that cause the most dopamine release are usually associated with a stereotypical teenager – reckless driving, drug taking, and/or risk taking. Or in my case, 7 hours of dungeons and dragons on a Friday night – please don’t judge. This reward system is also closely harmonious with the brain’s social network, which uses oxytocin, a neurotransmitter that strengthens bonding between mammals. This causes teenagers to strongly associate social interactions with happiness  and so constantly seek out social situations. This explains why we usually see a dynamic shift from kids being close to parents to teenagers having friends being their emotional centres.

So the next time the teenager in your life is threatening to throw a chair at you, just remember that parts of their brain are literally being destroyed. Cut them some slack, bro.

Natural Cycles – Rhiannon Lyon

Contraception can be a pain. From the long list of side-effects associated with hormonal pills, to the painful and invasive nature of implants and IUDs, women put up with a lot to avoid getting pregnant. And with the search for a male contraceptive pill that lacks undesirable side-effects (the type that women have put up with for decades) still unfruitful, things look set to stay this way for a while.

Or do they? As the first and only app to become certified as a contraceptive in Europe, Natural Cycles promises a hormone-free, non-invasive alternative to traditional forms of birth control.

Natural Cycles was developed by physicist Dr Elina Berglund, who works at CERN and was part of the team responsible for confirming the existence of the Higgs boson.  The app started out as an algorithm Berglund developed after deciding to stop taking hormonal contraceptives. She started looking into the biology of the menstrual cycle and found that ovulation can be accurately predicted by small changes in body temperature, and this data can be used to calculate when an individual is and is not fertile. Berglund began to monitor her own cycle using the algorithm, along with some of her colleagues at CERN. This ended up working so well that her Berglund and her husband decided to develop the algorithm into an app, so that more people could benefit from it. The latest study shows that the app is 99% effective when used perfectly, or 93% effective with typical use (for comparison, the pill is 91% effective with typical use).

So how does a simple fertility awareness method manage to have such success in preventing pregnancy? To answer this, we first need to understand a bit of the biology of the menstrual cycle.

nat cycles graphPhoto source: https://www.naturalcycles.com/en/science/menstrual-cycle

The menstrual cycle can be roughly divided into three stages: the follicular (pre-ovulatory) phase, ovulation, and the luteal (post-ovulatory) phase. The levels of the hormones oestrogen, progesterone and LH vary over these stages, as shown in the diagram above, with the body’s basal body temperature (temperature at rest) changing as a result of these different levels. This is how Natural Cycles detects where the user is in their menstrual cycle: a temperature taken each morning with a two decimal place thermometer.

During the follicular phase oestrogen levels are high, and progesterone levels low, leading to a lower body temperature. At the end of the follicular phase is the fertile window. This is approximately six days long – starting five days before ovulation occurs. This is because sperm can survive in the uterus and fallopian tubes for up to five days waiting for an egg to fertilise.

At ovulation an egg is released by one of the ovaries, and travels through the fallopian tube, where it can be fertilised if it encounters a sperm (which could have been hanging around in the tube for several days).

After ovulation the luteal phase starts. Progesterone levels increase in order to aid the foetus’s development if fertilisation has occurred. The rise in progesterone causes the basal body temperature to go up an average of 0.3°C. If fertilisation has not occurred the progesterone levels then fall again, and the uterine wall begins to shed with the beginning of menstruation, which starts a new cycle.

From this we can see that there is actually only a window of around 6 days each cycle where fertilisation could actually occur, on all the other days of the cycle intercourse will not result in a pregnancy. The Natural Cycles app uses this logic to assign ‘red’ and ‘green’ days – those on which you do and do not need to use protection, respectively. Of course an app that accurately tracks fertility can also be used to increase chances of pregnancy, and around 20% of Natural Cycles users are in fact using it to aid in becoming pregnant.

However, the app may not be for everyone. Success depends on users strictly abstaining or using barrier protection such as condoms on red days, and making sure to take their temperature each morning, having had a decent amount of sleep (as sleep deprivation can cause fluctuations in the basal body temperature). Those who have irregular menstrual cycles, such as people with PCOS (polycystic ovarian syndrome), which affects around 10% of women, may not benefit so much from Natural Cycles, as the algorithm is likely to give them many more red days per cycle. A subscription to the app also costs around £40 per year, which is pretty pricey considering that all other birth control is free on the NHS (although you do get a thermometer thrown in). Whether that is value for money for a side-effect-free form of contraception is down to the individual.

 

Sources:

https://www.naturalcycles.com/en

http://nordic.businessinsider.com/birth-control-app-as-effective-as-the-pill-2017-2/

http://www.vogue.co.uk/article/natural-cycles-app-hormone-free-non-intrusive-contraceptive-method

http://www.wired.co.uk/article/natural-cycles-as-effective-as-traditional-contraceptives

https://www.theguardian.com/lifeandstyle/2016/nov/07/natural-cycles-fertility-app-algorithm-replace-pill-contraception

 

The Life of Leonardo Da Vinci

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Jonathan James

Leonardo da Vinci is the archetypal renaissance man, a master of painting, sculptor, architecture, invention, and engineering. His work, which spanned multiple disciplines, informed not just art and design, but also contributed greatly to our understanding of zoology, botany, biology, anatomy, engineering, and physics. He filled dozens of notebooks, which continue to surface to this day, containing hundreds if not thousands of drawings, sketches and ideas based on human anatomy, architecture, and mechanics. Whilst most of his work was not experimental – rather based on theoretical concepts, his work went into extreme detail, and provide some of the first explorations of many fields.

Under the apprenticeship of Andrea del Verrocchio, Da Vinci began what would become a lifelong appreciation of anatomy and physiology, which show up repeatedly in his notebooks; some of his most famous sketches include pictures of a foetus in a womb, the human brain and skull, and a series of topographic images describing muscles, tendons, and other visible anatomical features. It’s a common myth that to carry out these studies, Da Vinci stole corpses on which to perform illegal autopsies – the truth is much less exciting. He was in fact given permission, first by hospitals in Florence, and then later in Milan and Rome, to dissect human corpses. As well as studying ‘healthy’ specimens, disease also fascinated Da Vinci, being the first person to define atherosclerosis (thickening of the arterial wall) and liver cirrhosis, and is known to have constructed models that depicted the flow of blood through the vessels of the heart. His work was published in De humani corporis fabrica (The Human body) in 1543.

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Anatomical Drawings of the Neck and Shoulders

Perhaps Da Vinci’s most famous scientific exploits come from the field of Engineering. In 1488, he developed a design for a flying machine, whilst also developing plans for a parachute, giant crossbow, and what has been described a ‘tank’, but which represents a moveable cannon. He worked as an Engineer, when, in 1499 he was forced to flee to Venice, where he developed a system of moveable barricades to shield the city. He worked with Niccolo Machiavelli on a project to divert the flow of the Arno River near Florence, as well as a design, produced in 1502, of a 720-foot bridge developed for the Sultan of Constantinople intended to cross the mouth of the Bosporus, the straight that separates the bulk of Turkey from central Europe. Whilst never constructed, Da Vinci’s work would later be vindicated, when, in 2001, a bridge based on his design was constructed in Norway.

Da Vinci also worked in botany – where he paid attention to the action of light on plants. He also had an excellent understanding of geology, a particularly famous story exists of him frequently exploring caves around the Apennine mountain range. His observations of layered rock also convinced him the biblical story of the great flood could not be true. In addition, he was an accomplished cartographer, producing a map of Chiana Valley in Tuscany from eye, rather than using any modern surveying equipment. Elsewhere, he studied mathematics heavily, becoming particularly interested in geometric forms such as the rhombicuboctahedron, a 26-sided object made up of both square and triangular faces. An accomplished musician, Da Vinci also invented the viola organist, the first bowed keyboard instrument to ever be designed and developed.

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Map of the Chiana Valley, Tuscany.

Da Vinci kept his personal life very secret. As a result, his sexuality has been the subject of much analysis and speculation. Whilst he had few close relationships with women, his most intimate relationships are said to have been with his pupils Salai and Melzi. Court records from 1476 show that Da Vinci and three other young men were charged with sodomy – whilst the charges were dismissed for lack of evidence, there remains considerable speculation around his presumed homosexuality. In any case, the influence of Da Vinci cannot be understated; he made enormous contributions to a vast range of scientific disciplines, not to mention his artistic endeavors not mentioned here. As a result, to this day he remains an iconic figure and a key player in the Renaissance period.

Accidental Genius: Science in Serendipity

Alice Whitehead

Many of the biggest discoveries in the science community have been borne out of the accidents of scientists or development of unrelated technologies. There have been countless examples over the past few centuries. Here we recount, arguably, the ten most important serendipitous discoveries:

10. Corn Flakes

Corn flakes

 

Image Credit: https://goo.gl/images/ZQiwuV

One day in 1895, Will Keith Kellogg was experimenting and attempting to perfect some cereal recipes when he forgot about some boiled wheat that was left on the side. The wheat had become flaky, but to not be wasteful, Kellogg and his brother cooked it nonetheless. The result was crunchy and flaky, yet it went on to become one of the biggest and most popular breakfast cereals, Corn Flakes.

9. Viagra

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Image Credit: Online Doctor

Viagra must be in the running for the most inadvertent drug side effect ever. In the early 1900s, Simon Campbell and David Roberts had made a drug that was designed to treat high blood pressure and angina. But at the time they had no idea of the popularity their creation would have. Originally called UK92480, the pair discovered the powerful side effects that patients were experiencing during human trials. They had accidentally invented a drug to treat erectile dysfunction and subsequently the little blue pill was named Viagra.

8. Teflon

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Image Credit: Makeaheadmealforbusymoms

Teflon, or ‘polytetrafluoroethylene’, is the slippery non-stick coating used in cookware. It was stumbled upon in 1938 by Roy Plunkett while he was trying to create a way to make refrigerators home-friendly, with a safe refrigerant. Plunkett found that the resin was resistant to extreme heat and chemicals but it wasn’t until the 60s that Teflon was employed for non-stick cookware, as we know it today.

7. Vaseline

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Image Credit: Liftable

In 1859, Robert Chesebrough was a 22-year-old British chemist visiting a small town in Pennsylvania where petroleum had recently been discovered. He became intrigued by a natural by-product of the oil drilling process. This product, petroleum jelly, appeared to be remarkably useful for healing skin cuts and burns. In 1865, after purification and patenting, Vaseline was complete.

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Image Credit: The Specialists Ltd

Alfred Nobel, a Swedish chemist and engineer, was transporting the highly flammable liquid ‘nitroglycerin’ when he realised one of the container cans had broken, leaking the liquid. However, by chance the material in which the cans were being transported – a rock mixture called ‘kieselguhr’ – was able to absorb and stabilise the liquid nitroglycerin. The product was patented in 1867 and Nobel named it dynamite.

5. Anaesthetic

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Image Credit: Kinja-img

Without this hysterical accidental discovery, medicine would not be the same today. Ether and nitrous oxide were extensively used for recreation in the early 1800s. Gatherings called ‘laughing parties’ – where groups of people would inhale either of the gases – became increasingly popular. Coincidentally, it was found that those under the influence of these compounds didn’t feel any pain.

4. Super Glue

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Image Credit: Geek.com

During World War II, Dr Harry Coover mistakenly came across an extremely quick and strong adhesive. Initially considered for clear plastic gun sights for allied soldiers, the product appeared to have great commercial potential. However, it wasn’t until 1951 that the product was rediscovered and was eventually rebranded to ‘Super Glue’ in 1958.

3. Microwave

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Image Credit: Ytimg

In 1945, Percy Spencer accidentally stumbled upon discovering the cooking abilities of microwave radiation when working in a radiation laboratory. While fiddling with an active radar, again during World War II, he noticed that the chocolate bar in his pocket had melted. Originally almost 1.8 metres tall and weighing 340kg the microwave oven was first sold in 1946 under the name ‘Radarange’.

2. Renewable energy

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Image Credit: Pop.h-cdn

In October last year, scientists at the Oak Ridge National Laboratory in Tennessee were attempting to make methanol from carbon dioxide when they realised their small catalyst had, in fact, turned the carbon dioxide directly into liquid ethanol. The reaction uses tiny spikes of carbon and copper to reverse the combustion process. Unexpectedly, they had stumbled upon a way to convert a potent greenhouse gas into a sustainable renewable energy source – a well deserving second place.

1.Penicilin

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Image Credit: Emory Magazine

But, of course, the title of number one accidental genius has to go to Sir Alexander Fleming. In 1928, Fleming was a Professor of Bacteriology at St Mary’s Hospital in London. While experimenting with the influenza virus, Fleming had colonies Staphylococcus bacteria growing in Petri dishes around his lab. During this time, he decided to take a two-week holiday.

When he returned, he found that, oddly, the bacteria he was growing in cultures had been contaminated. Not only this, but the bacteria appeared unable to grow on or even near this contaminant! Fleming went on to culture this contaminant and discovered it was Penicillium mould. And so, the first ever antibiotic, Penicillin, was found.

 

 

Uncertain-tea?

James Vines

In Britain, 165 million cups of tea are consumed every single day, with English Breakfast tea being the most common. The matter of a perfect cup of tea is a highly contentious topic. There are so many variables. Do you add sugar? What’s the perfect amount of milk? And maybe the most contentious of them all, how long do you brew for?

98% of us take our tea with milk, but one of the first to scientifically investigate the effects of adding milk to tea was statistician Ronald A. Fisher in 1935, who was interested in the effects of adding milk before or after the water. His study was only conducted upon one participant, Muriel Bristol, who claimed she could taste the difference. While the finer intricacies of Fishers experiments were really concerned with statistical probabilities, he also concluded that Bristol could, most probably, tell the difference between the two different types of tea.

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Image Credit: Flickr

There are many arguments both for and against pouring the milk in first. Tradition dictates that milk is added first. One theory for this concerns the delicate nature of early teacups, which were prone to cracking under a sudden influx of recently-boiled water. Another theory suggests that milk which is creamy or warm may rise to the surface of a cup of tea as globules of fat. This was also thought to kill bacteria by boiling them, which may be lurking in questionable milk.

While these arguments all seem reasonable, in 1946, George Orwell argued “by putting the tea in first and then stirring as one pours, one can exactly regulate the amount of milk, whereas one is liable to put in too much milk the other way round”. In 2008, the Royal Society of Chemistry also got involved suggesting that adding milk second could ‘cook’ the milk, giving it a boiled taste due to greater denaturing of the proteins. Whether this ‘boiled’ taste is preferable however, was not mentioned. Of course it is important to mention, that the above only concerns tea poured from a pot; milk must be added second if brewing in the cup, or else the tea bag will not reach a hot enough temperature to infuse properly.

Another hot topic in the tea drinking debate is whether to add sugar. 41% of tea drinkers take sugar; as a result the issue of sugar is somewhat down to personal preference. For certain however, sugar should be added in the cup, and only once the tea bag has been removed. This prevents any sugar getting caught up and wasted inside the tea bag.

A less contentious area is the question of loose tea versus tea bags;  most tea lovers will agree that loose tea leaves make for a better brew. The tea in teabags is normally made from the “dust and fannings” from broken tea leaves, rather than the leaves themselves. This affects the quality of the tea. Finely broken leaves loose their oils and aroma, resulting in a more bitter taste. While tea bags are somewhat inferior, their cost and convenience make them more desirable for millions of us, with loose tea making up just 1% of all tea purchases.

It is almost without question among tea connoisseurs, tea should be made in the pot, not in the cup, but how long should you brew for? Studies from 1981, by Prof. Michael Spiro showed tea needs to brew in the pot for a minimum of 2 minutes. However even after 2 minutes, only 64% of caffeine has been removed from the leaves. In fact, it will take a whole 15 minutes of brewing to remove 100% of the caffeine. Further studies by Hicks et al. in 1996 shows it’s even worse for tea bags, with only 33% of caffeine being removed after 2 minutes. It is worth noting, caffeine levels vary naturally in types of tea and levels in one type may overlap with another type. All the types of tea are produced from the leaves of the Camellia sinensis plant, including including white, green and black teas. It is the differing processing methods which result in variations in tea type.
To conclude, there doesn’t seem to be a clear consensus on how to make the perfect cup of tea. There’s certainly areas where a cup of tea can be unquestioningly improved, such as by using tea leaves instead of a tea bag, but other areas are down to personal preference, such as whether to put milk or water in first, or whether to use sugar. But, however you take your tea, don’t take it from me, it’s mine.

Pseudoscience – Why Are We So Easily Fooled?

Jamie Hakham

From Astrology to Homeopathy, people believe a wide variety of things that have no basis in any concrete science. With the world currently in a furore over ‘fake news’, we thought we’d take an analytical eye over why people believe in bad facts and faulty logic.

Pseudoscience takes many forms, and affects practically every group of people, from the poorly educated all the way up to Nobel Laureates. Take Francis Crick’s belief in directed panspermia (remember the beginning of Prometheus, where the Engineer ‘seeds’ Earth? That.), or Luc Montagnier’s ‘experiments’ in homeopathy with DNA. Clearly, one’s scientific literacy might not have much to do with a belief in pseudoscience.

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Image Credit: Wikimedia Commons

We’re going to look at one strand of pseudoscience, and tease out the different ways its proponents make it look appealing, and the different ways they use to convince themselves of it. Let’s take a look at Homeopathy, one of the more enduring pieces of unsubstantiated drivel to have emerged as pseudoscience, in a very long time.

Quickly though, let’s do the one thing that pseudoscience aficionados rarely do well; research: first preached in 1796 by one Samuel Hahnemann, with the premise that ‘like cures like’. His ideas were based on Paracelsus’s work in the 16th century, and before that possibly even Hippocrates around 400BCE. Basically, what Samuel postulated was the law of similars; where a thing that causes the symptoms of a disease in healthy people would cure those same symptoms in sick people. So, if you have a cold, you can cure it by taking something that would also give you a runny nose, watering eyes and a sore throat – like a chili pepper.

The other core tenet of Homeopathy is ‘dynamisation’, or serial dilution. Practitioners hold that the more diluted a substance is, the more powerful it becomes. Usually these dilutions are presented at ‘30C’, or 1060 times dilution. For reference, the theoretically maximum possible dilution of anything is one molecule of substance against the entire universe; or 40C. Moreover, in 1L of water, the lowest amount of detectable substance is about 12C. Homeopathic treatments can go up to 200C.

“But wait! You just said -”

We know.

It’s worth pointing out that there isn’t a single well-substantiated piece of evidence even suggesting that homeopathy is anything more than a sham. So, why do people believe in it? We’re going to break down these reasons into three main camps, but they aren’t exclusive groups; people who believe in one camp may very well believe in the others.

The first, and a major one, relies on an appeal to nature. This is the belief that because a substance is naturally derived, like many homeopathic substances, it is better for the human body than something artificial or man-made –  like practically all conventional forms of medicine. Following this faulty logic then, while anti-venoms are almost always particularly artificial and therefore bad, cobras are entirely natural, and should be hugged at all times! This is a depressingly common tactic, ranging outside of ‘traditional’ pseudoscience – ever seen a food packet proudly proclaiming that it’s ‘all-natural’, instead of telling you it’s good, or otherwise why it’s better than its competitors?

Secondly, word of mouth & the placebo effect plays a big role in all of this. For example; “I took this homeopathic remedy, and it cured my flu! Amazing!”. As humans, we instinctively rank personal stories highly when it comes to making our own decisions. It’s a useful trait; it stops us making mistakes other people do. But, as in this example, we can’t make a properly reasoned, informed judgement from a personal story. That’s the reason why eye-witness testimony isn’t considered ultra-reliable evidence any more. That’s why it’s so important that we remember that just because A happened, and then B happened, it doesn’t mean that A caused B to happen. This is almost certainly happening here. Doctors’ recommendations for mild flu are usually just fluid and rest. In most of us it clears up on its own. Taking your homeopathic remedy might appear to work, because your body is already on the way to clearing the infection naturally. Correlation, not causation.

The third, and perhaps the most interesting, are the conspiracists; those who believe that ‘Big Pharma’ are out to silence or otherwise denigrate homeopathy on the grounds of relentless capitalism. In this, they are no different from the other ‘Big Pharma’ that works on GMOs, or the ‘Big Oil’ that quashes solar development, or ‘Big Energy’ which ignores cold fusion. Here, they set themselves up as the underdog, another position we as individuals overwhelmingly take the side of. They set themselves as David against Goliath, fighting the good and righteous fight. For those already sceptical of big business, this is an attractive proposition. It’s related to a distrust of authority, whether that’s distrusting the ‘established science’ or the veracity of official statements. It’s not limited to pseudoscience of course. It’s a core tenet of all conspiracy, and makes about as much sense there as it does in our examples. That is to say, none.

Add in an unhealthy amount of fearmongering (Vaccines cause autism, fluoride makes you stupid, GMO’s will destroy everything), the ability to selectively hear the facts you want to hear, and you have the basis of practically all pseudoscience, from biological (Antivaxxers, Neopanspermia, AIDS denialism, etc.) to physical (false moon landings, climate change denialism, flat earthiers), and beyond into the social sciences.

Now that we’ve given you all the facts, we’ll bet you’re wondering how to fix it; how to change these hearts and minds – how to show them the light. We’d like to say that we can do it through improving education, by engaging in honest debate and discussion and by opening access to science for the layperson. But, until more people make make science more accessible, all we can do is be vigilant. Try to make sure we’re not spreading pseudoscience to people who haven’t heard it yet – to catch those fence-sitters before they make the leap to the wrong side.