Why do people and groups ignore, deny and resist knowledge about society’s many problems? In a world of ‘alternative facts’, ‘fake news’, and ‘fact resistance’ that some believe could be remedied by ‘factfulness’ or ‘enlightenment’, the question has never been more pressing. Following years of ideologically polarised debates on this topic, the book seeks to further advance our understanding of the phenomenon of knowledge resistance by integrating insights from the social, economic, and evolutionary sciences. In current debates and studies, several vital factors are downplayed: that all people and institutions – even science – occasionally resist knowledge while calling their resistance ‘scepticism’, that knowledge resistance is not always irrational, that facts don’t equal truth, and that knowledge claims continuously need to be re-evaluated. Ignoring such key factors undermines the chances of reducing problematic knowledge resistance. Examples used in the book include controversies over climate change, the roots of violence, gender roles, religion, child-rearing, vaccination, genetically modified food, and artificial intelligence. In addition to accessible discussion of the scholarly literature and media sources, in-depth interviews with other renowned human scientists in the UK about their perspectives on knowledge resistance contribute to understanding this intriguing phenomenon. Moreover, the author shares his personal experiences of cultural clashes between different knowledge claims. The book is written for the educated public, students, and scholars interested in how people and groups handle knowledge controversies, and how such disputes can be resolved in the service of better managing the urgent social, environmental, and health-related problems of today.
materialise in the world, but that are nonetheless extremely unlikely at any given point in time. These include aeroplane crashes, suicide bombings, kidnapping, and lethal encounters with snakes.
The typical complaints about what is usually called ‘factresistance’ point to the absurdity of clinging to apparent myths, lies, and disproportionate worries: if people could only pull themselves together and be more reasonable, if they could only use some healthy scepticism and embrace all of the accurate facts, these complaints contend, imagine how
media, public debate, and even scholarly writings – are also highlighted.
Sceptical – the opposite of knowledge resistant
Whereas factresistance overlaps with knowledge resistance, scepticism is the opposite. We have all witnessed – and perhaps felt – the infuriation expressed in media worldwide about disrespect of knowledge. Most of us might agree that scepticism regarding claims of having the most reliable knowledge is a good thing; this can be referred to as ‘sound scepticism’. It seems right, for
missed in the public debate and in many previous writings about factresistance. To some people it might be good to resist specific health information through genetic screening or the like. Some people have been shown to prefer to avoid learning about genetically based prognoses relating to their lives. This could be a preference for some individuals in cases where they cannot reduce their risk of contracting a disease or would have to make immensely tricky decisions under additional uncertainty if they were given such information. It can also be beneficial in
When something needs to be done
So far, we have learned how and why people in all cultures sometimes resist knowledge. This understanding already exceeds by far the insight gained from merely following the one-sided, common-sense approach in the public debate about ‘factresistance’ among ‘the others’, whoever they might be. Also, we have seen many examples where knowledge resistance doesn’t need to be an entirely bad thing. A significant share of the population reports feeling better by resisting some
consensus that seems to contradict any writing in the Bible, should be rejected. 13
The social function of knowledge
Discussions about factresistance often end by recognising these differences between science and religion. However, if we find not only differences but also similarities between these two seemingly extreme opposites, we’ll have moved towards a more thorough understanding of culture-based knowledge resistance.
Sociology and cultural anthropology identify at least two
where scientists disagree with each other. This will help us see the subtler mechanisms of knowledge resistance. These are rarely given sufficient space in the polarised, public debate about ‘factresistance’, ‘denial’, and ‘post-truth’.