Invited response in Psychological Inquiry by Philip M. Fernbach and Nick Light
Human beings have a remarkable penchant for believing things that are not true. This has always been the case. Ancients believed in nature deities, bloodletting was thought to cure disease for many centuries, and physiognomy, the belief that humans possess the character traits of animals they resemble, fell out of favor only in the late nineteenth century. But there is something new and quite frightening about the current moment. There has always been an optimistic strain in public discourse that has assumed that truth will win out as knowledge and technology advance. After all, modern religions are (arguably) based on less preposterous beliefs than their ancient counterparts, relatively few people in the modern world believe in witchcraft or sorcery, and even science deniers invoke naturalistic explanations for their alternative theories. This optimism was the impetus behind well-intentioned attempts over the past 50 years to increase domain knowledge in areas like science, civics, and economics, with an eye to shaping a more enlightened public (Bodmer, 1985; Miller, 1987; Putnam, 2000). The Internet was promised to be the greatest innovation in this pursuit (Negroponte, 1996, 1998).The massive scale and openness would dramatically increase the flow of information. How could groups possibly maintain demonstrably false beliefs in the face of such information accessibility?