Myth-Making: Say It Often, People Will Believe


Many psychologists have pointed to a problem all of us have encountered. We believe some things just because we want to think they are true. Psychologist Nicholas DiFonzo adds another element. Humans have a desperate need to make sense out of a world that often seems senseless. We believe, because the alternative seems unacceptable.

And sometimes, especially in politics, it's just convenient to say you believe, even if you don't. How else can you explain so many politicians running for high office, including the presidency of the United States, who deny global climate change in the face of overwhelming evidence? Perhaps their constituents, who have heard over and over that we are partly to blame, can't buy it.

But of all the fields of science, the one that is most plagued by myths is evolution. For openers, evolution is not a theory, it is a fact. The evidence, which critics call lacking, is so powerful that virtually every major research university in the world has a department of evolutionary biology.

The debate among scientists is not over whether Charles Darwin's revolutionary ideas were fundamentally correct. They do debate details, but not the substance.

There are scores of excellent books available to anyone with a curious mind that will lay out the fundamentals of evolutionary science. One of the best is very recent, "Here Be Dragons," by Dennis McCarthy, a researcher at the Museum of Natural History at Buffalo. McCarthy's brilliant work traces the evolution of hundreds of plants and animals around the world, leading to the conclusion that the vast diversity of species could only have occurred through natural selection, or "survival of the fittest," as so apply described by Darwin so many years ago.

Evolution will remain on the front burner among myth-makers in the coming months because some candidates will chose to deny it. Chances are they will say it often, and keep it brief, and their supporters will offer them praise.

But it's ignorance, or cowardice, that will make them do it. It's not all that hard to understand one of the most important discoveries in human history.

So beware the sound bite. Especially if you hear it often.

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