In a previous post, I referred to some research that seemed to indicate that there is a link between having a cynical and distrustful personality and later getting Alzheimer disease. As I explained then, this does not mean that being cynical causes the disease. All it is is a correlation. If anything, it might mean that the same underlying cause leads to both the cynicism and the dementia.
Now there is some more research that seems to indicate that at least one form of hereditary Alzheimer syndrome is beginning to affect the brains of its carriers much earlier in life. There is evidence of brain shrinkage as early as age three in some children with the APOEe4 gene mutation. This mutation is known to make its carrier fifteen times as likely to get dementia as non-carriers. It’s alarming that about fourteen percent of people carry this mutation, and it seems to be implicated in 20-25 percent of Alzheimer cases. Researchers stress, though, that genetics increase the risk, but do not guarantee the result. Interestingly, the APOEe4 gene mutation is also known to make people more susceptible to disease in general. Might it be that we’ll be able to prevent at least some Alzheimer cases by treating some childhood infection? If so, then might it be possible that we’d also see a reduction in cynical, distrustful people?
Mind you, given the implications of potentially altering people’s personalities, and possibly their politics, what are the odds that there will be a huge campaign against the treatment? Or is that too cynical?
I often post on the dangers of ignorance and fallacious reasoning. You can see some examples here, here and here. Science has learned a great deal about our tendencies when it comes to how we perceive reality, and has even been able to categorize the typical errors we make. For example, type I and type II errors. A type I error is detecting an effect that is not present, while a type II error is failing to detect an effect that is present. For a list of the most common logical fallacies, check this list at the University of Idaho. Our tendencies are so predictable and reliable that people can use them to influence our beliefs. Now the science historian, Robert Proctor, has created a new word for the study of this practice. The study of the deliberate spread of ignorance and confusion is agnotology. It’s a combination of agnosis and ontology. If you don’t want to follow the links, agnosis is “not knowing,” or ignorance. Ontology is the philosophical study of being.
The classic example of deliberately creating ignorance and confusion is the campaign by the tobacco industry to hide the dangers of smoking. This was revealed by a secret memo showing how they manufactured doubt and artificial controversy to quash the growing evidence of the danger. The strategy is being used today against the growing evidence of climate change. Keep people ignorant and suggestible to doubt, and create the impression of controversy where there is none.
See this article by Georgina Kenyon at the BBC for more.
— How do people or companies with vested interests spread ignorance and obfuscate knowledge? Georgina Kenyon finds there is a term which defines this phenomenon.
— Proctor explains that ignorance can often be propagated under the guise of balanced debate. For example, the common idea that there will always be two opposing views does not always result in a rational conclusion. This was behind how tobacco firms used science to make their products look harmless, and is used today by climate change deniers to argue against the scientific evidence.
— “This ‘balance routine’ has allowed the cigarette men, or climate deniers today, to claim that there are two sides to every story, that ‘experts disagree’ – creating a false picture of the truth, hence ignorance.”
— Proctor found that ignorance spreads when firstly, many people do not understand a concept or fact and secondly, when special interest groups – like a commercial firm or a political group – then work hard to create confusion about an issue. In the case of ignorance about tobacco and climate change, a scientifically illiterate society will probably be more susceptible to the tactics used by those wishing to confuse and cloud the truth.
Believing in vile nonsense requires a bit of effort. Before you can believe in something utterly ridiculous and hateful, you need to first believe in something seemingly slightly less ridiculous and hateful. The best way to believe in something slightly less ridiculous is firstly to make it a cultural norm, so we stop questioning it, and secondly to make sure you start believing in it before you are capable of fully comprehending the ridiculousness of the belief.
The United States military has declassified Project Blue Book, and converted all the files from about 10,000 cases into 129,491 searchable PDF pages. If you ever wanted to know what they were hiding about UFOs, now is your chance to find out.
Credit USAF – Public domain
You can browse the website, Project Blue Book – Archive Powered by the Black Vault, by year, for the 1940s, 50s and 60s. The projects looking into the UFO phenomenon ran from 1947 to 1969, when it was determined that there was no threat to US national security. It may seem odd that possible visits to this world from another world would be scrutinized for only national interests, but the military isn’t employed to protect the world, only the nation employing it. You can also search the entire database, and freely download any or all of it.
Credit Jim Trottier – CC-BY-SA
So, will this silence the ufologists and conspiracy theorists who have long been accusing the government of hiding evidence of extraterrestrial aliens? Not likely. Any conspiracy theorist worth his salt will just know that if they’re releasing this stuff, then they must be hiding the really good stuff. Right?
Still, that’s a lot of data. I predict that some interesting hypotheses will come out of it.
I don’t think I have the kind of brain that can truly appreciate the deep intricacies of this. Maybe someone can help me out? The original is here if you’d like to go have a look. I don’t know. It just makes me dizzy.-)