No, I’m not proposing homo birtherus, even though sapiens does sound like a counterintuitive label for this bunch. I think that just as chimps and humans share most of the same DNA, birthers are not all that different from the rest of us, varying only in the orientation of their biases, and in the degree that they exhibit some errors in thinking common to us all.
The local village festival, Lymanfest, was held yesterday and for the first time I was in town and able to attend. At such events various groups set up tents and distribute literature. We stopped by one that looked civic minded, but I soon found myself confronted with a climate change denialist. This is not a topic I know a lot about (invoking the Dunning-Kruger effect, I probably know more than I think) and I’m not prepared to go head to head on the street against a practiced partisan without my friend Google to back me up. I said I had seen retreating glaciers in the Andes, and he said the amount of ice in the world was increasing (it isn’t). I moved on.
Previously I mentioned the idea that if someone believes that the government always lies to them, then they will believe anything. Reflecting on my Lymanfest experience, I thought about another excuse to abandon reason: technical complexity. I’m not a climatologist, and neither are most of us. I cannot get deeply into the weeds of the climate change debate. I’m afraid that when some people confront technical complexity that is beyond their training and ability, they take that as a license to believe whatever they want.
This error in thinking is something that I’m not immune to. As for climate change, I have watched the Cosmos documentary episode, “The World Set Free” and was able to follow its argument in favor of climate change. I’ve read NOAA web pages on the topic. I think I’ve been a reasonably responsible thinker on the topic. Still PBS documentaries are part of my automatic comfort zone and my bias. (As I wrote that last bit I was reminded of an article I wrote way back in 1997, “A FAQ about Facts.” I’ve worried about my own bias for along time.) I believe, although I can’t provide any evidence in support, that at least being aware of the errors in thinking we make leads us to make fewer errors.
Readers might, as a diversion, come up with their own proposals for a genus and species for birthers.