»In times of crisis, people are more prone to esotericism«

…when it turned out that a large part of the psychological studies could not be repeated with the same result – which shook trust in the entire discipline for a long time.

Lamberty: However, the reforms were fundamental, for example with regard to sample sizes or the pre-registration of studies. If you compare research work from 2008 and 2018, you quickly realize that there are worlds between them.

Nocun: Science is not infallible either. Serious actors can be recognized by the fact that they are open to criticism, admit their mistakes and correct them. This is how you gradually get closer to the truth. This openness to learn from mistakes is a principle of good science.

In your book you also mention social movements against the enemies of science with hashtags like #FollowTheScience. But the activists often content themselves with the requirement to “believe” science instead of valuing the fallibility and contradictions of the cognitive process – and in doing so come across as somewhat authoritarian. Aren’t there smarter ways to deal with the esoteric tangle?

Lamberty: Together with my colleague Roland Imhoff, I conducted a study on the esoteric and belief in conspiracies. We asked two different thought patterns: an “analytical”, fact-based style – and a “holistic” style, which is more experience-based and intuitive. Science communication mostly works with the analytical style. That is very close to me personally: when, for example, Christian Drosten explains in the podcast how the corona virus works. But there is a blank space for people who think more holistically. I’m not sure how the problem can be solved well, after all this way of thinking runs counter to how science works. Nevertheless, we should consider how we can better reach people who process the world differently than those in the science editorial offices.

Incidentally, our research work has also shown that frustration with the healthcare system hardly predicts the use of alternative medical procedures. So it’s not just because we’re clumsy!

»Anyone who only regards science as a big conspiracy anyway can no longer be convinced by studies«(Katharina Nocun)

How do I deal with the uncle who keeps falling for esoteric products?

Nocun: Ask yourself: What is the void that these offerings fill, and how can I sanitize it in a healthy way? Especially in times of crisis and situations of loss of control, people are more susceptible to these ideas. Here we should keep an eye on our environment. The earlier you intervene, the sooner you can argue rationally at all. Once you have built up a dualistic worldview and only see science as a big conspiracy anyway, you can no longer be convinced by studies.

Lamberty: But we should always keep a critical eye on ourselves and not just assume that this only happens to others. Maybe I don’t believe in horoscopes or healing stones – but suddenly I’m not quite so critical of a half-baked psychotest. If you start with yourself, you will also become more empathetic in dealing with others.

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