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An interesting effect I've noticed is that certain groups of people seem to accept "folk knowledge" and value it over significantly better founded "formal" or scientific knowledge. In particular this is notable in many discussions of Psychology and vaccinations. Scientific evidence is clearly on one side, but an odd distrust seems to exist for some which makes the unproven or disproven "folk" knowledge more acceptable to them.

This effect seems sort of like Illusory Superiority, but it seems to not quite be that; Illusory Superiority is the tendency of one person to overestimate their own abilities or knowledge. It's possible a number of biases are at work but I can't think of a single one which fully covers what's at work when one outright rejects facts based solely on other sources, rather than one's own experiences or topical knowledge (which certainly influence one's willingness to believe facts).

Is this a known/named effect? Is there anything that drives these oddly specific examples of distrust against logic-based evidence?

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Closely related question (asking about the why instead of the name): What makes people easily subscribe to pseudoscientific theories? – Artem Kaznatcheev Mar 1 '13 at 2:27
I don't think there is anything unusual, from a psychological point of view, about some people instinctively distrusting scientists. Why would they trust scientists by default? Scientists are as liable as anyone else to bias by incentives or their own belief systems. I would guess that folk knowledge is often passed on through personal connections and thus, for some, the source may seem more trustworthy than some scientist they have never met before. – baixiwei Mar 1 '13 at 2:36
@baixiwei I'm not talking distrust of a single scientist, but rather large volumes of throughly proven data. It seems very strange to accept so many scientific things as simple fact (few doubt gravity, the weather, electricity) but certain other things are trumped by folk knowledge for some (vaccines, astrology, homeopathy) – Ben Brocka Mar 1 '13 at 13:39
@Ben Brocka, few people know the details of the evidence, nor are they qualified to judge whether it is "thoroughly proven." Thus, they are forced to rely on other people's assessments of the evidence, to which my earlier comments apply. It would be interesting to know why science is trusted more in some areas than others, but I doubt this reflects a systematic bias in favor of folk science as such. It can be explained more parsimoniously by a general mechanism such as greater skepticism regarding claims - scientific or otherwise - that conflict with existing beliefs or values. – baixiwei Mar 1 '13 at 17:47
Chinn & Brewer (1993) has something so say about this – Jeff Mar 17 '13 at 20:38

This might be a matter of social proof; people generally absorb folk knowledge in a less-impersonal way than formal knowledge (your grandmother says it works, instead of hearing/reading that it might work from a reporter who read the abstract of the paper that says so). I don't know if there has been formal work examining the role of social proof in the acceptance of folk knowledge, though.

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One way to understand why people think this way is to replace the word "scientist" with "industry scientist". I think most of us would not trust a scientific study about smoking funded by the Tobocco Institute, or study on global warming funded by Exxon. The view, as I understand it, of many of the anti-vaxxers is that the studies done showing vaccines are safe were done by the drug companies selling those drugs, and therefore aren't to be trusted. While I disagree with them, I am quite concerned by how much of the testing that is done to determine drug safety and efficacy is carried out by the industry itself, and is therefore prone to conflicts of interest, so I don't consider it a totally crazy point of view.

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