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Why Do We Resist ‘Factfulness’ and Knowledge?

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Why is it that in some situations we are almost immune to information that challenges our assumptions?

Why do so many of us resist well-substantiated claims about vast improvements that have taken place in most places in the world?

Why do we avoid acting on information about unspectacular but relatively high-risk situations, for instance the unhealthy air quality in many cities, road traffic accidents, accidental falls at home, extensive sunbathing, and excessive use of antibiotics? Yet on the other hand, we are like sponges absorbing news about sensational risks that are immensely tragic on the few occasions they materialise in the world, but that are nonetheless extremely unlikely at any given point in time, such as aeroplane crashes, suicide bombings, kidnappings and deadly encounters with sharks?

Knowledge resistance: How we avoid insight from others, a new book by renowned sociologist Mikael Klintman, provides answers to why knowledge resistance takes place, and when.

Typical complaints about fact resistance point out the absurdity of clinging to apparent myths, lies and superstitions. ‘Snap out of it’, ‘be reasonable’, ‘embrace facts’, experts tells us, harking back to ‘common sense complaints’ about knowledge resistance that can be traced back to enlightenment with its championing of observable facts and empirical truths. It is an approach taken by two new bestselling books: Factfulness by Hans Rosling andEnlightenment Now by Steven Pinker. If only we could see past the misinformation spread by social media and the propaganda of politics and big business, we might then take notice of the myriad developments and breakthroughs taking place every day that enhance human progress. All of our individual and collective negativity and anxiety would fall away.

And yet we continue to resist facts and knowledge, despite the evidence talking up the positives. Why is this?

As Mikael Klintman’s book Knowledge resistance: How we avoid insights form others argues, the most important reason we resist knowledge is that humans haven’t evolved by being solely truth-seeking machines – to do so would have made it impossible for our ancestors to survive. Instead knowledge resistance is more hardwired into our being and our social bonds than we previously thought. It’s so ingrained that single individuals often don’t have the power to overcome knowledge resistance. To do so requires much, much more, as the book shows.

Yet in providing tactics that help both communities and individuals recognise knowledge resistance, Klintman also maps out the benefits of knowledge resistance. Think about it: do we really need to know everything in this age of information abundance? Could we redefine resistance as progression and the spark of creativity?

If you’ve read Rosling, Pinker and Kahneman, and want to broaden your understanding of concepts like ‘shallow curiosity’, ‘knowledge loyalty’, ‘knowledge tribes’, this is the book for you. It’s the book that will show you why knowledge resistance is so prevalent in the areas of crime, animal welfare, beliefs, gender, science, health, the environment and politics, explained using a full cavalcade of characters, including Donald Trump, Roald Dahl, the Dalai Lama, Charles Darwin, Richard Dawkins, Soren Kierkegaard, Mike Pence and Karl Marx, and more.

Knowledge Resistance is the book of our times. An essential offering in our striving to overcome mass misinformation, climate change denial and the rise of nationalism, prejudice and division.

‘At all levels of society, our world is becoming increasingly dominated by an inability, even refusal, to engage with others’ ideas. It does not bode well either for democracy or for science. Mikael Klintman’s book offers just the kind of in-depth exploration of the issues that surround this disturbing phenomenon that is desperately needed.’

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