An Expert’s an Expert Only When We Agree

In the face of information that is contradictory to our beliefs, not only do we reinforce our position, but we also question the credibility of the source itself.

In a study showing that we only agree that there is scientific consensus if that consensus agrees with our viewpoint, researchers from the Cultural Cognition Project also found that if an expert’s opinion is antithetical to our own, we consider them to be objectively less knowledgeable, credible and trustworthy than their peers.

It seems that expert opinion is only expert opinion when it agrees with our opinion. This study found that people more readily count someone as an expert when that person endorses a conclusion that fits their cultural predispositions. The study calls this cultural cognition — individuals tend to form perceptions of risk that reflect and reinforce one or another idealized vision of how society should be organized. Thus, according to the study, generally speaking, persons who subscribe to individualistic values tend to dismiss claims of environmental risks, because acceptance of such claims implies the need to regulate markets, commerce, and other outlets for individual strivings.