William Hayes is a defensive end for the Los Angeles Rams, and he unwittingly just offered one of the great examples of the flawed mental processes that contribute to climate science denial.
Hayes was videotaped by HBO’s NFL show “Hard Knocks” for an episode on the Rams training camp. The cameras followed him to a museum about dinosaurs. The hitch? Hayes adamantly refuses to believe they ever existed, as ESPN reported last year:
“No, I don’t believe dinosaurs existed,” Hayes said last month. “Not even a little bit. With these bones, it’s crazy because man has never seen a dinosaur, we can agree on that, right? But we know exactly how to put these bones together? I believe there is more of a chance you will find a mermaid than you will a dinosaur because we find different species in the water all the time.
“I don’t understand how [Long] just believes in dinosaurs. That’s just crazy to me. We know they died. We know what a T-Rex eats? That don’t sound crazy to you? We have never seen a dinosaur before but we know exactly where every single rib [was] and which rib goes where. That’s crazy to me.”
For many people (at least those who accept the fossil record), it was presented as comic relief to see him at the dinosaur museum. HBO hasn’t released the full clip but you can see an edited version with some highlights here:
What does this have to do with denying climate science? Well, the same flawed mental processes are at work:
- First, the gut reaction: this scientific explanation just doesn’t sound right. It’s privileging a gut, subjective feeling over objective evidence.
- Second, a complete rejection of any facts or data that contradict this belief. You can watch him simply stare in disbelief and reject out of hand anything the tour guide said, as climate deniers reject data on warming.
- Finally, although it wasn’t shown in the clip, an ability to turn the most contradictory fact into an argument for your belief (i.e. this fossil is so ridiculous that it clearly must be a fake). He even photographed some of the fossils to send to a friend as a way to bolster his case. Similarly, “smart idiots” are great at spinning away climate facts that contradict their beliefs.
Of course, this flawed mental processing isn’t just limited to fossil and climate science denial. Beliefs trump facts in many instances (pun possibly intended), despite the human brain’s generally good track record at making accurate snap decisions. If not, we wouldn’t be such a dominant species.
But unless we make more progress unraveling climate science denial, the other areas of flawed thinking won’t matter much.