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“”I'm superstitious, because people need to believe something, and believe lies when they can't find anything true to believe.
|—Mariano José de Larra, La Nochebuena de 1836|
Credulity is the name of the phenomenon where some people just seem to be champing at the bit to believe anything with only a small amount of questionable evidence. In day to day experience, it is what allows a person to accept the premise of a fictional movie including space flight, time travel, or other naturally incredulous experience. However, credulity is also what allows pseudoscience to flourish. It is marked by a poor understanding of logic and a tendency to be easily swayed by emotional appeals and logical fallacies.
Credulity, like all epistemological systems, is necessarily limited and cannot be both consistent and all-encompassing. This is easily seen as many ideas embraced by those with high credulity also have a wealth of evidence against them. In order to hold onto credulity with one set of ideas, it is often necessary to withhold it from others.
While it might be possible for someone to hold credulity to any idea they are confronted with, causing rapid flip-flopping, most people instead compartmentalize their credulity by embracing some cause du jour. Sometimes this can be a single issue, such as a person embracing astrology and horoscopes while being able to maintain healthy skepticism about other ideas.
In order to keep credulity for an idea (and avoid the cognitive dissonance associated with admitting to being wrong), it is often necessary for a person to embrace a form of extreme pseudoskepticism. For example, someone who has embraced the pseudoscience of homeopathy may buy into any claim by anyone about the magic of water, but then turn around and deny something like the germ theory of disease — no matter how strong the evidence. This odd mixture of credulity and pseudoskepticism may explain why people who embrace woo and other crank ideas are often the most closed-minded of people.
Credulity does not have to be limited to ideas. Often it manifests itself in personality issues, with people embracing complete credulity for their favorite writer, radio shock jock, or even comic strip artist. Fans may reach the point where they believe anything the person says about anything no matter what the evidence is ("Donald Trump says climate change is a Chinese hoax!").[note 1] Credulity can manifest itself in areas far outside of science, even with people who have embraced science, the scientific method, and empiricism having issues of credulity in other venues such as politics or religion.
One of the most lucrative ways to take advantage of credulity is through the use of scams, even transparently obvious and overdone ones like advance fee fraud. It is amazing that people still fall for Nigerian prince scams.
- Do you believe him?