The opinion of George Clooney or Emma Watson on the theory of evolution has more impact than that of biology teachers

Only in the first months of last year, four states in North America studied laws to authorize the teaching of creationist theories in science class. And is that, despite the scientific consensus around Darwinism, human evolution remains a controversial issue in much of the world.

Therefore, many scientists are dedicated to pursuing strategies to better convey evolutionary ideas and make them stop in a reluctant society. It is true that this problem is especially strong in the US where 42% of the population believes that man was created as it is today. But that is precisely what is helping us to learn things: like where a celebrity gets to take off a biology teacher.

Through the New Evolutionary Illustration, I came to a work by Steven Arnocky and his team realized that no research had explored whether the acceptance of evolution could be susceptible to the opinions of other influential people. To study it, they selected 158 subjects to different opinions to see which of them had a greater effect on the population.

On the celebrity side, they chose George Clooney and Emma Watson (who were selected because a previous investigation showed that they met the maximum criteria of social attractiveness). On the side of the academy, they created a prestigious biology professor named George Rooney.

The sample is small and homogeneous, but as exploratory research it seems correct. In addition, the conclusions go in the line of previous investigations. The data indicate that, indeed, the opinion of a celebrity on the evolution influences the social acceptance of the same (more than the one of the experts in the field). It is not a big surprise. We already knew that celebrities can influence the fundamental values ​​and beliefs of people, on important issues, such as political orientation or religious affiliation.

But, more important, what the study points out (and previous ones) is that once the celebrities make a statement, the impact is very difficult to eliminate. "Public statements made by celebrities that contain scientific misinformation continue to exert an influence on people's opinions, even after they have retracted," the authors explain.

That is, the results show that, for better or for worse, celebrities have a fundamental role in the scientific literacy of the general population. In evolution, but also in vaccines, climate change or transgenics, the influence of celebrities seems to be decisive. It is something to keep in mind.

A flaw in the thinking that unites creationists and conspiranoids

Says Steven Pinker in Los Angeles that leads within humanity took a great leap forward when he decided to accept that much of the misfortunes is not behind the will of a God angry with our behavior or the spell of a witch. The English phrase "shit happens" is one of the foundations of civilization. Scientific thought in particular, the idea that "everything happens for a reason" or that something "had to happen". However, they are phrases that are often heard with some frequency.

In a recent article published in the journal Current Biology, a group of researchers led by Sebastian Dieguez, from the University of Freiburg (Switzerland), has tried to understand what is behind this type of thinking flaws and has found a relationship between two Evidence seemingly separate: creationism and theories of conspiracy.

"Both belief systems share a very powerful cognitive bias that we know as teleological thinking," says Dieguez. "It is a way to deal with complex issues but they are easy to understand if we have a distant and last cause that made everything as it is now," he continues. "In the case of creationism, that ultimate cause is God, who created everything as we know it," he adds.

That way of thinking made the appearance of the theory of evolution difficult, because it was a less intuitive way of understanding the world. "The way of thinking that says that trees have leaves to give us shade or that the sun rises to warm us up, seems to be something very intuitive and is the way the brain works spontaneously, seeing that things are good for something", indicates Dieguez. "Small children, for the most part, think like that, whether they are children of a religious family or not. And neither is it a completely stupid way of thinking, because to say that white bears are white to hide in the snow makes sense. That way seems the easiest to assume for the human being, but scientific progress and especially Darwin's theory of evolution has given us another way of seeing reality, "he says.

In previous works that try to understand these ways of thinking, Dieguez had shown that conspiracy is not explained because it is believed that nothing happens by accident. The conspiracy see that the world is complex and that there are random factors in its operation, but still believe that what happens in the world has one or several active minds behind that make it happen with an intention. The researcher from the University of Freiburg saw similarities between this way of thinking and creationism and tried to see if both were related to teleological thought and were related to each other. "Conspiracy is a way of thinking that does not involve a creator god but a group of people identified, but very nebulous, very strange, hidden, that clarifies everything," Dieguez recalls. "Everything you see is an attack or a natural disaster, it seems very complicated, but it is easy to understand if a distant and ultimate cause is the explanation of everything that made it as it is," he concludes.

After studying several groups of people in Switzerland and France from questionnaires, they observed that there was an association between believing in creationism and conspiracy theories. By pointing out this relationship, the authors want to highlight the flaws in this type of theories so that people can detect them. "Conspiracy is a kind of creationism that refers to the social world and knowing it can help to deal with some of the most widespread problems within our post-truth era."

"Creationism is a kind of conspiracy theory because to believe it, you must also believe that scientists or biologists are not only wrong but have a plan to discredit religion and sacred texts. It is a conspiracy against God, "says Dieguez. "On the other hand, conspiracy theories are a form of sociological creationism. As soon as you see something that is spectacular like a terrorist attack or a natural disaster, you are looking for a very clear explanation and a function. That has been seen with the bridge in Genoa. On Twitter and Facebook there are people saying that it is very strange that it happens now when there are certain problems in politics in Italy or France and that it is used to distract people's attention from other problems. Someone managed to make it happen completely perfectly and hidden for something, although it is not clear who did it or for what, "he concludes.