How Fear and Loathing Prevents Progress in Science


I recently became aware of the following quote: “There is a principle which is a bar against all information, which is proof against all arguments and which cannot fail to keep a man in everlasting ignorance — that principle is contempt prior to investigation”.

It is often attributed to Herbert Spencer although, at least according to Wikipedia, this is doubtful. That doesn’t matter, since it’s a great quote whoever said it.

It immediately got me thinking, and it wasn’t hard to come up with examples. The most topical is Graham Hancock’s recent series on Netflix, Ancient Apocalypse. His theory has been contemptuously dismissed by archaeologists, despite the (I would say) interesting and compelling evidence he provides, which at least makes it worthy of further contemplation. The depths to which this contempt can sink is exemplified by a bizarre article in the British newspaper The Guardian. The headline was ‘Ancient Apocalypse is the most dangerous show on Netflix’, and the subheading was “a show with a truly preposterous theory is one of the streaming giant’s biggest hits — and it seems to exist solely for conspiracy theorists. Why has this been allowed?

Why, one might reasonably ask, is it considered dangerous and a conspiracy theory to try to establish the truth about the history of the human race? The writer, Stuart Heritage, is not an archaeologist, rather a journalist, so he should be the first to recognise that he is not qualified to make judgments on this issue, given that Hancock’s theory is based on 30 years of intensive research. Needless to say, the article does not offer any evidence to disprove the theory, but remains at the level of abuse. (See also a second Guardian article, which tries to groundlessly associate Hancock with the racism of the Nazis.)

Another obvious example is mainstream science’s physicalist worldview rejecting anything spiritual, supernatural, irrational, or vaguely religious as ‘pseudoscience’. This would especially apply to the rejection of parapsychology, despite the impressive body of evidence confirming it. I could also mention the afterlife and reincarnation, astrology, and divination.

How do we explain such contempt psychologically? Why do some people find outside-the-box ideas so threatening? Is it that their career has been built on an acceptance of the conventional viewpoint? Or is it that they are part of a conspiracy by various authorities determined to cover up the truth? Or is it merely that they have a pathological fear of some kind which holds them in its grip? Whatever the explanation, the description ‘contempt prior to investigation’ certainly fits the bill.

John Ege



I am a singer/songwriter interested in spirituality, politics, psychology, science, and their interrelationships.

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Graham Pemberton

I am a singer/songwriter interested in spirituality, politics, psychology, science, and their interrelationships.