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Why Rational People Believe Irrational Things: Dan Ariely on PYP 575

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Here's this week's guest introducing himself, and sharing a bit of what happened to him over the past couple of years.

My name is Dan Ariely. I'm a social scientist… I work on behavioral change. And when COVID started, I became very popular.

I got lots of questions from lots of governments…

  • Should we do fines?
  • What about distant education?
  • Working remotely?
  • How should we compensate people?
  • How do we reduce domestic violence?
  • What do we do with prisoners?

There were a lot of them, and they were amazing. And I kind of felt I was at the top of my career.

I had two phones. I was trying to answer as many things as possible, and this was going on every day… I stopped everything else. I was doing nothing by answering questions from around the world about how do we create these behavioral changes that we wanted to create, and how do we not create bad ones like domestic violence?

This is happening for a few months, and then all of a sudden I get an email from somebody I once knew. And she said, “Dan, what happened to you?”

And very quickly I said, “What do you mean what happened to me?”

And she sent me a long list of links, and I'll just describe one of them. That link, it showed pictures of me in hospital when I was young.

I was badly burned. Most of my body is covered with scars, including this side of my face. That's why I don't have hair on this side.

Anyway, it shows pictures of me in hospital. True.

It says I was in hospital for three years. True.

70% of my body burned. True.

But then it said that because of that, I started hating healthy people. Not true.

And I joined Bill Gates and the Illuminati, trying to kill as many healthy people as possible. And that's what COVID is about, and that'swhat the vaccine will be about anyway.

There were many links, with not all the same story, but all portraying me as a villain.

And my first reaction was to correct them.

But then I thought better of it, and I decided to consult some friends who are experts in PR… Everybody said the same thing: “Don't talk to them. Don't touch it. Let it go.”

But even though I'm very proud that I went to get advice, I couldn't take that advice. There was something in me that cried for the injustice. Like, here I was,waking up every day trying to do good, and these people were thinking I was doing evil.

And it was impossible for me to accept that they will not be convinced if I only prove things to them…

I called some of them. One of them came to my house. I met with a few other people. I joined online groups. I joined discussion groups, Telegram.

And I failed miserably.

To find out what happened, and why it turned into a book on the personal and social psychology of conspiratorial thinking – ie believing Bullshit – well, that's what we talk about next.

Trigger Warning: The interview was conducted on October 19, 2023, less than two weeks after Hamas massacred and tortured thousands of Israelis, and captured many more. At that point, student protests at many US colleges and universities were expressing support for Hamas's actions – another example of misbelief, given that the Hamas ideology is diametrically opposed to just about every value expressed by the progressive Left. Dan shares some of the gruesome details of that attack. Use your own judgment about whether you are OK with hearing this.


Misbelief, by Dan Ariely

Misbelief website

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You CAN Change Other People!

Well, that's what Peter Bregman and I claim in our provocative book of that title.

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2 comments on “Why Rational People Believe Irrational Things: Dan Ariely on PYP 575

  1. Robyn Chuter says:

    This was the most disturbingly fascinating incarnation of ‘pot, meet kettle’ that I’ve ever encountered. A social scientist who gratuitously dispensed advice on how governments should implement COVID policies that were not only completely non-evidence-based, but ran 180 degrees counter to all previous pandemic preparedness documents, gets bent out of shape because people make up stupid stuff about him. Then he credulously regurgitates atrocity propaganda about beheaded babies and foetuses ripped from pregnant women’s wombs, without even bothering to verify the sources of this propaganda (newsflash: these incidents never happened – see for example; Then he claims that “From the River to the Sea” is definitionally a genocidal slogan devised by Hamas, with the genocidal intent aimed at Jewish Israelis, while failing to mention that “From the River to the Sea” is a policy platform of the Likud party, obviously with the genocidal/ethnic cleansing intention aimed at Palestinians (e.g. see Then, to cap it all off, he blathers on about how terrible it is that Jewish people can’t even be safe ‘in their own country’, without pausing for a beat to acknowledge that ‘their own country’ was stolen, with genocidal intent freely and liberally expressed by its founders (including David Ben-Gurion, Moshe Dayan and Golda Meir), from the Palestinian people, who have not felt safe in THEIR own country since 1948.
    What a perfect example of how utterly corrupted the social sciences are, and why the people that attacked Ariely (in my opinion, foolishly) don’t trust ‘experts’. It’s unfortunate that many such people lack the critical thinking skills to help them distinguish between rational and irrational alternative explanations for phenomena, but people like Dan Ariely are self-evidently the last people on earth who could teach them such skills, being themselves severely lacking in that department.
    Definitely not one of your best interviews, Howard. And by the way, don’t demean yourself by accusing me of antisemitism. There’s a world of difference between harbouring irrational hatred of Jewish people, and expressing legitimate criticism of Zionism and its political embodiment in the Israeli government.

    1. Robyn Chuter says:

      … and colour me shocked, Ariely has been accused of data fraud: I wonder how many of the incidents he recounts in Misbelief actually took place?

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