What even is a “Degenerative Research Program” or DRP for short? First, you need to understand how it is related to a normal research program. We all (probably) learned the scientific method in some form during early education. 1. Make a guess 2. Test for evidence 3. Conclude. I think that lot of people’s thoughts about their beliefs follow this pattern of thinking, although most, including myself, typically skip the first two steps for established ideas. In fact, most things we accept as fact skip straight to the last step. Things like gravity, the sun, the moon not being made out of cheese. Concepts that might take too much time, or require too many resources for a normal person to investigate are typically the topics that people skip to the third step and accept whatever existing conclusions are out there.
But why is this important? Well it’s because the process of turning evidence into conclusions is the basis for (almost) everyone’s method of thinking. However, there is a key part that I left out of the scientific method summary; adjusting beliefs. That’s because adjusting beliefs isn’t something that people actually do that often. I’m not necessarily talking about high concepts like political theory or science, but even little things like “which route to the grocery store is the faster one”. Once people accept their beliefs, it’s challenging to either change your own or other’s beliefs. It’s even more difficult when the adjustment is an about face in terms of ideas from the existing, but even so, people do adjust their beliefs.
Obviously though, there are people that don’t adjust their beliefs. But, there are those who go a step further and continue to seek out evidence that only supports their line of thinking. This is what is classified as a DRP, only gathering evidence that supports the conclusion while ignoring any contrary evidence. Going back to the grocery store example, it’d be like telling your friend that route B is actually faster than their route A, but they respond with some anecdote about how the time they used B it was slower. That’s a pretty harmless example of DRP thinking, especially because with things like travel routes, sometimes people just do what they’re more used to, which isn’t DRP thinking. The danger of DRP thinking is when it seeps into larger discussions such as science. Flat-Earthers have been around for decades and are widely viewed as a laughing-stock, especially when they spend their own money to prove the Earth is round again. But they keep on moving forwards because they ignore the disproving evidence. Vaccines are another example of DRP thinking causing large real world damage. With the countless studies proving that vaccines are mostly safe, there is still a large hold out of anti-vaxers who are responsible for multiple previously thought eradicated diseases to start spreading again.
However, as mentioned earlier not all DRP thinking is as harmful as the anti-vaccine movement or other dangerous conspiracies. The DRP method can be summarized as the rejection of contrary evidence for a conclusion. It can be small things like the grocery store route or even video game related. But recognizing when we’re following the DRP method for anything and then shifting back towards the proper scientific way is how we can prevent threats to public health or safety like conspiracies from growing.