The Fireplace Delusion

February 19, 2012

In a recent post on his blog, Sam Harris presents an interesting example of the refusal to adjust one’s beliefs in the face of solid scientific evidence. He calls it “The Fireplace Delusion.”  Unlike the other cases of intransigence that he has made a career of criticizing, this one has nothing to do with religion. It’s about the refusal to believe (despite clear scientific evidence) that burning wood in campfires or fireplaces is a serious health hazard. The issue is not that the fires might spread (though that too is always a concern) but that the smoke from the fires contains toxins and carcinogens that are inhaled by all of those in the surrounding area. Those he confronts with this evidence are rarely impressed or at all inclined to give up the comfort of an occasional fire on a cold night. Harris presents this example as an analogy so that secular folks can understand what it feels like when science conflicts with one’s cherished beliefs. He also links to the scientific facts concerning the dangers of smoke inhalation: Naeher at al. (2007). Woodsmoke Health Effects: A Review. Inhalation Toxicology, 19, 67-106.


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