They're Burning the Snow in Texas

Where do beliefs come from?

Posted Feb 24, 2021 | Reviewed by Gary Drevitch

This just in: They are burning the snow in Texas. And when they do, there’s no water. And there’s a black residue that remains. This has led a number of people to postulate a conspiracy theory that the snow isn’t real snow (and I guess that there is no such thing as climate change, and something about the artificial snow maybe being a punishment from Joe Biden and Bill Gates—not really sure I understand that one).

OK.

Hold a candle to a snowball and the snow turns to gas—it’s called sublimation. The phase change just skips the liquid stage. The black residue is from the candle (or more precisely, the remnants of the wick). Why not just leave the snow out in a bowl at room temperature? (Other than that’s not how TikTok works?)

No. Not going to talk about this.

There’s a long literature that suggests that belief revision is hard (including some of my own academic work). There isn’t anything I can say that is going to change someone’s beliefs here. If you believe the snow is an artificial construct from Joe Biden, there’s little I can say that is going to change your mind. I can science the s*** out of this post, and it’s not going to make any difference. Artificial snow in Texas is the next on a long list of conspiracy theories popularized by social media as a way of channeling anger.

So, what does this have to do with child development?  

Flat-Earthers, anti-vaxxers, creationists, climate change-deniers, people who believe that dinosaurs and human beings lived at the same time (is there a name for this?), people who believe that there are “sinister” reasons behind adding fluoride to drinking water, alien abduction testimonies, Bigfoot enthusiasts … the list just keeps growing. Here’s a question: Did people who hold these beliefs always hold them? Did they hold them as children and just never give them up? Or did something else happen that changed the nature of the belief?

Those who hold flat Earth beliefs are probably the most relevant here. Flat Earthers conduct scientific experiments to prove the Earth is flat. So, they believe in the scientific method and controlled experimentation. There’s a Netflix documentary about it; it’s just that the experiments don’t work or are wonderfully misinterpreted with the kinds of auxiliary hypotheses endemic to incorrect theorizing.

There’s a long history in cognitive development that suggests that children have tendencies to believe in a flat Earth—after all, it’s what they directly perceive on a daily basis, and it’s only relatively late in development, through a combination of testimony and direct experience, that children come to the belief that the Earth is round (e.g., Vosniadou, 1994). At issue is that it’s not clear whether that describes all children, or just the majority. So, here’s a question: Do some children just never lose these beliefs, or do children lose them, but as adults come back around to a flat Earth hypothesis because of other factors?

This is a starting point for a longer discussion, but right now I’ve got to go outside and burn some snow, just to make sure that Joe Biden isn’t punishing Rhode Island, too.