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Author Topic:   Facts are Overrated
Percy
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Posts: 17394
From: New Hampshire
Joined: 12-23-2000
Member Rating: 2.0


(1)
Message 1 of 61 (784311)
05-16-2016 2:34 PM


In an editorial in today's New York Times (Trump’s Asymmetric Warfare) Charles M. Blow quotes from a 2010 Boston Globe piece titled How facts backfire:

quote:
"Recently, a few political scientists have begun to discover a human tendency deeply discouraging to anyone with faith in the power of information. It’s this: Facts don’t necessarily have the power to change our minds. In fact, quite the opposite. In a series of studies in 2005 and 2006, researchers at the University of Michigan found that when misinformed people, particularly political partisans, were exposed to corrected facts in news stories, they rarely changed their minds. In fact, they often became even more strongly set in their beliefs. Facts, they found, were not curing misinformation. Like an underpowered antibiotic, facts could actually make misinformation even stronger."

He's mainly talking about politics, but I think it also applies to the creation/evolution debate. If it feels like we're not convincing many creationists then this might explain it: too many facts.

Here's a quote from the Globe piece that many will find familiar, about confidence and knowledge having an inverse relationship:

quote:
"Perhaps more disturbingly, the ones who were the most confident they were right were by and large the ones who knew the least about the topic."

The piece also introduces, at least for me, a new term for "confirmation bias":

quote:
"If we believe something about the world, we are more likely to passively accept as truth any information that confirms our beliefs, and actively dismiss information that doesn’t. This is known as “motivated reasoning.”"

--Percy


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Tangle
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Joined: 10-07-2011
Member Rating: 2.3


Message 2 of 61 (784313)
05-16-2016 3:09 PM
Reply to: Message 1 by Percy
05-16-2016 2:34 PM


It was the same when end-of-times predictions failed. Believers just carried on as though it didn't matter. In the case of JWs in the 40s, with stronger beliefs.

Apart from the apocalypse stuff which was pretty binary and as factually and obviously wrong as it's possible to be, there are also always alternative arguments which can be hung on to. It's usually quite hard to prove something absolutely wrong, not matter how weak the counter argument.

In the UK we're in the process of having a referendum on leaving the EU. Each and every statistical 'fact' has an equal and opposite rebuttal. This process allows people to 'go with their gut'. And some people's guts are pretty unpleasant.

Motivated reasoning is cute.


Je suis Charlie. Je suis Ahmed. Je suis Juif. Je suis Parisien.

Life, don't talk to me about life - Marvin the Paranoid Android

"Science adjusts it's views based on what's observed.
Faith is the denial of observation so that Belief can be preserved."
- Tim Minchin, in his beat poem, Storm.


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Modulous
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Message 3 of 61 (784314)
05-16-2016 3:11 PM
Reply to: Message 1 by Percy
05-16-2016 2:34 PM


The Science Of Why We Don’t Believe Science also exists for additional reading material.
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Tangle
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From: UK
Joined: 10-07-2011
Member Rating: 2.3


Message 4 of 61 (784317)
05-16-2016 4:00 PM


Motivated reasoning is pretty much an exact description of every post Faith has made here.

Je suis Charlie. Je suis Ahmed. Je suis Juif. Je suis Parisien.

Life, don't talk to me about life - Marvin the Paranoid Android

"Science adjusts it's views based on what's observed.
Faith is the denial of observation so that Belief can be preserved."
- Tim Minchin, in his beat poem, Storm.


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Percy
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Posts: 17394
From: New Hampshire
Joined: 12-23-2000
Member Rating: 2.0


(1)
Message 5 of 61 (784323)
05-16-2016 5:29 PM
Reply to: Message 4 by Tangle
05-16-2016 4:00 PM


But given the power of "confirmation bias" or "motivated reasoning" or whatever we want to call it, I wonder how well it could be argued that being right is almost accidental, at least for your average person. It might help explain the fits and starts and advances and regresses of human progress.

This reminds of the discussion in the PC Gone Too Far thread about military memorials where we discussed how much blame could be cast at people for conforming to and taking up the mores of their time and place in human history.

--Percy


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NoNukes
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Posts: 10730
From: Central NC USA
Joined: 08-13-2010
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Message 6 of 61 (784326)
05-16-2016 8:21 PM
Reply to: Message 5 by Percy
05-16-2016 5:29 PM


How so? I don't believe that discussion turned on a disagreement about facts but rather on what concerns each side valued over other concerns. Is there some way we can point to that discussion and say that some folks had biases that they merely confirmed during discussion?

Any of us could certainly cite concerns where lefties (who seem to make up a larger portion of the vax deniers) and righties (who seem to make up a larger portion of the climate deniers) appear to be looking at only facts tht confirm their position. But not every dispute that breaks down along ideological lines can be explained away in such a way.


Under a government which imprisons any unjustly, the true place for a just man is also in prison. Thoreau: Civil Disobedience (1846)

History will have to record that the greatest tragedy of this period of social transition was not the strident clamor of the bad people, but the appalling silence of the good people. Martin Luther King

If there are no stupid questions, then what kind of questions do stupid people ask? Do they get smart just in time to ask questions? Scott Adams


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jar
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From: Texas!!
Joined: 04-20-2004
Member Rating: 1.4


(1)
Message 7 of 61 (784328)
05-16-2016 8:43 PM


the problem with facts ...
The time is the mid-sixties and the debate over the Vietnam War just beginning.

A couple of us were arguing over what public reaction really demonstrated and so decided we would take a random on the street survey. Being in a college town surveys and petitions were not all that unusual and so who would notice one more.

The survey was on Foreign Policy and there were two parts:

the first part pointed out that the US was involved in a war in Vietnam and opposed by Vietnamese. Should we withdraw and let the Vietnamese decide what government they wanted?

the second part pointed out that our Allies from World War II the French had asked for our aid to stop a communist takeover of French Indochina. Should we go to the aid of our Allies in French Indochina?

The majority of the respondents said we should withdraw in Vietnam and aid our French allies in French Indochina.


Anyone so limited that they can only spell a word one way is severely handicapped!

  
Coyote
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Joined: 01-12-2008
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(2)
Message 8 of 61 (784333)
05-16-2016 10:17 PM


Heinlein, on facts
Heinlein writes:

What are the facts? Again and again and again--what are the facts? Shun wishful thinking, ignore divine revelation, forget what “the stars foretell,” avoid opinion, care not what the neighbors think, never mind the unguessable “verdict of history”--what are the facts, and to how many decimal places? You pilot always into an unknown future; facts are your single clue. Get the facts!

Heinlein also writes:

Piling up facts is not science--science is facts-and-theories. Facts alone have limited use and lack meaning; a valid theory organizes them into far greater usefulness. ... A powerful theory not only embraces old facts and new but also discloses unsuspected facts.


Religious belief does not constitute scientific evidence, nor does it convey scientific knowledge.

Belief gets in the way of learning--Robert A. Heinlein

In the name of diversity, college student demands to be kept in ignorance of the culture that made diversity a value--StultisTheFool

It's not what we don't know that hurts, it's what we know that ain't so--Will Rogers

If I am entitled to something, someone else is obliged to pay--Jerry Pournelle

If a religion's teachings are true, then it should have nothing to fear from science...--dwise1

"Multiculturalism" demands that the US be tolerant of everything except its own past, culture, traditions, and identity.


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NoNukes
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Posts: 10730
From: Central NC USA
Joined: 08-13-2010
Member Rating: 1.9


Message 9 of 61 (784335)
05-16-2016 11:34 PM
Reply to: Message 8 by Coyote
05-16-2016 10:17 PM


Re: Heinlein, on facts
Piling up facts is not science--science is facts-and-theories. Facts alone have limited use and lack meaning; a valid theory organizes them into far greater usefulness. ... A powerful theory not only embraces old facts and new but also discloses unsuspected facts

When I read the title, I thought the topic was about the observation in your Heinlein quote. It is true that accumulated facts are not science. Even if creation as described in Genesis was an accurate description of how the universe came to be, the story without the theory and evidence simply is not science. That is a point that could have been made in Bertot's thread.


Under a government which imprisons any unjustly, the true place for a just man is also in prison. Thoreau: Civil Disobedience (1846)

History will have to record that the greatest tragedy of this period of social transition was not the strident clamor of the bad people, but the appalling silence of the good people. Martin Luther King

If there are no stupid questions, then what kind of questions do stupid people ask? Do they get smart just in time to ask questions? Scott Adams


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Percy
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Posts: 17394
From: New Hampshire
Joined: 12-23-2000
Member Rating: 2.0


Message 10 of 61 (784346)
05-17-2016 7:11 AM
Reply to: Message 6 by NoNukes
05-16-2016 8:21 PM


NoNukes writes:

Is there some way we can point to that discussion and say that some folks had biases that they merely confirmed during discussion?

My point wasn't directed at the discussion's participants but at its subject. Expressing what I said differently, if facts barely matter and being right is accidental then the positions of the North and South on slavery likely had little to do with facts. In that case neither can take credit for being right or blame for being wrong.

--Percy


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ringo
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Posts: 14752
From: frozen wasteland
Joined: 03-23-2005
Member Rating: 1.7


Message 11 of 61 (784353)
05-17-2016 11:50 AM


Facts are just part of the conspiracy to cover up The Truth.
  
Blue Jay
Member (Idle past 527 days)
Posts: 2843
From: You couldn't pronounce it with your mouthparts
Joined: 02-04-2008


Message 12 of 61 (784354)
05-17-2016 1:12 PM
Reply to: Message 1 by Percy
05-16-2016 2:34 PM


Hi, Percy.

This is one of the most depressing things I've learned recently in science. A little over a year ago, I read an article (which I can't remember off the top of my head right now) that found basically the same thing, only it was more specific to the areas of conservation and pest management, which matter a lot to me.

The basic moral of the story was that teaching facts to people only confused them, and made them more likely to just ignore the science and care less about conservation and the environment.

Based on this information, it's easy to conclude that the science I do is pretty much useless, because my efforts to communicate it with the end users does not result in internalization or improvement of the ways things operate.


-Blue Jay, Ph.D.*

*Yeah, it's real

Darwin loves you.


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Stile
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Posts: 3189
From: Ontario, Canada
Joined: 12-02-2004
Member Rating: 1.6


Message 13 of 61 (784359)
05-17-2016 2:13 PM


The Bright Side
I think this is a part of the average human, and always has been. Possibly (but not necessarily) always will be.

For the most part, the majority of people will act like this.

The bright side is that the world does not require the majority of people to agree in order to change or move forward.
It only requires it's leaders to understand those things.

Sometimes those leaders are the non-majority, non-average humans who do understand facts, do learn from them, and do make decisions that will impact humanity for the better.

These are the times where progress happens in leaps-and-bounds.
Then, the majority, average humans are all taken along for the ride and, basically, forced to accept the new paradigm via rules/laws/charters-of-rights/...
When the leaders are average humans, we get very little progress. Sometimes for very extended periods of time. But, because the average human doesn't like facts but likes to "stay where they are"... we don't regress (much), either.

Here's hoping for non-average leaders!

...or something like that?


    
NoNukes
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Posts: 10730
From: Central NC USA
Joined: 08-13-2010
Member Rating: 1.9


Message 14 of 61 (784371)
05-17-2016 4:36 PM
Reply to: Message 10 by Percy
05-17-2016 7:11 AM


, if facts barely matter and being right is accidental then the positions of the North and South on slavery likely had little to do with facts.

I disagree with the idea that the facts did not matter or barely mattered. The positions of the two sides on slavery had much to do with the facts. In fact I would offer that there was little to no disagreement on the facts or of their implication.

The course of the country under after about 1840 was leading to a complete political domination of the South by the Northern states, with the question of slavery's expansion (or lack thereof) into new territories being tightly wound around that domination. The question of whether slavery was good or evil was not the important question, but instead the question was about whether new states would be free or slaveholding, thus disturbing a precarious balance between the two quite distinct parts of the country. Beyond the political balance, there was the financial implication of free non slaving folk trying to compete against slave labor in the free territories. Also, slave holding states often moved their slaves west ward when they attempted to flee. Having the new territories being free would have uncapped that safety valve.

Of course there were lots of aggravating circumstances and I don't want to turn this into a discussion of civil war history. Let me just suggest the facts mattered immensely and dominated the politics of the antebellum era. We can look back on that era now and overlay the evil of slavery on top of those issues. But there is not much point in doing that because for the most part the civil war was not about abolition at all.

In that case neither can take credit for being right or blame for being wrong

Right or wrong about what? About slavery?

I respectfully disagree. The justifications for slavery given by the South don't stand up to even the lightest moral scrutiny and plenty of people recognized that even prior to the early 19th century. I fully credit the positions of those who found a way to go about their lives without relying on that institution.

I would make the same observation about people who deny global warming, and that's based on current views of right and wrong and not some look back from the future. One side has facts on their side and the other has anti-facts.

Edited by NoNukes, : No reason given.


Under a government which imprisons any unjustly, the true place for a just man is also in prison. Thoreau: Civil Disobedience (1846)

History will have to record that the greatest tragedy of this period of social transition was not the strident clamor of the bad people, but the appalling silence of the good people. Martin Luther King

If there are no stupid questions, then what kind of questions do stupid people ask? Do they get smart just in time to ask questions? Scott Adams


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 Message 10 by Percy, posted 05-17-2016 7:11 AM Percy has responded

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nwr
Member
Posts: 5579
From: Geneva, Illinois
Joined: 08-08-2005


Message 15 of 61 (784389)
05-17-2016 6:41 PM
Reply to: Message 12 by Blue Jay
05-17-2016 1:12 PM


The basic moral of the story was that teaching facts to people only confused them, and made them more likely to just ignore the science and care less about conservation and the environment.

Based on this information, it's easy to conclude that the science I do is pretty much useless, because my efforts to communicate it with the end users does not result in internalization or improvement of the ways things operate.


Don't be discouraged.

The fact (oops, there's that word) is that we are a social species. People are greatly influenced by others in their social group. But facts do penetrate into those social groups. It can be slow, but it still happens over time.


Fundamentalism - the anti-American, anti-Christian branch of American Christianity

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