So the “believe the science” chorus gives the credentialed mavericks no notice unless it’s to defame them. Apparently, under the believers’ model of science, truth comes down from a secular Mount Sinai (Mount Science?) thanks to a set of anointed scientists, and those declarations are not to be questioned. The dissenters can be ignored because they are outside the elect. How did the elect achieve its exalted station? Often, but not always, it was through the political process: for example, appointment to a government agency or the awarding of prestigious grants. It may be that a scientist simply has won the adoration of the progressive intelligentsia because his or her views align easily with a particular policy agenda.
These statements reflect a real problem of vaccine advocacy. Proponents of the vaccine are unwilling or unable to understand the thinking of vaccine skeptics — or even admit that skeptics may be thinking at all. Their attempts to answer skepticism or understand it end up poisoned by condescension, and end up reinforcing it.
Here’s why your efforts to convince anti-vaxxers aren’t working
People don’t listen to outsiders. They need enlightened insiders to offer them a ladder to climb down
This raises a tough question. The ability to reason is meant to be humanity’s supreme attribute, the characteristic that most sets us apart from other animals. Why, then, has evolution endowed us with a tool so faulty that, if you bought it from a shop, you’d send it back? The French evolutionary psychologists Hugo Mercier and Dan Sperber have offered an intriguing answer to this question. If our reasoning capacity is so bad at helping us as individuals figure out the truth, they say, that’s because truth-seeking isn’t its function. Instead, human reason evolved because it helps us to argue more effectively.
Who gets to define the boundaries of expertise?
Now, I’m all for interdisciplinary collaboration and intellectual modesty, as a general rule. But although Ballantyne raises interesting points and creates food for thought, he fails to make a conclusive case that what he calls “epistemic trespassing” is, on balance, bad for society. And his arguments raise uncomfortable questions that he doesn’t really wrestle with — most importantly, the question of who gets to decide who’s a trespasser.
David Epstein Knows Something About Almost Everything (People I (Mostly) Admire Ep. 35)
Related to the essay above is a podcast episode in which the guest makes similar points about the value of individuals stepping outside their narrow expertise. In particular, around the 11 minute mark the guest talks about Claude Shannon.
This podcast explores the potential cognitive and developmental issues that air pollution can have. The best part of this episode though gets into the very clever methods the researchers employ to find natural “experiments”.
Before listening to selections from this episode it might be interesting to ask students to design a hypothetical experiment to evaluate whether the hypothesis explored in this episode is true and then listen to some of the actual methods employed to then examine why those choices were made.
Of particular interest was a research study discussed around the 26 minute mark in which a government policy in China provided an excellent “natural experiment” to help think about the impact of air pollution. Part of evaluating this topic could also be a discuss of ethics in experimentation when kids ultimately decide that a good experiment would be to pollute the environment of one group and not another to see what happens.
Air pollution is estimated to cause 7 million deaths a year and cost the global economy nearly $3 trillion. But is the true cost even higher? Stephen Dubner explores the links between pollution and cognitive function, and enlists two fellow Freakonomics Radio Network hosts in a homegrown experiment.
What our society is really suffering from is myside bias: People evaluate evidence, generate evidence, and test hypotheses in a manner biased toward their own prior beliefs, opinions, and attitudes. That we are facing a myside bias problem and not a calamitous societal abandonment of the concept of truth is perhaps good news in one sense, because the phenomenon of myside bias has been extensively studied in cognitive science. The bad news, however, is that what we know is not necessarily encouraging.
Science suggests we’re hardwired to delude ourselves. Can we do anything about it?
If I had to single out a particular bias as the most pervasive and damaging, it would probably be confirmation bias. That’s the effect that leads us to look for evidence confirming what we already think or suspect, to view facts and ideas we encounter as further confirmation, and to discount or ignore any piece of evidence that seems to support an alternate view. Confirmation bias shows up most blatantly in our current political divide, where each side seems unable to allow that the other side is right about anything.
Recommendations based on user preferences often reflect the biases of the world—in this case, the diversity problems that have long been apparent in media and modeling. Those biases have in turn shaped the world of online influencers, so that many of the most popular images are, by default, of people with lighter skin. An algorithm that interprets your behavior inside such a filter bubble might assume that you dislike people with darker skin. And it gets worse: recommendation algorithms are also known to have an anchoring effect, in which their output reinforces users’ unconscious biases and can even change their preferences over time.
Trump, a former reality-TV host, beauty pageant organizer and businessman, once called African nations “shithole countries.” But he is now taking a page from African dictators who spread bogus health remedies, like Yahya Jammeh of Gambia, who claimed he could cure AIDS with bananas and herbal potions and pushed his treatments onto the population, resulting in deaths. Trump appeared to suggest injecting bleach and using sunlight to kill the coronavirus. He has also said he has taken hydroxycholoroquine, a drug derived from quinine, a long-known jungle remedy for malaria. Doctors have advised against using the treatment to prevent or treat the coronavirus.