How to Convince Someone When Facts Fail

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How to Convince Someone When Facts Fail

Postby Wilberforce » Wed Dec 28, 2016 12:48 pm

How to Convince Someone When Facts Fail

Why worldview threats undermine evidence
By Michael Shermer | Scientific American January 2017 Issue

Have you ever noticed that when you present people with facts that are contrary to their deepest held beliefs they always change their minds? Me neither. In fact, people seem to double down on their beliefs in the teeth of overwhelming evidence against them. The reason is related to the worldview perceived to be under threat by the conflicting data.

Creationists, for example, dispute the evidence for evolution in fossils and DNA because they are concerned about secular forces encroaching on religious faith. Anti-vaxxers distrust big pharma and think that money corrupts medicine, which leads them to believe that vaccines cause autism despite the inconvenient truth that the one and only study claiming such a link was retracted and its lead author accused of fraud. The 9/11 truthers focus on minutiae like the melting point of steel in the World Trade Center buildings that caused their collapse because they think the government lies and conducts “false flag” operations to create a New World Order. Climate deniers study tree rings, ice cores and the ppm of greenhouse gases because they are passionate about freedom, especially that of markets and industries to operate unencumbered by restrictive government regulations. Obama birthers desperately dissected the president's long-form birth certificate in search of fraud because they believe that the nation's first African-American president is a socialist bent on destroying the country.

In these examples, proponents' deepest held worldviews were perceived to be threatened by skeptics, making facts the enemy to be slayed. This power of belief over evidence is the result of two factors: cognitive dissonance and the backfire effect. In the classic 1956 book When Prophecy Fails, psychologist Leon Festinger and his co-authors described what happened to a UFO cult when the mother ship failed to arrive at the appointed time. Instead of admitting error, “members of the group sought frantically to convince the world of their beliefs,” and they made “a series of desperate attempts to erase their rankling dissonance by making prediction after prediction in the hope that one would come true.” Festinger called this cognitive dissonance, or the uncomfortable tension that comes from holding two conflicting thoughts simultaneously.

Two social psychologists, Carol Tavris and Elliot Aronson (a former student of Festinger), in their 2007 book Mistakes Were Made (But Not by Me) document thousands of experiments demonstrating how people spin-doctor facts to fit preconceived beliefs to reduce dissonance. Their metaphor of the “pyramid of choice” places two individuals side by side at the apex of the pyramid and shows how quickly they diverge and end up at the bottom opposite corners of the base as they each stake out a position to defend.

In a series of experiments by Dartmouth College professor Brendan Nyhan and University of Exeter professor Jason Reifler, the researchers identify a related factor they call the backfire effect “in which corrections actually increase misperceptions among the group in question.” Why? “Because it threatens their worldview or self-concept.” For example, subjects were given fake newspaper articles that confirmed widespread misconceptions, such as that there were weapons of mass destruction in Iraq. When subjects were then given a corrective article that WMD were never found, liberals who opposed the war accepted the new article and rejected the old, whereas conservatives who supported the war did the opposite ... and more: they reported being even more convinced there were WMD after the correction, arguing that this only proved that Saddam Hussein hid or destroyed them. In fact, Nyhan and Reifler note, among many conservatives “the belief that Iraq possessed WMD immediately before the U.S. invasion persisted long after the Bush administration itself concluded otherwise.”

If corrective facts only make matters worse, what can we do to convince people of the error of their beliefs? From my experience, 1. keep emotions out of the exchange, 2. discuss, don't attack (no ad hominem and no ad Hitlerum), 3. listen carefully and try to articulate the other position accurately, 4. show respect, 5. acknowledge that you understand why someone might hold that opinion, and 6. try to show how changing facts does not necessarily mean changing worldviews. These strategies may not always work to change people's minds, but now that the nation has just been put through a political fact-check wringer, they may help reduce unnecessary divisiveness.

source
https://www.scientificamerican.com/arti ... book-Share

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Troubling Signs for Science under Trump

The next four years are looking grim for science in America

By Dana Hunter on December 26, 2016

We're getting a clearer picture of how science in America will be treated under Trump. It's horrifying. Our scientific endeavors are under severe threat, as is our environment. Scientists and those who support science have every reason to be concerned about the next several years.

Here's a small taste of what we're dealing with under Trump.

I’m a scientist who has gotten death threats. I fear what may happen under Trump.

I’ve faced hostile investigations by politicians, demands for me to be fired from my job, threats against my life and even threats against my family. Those threats have diminished in recent years, as man-made climate change has become recognized as the overwhelming scientific consensus and as climate science has received the support of the federal government. But with the coming Trump administration, my colleagues and I are steeling ourselves for a renewed onslaught of intimidation, from inside and outside government. It would be bad for our work and bad for our planet.

[snip]

We are afraid that four (possibly eight) years of denial and delay might commit the planet to not just feet, but yards, of sea level rise, massive coastal flooding (made worse by more frequent Katrina and Sandy-like storms), historic deluges, and summer after summer of devastating heat and drought across the country.


We also fear an era of McCarthyist attacks on our work and our integrity. It’s easy to envision, because we’ve seen it all before. We know we could be hauled into Congress to face hostile questioning from climate change deniers. We know we could be publicly vilified by politicians. We know we could be at the receiving end of federal subpoenas demanding our personal emails. We know we could see our research grants audited or revoked.

I faced all of those things a decade ago, the last time Republicans had full control of our government.

Trump's New Website Promises to Devastate Planet Earth

If anyone has any questions left about what Donald Trump's energy plans will do to the climate, just read his brand new website GreatAgain.gov for clarity.

[snip]

With his climate denying cabinet—including Exxon CEO Rex Tillerson as Secretary of State, Rick Perry for Secretary of Energy, and Cathy McMorris Rodgers or U.S. Rep. Ryan Zinke, R-MT, in the running for Secretary of Interior—and a fossil-fuel friendly U.S. House and Senate, it is no understatement to say the Trump is preparing a fossil fuel takeover of the U.S. economy. But the economy won't be the only thing that's taken over. Our public lands, clean air and clean water will face a withering assault.

Another Day, Another Anti-Science Trump Pick For Federal Office

In case you were still wondering about the incoming Trump administration's attitude toward science —and at this point you’d have to live on Mars to not see what's going on— take a look at the person Trump has picked to run the Office of Management and Budget (OMB): Congressperson Mick Mulvaney (R-South Carolina).

As we've seen, Trump's choices for government positions have been anything from grossly unqualified to vocally antagonistic toward the agency they'll be in charge of; for his part Mulvaney says Trump will "restore fiscal sanity back in Washington," which is at best a bizarre proclamation. And of course he’s a climate change denier; that’s de rigeur for nearly every Trump pick.

But he’s more worrisome even than that. As Pema Levy at Mother Jones has written, Mulvaney questions whether government should be funding scientific research.

For more on Mulvaney, please see Snopes.

Trump Adviser Turns the Anti-Science Up to 11

I’ve made something of a career in debunking nonsense when it comes to science, from people who think the Moon landings were faked to hair-on-fire UFOlogists who think every lens flare and dust mote in a photo is the precursor to an alien invasion.

So when I say that Trump’s adviser Anthony Scaramucci just let loose one of the more asinine streams of anti-science garbage I’ve heard, you must appreciate the scale of what I mean.

[snip]

Even if we give Scaramucci the benefit of the doubt here, the context is important; when discussing science and Trump it's important to understand that Trump has enveloped himself in people who are creationists as well as climate change deniers; VP Mike Pence is one, Rick Perry appointed creationists to the Texas State School Board over and again, and Ben Carson said evolution is satanic and the Big Bang is a fairy tale.

For more on Scaramucci, please see Talking Points Memo and Progressive Secular Humanist.

And, finally, more on our old nemesis Betsy DeVos.

Betsy DeVos Is Known For Promoting Vouchers, But Her Take On Charter Schools Also Raises Religious-Liberty Concerns

DeVos’s deregulation approach to charter schools is wrong for America’s schoolchildren for other reasons as well. For example, without sufficient governmental oversight, charter schools may violate parents’ and students’ rights by proselytizing and imposing religious instruction on students and by assigning religious textbooks.

We at Americans United know from experience that this is already happening at charter schools across the country.

Science is going to need our help to survive this regime. We used to be the scientific leaders of the world. If we want to stay in the forefront of scientific advances, we will need to resist Trump and his merry band of anti-science lackeys at every turn. We'll need to speak out for science at every opportunity, demand better of our elected officials, and support our scientists in their work, no matter what it takes.

source
https://blogs.scientificamerican.com/ro ... der-trump/
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