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Science

Beliefs Conform To Cultural Identities 629

Posted by samzenpus
from the I-know-what-I-know dept.
DallasMay writes "This article describes an experiment that demonstrates that people don't put as much weight on facts as they do their own belief about how the world is supposed to work. From the article: 'In one experiment, Braman queried subjects about something unfamiliar to them: nanotechnology — new research into tiny, molecule-sized objects that could lead to novel products. "These two groups start to polarize as soon as you start to describe some of the potential benefits and harms," Braman says. The individualists tended to like nanotechnology. The communitarians generally viewed it as dangerous. Both groups made their decisions based on the same information. "It doesn't matter whether you show them negative or positive information, they reject the information that is contrary to what they would like to believe, and they glom onto the positive information," Braman says.'"
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Beliefs Conform To Cultural Identities

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  • by Ethanol-fueled (1125189) * on Thursday February 25, 2010 @12:08AM (#31268398) Homepage Journal
    The summary:

    "This article describes an experiment that demonstrates that people don't put as much weight on facts as they do their own belief about how the world is supposed to work.

    Which is why religion and all other straight-faced magical thinking should be abolished. That would reveal a big chunk of the world's assholes who can no longer point to the cross or to the Qur'an as justification for their actions.

    The articles wisely cite valid questions concerning real-life phenominae. That's healthy debate, and it's a sign that hummanity is capable of "moving on". But there still a large number of "my god is better than your god" nyah-nyahs whose idea of healthy debate is killing others who don't agree with them rather than thinking.

    Abolishment of religion won't solve all problems, but it has the highest ratio of simplicty-of-suggestion to worldwide-problems-solved.

    • by RightwingNutjob (1302813) on Thursday February 25, 2010 @12:16AM (#31268440)
      Worked out great for the Soviets.
      • by c6gunner (950153) on Thursday February 25, 2010 @01:03AM (#31268698)

        Worked out great for the Soviets.

        Wow, you're the first right-wing-nutjob I've met who can openly admit that. I'm impressed! You're SO going on my friends list!

        • Re: (Score:3, Informative)

          by h4rm0ny (722443)

          Don't you love it when you get modded Flamebait by people who can't even notice obvious details... like usernames.
      • by gweihir (88907) on Thursday February 25, 2010 @12:12PM (#31272924)

        The soviets did not abolish religion, they founded their own and it was so much better that the others that they did not even call it a religion anymore!

        Talking to some people that were brought up in this system is realy enlightening.

        On the subjetct matter, most people like to copy what others do, think, believe instead of coming up with their own understanding and optinion. It is perfectly understandable if you look at what frequently happens to those that actually understand what is going on and find themselves alone with their standpoint. The human race even had to invent a special, protected caste for these people, called "scientists".

        Unfortunately most people do not understand that scientists are people that do not place their opinion first, but what they actually see. If you look at mentally degraded people like the creationists, for example, they still belive science deals with opinions. You find that in a lot of places and especially in politics and religion. Don't like a scientifit result? Ignore it! Unfortunately the chances are pretty good that you are ignoring the truth.

    • by bmo (77928) on Thursday February 25, 2010 @12:17AM (#31268446)

      >Which is why religion and all other straight-faced magical thinking should be abolished

      As if religion is the only place this occurs or the only reason why people think what they think.

      I put it to you that some fringes of environmentalism are *exactly* like religions.

      --
      BMO

      • by TapeCutter (624760) * on Thursday February 25, 2010 @12:28AM (#31268510) Journal
        The fringes of any *ism are dogmatic, that's why they're on the fringes.
      • by The Famous Brett Wat (12688) on Thursday February 25, 2010 @01:02AM (#31268694) Homepage Journal

        As if religion is the only place this occurs or the only reason why people think what they think.

        You start well, but you don't go far enough. It's not just "fringe environmentalism" and other fringes where this is a problem. It's a pervasive problem throughout human thinking generally, and it is just as likely to impact mainstream science as it is the fringes. To compound the problem, humans are notoriously blind to their own biases, tending to think that their evaluation of matters is rather objective and well-founded, and that any reasonable person should come to the same conclusions. This is why people are inclined to label those with radically different views as either mentally incompetent or maliciously deceptive. These two factors intertwine: most people want to believe they are right, and so selectively see the evidence supporting the hypothesis that they are.

        The grandparent post used the term "magical thinking" -- a term that I associate with Dr Wallace Breen from Half Life 2. I submit that "magical thinking" is just a rationalist pejorative applied to the thought processes of those with whom they disagree. In other words, "magical thinking" is what those people do: the people who hold fast to some ridiculous theory. After all, thinks the rationalist, I used evidence and reasoning and came to a totally different conclusion, so their methods must consist of woolly thinking at best.

        So long as everyone is just arrogant enough to assume that their own reasoning is pretty darn reliable, this problem will persist. Maybe we should all practice a little more recreational sophistry in the hope that it will teach us to take our own straight-faced in-earnest theories a little less seriously.

        • To compound the problem, humans are notoriously blind to their own biases, tending to think that their evaluation of matters is rather objective and well-founded, and that any reasonable person should come to the same conclusions.

          Or, to put it more briefly, most people have the problem of thinking that "I came to my world view logically and it makes perfect, logical sense to me. Therefore, it must be true and anyone who disagrees is illogical." It's very frustrating to deal with people like that.

        • by Ethanol-fueled (1125189) * on Thursday February 25, 2010 @01:26AM (#31268822) Homepage Journal

          So long as everyone is just arrogant enough to assume that their own reasoning is pretty darn reliable, this problem will persist...

          I just added rightwingnutjob as a friend because the rest of his comments made sense to me, even if I don't always agree with him. Same with Moryath and a few others.

          Maybe we should all practice a little more recreational sophistry in the hope that it will teach us to take our own straight-faced in-earnest theories a little less seriously.

          "It is the mark of an educated mind to be able to entertain a thought without accepting it."
          -- Aristotle

          It's all cute when we're on slashdot and we can mentally masturbate all night long. But while there are people knocking on my door tryng to get me to turn to Jesus, people in congress voting for stem-cell research bans, legislators in my country asking to give creationism and "intelligent" design* as much face-time as evolution in science as opposed to philosophy classes, then I can say with a straight face that religion is a problem more than it is a romantic set of ideas; even if its idealogues aren't bombing my busses.

          * My nipples, for example.

          • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

            by pengin9 (1595865)

            But while there are people knocking on my door tryng to get me to turn to Jesus, people in congress voting for stem-cell research bans, legislators in my country asking to give creationism and "intelligent" design* as much face-time as evolution in science as opposed to philosophy classes, then I can say with a straight face that religion is a problem more than it is a romantic set of ideas; even if its idealogues aren't bombing my busses.

            I'd say you've proven the point of this article, your religious beliefs prevent you from accepting alternate arguments based more on your beliefs than actual facts. remember the great song lyrics, if you choose not to decide you still have made a choice. really I believe there is no way to be completely impartial towards an idea, but if we at least try to view both sides of the argument as fairly as we can, we can at least come to a better and firmer grasp of why we have beliefs in the first place, or hop

            • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

              by sonicmerlin (1505111)

              Good false compromise there buddy:

              An individual demonstrating the false compromise fallacy implies that the positions being considered represent extremes of a continuum of opinions, and that such extremes are always wrong, and the middle ground is always correct [1] . This is not always the case. Sometimes only X or Y is acceptable, with no middle ground possible. Additionally, the middle ground fallacy allows any position to be invalidated, even those that have been reached by previous applications of the

              • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

                by KDR_11k (778916)

                Generally if an argument includes a "global conspiracy" (like a "global conspiracy to destroy the American economy" or a "global conspiracy to destroy technological advance") we can safely dismiss it. Conspiracies are harder and harder to maintain the bigger the number of involved people becomes and involving 90% of the globe would be impossible. Besides, if the rest of the world wanted to destroy the American economy wouldn't a trade war work better than appealing to the ethics of politicians?

                • Re: (Score:3, Interesting)

                  by joeyspqr (629639)
                  a 'conspiracy' that 90% of the group being discussed participate in would be 'the majority culture'
                  60% is 'a mandate' 30% is 'a political party'
            • by bit9 (1702770) on Thursday February 25, 2010 @04:25AM (#31269680)

              I'd say you've proven the point of this article, your religious beliefs prevent you from accepting alternate arguments ...

              I'd say you missed the point of the article, which was not that all viewpoints are equally valid, and that therefore, the only mechanism by which Person A could possibly dismiss Person B's viewpoint is by being blinded by his own biases. The point of the article was that people will ignore facts that don't jive with their own biases. In the case of the grandparent dismissing Christianity, exactly what facts has he ignored? There are no facts that support religion. Religion is based purely on faith, and survives only through indoctrination, not by any preponderance of facts or evidence.

              Yet, you've managed to interpret TFA as meaning that anybody who dismisses another's ideas and/or beliefs, regardless of their rationale for doing so, is guilty of succumbing to their own biases. This implies that there is no such thing as a logical basis for dismissing an idea, which necessarily means that all ideas are equally valid. And since there are many conflicting ideas, this also implies, somewhat paradoxically, that all ideas are equally invalid. In other words, it's all relative, there is no such thing as truth, and basically, anything goes (except for dismissing someone else's idea, that is).

              I'm sure that this is not, in fact, the meaning you intended, but it is the logical conclusion of what you said. Yes, "try[ing] to view both sides of the argument as fairly as we can" is a good thing, indeed. But at some point, you have to allow for there to be disagreement, or else it just devolves into the morass of relativism I described above, which means, for instance, that ancient beliefs about volcanoes and earthquakes being caused by angry gods are just as "correct" as the modern science of plate-tectonics. That's a bunch of crap, if you ask me. But then, I suppose you could just conveniently counter that I'm only dismissing the "angry gods" theory because I'm blinded by my own biases regarding plate-tectonics.

              Further, you assert that the grandparent's views on religion are "based more on [his] beliefs than actual facts", which blindly assumes that you know what his line of reasoning was, even though he did not address that in his post. Calling someone out on their poor reasoning skills and their closed-mindedness, when you have in fact assumed (i.e., completely fabricated) what his line of reasoning was, and are apparently no more open to his religious beliefs than he is to yours? Really??? That just reeks of hypocrisy!

              • Re: (Score:3, Interesting)

                by Aceticon (140883)

                Yes, "try[ing] to view both sides of the argument as fairly as we can"

                Actually as an interesting side note, looking at an argument as having two sides is a self-imposed mental restriction of cultural origin (I bet you're from the US :))

                In fact, in most arguments neither side is fully right: if you notice, discussions where two people are discussing something with the intent of reaching a destination instead of winning points will often end with a conclusion which does not exact match the inital argument of

                • by Hognoxious (631665) on Thursday February 25, 2010 @09:14AM (#31271086) Homepage Journal

                  In fact, in most arguments neither side is fully right: if you notice, discussions where two people are discussing something with the intent of reaching a destination instead of winning points will often end with a conclusion which does not exact match the inital argument of any of them.

                  Initial POV 1: God exists.
                  Initial POV 2: God does not exist.
                  [discussion]
                  Conclusion: God exists on Mondays, Fridays and alternate Sundays.

          • by CordableTuna (1395439) on Thursday February 25, 2010 @05:16AM (#31269920)
            I only read the last line of your comment and let me tell you, I have *never* looked so hard for an asterisk before.
          • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

            by mcgrew (92797) *

            One reason I love slashdot is I often learn things from people here, and very often find that what I knew has been superceded; facts change. I have had opinions changed by others' well thought out arguments.

            However, no argumant you can make, no facts you can trot out, will get me to believe that cats don't exist, because there are three of them in my house. You won;t get me to believe that there are no such things as elephants, because I've been to the zoo.

            I can say with a straight face that religion is a p

        • by bit9 (1702770) on Thursday February 25, 2010 @03:18AM (#31269396)

          You start well, but go too far.

          With regard to biased thinking being a pervasive problem, you are spot on. However, you throw the baby out with the bath water when you assert that all human thought is hopelessly biased, and that rationalism (and presumably, all other epistemological frameworks as well) is nothing more than a convenient way to disguise one's biases. If that's true, then science, philosophy, and all other human endeavors which involve the pursuit of truth and knowledge are merely various forms of bias masquerading as rational thought. I don't deny that we humans are all, by our very nature, incapable of 100% pure rational thought. However, most of us are, at least, capable of short spurts of mostly rational thought. Unless you believe that all of mankind's progress over the last few thousand years can be attributed to the "monkeys with typewriters" effect, I don't see how you can conclude that rationalism and biased thinking are merely two sides of the same coin.

          Furthermore, both you and the grandparent completely misused the term "magical thinking". Magical thinking [wikipedia.org] is not merely a synonym for bias, it is (in the words of the Wiki article) "causal reasoning that applies unwarranted weight to coincidence and often includes such ideas as the ability of the mind to affect the physical world (see the philosophical problem of mental causation), and correlation mistaken for causation."

          • by ultranova (717540) on Thursday February 25, 2010 @08:29AM (#31270808)

            With regard to biased thinking being a pervasive problem, you are spot on. However, you throw the baby out with the bath water when you assert that all human thought is hopelessly biased, and that rationalism (and presumably, all other epistemological frameworks as well) is nothing more than a convenient way to disguise one's biases.

            No system of beliefs is just a convenient way of disguising one's biases, but all of them can be. It's entirely possible to use, say, science to excuse being an asshole; eugenics is a perfect example of that.

            The problem is that people who don't share a particular system of beliefs tend to not understand how anyone could believe it, and jump to the conclusion that they don't really do, but are merely pretending to in order to excuse their inexcusable behavior. This isn't helped at all that all such systems have people who believe them but don't understand them, yet feel the need to defend them; rationalism and science are perhaps the worst off here, due to their complexity.

            The end result is people dismissing all arguments against their beliefs because they are usually made by people who 1) think the people they talk to are evil demagogues to be defeat or gullible sheep to be rescued and nobody wants to be treated that way and 2) don't understand why anyone would believe the system and thus usually end up arguing against strawmen of their own making, which is amuzing to watch but won't convince anyone.

            All this means that it's very difficult to discuss any given belief system rationally; either your audience agrees with you, in which case it becomes an intellectual circlejerk, or they don't, in which case it ends up with you talking down to them or outright attacking them for being idiots, or there are both amongst them, in which case it becomes a free-for-all strawmen vs. insults brawl. Just look at the post that began this thread: it calmly suggests "abolishing" religion, in other words, forcing everyone to conform to the poster's beliefs. Is it any wonder that his would-be victims look at him and all that share his views with suspicion, just like he looks at them?

        • by slimjim8094 (941042) <slashdot3@justconnected . n et> on Thursday February 25, 2010 @03:32AM (#31269452)

          This is why logic should be a required part of high school. Perhaps not coincidentally, your sig fits what I'm about to say perfectly.

          Humans can, and do, come to conclusions without bias. We see this a lot in science (by no means always), and we see it in mathematics etc. In other words, there are some things to be 'right' about - but more importantly, our obviously flawed thought processes can come to them.

          A mathematical proof that sqrt(2) is not rational, or the infinitude of primes, is simply true - assuming you take as a given the rules of mathematics (a reasonable assumption). Our brains are therefore capable of devising such incontrovertible statements and reasons - but how?

          I submit that we can only improve our reasoning abilities by learning our mental weaknesses - that is, being able to go over a mental argument and methodically examine all sources of bias. This would be required by a logic class.

          Logic teaches you how to think. If everybody knew how to think, we wouldn't have any of the associated junk like PETA, fear of "death panels", or any of this Creationism crap.

          But so few people actually know how to think. It's really the only way we can rise above our capricious biology.

          • Re: (Score:3, Informative)

            Humans can, and do, come to conclusions without bias.

            But not without premises and axioms. In mathematics and formal logic, premises (or "givens") and axioms are clearly stated (or understood by convention). Those who accept the axioms will grant the conclusions which follow from the premises or givens, assuming the intermediate steps are all valid. If someone does not accept the axioms, then they reject the proof. There is no such thing as an unconditionally incontrovertible statement.

            We see this a lot in science (by no means always)...

            Actually, we never see it in science. Once you depart from the abstract rea

      • by Kohath (38547) on Thursday February 25, 2010 @11:14AM (#31272244)

        The whole point of this article is that people believe information that confirms their biases and the react accordingly.

        And you guys respond immediately with "See! This information confirms my biases against religion..."

    • by corbettw (214229) <corbettw@@@yahoo...com> on Thursday February 25, 2010 @12:24AM (#31268480) Journal

      You're right, we must crush the intolerant! If people aren't willing to open their minds to new ideas, we'll open their skulls for them, instead!

      </sarcasm>

    • Which is why religion and all other straight-faced magical thinking should be abolished.
      My counter-proposition is that if religion is abolished, large tracts of population would disappear. Religion/dogma seems to be the only thing that keeps some people going.
      Faced with an alternative of continuing living and committing suicide, what are the options ?
      1) Realize that life is as likely to be good as bad, decide to die
      2) Hope that life is on average good and continue living.
      3) Believe that "god" or "
      • by c6gunner (950153) on Thursday February 25, 2010 @01:37AM (#31268878)

        My counter-proposition is that if religion is abolished, large tracts of population would disappear. Religion/dogma seems to be the only thing that keeps some people going.

        You know, I keep hearing that argument, and it's just mind-boggling to me that any intelligent individual could say something so stupid. It's like claiming that abolishing cocaine would cause large tracts of the population to disappear, since cocaine is the the only thing that keeps them going.

        Yeah, if you depend on a substance or an ideology, breaking with it is going to be hard. That doesn't mean that you need it to live, or to be happy. It just means you're an addict. If you ditch your addiction, things can only get better.

        • by bit9 (1702770) on Thursday February 25, 2010 @05:25AM (#31269932)

          You know, I keep hearing that argument, and it's just mind-boggling to me that any intelligent individual could say something so stupid. It's like claiming that abolishing cocaine would cause large tracts of the population to disappear, since cocaine is the the only thing that keeps them going.

          I'm not saying I buy the GP's argument (at least not completely), but I think you vastly underestimate how important religion is to some people. The cocaine=religion analogy doesn't really stand up very well under scrutiny. And I'm not merely making the obvious observation that all analogies are flawed and fall apart if you examine them closely enough - I'm saying this one is worse than most.

          Yes, many people who are addicted to cocaine may actually feel that they cannot live without the drug. But religion is not merely a drug - it is intertwined with all of the most important unanswerable questions in life. Does life have purpose? Is there such a thing as The Truth? Is there life after death? Will I see my lost loved ones again someday? Is there justice in this world? Will good ultimately prevail over evil? Why must there be so much suffering?

          As an agnostic, I am used to having my religious friends and family members say that I'm just taking the easy way out. To them, no God means no responsibility, no sense of duty, no moral quandaries, no church on Sunday, etc, etc. However, as I'm sure many agnostics can tell you, being an agnostic is anything but easy. All of those Big Unanswerable Questions weigh heavily on you - much more so than for religious people who've found all of those questions conveniently answered by their religion of choice. Meanwhile, I've spent nearly my entire life being constantly tormented by those questions. Some mornings, I find it excruciatingly difficult to drag myself out of bed, because I'm desperately trying to figure out "What the fuck is the point of all this?" Don't confuse this with depression. I am not merely depressed. In fact, most days, I don't feel depressed at all. I enjoy life. But those questions are always there, always eating away at me, making it difficult to function at times.

          I'm not trying to sound "deep" or compare myself to philosophers like Tolstoy who were nearly driven mad by those questions. I'm merely observing that life is difficult enough already without the struggle to find meaning. With that struggle, life can be unbearable at times. And for a lot of people, religion is the only thing that can fill that void and make life worth living, or at least seem to be so. I get the whole "religion is just a crutch for weak minds" thing. I really do. I felt that way in my early 20's. But I'm in my late 30's now, and all those questions have been a heavy burden on me in the intervening years. So although I'm still as much of an agnostic as I ever was, much of my arrogance has been replaced with understanding. My agnosticism is no longer something that makes me feel superior. In many ways, I actually envy my religious friends, and if I could force myself to believe in God, I probably would. Don't think I haven't tried - numerous times. I'm just not wired for faith, it seems.

          Anyway, the point is, given how deeply intertwined religion is with those things which weigh most heavily on the human mind (or "soul", if you believe there is one), I don't think the cocaine analogy, nor the implied addiction model of religious belief, even come close to explaining why people adhere so steadfastly to religion. It's a LOT deeper and a LOT more complicated than you give it credit for.

          • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

            by imakemusic (1164993)

            Have you ever been addicted to cocaine?

          • by c6gunner (950153) on Thursday February 25, 2010 @09:01AM (#31271004)

            Anyway, the point is, given how deeply intertwined religion is with those things which weigh most heavily on the human mind (or "soul", if you believe there is one), I don't think the cocaine analogy, nor the implied addiction model of religious belief, even come close to explaining why people adhere so steadfastly to religion.

            You're going to have to do a better job of explaining why. I get your "unanswerable questions" argument, but - no offence - it's shit. Theism doesn't answer any of those questions. It barely even tries. It simply asserts commandments based on an Ultimate Authority - an immortal Mafia Don who promises to break our legs if we don't don't pay homage and follow his orders.

            The actual meaning of life, the question of morality ... those questions remain unanswered on any broad level. That's because we as individual human beings get to define what those things are, and no external orders can ever solve those dilemmas for us. Nobody can tell you what the purpose of your life is, and nobody can dictate a moral code to you. I find religion particularly offensive because it pretends to do both. I get one life to live to the best of my ability - a mere 80-ish years on this Earth, if I'm lucky - and some jackass in a funny hat thinks he has the right to dictate how I live it based on orders from his magical sky daddy. Well fuck that. Even if there were a "god" to tell me how to live my life, I'd tell him to get fucked too - I don't give a damn how he intended me to live it because it's purpose is mine to determine. He could have some input on it (if he'd speak the fuck up) but the final decisions would still be mine to make. As long as you allow for free will, no religion can ever give you an answer to what the purpose of life is.

            Religion answers the question "What is the meaning of life" to the same extent that cocaine does - it's all about the next fix. We can come up with much better answers than that. Even Douglas Adams' tongue-in-cheek answer was more meaningful and less harmful than the ones provided by most religions.

      • by slimjim8094 (941042) <slashdot3@justconnected . n et> on Thursday February 25, 2010 @03:38AM (#31269482)

        I'm not so sure I care. I'm an atheist, but was raised Catholic. I didn't disappear - I just realized that we turn to dust when we die, there's no reason behind anything, and we should make the most of our lives. It might be depressing if I wasn't happy with my life and how I'm leading it.

        Going off heroin can kill you too. And I even concede that in a hypothetical world where religion disappeared one night, people might kill themselves. But the next generation would be raised with no ingrained religious misconceptions about the world, so the benefit would come fairly quickly.

        In any case, how many religious people kill themselves because their life sucks, and it occurs to them that their lifelong friend God couldn't possibly be on their side?

    • by dangitman (862676) on Thursday February 25, 2010 @04:06AM (#31269608)

      Which is why religion and all other straight-faced magical thinking should be abolished.

      I'm as big an atheist as anyone, but the way you phrased this sent shivers down my spine. I'd love it if religion and magical thinking went by the wayside because people decided of their own free will that it was bunk, but saying it "should be abolished" implies an active destruction that doesn't bode so well if you think about history.

      It's also scary because so many religious fundamentalists (who outnumber the atheists) believe in abolishing the atheists. And they don't intend to do it peacefully.

    • by martyros (588782) on Thursday February 25, 2010 @08:53AM (#31270938)

      Which is why religion and all other straight-faced magical thinking should be abolished.

      Statements like this are exactly the point of this experiment. You obviously have some beliefs about religion, and if I gave you a set of new facts, you would interpret them in light of your beliefs, and resist changing them.

      The point of these experiments isn't to look at everyone else and say, "Yeah, they're all screwed up." The point is to look at yourself and say, "Do I have beliefs for which I am discarding / reshaping evidence to fit them?" Every human on the face of this planet has the same exact tendency. And that means every atheist, every Liberal, every Republican, every religious person, every man, every woman. And most importantly, that means YOU.

    • Re: (Score:3, Interesting)

      Oddly enough, the standards for "communitarian" and "individualistic" that they used to sort the people would put the majority of the "right-wing nutjobs" into the "individualistic" group, and the majority of the rest of /. into the "communitarian" group.

      Note, specifically, that religion, or lack of same, wasn't even a factor in deciding which group you're in.

  • Hurr. (Score:5, Insightful)

    by bmo (77928) on Thursday February 25, 2010 @12:10AM (#31268408)

    >Both groups made their decisions based on the same information.

    No they didn't.

    They based their decisions on information gathered from outside the experiment - their own life experiences, and applied those experiences to their arguments.

    This is surprising?

    --
    BMO

    • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

      by Romancer (19668)

      Here here.

      Scientists see results in their studies that they are looking for. Not accounting for, sometimes painfully obvious, faults in their conclusions, or reasoning.

      Like the studies that link accidents and cellphones. Not accounting for the possibility that neglectful and distracted drivers that will get into accidents will probably now use cellphones as well as drink, eat, and read a book or put on makeup. It's outside their scope of the experiment so it isn't a possible contributing factor.

      This study i

      • Re:Hurr. (Score:5, Funny)

        by KenMcM (1293074) on Thursday February 25, 2010 @12:33AM (#31268530)

        Here here.

        Where!?

      • Re:Hurr. (Score:4, Informative)

        by Daniel Dvorkin (106857) * on Thursday February 25, 2010 @12:38AM (#31268562) Homepage Journal

        Scientists see results in their studies that they are looking for. Not accounting for, sometimes painfully obvious, faults in their conclusions, or reasoning.

        Like the studies that link accidents and cellphones. Not accounting for the possibility that neglectful and distracted drivers that will get into accidents will probably now use cellphones as well as drink, eat, and read a book or put on makeup. It's outside their scope of the experiment so it isn't a possible contributing factor.

        If you think scientists don't know what "confounding factors" are, or don't try to account for them in their analyses, then you don't know enough about how science is done to have an informed opinion on the subject.

        • by jedidiah (1196)

          The "don't try to account for them" bit is purely a matter of being cynical and not having a lot of faith in someone they don't really know anything about.

          Sure. I could just have "faith" that the cardinal with the white coat did everything right. Although that would probably be a mistake.

      • We conducted a study of the nanotechnology risk- benefit perceptions of a diverse sample of 1,600 americans. The subjects’ worldviews had been previously measured using scales developed for the study of the cultural cognition of risk (Kahan, Slovic, Braman, Gastil & Mertz 2007; Kahan et al. in press). Those scales characterize individuals’ values along two dimensions: “hierarchy-egali- tarianism,” which measures how much subject’s value equality versus clearly delineated forms of social authority; and “individualism-communi- tarianism,” which measures how much they value individual interests versus collective ones.

        They framed the questions in what looked like a newspaper article, which I thought was pretty ingenious. The headlines were: "Scientists Call for More Research on Nanotechnology Consumer Goods", "Scientists Call for More Research on Use of Nanotechnology in Government Regulation of Air Pollution", "Scientists Call for More Research on Market Potential of Nanotechnology for Cleaning Environment", and "Scientists Call for More Research on Potential Use of Nanotechnology to Fight Enemies at Home and Abroad"

        The

      • Re:Hurr. (Score:5, Insightful)

        by chrb (1083577) on Thursday February 25, 2010 @05:46AM (#31270014)

        Scientists see results in their studies that they are looking for.... This study is pretty bad

        Interesting. You came to this article with a preconceived belief that scientists are idiots and/or self-deceiving, and then you applied that belief to the scientists in question without properly evaluating their research - I assume you haven't bothered to read any of the peer-reviewed journal published papers from this research group, and are just relying on a few quotes from the media and a Slashdot summary to confirm your predetermined bias?

    • by williamhb (758070) on Thursday February 25, 2010 @12:47AM (#31268606) Journal

      From TFA, one of the group is defined by:"Some embrace new technology, authority and free enterprise. They are labeled the 'individualistic' group."

      Shock horror, the people who embrace new technology were more likely to embrace a new piece of technology...

      This is almost a zero-information experiment. The definitions classified the results that were then analysed against the classifications. In other news, when we classified coin tosses into a "heads" group and a "tails" group, we found that the "heads" group contained 100% heads results, no matter how many times the coin was tossed ... we conclude therefore that randomness is an illusion.

      The participants were not presented with "facts", they were presented with "claimed facts" which they had to both interpret and assess. (A process called "reading" and "understanding".) That the participants were able ahead-of-time to describe the foibles of their assessment strategies (that one group was able to say it was more amenable to new technology) merely shows that the participants were pretty good at reflecting on their own decision strategies.

      Next...

      • by poopdeville (841677) on Thursday February 25, 2010 @12:50AM (#31268630)

        People who embrace authority are "individualistic"? Who came up with that definition?

        • by JesseL (107722) on Thursday February 25, 2010 @01:09AM (#31268732) Homepage Journal

          That's what I've been trying to wrap my head around. The article says:

          Participants in these experiments are asked to describe their cultural beliefs. Some embrace new technology, authority and free enterprise. They are labeled the "individualistic" group. Others are suspicious of authority or of commerce and industry. Braman calls them "communitarians."

          So where does someone who embraces new technology and free enterprise, but is suspicious of authority fit in?

          • by CptNerd (455084)

            So where does someone who embraces new technology and free enterprise, but is suspicious of authority fit in?

            Outliers...

        • by anaesthetica (596507) on Thursday February 25, 2010 @02:23AM (#31269108) Homepage Journal

          Who came up with that definition?

          His name was Thomas Hobbes and he wrote a book called Leviathan. Hobbes wrote this book in the context of the Thirty Years War and the English Civil War, both of which were massive civil conflicts centered around religion (Protestant sects vs. Catholicism).

          In order to prevent further religious conflict, Hobbes set out to create a philosophical basis for the bracketing of religion from public life. Not the abolition of the Church outright, but the removal of the ability for people to make (public) claims about what is true (private piety was still assumed). He rejected revelation as a basis for truth claims, but noted that most things that people 'know' aren't really derived from experience, but are instead things that they believe on the authority of someone else. For instance, we believe certain things about reality because we recognize the epistemic authority of physicists.

          Without an ultimate authority to resolve claims about reality/truth, Hobbes believed that people would never escape the devastating civil wars that he saw all around him in Europe. Rejecting revelation as a source of knowledge, Hobbes said that the person of the 'sovereign' would have to serve as the ultimate authority on truth claims in order to prevent civil conflict.

          Establishing a sovereign authority would be the only way that rational individualism could prosper. Individuals, freed from epistemic confusion or conflict, could then engage in public life with the maximum freedom to pursue their (material) interests.

          This is relevant to TFA given that it pits individualists (epistmeic authority allowing for skeptical materialist individualism) against communitarians (people making broad values/truth claims supposedly binding on others).

          It's hard to find a more relevant philosopher for understanding modernity than Hobbes. The way that authority, truth claims, individualism, state sovereignty, and materialism are politically entwined are all to be found within Hobbes' writing. Even if you disagree with the conclusions he came to, it's still worth reading and knowing why he wrote what he wrote.

          So yes, individualism and authority are quite closely linked in the history of Western thought.

          Footnote: Hobbes was the first major translator of Thucydides. Many of his views on civil war and epistemic confusion come from Thucydides' description of the Corcyraean Civil War (in Book III of Thucydides' History). The episode is only about 8 pages and well worth reading to see how deeply ingrained this particular strand of political philosophy is embedded in Western thought. It's a pretty chilling description of the collapse of convention, law, norms, and the very meaning of words in the face of violence.

    • Re:Hurr. (Score:5, Interesting)

      by einhverfr (238914) <chris.travers@gma[ ]com ['il.' in gap]> on Thursday February 25, 2010 @12:54AM (#31268648) Homepage Journal

      Nobody reads Heisenberg anymore, I see....

      One of the best books I have ever read on scientific epistemology was by him ("Physics and Philosophy" Great book.)

      Over and over in that book he writes about how people tend to think that data implies theory, as if there is only one true interpretation of the information before a scientist, but how that is a false assumption. As he puts it (several times), "Data does not imply theory." Instead he suggests that theories can only emerge when scientists put the pieces together based on pre-existing philosophical assumptions.

      "Physics and Philosophy" is really one of those books that anyone interested in the sciences really should read. It would help avoid the reactions to studies like this.

      • by rxan (1424721)
        *sigh* All of philosophy revolves around questioning empirical data. Asking not "what is known?" but "how do we know that we know what is known?" Therefore, any philosopher's arguments for, or even against, science is simply based on semantics. It doesn't make a difference because science doesn't ask "why do we know this?" but "what can we infer from what we observe?" Data DOES imply theory, but not if you decide to question the data based on no evidence at all.
        • by einhverfr (238914)

          So are you saying that Werner Heisenberg was a poor scientist and a great philosopher?

          Are you at all uncertain about the value of his uncertainty principle?

        • I generally consider Heisenberg (author of "Physics and Philosophy") to be one of the finest scientists of the twentieth century. However, I am very much aware of how fast science is moving and so may be slightly unsure of my position on the matter at the moment.....

          Seriously, Heisenberg's discussion of the process of formation scientific theory is the clearest work I have ever seen on the subject. The man was a real genius in this regard and certainly comparable to both Einstein and Feynman.

          One of the clearest examples he makes in the book is the comparison between Heraclitus's selection of fire as the prima materia and Einstein's equation of E=mc^2. Einstein, Heisenberg tells us, basically took Heraclitus's statement and quantified it, telling us how much of Heraclitus's fire was used to make up the rest of matter.

      • You should read Jaynes [wikipedia.org] (if you haven't done so before). There's a free draft of his last book floating around the web.

        The interaction between prior information and data interpretation is very well understood within the Bayesian framework. In particular, the divergence of beliefs upon learning the exact same data can be demonstrated mathematically, Jaynes does it in one of the examples in the aforementioned book.

  • by Opportunist (166417) on Thursday February 25, 2010 @12:16AM (#31268436)

    People thrive on information that reinforces their point of view and reject information that challenge it. How is this news?

    That's basically what newspapers and TV stations thrive on.

    • by NeutronCowboy (896098) on Thursday February 25, 2010 @12:30AM (#31268522)

      Newsflash: science works by subjecting everything to the scientific method. Including things that we think are obvious. Sometimes it confirms the obvious (like here), sometimes it throws everything into complete upheaval (like special relativity).

      Next time I hear someone say "Durrr! Everyone knows that!" I'm going to smack them.

    • People thrive on information that reinforces their point of view and reject information that challenge it. How is this news?

      That's basically what newspapers and TV stations thrive on.

      Well if the study found the complete opposite was true, would you be so quick to defend the results as they would in that case conflict with what you already expected? As has been pointed out in previous discussions [slashdot.org], what seems to be completely obvious must also be tested and the results are not worthless as news just becaus

  • by syousef (465911) on Thursday February 25, 2010 @12:16AM (#31268442) Journal

    I don't think any of these individuals are a clean slate so it's not a surprise that they may have strong pre-conceptions that come into play. It's not that "It doesn't matter whether you show them negative or positive information, they reject the information that is contrary to what they would like to believe". Rather they already have some beliefs they consider true which they apply.

    It's also no surprise that people in groups do not behave rationally. Even scientists and medical researchers can be downright stupid about things. I was listening to an interesting podcast this morning: http://www.americanscientist.org/science/pub/everything-is-dangerous-a-controversy [americanscientist.org]

  • Oh well (Score:2, Insightful)

    by tylersoze (789256)

    Everyone knows facts have a liberal bias anyway.

    • Re:Oh well (Score:5, Interesting)

      by tomhudson (43916) <.barbara.hudson. ... bara-hudson.com.> on Thursday February 25, 2010 @12:42AM (#31268580) Journal

      Everyone knows facts have a liberal bias anyway.

      Depends on who's picking the facts ...

      ... and how they're presented ...

      ... and who's doing the presenting ...

      Example (poll results below): More people feel that gays and lesbians should be allowed to serve in the military than homosexuals. Same survey. The only difference between the two questions was the word "homosexual" vs the term "gays and lesbians."

      Why do you think that opponents keep saying "homosexual rights" and "homosexual agenda"? It's because "homosexual" is a dirty word because of centuries of religious meddling.

      And let's not forget stupidity. These poll results also show that more than 10% of the population (the ones who think it's okay to deny homosexuals rights but not gays and lesbians) depend on someone else to tell them how to think. (FauxNews, the Church, etc).

      http://www.americanprogress.org/issues/2010/02/dadt_poll.html/print.html [americanprogress.org]

      * A February 2010 CBS News/New York Times poll found that 59 percent of Americans favor "homosexuals" serving in the military (up from 42 percent in February 1993), but 70 percent favor "gay men and lesbians" serving in the military.

      * The same poll found that 44 percent of Americans favor allowing "homosexuals to serve openly" and that 58 percent favor allowing "gay men and lesbians to serve openly."

      • Re:Oh well (Score:4, Insightful)

        by Anachragnome (1008495) on Thursday February 25, 2010 @05:25AM (#31269936)

        "Depends on who's picking the facts ... "

        Atheist: "I'll believe it when I see it."

        Non-Atheist: "I'll see it when I believe it."

        Trying to explain to the ostrich that the hyena can still see him is a waste of time as it is pretty damn hard to hear anything with sand in your ears.

  • by bazald (886779) <bazald@zeniDEBIANpex.com minus distro> on Thursday February 25, 2010 @12:29AM (#31268518) Homepage

    Thanks for confirming confirmation bias [wikipedia.org] for me. It was pretty much what I expected anyway...

  • The Irony (Score:5, Insightful)

    by physicsphairy (720718) on Thursday February 25, 2010 @12:36AM (#31268548) Homepage

    Not commenting on the debate, but I think it's interesting that in an article about cognitive biases (particularly group cognitive biases) that they don't ever bother to probe the question of how such biases affect things like "scientific consensus," they only view it from the perspective of how such biases affect the freshly germinated views of the uninitated. You would think scientists, being human beings as well, would be in some way subject the same effects, and as long as questions are being raised about the human proclivity for certain viewpoints, someone might stop to wonder "in what ratio do people who go into the environmental sciences tend to be individualist or communitarian, and how is this likely to affect their judgment of related information?"

    • Re:The Irony (Score:4, Informative)

      by bunratty (545641) on Thursday February 25, 2010 @01:00AM (#31268682)

      We say there is a scientific consensus about anthropogenic global warming because all the scientific papers that reach a conclusion about it reach the same conclusion: AGW is happening. It's not because climatologists "just believe" that AGW is happening due to their personal biases instead of what the facts say. If anyone wants to claim that AGW isn't happening, all they need to do is write up their observations and reasoning in a paper.

      The article is much more about whether laypeople (and even scientists from other disciplines) are apt to believe certain scientific conclusions. Whether they do or not has little to do with the evidence.

      • Re: (Score:3, Interesting)

        by Rich0 (548339)

        I dunno - the danger of scientific consensus could be summed up in a few plays on a statement you made:

        We say there is a theological consensus about the existence of God because all the theology papers that reach a conclusion about it reach the same conclusion: God must exist. It's not because theologians "just believe" that God exists due to their personal biases instead of what clear logic dictates. If anyone wants to claim that God doesn't exist, all they need to do is write up their reasoning in a pape

    • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

      by mathfeel (937008)
      There is a different. Scientists can have all the opinion they want (and many hold quite wacky ones in their own expertise). They can even be very vocal about it. But their results cannot get accepted without reaching certain level of consensus by peer review. People argue that the whole system is bad because the community is conspiring to reject their idea. I call them sore losers. They claim they cannot get their idea published because it challenge the norm and that's a big no no for the community. Bull
  • You Satan worshiping scientists!
  • Wow! They found differences between individualist and collectivist cultures in their acceptance of nanotechnology!

    Someone could write a really cool piece of scifi based on this idea.

    Oh wait... [wikipedia.org]

  • by Fantastic Lad (198284) on Thursday February 25, 2010 @01:33AM (#31268850)

    When was the last time you changed your mind about a significant, foundational piece of data in your life?

    I'm not talking about an uncertainty being made resolute on one side of the fence or the other.

    I'm talking about a belief you once held to be true and around which you based your daily decision-making processes and then after review, realized that you were wrong and then took steps to alter your behavior accordingly.

    Now, if you have experienced that, ask yourself the following. . .

    Did you change your mind because of your own curiosity, reasoning and data collection OR because your tribe and its associated authority figures changed their minds and you felt compelled to follow suit?

    Are you the sort of person who switches back and forth between beliefs easily?

    Are you the sort of person who refuses to change belief systems out of fear of appearing or feeling weak-minded?

    Do you lie to yourself in order to take the edge off uncomfortable truths?

    Are you lying to yourself right now about any of the answers to these questions?

    Just asking.

    -FL

    • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

      by Aceticon (140883)

      I suspect that most people in this world are very much unaware that they do belong to "tribes", how they have "authority figures" and how they influence one's behaviour.

      In fact, i reckon that most Slashdoters have never looked at Slashdot as the tribe it is.

      The problem with your argument is that it relies on the targets having the know-how and self awareness to understand it and recognize themselfs on it.

      Countless sessions of friendly discussions with the local Jehovah's Witnesses that pop-up at my door (wh

  • wrong description (Score:4, Insightful)

    by readin (838620) on Thursday February 25, 2010 @01:36AM (#31268868)
    This article describes an experiment that demonstrates that people don't put as much weight on facts as they do their own belief about how the world is supposed to work.

    No, the article describes an experiment that shows that people don't necessarily trust scientists to get things right, and the degree of the trust varies by culture. This is hardly surprising. Scientists are people, and one's opinions about people tends to be a result of your interactions with people around you, most of whom are generally from your own culture. Most of what culture is is the result of such interactions. How could your culture not affect what you expect to see from a group of people?
  • by Torodung (31985) on Thursday February 25, 2010 @02:27AM (#31269122) Journal

    "Cultural Cognition of Scientific Consensus [culturalcognition.net]"

    ABSTRACT:

    People tend not to listen to your message if they view it as threatening to their livelihood, their community, or their ego.

    --
    Toro

  • by avilliers (1158273) on Thursday February 25, 2010 @03:28AM (#31269432)

    Translated: "In a laboratory setting, we demonstrated we couldn't magically persuade people of whatever we wanted about hot-button issues by selectively presenting facts."

    Good.

Facts are stubborn, but statistics are more pliable.

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