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Beliefs Conform To Cultural Identities 629

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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  • 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.

  • 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:Hurr. (Score:4, Informative)

    by TapeCutter ( 624760 ) * on Thursday February 25, 2010 @01:27AM (#31268824) Journal
    "Sure. I could just have "faith" that the cardinal with the white coat did everything right. Although that would probably be a mistake."

    Yes it would be a mistake because it's arguing from authority, ie: not science.

    Science does not ask for trust, nor does it ask for BLIND faith, it asks YOU to use critical thinking [].
  • Cognitive dissonance (Score:1, Informative)

    by Anonymous Coward on Thursday February 25, 2010 @02:02AM (#31269018)

    The behavioral phenomenon is called "cognitive dissonance".

  • by xonar ( 1069832 ) <{xonar} {at} {}> on Thursday February 25, 2010 @02:22AM (#31269094) Homepage
    Who in their right mind would read a Latin bible? If you wanted to get down to the root language, The Old Testament was written in ancient Hebrew, and the new testament was written in Greek. Which went on to be translated into the various languages and versions you see today. KJV is just one of many English translations available today, having both Formal and Dynamic equivalence [].

    The authenticity is also not at question of the various copies of the original scrolls, and by various I mean over 5600 original copies have been found, at 99.5% accuracy between them. There was also less than 100 years of time between the original and the earliest copy we have, however. For reference, Homer (The Iliad), only had 643 original copies, and at 95% accuracy! The time span between writing date and the earliest copy we have is 500 years. The works of Plato, a measly 7 copies found, at a non-measured accuracy. The time span between the copy and the original was over 1200 years. Many were willingly martyred within the first few hundred years, especially in the case of the eye witnesses at the time.

    The theory of Jesus never existing is not a view widely held by historians either. r1 [] - r2 []
  • 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:4, Informative)

    by Jane Q. Public ( 1010737 ) on Thursday February 25, 2010 @02:29AM (#31269132)
    Your "examples" should not all be grouped together, since some of them are at vastly different levels of "known", compared to the others.

    For example, some (but by no means all) of the "9/11 truthers" (a very derogatory phrase) have some good evidence to cite. This is hardly something an area that is "unequivocally known". As for "anti-GMO guys", a recent peer-revieed study showed that 3 different varieties of Monsanto GMO corn caused liver and kidney damage in rats []. Again, something that probably does not belong in your list. To compare these people with the moon-landing-deniers and astrologers is a mistake, since they are on a much more solid stance, evidence-wise. Further, while flouride may not be a communist plot, there are some very serious ethical issues involved with putting it in drinking water.

    Which is precisely the point, and even the point you make: people let biases influence them. Including you. (I say that based on the evidence that you lumped a whole bunch of things into your list of "bullshit", even though from the scientific evidence, some of them probably do not belong in the list.)
  • by Monty_Lovering ( 842499 ) on Thursday February 25, 2010 @02:35AM (#31269176)

    Have you even heard of Google? Magical thinking is "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".

    First time I've ever seen someone cite a videogame to define a word; or was it the cultural and intellectual heights of a movie based on a video game. Maybe I should Google it, LOL.

    Whilst the term can be used as an insult (like idiot) it also has a function definiton (idiot used to be the term for someone with an IQ below 30).

    Reasoning may be fallible; the term you take issue with is actually an example of fallible reasoning. It is not about differing opinions on a situation whre there is clear evidence and someone's opinion is wiorthy of respect even if you disagree with it.

  • by Tomfrh ( 719891 ) on Thursday February 25, 2010 @04:03AM (#31269594)

    Well, yeah, when you systematically slaughter millions of priests, nuns and clergy and burn down all the churches, you tend to "solve" the problem of religion to some degree...

  • by h4rm0ny ( 722443 ) on Thursday February 25, 2010 @04:18AM (#31269656) Journal

    Don't you love it when you get modded Flamebait by people who can't even notice obvious details... like usernames.
  • by shutdown -p now ( 807394 ) on Thursday February 25, 2010 @05:29AM (#31269956) Journal

    Well, I see BadAnalogyGuy getting modded down for bad analogies all the time...

  • by ChienAndalu ( 1293930 ) on Thursday February 25, 2010 @07:39AM (#31270540)

    Rationalism and and anti-dogmatism?

  • by Anonymous Coward on Thursday February 25, 2010 @09:02AM (#31271006)

    It's jibe [] not jive. []

  • by Bakkster ( 1529253 ) <.moc.liamg. .ta. .nam.retskkaB.> on Thursday February 25, 2010 @10:08AM (#31271580)

    You'd think an all-powerful God might have something to say about all that priest-killing...

    What's the church's stance on God's inaction there, anyway? They had it coming?

    What inaction? The Soviet Union doesn't exist anymore, does it? ;-)

    And yes, this is compatible with Christian teaching. 2 Timothy 3:12 says:

    In fact, everyone who wants to live a godly life in Christ Jesus will be persecuted

    In Matthew 24:9 Jesus says:

    "Then you will be handed over to be persecuted and put to death, and you will be hated by all nations because of me."

    Hmm, sounds like what happened in the Soviet Union. Again in John 15:20 He says:

    Remember the words I spoke to you: 'No servant is greater than his master.' If they persecuted me, they will persecute you also. If they obeyed my teaching, they will obey yours also.

    I'd call crucifixion from the court of public opinion persecution. So why would they want to be persecuted? Matthew 5:12 says:

    Rejoice and be glad, because great is your reward in heaven, for in the same way they persecuted the prophets who were before you.

    Obviously you don't agree with that line of thought, but there it is. It wasn't hand-waved away in recent times after Christians started getting killed, it has been part of the deal from the beginning. If Christians weren't supposed to ever suffer, why would God's plan be for Jesus to be crucified? It's the Jewish view that the Messiah will be a conquering king and restore Israel and the temple, but it's not the view of the Christian religion.

  • As an aside (Score:1, Informative)

    by Anonymous Coward on Thursday February 25, 2010 @11:32AM (#31272432)

    Hobbes' negative view of humanity is what convinced Bill Watterson to name Calvin's stuffed tiger after him.

  • 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 The Famous Brett Wat ( 12688 ) on Thursday February 25, 2010 @01:07PM (#31273792) Homepage Journal

    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 realm of logic and mathematics, you start piling up assumptions which can't be dealt with formally. Introducing "observation" into the mix opens up a mighty big can of worms. Conclusions are reached, to be sure, but these are quite a different beast from the "conclusion" found at the end of a mathematical or logical proof.

    If everybody knew how to think, we wouldn't have any of the associated junk like PETA...

    And there you've moved further afield, because the subject is now ethics -- a subject which seems to be innately intuitive or subjectively experienced. Even there the problem is not logic, but one of disagreement over premises and valid applications. It's trivial to construct a logical argument in favour of PETA-style extremism, given the right premises. One of those premises might be something along the lines of "the genetic difference between humans and animals is not ethically significant". This, being a statement about ethics, is not something which can be subjected to test in the usual manner of science or mathematics.

    I agree with you that people need to learn enough logic to engage in some decent critical thinking. I am also of the opinion that some people who are decently acquainted with logic need to be educated in the limits of its application to real-world problems like ethics, politics, and girlfriends.

  • by The Famous Brett Wat ( 12688 ) on Thursday February 25, 2010 @01:39PM (#31274378) Homepage Journal

    You are quite right to point out the role of "weighting". One does not simply take all the observations, place them in a machine, and let the conclusion fall out. We make personal choices about what to observe and what to ignore, which things are important and which aren't, and so on. The article does not demonstrate faulty reasoning on anyone's part when it says, "they reject the information that is contrary to what they would like to believe, and they glom onto the positive information." This merely demonstrates subjective values-based weighting of incoming data -- an unavoidable necessity in many cases.

    That's not to say that people are always consistent in their application of weighting. There are examples aplenty of people misunderstanding measurement data (particularly statistical data) such that they reach exactly the wrong conclusion given their stated intentions. You're probably familiar with the examples, like the problem of dealing with false positives when testing for a rare condition, or whatever. In these cases, mathematics has something to say about how you apply your weights -- maybe you need to use Bayes' theorem -- and people are notoriously bad at reaching the right conclusion intuitively. This brings me to...

    One is not arrogant for believing one's reasoning is reliable, that is a necessity and a consequence of reasoning itself.

    It would be a necessary consequence for an agent capable of perfect reasoning. We humans, on the other hand, tend to make incomplete arguments, admit unnoticed errors, and generally overlook faults so long as the conclusions came out the way we wanted or were expecting. One should therefore append the caveat, "but it's likely I've screwed up somewhere AGAIN, so please check my reasoning" to all one's conclusions.

Today is a good day for information-gathering. Read someone else's mail file.