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    • A few years ago, I attended a professional lunch and one of the staff remarked that they believed in ghosts and had one living in their home. I almost spit out my drink because I was dumb floored that she was serious. Before I had a chance to stick my foot in my mouth, several people chimed in that they also believe in ghosts, had or knew someone who had ghosts in their home, and that there are good ghosts and bad ghosts that can take up residence. One of the staff later wanted to pay five hundred dollars for a homeopathic remedy that would cure the cancer of their family member on hospice. There is an element of tribal knowledge to these beliefs that get reinforced by the community. And I don’t view this as a “their too stupid/poor/culturally inferior” to make good decisions. Instead, IMHO, it’s about who you trust.

    • @Chris @apm

      Sometimes I wonder if it actually has more to do with one's ability to handle ambiguity rather than one's earnestness, intelligence, background, training, judgement, or courage. Paradoxically, if one is able to live with ambiguity, one can abide a great amount of uncertainty while digging for the truth.

      Being comfortable with ambiguity creates a window of time in which experience, observation, intuition, research, and theorizing can happen while one gradually comes to a solid conclusion.

      The way our society is now, though, opinionated certainty and yelling as loud as one can seems to be the way most people operate...

    • Paradoxically, if one is able to live with ambiguity, one can abide a great amount of uncertainty while digging for the truth.

      Can you expand on that lidja? I’m not trying to be ironic but I’m trying to wrap my head around your ideas and I don’t have a concrete understanding. Are you saying that we can’t exist in a vacuum of uncertainty and therefore go for whatever is positive news or reinforces our beliefs? Not trying to give you a hard time here. I feel like I’m missing something fascinating and that you may be on to something and are sharing a significant insight.

    • I have an impression about handling ambiguity. In a lifetime of interacting with people across the spectrum, from the mentally ill on the streets where I once lived, to Steve Jobs whom I used to work for, to Nobel Laureates at Stanford who were my professors, there seems to be an inverse relationship between those who know most about a subject and those who answer most emphatically about it.

      On the streets, the mentally ill rant emphatically about something they know little about. "They PROVED vaccines cause autism. 9/11 was an inside job."

      You go to class and ask a science professor whether it's possible vaccines have negative health effects and they give a measured response. "It's a good question and we're always looking for data to indicate that they might, but we haven't seemed to turn up anything significant. Perhaps as more studies are published it will become clearer. On the other hand, we do have convincing data to suggest they have a big positive effect on reducing the incidence of certain diseases."

      I can tell you, and the biographies confirm, that Steve was a nervous Nellie. He was never sure of his decisions but had to make bets amidst ambiguity, always watchful to see if we had made a good bet or needed to change it.

    • I think we all have various capacities to tolerate ambiguity. Some people simply cannot handle ambiguity - they are emotionally upset by it. Those people can easily make the mistake of believing a sense of certainty is the same thing as truth. Their emotional need is more for certainty than for the actual truth. So when an acquaintance (or five) expresses with certainty that there are ghosts, it is the certainty that makes these people feel more settled than the actual truth or falsehood of whether there are ghosts.

      There are undoubtedly other influences at work, too, but the emotional need to resolve ambiguity can be a very strong influence on how people respond to the complexities of our time.

    • Sad when stuff like that happens. There is simply not enough legislation or enforced legislation to protect people from snake oil salesmen.

    • As I said and you clearly gave an example - it's easy for someone to find evidence to support darned near anything. Smarter or more educated people find 'evidence' even more readily. They need critical thinking rules to follow.

      Once someone thinks that a corporation or government is trying to cover something up they are extremely hard to get back to reality. From that point on they create all kinds of adhoc explanations to account for any and every possible counter argument. It's sometimes known as the multiple out. Another thing they do is change the goalposts. In other words if one of your arguments starts to sound good, they'll focus on something else. All you can do is ask them "is there any evidence that would or could ever convince you otherwise?". If they can't think of anything the conversation is over and you have to move on.

      I still think that one of the best things that can be taught in critical thinking is to ask yourself that question: what would it take to change my mind? A person should start with the consensus view of the experts in that field and work from there while keeping in mind that extraordinary claims require extraordinary evidence.

    • Bill Nye once was strongly against GMO's but on a closer examination of the evidence he changed his view. That's the power of science - the ability to change your view. Many of these people - especially if religious - are not open to changing their view, nor are they capable of spotting pseudoscience. Even experts can fall victim to charlatans or quacks which just reinforces the need to teach critical thinking rules.

    • I think that many of the poor decisions (about science and technology) could be avoided if people were taught critical thinking. Certainly some people who are taught these rules still struggle to grasp what they represent and how to use them but it helps most people. As far as the general population and people who make bad choices.... :(

    • There ya go with your silly math. Who says? Can you back up those numbers with proof? It’s easy to make numbers say anything you want. How big is your sample? How did you manipulate the data to come to this ridiculous conclusion? Who paid you to do this study? What economic ramifications come from your conclusion?

      hahahahaha. ;-)

    • Okay, that makes enormous sense. Thank you.

      Once you accept an unsubstantiated belief as fact, it becomes a challenge to your self identity if someone tries to convince you it’s not true.

      I’ve been fascinated by cults, having grown up in the 1970s and 1980s eras of the Moonies, Krishnas, and Jonestown. I’ve read a couple books by an ex-cult member/mind control expert and he talks about the difficulty of reaching someone who’s been brainwashed into accepting completely insane ideas.

      A lot of it boils down to asking meaningful questions that can’t be answered with an automatic response and building up whatever trust you can in the time that you have. A large part of his success hinges on how satisfied the individual is with their situation. If there’s dissatisfaction, they are unconsciously or consciously open to considering other realities.

      Dissatisfaction seems a close resemblance to your ambiguity.

    • This is a pet personal hypothesis of mine, but here goes: my impression is fiction is more profitable than truth. It is in books and movies. On political campaigns, on news desks, and in marketing, embellishing wins you more voters, more viewers and more customers.

      It's far more thrilling to read that we found an exotic food that eliminates belly fat than to read about how we should eat more broccoli.

      A story about a microdose of aluminum in a vaccine killing our kids is far more interesting than reading about the substantial quantities of mercury we get from eating fish.

    • I used to subscribe to the New York Review of Books. It was on newsprint and the dimensions were the same as the NY Times’s Sunday Book Review insert. And there were probably a good 15-20 paragraphs per page.

      They had a 5-6 page analysis of half a dozen books related to Dr. Asperger and autism. After reading that I felt that I had a much deeper level of knowledge on the subject.

      I currently read the New Yorker and they will spend 8-10 magazine pages on one subject or issue. I don’t claim to be an expert after reading an article, but I usually have a deeper and more nuanced understanding of a news story that’s been boiled down to a click bait headline.

      How do you create a passion—or even a responsibility—for lifetime learning?

    • How do you create a passion—or even a responsibility—for lifetime learning?

      What I'd really love to know is who are the 100,000+ editors of Wikipedia who toil in anonymity and how do they keep Wikipedia from being overrun by conspiracies?

      Here's their vaccination page, filled with verifiable facts and clear thinking:

      They say the anti-vaccination movement is primarily an American phenomenon, where 1 in 4 parents think vaccinations cause Autism.

    • One of the staff later wanted to pay five hundred dollars for a homeopathic remedy that would cure the cancer of their family member on hospice.

      There's a quite fascinating book by Benedict Spinoza, A Theologico-Political Treatise. It was first published in 1670 in Amsterdam. Its preface literally opens with this:

      (1)Men would never be superstitious, if they could govern all their circumstances by set rules, or if they were always favoured by fortune: but being frequently driven into straits where rules are useless, and being often kept fluctuating pitiably between hope and fear by the uncertainty of fortune's greedily coveted favours, they are consequently, for the most part, very prone to credulity. (2) The human mind is readily swayed this way or that in times of doubt, especially when hope and fear are struggling for the mastery, though usually it is boastful, over - confident, and vain.

    • I assume you all know the backstory to the vaccination/autism debacle, but I am surprised it isn’t even mentioned in the Wikipedia entry.

      The anti-vaccination myth is based on a “scientific paper” (funded by attorneys whose clients were suing the makers of vaccinations at the time) published twenty years ago by a team of fourteen “experts” (most have now had their medical licenses revoked) in a generally well-respected medical journal based in the UK (that didn’t call much attention to its eventual disavowal). It is quite a story. The damage done by this medical fraud is astounding. Much of it seems to be due to the news media working up a frenzy - for ratings, I assume...

      http://time.com/5175704/andrew-wakefield-vaccine-autism/

    • I have taught every grade level from 4th to post-graduates, and I have come to this conclusion: a teacher cannot create passion in students. A teacher can, however, model passion, direct passions, and encourage passions.

      You and I have a passion to always learn more by reading detailed and comprehensive articles—I subscribe to the New Yorker for the same reason you mentioned above. I have a few friends who value these resources as well, and we often compare notes. I have other friends who have different passions. Being well-informed is not on their list of passions. I value them for other reasons—we share other passions.

      In the Time article I posted in my reply to Chris above, the author says *trust* is an important element in changing people’s minds from misinformation to truth. Having a “holier-than-thou” attitude about people who believe ghosts are real (or vaccinations spread autism, or a caravan of refugees is a cover for ISIS terrorists, etc.) undermines trust and gives rise to the very culture wars we are experiencing now.

      I laughed when I stumbled across the graphic. I think of it often...and keep my mouth shut. :)

    • Unfortunately, all of the above. The tentacles of man made evil in the society, which not surprising are exactly our own weaknesses, whether conscious or just simply as collateral damage, are long and far reaching.

    • Because of the Internet, it has become possible to question the fabric of life, not just vaccines, but banking, entire society. Where is this going to lead? For one, I think it's great having ability to debate and pry into previously hermetically sealed realms of only select few. The vaccine mistrust and fake news are just a consequence of this evolution.

    You've been invited!