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« "Yes we can--with more technology!" A more hopeful narrative on climate? | Main | More US science literary data -- from Pew (an organization that definitely knows how to study US science attitudes) »

How many times do I have to explain?! "Facts" aren't enough, but that doesn't mean anyone is "lying"!

Receiving email like this is always extremely gratifying, of course, because it confirms for me that our "cultural cognition" research is indeed connecting with a large number of culturally diverse people. At the same time, it is frustrating to see how these readers fundamentally misunderstand our studies. I guess when you are so deeply caught up in a culturally contested question like this one, it is just really hard to get that screaming "the facts! the facts! Stop lying!!!," isn't going to promote constructive public engagement with the best available scientific evidence.


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Reader Comments (4)

It's not just your research - I've seen the same refrain so many times about the entire debate. For everyone it is a matter of truth versus lies, everyone considers themselves on the side of truth, nobody can believe or understand how anyone could think differently to themselves, and nobody can accept any outcome to a debate other than the triumph of their own brand of truth. (I exaggerate, slightly.)

Which in an open debate is perfectly OK, because it keeps people interested and motivated, and continually challenging, criticising, picking at loose ends, the way one should in science. Debate is the process of science. The race is eternal.

It's only really a problem when the umpire's controlling the playing field feel the same way. Some of them are not above giving their own team a helping hand, and fixing the match. There's a lot of argument about whether it's even worth competing in those circumstances, but there are enough people who enjoy the challenge.

The more interesting question is how we got to this point where so many people misunderstand the nature of debate, and the scientific process, and believe the truth is an established social consensus it is wrong to argue with. I have long had a hypothesis that it is learnt in school, through the style of teaching. The teacher (like anyone) does not have the time to argue every case. So they assert, with reward and punishment for believing and disbelieving respectively. When that's the way people learn science, it's natural for them to think that's what science is.

Or maybe it's just the way people are. They seem to act the same in subjects they didn't learn at school. For example, people who believe there's one true morality (theirs) that everybody ought to follow. (From their own points of view it's arguable that they're all right to say so.) The scientific method is the exception, and a profoundly unnatural way to think, and people are simply reverting to type. Nature versus nurture, again...

It may be an extension of Piaget's stages of development. About two thirds of adults struggle to achieve the formal operational stage, reportedly. [Dasen 1994] Maybe there are more developmental stages coming after that even fewer people manage to reach? Maybe there is a further development from egocentrism to multicentrism (?) on to multiculturism - the ability to see things from different cultural perspectives. Or similarly, from the simple abstraction using a single mental/scientific paradigm found in the formal operational stage to being able to switch paradigms smoothly, to find a new one in which the problem appears simpler?

It sounds elitist, but it would seem that the ability isn't that strongly correlated with educational and professional success, so I don't think it's valid to think of it as such. A lot of clever people can't do it either. Maybe it's culturally specific? Not on the HE/IC axes, but some other division?

April 26, 2013 | Unregistered CommenterNiV

@NIV: For sure, the vulnerability to this constraint in perspective -- the idea that if others aren't getting facts they must be stupid or dishonest -- doesn't abate w/ education, science or otherwise; seems to get worse... The disease we are talking about here also doesn't discriminate by cultural outlook. So if there is some sort of charactgeristic or expdreience that predicts immunity, for sure it is, as you say, something unrelated to HE/IC. No idea what it is, though. It's not "cognitive refelction" nor is it being political independent.... What is it -- or does it even exist?... Sigh

April 26, 2013 | Unregistered Commenterdmk38

Krugman surely has a point. Maybe there really is a remarkable number of knaves and fools. But how would we know? Someone would have to go and count them. This costs time and effort. You can't afford to count everything, so some things don't get counted. The things that don't get counted aren't facts. How many knaves and fools are there in Canada, for example? We're unlikely to get good demographic facts about Canada because the conservative government there made the national census partially voluntary. (See this letter of warning from the Canadian Sociological Association ). What we don't measure, in some ways, doesn't exist. That's how the facts get made and unmade. Why would a government think a mandatory census isn't worthwhile? Presumably because some so-called facts just aren't really worth knowing about. Actually the Canadian census never counted the number of knaves and fools. As far as I know, no one does this kind of counting. What is considered worth or not worth knowing about is a really good marker of cultural affiliation. It's not that we already have all the evidence and then 'dishonestly' cherry pick the parts of it that suit our arguments. Instead, the processes of evidence gathering are already culturally conditioned, even before we decide what to cherry pick. The best way to manipulate reality isn't to tell lies. It's to control how things are measured.

May 2, 2013 | Unregistered Commenterfourcultures

@4: If we had a "knaves & fool" measure, couldn't we just survey a valid & sufficiently large sample of Canadians? I'd hypothesize no more than 1.5 million canadians are knaves & fools. I doubt more than 1% of them havw ever heard of Krugman & 50% would agree with anything he says.

May 2, 2013 | Registered CommenterDan Kahan

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