“Steve Ballmer, the former Microsoft chief executive, wants to improve the national political debate with a treasure trove of facts about government. The post-truth age might not be so receptive.
“It’s an honorable idea. But facts alone are feeble things. Given more information, most people don’t change their minds, even when the new data seems to support the opposite argument. They convince themselves that the information is misleading (“alternative”) or simply wrong (“fake). They tune out stuff that’s uncomfortable to hear and tune in to cable news programs like reliably tell them that their intuition about the world is even more right than they knew. When most apocalyptic cults face irrefutable proof that they miscalculated the end of days, they don’t call it quits and return to their normal pre-doomsday lives.”
Why are people so reluctant to change their minds? This well-researched and well-presented cartoon delves into that very important question. It also helps elucidate the relationship between emotion and reason when our belief system is challenged.
“This doubling down in the face of conflicting evidence is a way of reducing the discomfort of dissonance, and is part of a set of behaviors known in the psychology literature as “motivated reasoning.” Motivated reasoning is how people convince themselves or remain convinced of what they want to believe—they seek out agreeable information and learn it more easily; and they avoid, ignore, devalue, forget, or argue against information that contradicts their beliefs.”
“Such accounts may make us feel good about ourselves, but they are misguided and simplistic: They reflect a misunderstanding of knowledge that focuses too narrowly on what goes on between our ears. Here is the humbler truth: On their own, individuals are not well equipped to separate fact from fiction, and they never will be. Ignorance is our natural state; it is a product of the way the mind works.”
Why do misconceptions continue to exist despite evidence to their contrary? To what degree does intuition undermine our ability to accept “new” or counterintuitive truths?
“Taken together, headlines like these might suggest that science is a shady enterprise that spits out a bunch of dressed-up nonsense. But I’ve spent months investigating the problems hounding science, and I’ve learned that the headline-grabbing cases of misconduct and fraud are mere distractions. The state of our science is strong, but it’s plagued by a universal problem: Science is hard — really fucking hard.
“If we’re going to rely on science as a means for reaching the truth — and it’s still the best tool we have — it’s important that we understand and respect just how difficult it is to get a rigorous result. I could pontificate about all the reasons why science is arduous, but instead I’m going to let you experience one of them for yourself. Welcome to the wild world of p-hacking.”
“Research shows the appeal of untestable beliefs, and how it leads to a polarized society
“As public debate rages about issues like immunization, Obamacare, and same-sex marriage, many people try to use science to bolster their arguments. And since it’s becoming easier to test and establish facts—whether in physics, psychology, or policy—many have wondered why bias and polarization have not been defeated. When people are confronted with facts, such as the well-established safety of immunization, why do these facts seem to have so little effect?”