Suspicions Confirmed

How do we form our opinions anyway? Reason, propaganda, facts, hearsay? How about good old gut instinct? Family tradition?

Facts do NOT speak for themselves. People speak for them–and often over them, through them, and around them.

I once explained to a family friend how I researched topics before deciding where I stood on issues, explaining that I tried to keep my mind open even after forming an opinion since new research or other aspects might come to light and cause me to change my stance. The friend rolled her eyes and huffily said, “Can’t you just believe what your parents told you to believe?”

Alas, she was not joking. She cherished the hammer and nail her parents had given her and adding reason to her toolkit was not something that interested her.

Jonathan Swift supposedly said something akin to this: “It is useless to attempt to reason a man out of a thing he was never reasoned into.” The sentiment is sometimes attributed to Mark Twain as well. In the same vein, Twain also said, “Get your facts first, then you can distort them as you please.”

From years of teaching college undergrads, I nod wearily. That now deceased family friend was not a rare creature. In other words, confirmation bias is about as stubborn a human trait as any.

Here’s a quick podcast titled “Your Opinion of Climate Change Depends on Your Social Psychology.”

I look forward to reading the whole transcript.

For now, I suggest reading Tom Toles’ rant in the Washington Post as well as the comments:

http://voices.washingtonpost.com/tomtoles/2010/08/friday_rant_heat_exhaustion_e.html

Confirmation bias. Through the ages, how many people have died because of it? In the coming decades, how many more will die because of it?

Cassandra

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One Response to “Suspicions Confirmed”

  1. jean-philippe Says:

    Ingram’s take on the issue is very clever… It’s hard to acknowledge global warming if it doesn’t fit in your understanding of the world. It’s like acknowledging that the football time you hate didn’t deserve that penalty. Sadly, there’s not a lot of people asking “what’s the right call?”.

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