Tag Archives: Confirmation bias

Stovepiping to produce fake news

Image credit: THOSE ’17 INTELLIGENCE AGENCIES’ CITED BY HILLARY CLINTON ABOUT TRUMP AND RUSSIA TURNED OUT TO BE FAKE NEWS

I have discovered a new word – “stovepiping.” Must admit I had to look it up – but it seems to be highly relevant to the way media seem to authenticate their news reports today – particularly in the current political hysteria emanating from the USA. And, I think, stovepiping plays a central role in the promotion of fake news.

There is nothing new about fake news – we have been subjected to it for ages. But suddenly everyone is talking about it. Of course, it is always the “other” side which indulges in fake news – never “our” side. But I suggest that just demonstrates our own prejudices and confirmation bias. We should look more critically and objectively at the way “our” news media gathers and present what it feeds us.

Stovepiping in the intelligence community

So we come to “stovepiping” which Wikipedia says:

“has been used, in the context of intelligence, to describe several ways in which raw intelligence information may be presented without proper context. . . . . the lack of context may come from a particular group, in the national policy structure, selectively presenting only that information that supports certain conclusions. “

On the one hand, this may be an inevitable result of the way intelligence agencies work – “due to the specialised nature, or security requirements, of a particular intelligence collection technology.”

On the other hand, it may be purposely used to deceive politicians and the public  (to support “certain conclusions”) – the issue of weapons of mass destruction in Iraq and the justification for the US invasion of that country provides a clear example.

Unfortunately, stovepiping is rampant in the current US media and political hysteria surrounding the current political struggles resulting from an election result which didn’t go the way the establishment wanted and believed it would.

Consider all the “confidence” that the US presidential elections were “hacked” by Russia – even by, or under the personal orders of, the president of the Russian Federation. The assertion is claimed to be unassailable, beyond any question, because it was a conclusion reached, unanimously, by 17 US intelligence agencies. Hillary Clinton made the claim last October in a presidential election debate:

 “We have 17 intelligence agencies, civilian and military, who have all concluded that these espionage attacks, these cyberattacks, come from the highest levels of the Kremlin, and they are designed to influence our election. I find that deeply disturbing.”

The really “deeply disturbing” aspect is that this claim was repeated again and again without a sniff of evidence. Anyone questioning the claim, or asking for evidence, was jumped on as a “Kremlin troll” and no politician seemed to have the courage to draw parallels with the Emperors Clothes.” To actually ask – “where is the evidence.” Neo-McCarthyism is alive and active.

Welcome to evidence-free reporting – where stories rely on unattributed, unnamed sources. Where “intelligence reports” are completely free of evidence – yet presented with high authority. And worse – the media then claims the evidence-free reports themselves as “evidence!”

The retractions are buried and ignored

Sometimes such stories do get retracted. On June 29 The New York Times issued a retraction of the claim that 17 intelligence agencies had reported Russian hacking. The NYT admitted:

“The assessment was made by four intelligence agencies — the Office of the Director of National Intelligence, the Central Intelligence Agency, the Federal Bureau of Investigation and the National Security Agency. The assessment was not approved by all 17 organizations in the American intelligence community.”

Worse – we had stovepiping within stovepiping. Not only was the claim not approved by the 17 agencies – the claim itself was made by selected personal within the four agencies involved. Heavy reported:

“Former Director of National Intelligence James Clapper had already essentially admitted to this when he testified in May in front of the Senate Judiciary subcommittee. He said the Russia hacking finding came from a special intelligence community assessment, formed by hand-picked analysts from the NSA, FBI, and CIA.”

This sort of stovepiping is loaded with possibilities for anyone wishing to promote evidence-free but politically damaging claims as part of a political battle. Just hand-select a few anonymous agents who you know will support the story you want. The ultimate confirmation bias.

One might think the news media has the ethical responsibility to be a bit more critical of such stories. To refuse to repeat evidence-free claims. To avoid unnamed, and unchecked, sources. And to publish an analysis of the origins of these claims, stressing the lack of evidence.

Unfortunately, in the USA it appears that the mainstream media has forgotten these ethics. It is wholeheartedly participating in this political battle. It is cooperating with elements in the intelligence community who have also joined this political battle. The mainstream media and this politically motivated section of the intelligence community are taking in each others laundry. Unnamed intelligence sources are providing evidence-free information to fill the news reports. The media is giving public voice to these disaffected intelligence agents and the intelligence community (or elements within it), in turn, is giving “authority” to the reported evidence-free claims. After all, what patriotically-minded US citizen will refuse to accept the authority of the intelligence agencies – even without evidence?

Weak retractions, or even the absence of retractions, seems to be an accepted procedure within the mainstream media. Remember Omran Dogneesh, the “Aleppo boy?” Much media hysteria was spent on his story (accompanied by an admittedly outstanding photograph) promoted by the al Qaeda-affiliated White Helmets as part of their propaganda campaign against Syria. His family was liberated with the rest of eastern Aleppo and they can now tell their story about the way their boy was used – in effect kidnapped by the White Helmets – for propaganda purposes. His family’s story has been reported to some extent – certainly without any of the fanfare the original misleading story was promoted (see How Omran, the dazed Aleppo boy who reappeared this week, became a political pawn in Syria’s war). And a gullible public will be encouraged to continue to believe the original distortions.

Aleppo boy – his true story was buried. The first photo was trumpeted around the world as part of anti-Syria propaganda. The second practically ignored. Credit: India.com.  Aleppo boy Omran Daqneesh makes his first appearance since 2016 bombing! See heart warming pictures of the Syrian kid 

Just as “authoritative” mainstream media sources continue to report that 17 intelligence agencies had a “high confidence” the Russians “hacked” the US elections.

It’s wider than the Clinton-Trump conflict

While this example of stovepiping and fake news is typical of the current political conflict in the USA the problem is not going to go away when that conflict disappears. I think stovepiping and fake news have resulted from the danger the established news media sees itself in as a result of social media and wider digital sources for news.

In fact, when we look at the intelligence reports about the so-called Russian hacking of the US elections we find the main concern being expressed is the possible influence of alternative media. These reports concentrate on media like RT and Sputnik which have Russian origins – but the concern is really about alternative media in general. After all, if the best they can do is complain that RT gave coverage to minority candidates and ran one interview with Trump then we can see what their crime is. RT and Sputnik, just like the rest of the alternative media, is not under the thumb of the establishment. They are free to question the narrative promoted by that establishment.

The alternative media, just like the internet, is not going to go away. It will persist and it will provide alternatives to those of us tired by the conformity and fake news of the establishment mainstream media.

The political establishment in the US and Europe is trying to nip this phenomenon in the bud – after all the alternative media has limited reach so far. But the establishment can see the danger it represents and we cannot avoid the possibility it may take extreme action to prevent the loss of its influence a wider spread of alternative media represents.

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Madonna teaches us a lesson in critical thinking

Maybe just a small lesson – but an important one. We should always look at context and not cherry-pick that which confirms our bias. In particuilar, we shouldn’t simply repeat social media claims without doing a bit of fact-checking for ourselves.

It’s an important lesson at the moment because there is a lot of this going on in the social media hysteria surrounding the US presidential elections.

I was called out recently because I shared a Facebook meme questioning the moral authority of people like Madonna (who regularly makes lewd public performances) making moral judgments on the lewd language used by President Trump in a private conversation many years ago. The commenter suggested her lewd performances were irrelevant and that I should instead criticise her for making stupid and distasteful comments about blowing up the White House.

So, I decided to check out what she did say – and the video above is the section of her speech at one of the Women’s Marches where she referred to bombing the White House.

Putting Madonna’s famous comment in context

Now, I realise that the secret service is required to check out people who make comments like this – but it would be a perversion of justice for them to take any action against her. The context of the bombing comment makes clear she used the expression of personal thoughts as a rhetorical device to bring home her main message – which supported the direct opposite of such a terrorist act. In fact, she specifically said such an act would be pointless as it would change nothing (she is clearly wrong there as there would surely be huge changes  – but you get my point. She was not advocating anything like bombing).

Madonna has reacted to the news the secret service will investigate her with this comment:

“I am not a violent person, I do not promote violence and it’s important people hear and understand my speech in it’s entirety rather than one phrase taken wildly out of context.

My speech began with ‘I want to start a revolution of love,” Madonna wrote. “I spoke in metaphor and I shared two ways of looking at things — one was to be hopeful, and one was to feel anger and outrage, which I have personally felt. However, I know that acting out of anger doesn’t solve anything. And the only way to change things for the better is to do it with love.”

I think that sums up what she did say in that section of her speech and her critics should take that lesson on board.

But, not only her critics – also her supporters and allies. It is telling that one of those commenting on her explanation wrote:

“You want people to listen to your speech in its entirety and not a phrase taken wildly out of context….hmmmmm isn’t that what you and your followers have been doing to President Trump all along.”

To my mind, the extreme partisanship of social media commenters, and the #fakenews promoted by mainstream media, has often relied on such cherry picking and removal of context. It started early on in the US election campaign and is still proceeding. The recent rather undignified spat over the numbers attending the inauguration in the Mall, and the numbers observing it internationally on TV is just one example. It reflects how childish – on both sides – this spat between President Trump and the mainstream media has become.

Nor does it impress me that some otherwise rational social media commenters have taken the unfortunate “alternative facts” statement completely out of context to use as a political whip. Although, I suppose it does not surprise me. Even the most self-declared rational of us can be very irrational at times. It is part of being human.

Partisanship and a biased media is counterproductive

I wish we would all calm down and attempt to be more rational and critical in approaching news media reports of the current election hysteria. On the one hand, things do run a lot better when we avoid confirmation bias, partisanship and cherry-picking. (And we wouldn’t have to run the gauntlet of being ‘unfriended” on facebook for questioning things).

On the other hand, I think this opinion piece today from Frank Bruni in the New York Time makes a point that opponents of President Trump have seemingly been oblivious to (see The Wrong Way to Take On Trump). This lack of critical thinking, the cherry-picking, partisanship , confirmation bias and #fakenews from a biased media, actually helped Trump win the election – and is currently probably helping to cement support from those who voted for him. He writes:

“There’s so much substantive ground on which to confront Trump. There are acres upon acres. Why swerve into the gutter? Why help him dismiss his detractors as people in thrall to the theater of their outrage and no better than he is?”

And why risk that disaffected Americans, tuning in only occasionally, hear one big mash of insults and insulters, and tune out, when there’s a contest — over what this country stands for, over where it will go — that couldn’t be more serious.”

I am sure that last point happened with people who may have supported or considered supporting Trump during the campaign. Once you have heard or seen a few reports full of what you know is #fakenews, personal attacks, partisan commentary, insults and swearing you do tend to turn off. You do tend not to trust future news reports, especially those ridiculing your possible electoral choice. And in the more committed cases, this experience of news you know to be fake means that from then on you will whole-heartedly accept the #fakenews from your own side. “The other side lied so what your side says must be true!”

In my own case, I know the experience of the partisanship and media bias during the US election campaign has made me very untrustful of the mainstream media – in fact, all the media. I now refuse to accept claims made in the news as factual until I can check them out for myself. I have sort of done this with Madonna’s speech here.

That means more work and a resignation that there are many things I will not form an opinion on (because I don’t have time to fact-check). But I feel better about myself – even if some of my associates may be upset that I don’t go along with their current thinking.

Note: The video above is also out of context – being just the part of Madonna’s speech relevant to her bombing comment. If you are really interested you can find her full speech here. I watched it and found myself becoming less and less sympathetic to her so won’t post the video here as it would sort of distract from my point.

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Trump’s victory – why the surprise, why the anger?

This morning my social media threads seem full of emotional outbursts, even hatred, and the ripping of garments. All over the results of the US presidential elections.

But I have to ask – why this emotion? Why the surprise? And why blame the voters.

Why the surprise? Surely a Trump victory was on the cards – even a strong possibility? At least that is how it appeared to me. But then again I did not have a dog in this race. I wasn’t going to vote. I didn’t support either of the main candidates – and weren’t we all saying it was a matter of choosing between two evils? Then why get so partisan, so emotional?

Perhaps it is because of that irrational indulgence – wishful thinking. By the media – to me the election coverage of the main stream media was partisan and biased. And certainly many people in my social media streams were partisan – refusing to face up to the way the US establishment manipulated the election process (successfully in the case of the Democrats) and willfully allowing themselves to be diverted and manipulated by cynical neo-McCarthyism.

But why blame the voters – especially if it was a choice between two evils? Why not blame the system that delivered such a limited choice to voters?

I could go on – but Thomas Frank’s article in the Guardian today certainly says it more eloquently than I can – Donald Trump is moving to the White House, and liberals put him there.

Is Trump all bad?

Frank starts by ripping into Trump and his campaign. Many will agree with his criticisms – although the fact Trump succeeded suggests the possibility he may have known something his critics didn’t, or understood the mood of the electorate better than his critics did.

Frank considers the election result “is a disaster, both for liberalism and for the world.” Again, Frank may be exaggerating. I think he is a buffoon but if Trump’s policies of real international cooperation in the fight against terrorism and getting along with other countries become realities I consider that a positive.

But instead of expanding on what is wrong with Trump, Frank asks the questions others have been afraid to ask.

Why Clinton?

The electorate was in a mood to punish the establishment – so why put up an establishment candidate? Frank puts it this way:

“What we need to focus on now is the obvious question: what the hell went wrong? What species of cluelessness guided our Democratic leaders as they went about losing what they told us was the most important election of our lifetimes?

“Start at the top. Why, oh why, did it have to be Hillary Clinton? Yes, she has an impressive resume; yes, she worked hard on the campaign trail. But she was exactly the wrong candidate for this angry, populist moment. An insider when the country was screaming for an outsider. A technocrat who offered fine-tuning when the country wanted to take a sledgehammer to the machine.

“She was the Democratic candidate because it was her turn and because a Clinton victory would have moved every Democrat in Washington up a notch. Whether or not she would win was always a secondary matter, something that was taken for granted. Had winning been the party’s number one concern, several more suitable candidates were ready to go. There was Joe Biden, with his powerful plainspoken style, and there was Bernie Sanders, an inspiring and largely scandal-free figure. Each of them would probably have beaten Trump, but neither of them would really have served the interests of the party insiders.

“And so Democratic leaders made Hillary their candidate even though they knew about her closeness to the banks, her fondness for war, and her unique vulnerability on the trade issue – each of which Trump exploited to the fullest. They chose Hillary even though they knew about her private email server. They chose her even though some of those who studied the Clinton Foundation suspected it was a sketchy proposition.

“To try to put over such a nominee while screaming that the Republican is a rightwing monster is to court disbelief. If Trump is a fascist, as liberals often said, Democrats should have put in their strongest player to stop him, not a party hack they’d chosen because it was her turn. Choosing her indicated either that Democrats didn’t mean what they said about Trump’s riskiness, that their opportunism took precedence over the country’s well-being, or maybe both.”

A biased and manipulating media

Frank also blames the media – and in my view rightly so. Even with my limited appreciation of politics the media bias and manipulation stood out like a sore thumb:

“Clinton’s supporters among the media didn’t help much, either. It always struck me as strange that such an unpopular candidate enjoyed such robust and unanimous endorsements from the editorial and opinion pages of the nation’s papers, but it was the quality of the media’s enthusiasm that really harmed her. With the same arguments repeated over and over, two or three times a day, with nuance and contrary views all deleted, the act of opening the newspaper started to feel like tuning in to a Cold War propaganda station.”

After listing some of the medias biased pro-Clinton propaganda Frank says:

“How did the journalists’ crusade fail? The fourth estate came together in an unprecedented professional consensus. They chose insulting the other side over trying to understand what motivated them. They transformed opinion writing into a vehicle for high moral boasting. What could possibly have gone wrong with such an approach?”

I think this post-election media comment is very relevant – The media didn’t want to believe Donald Trump could win… So they looked the other way.

Where my social media friends went wrong

What has amazed me, and taught me a lesson (I guess), is how irrational some of my Facebook friends were about this election. And these were people I had friended because on many issues (particularly scientific ones) I considered them rational and unbiased. In the end we are not a rational species and wishful thinking, confirmation bias and avoidance of self-criticism are only human traits. But Frank describes this self-delusion as “the single great mystery of 2016:”

“The American white-collar class just spent the year rallying around a super-competent professional (who really wasn’t all that competent) and either insulting or silencing everyone who didn’t accept their assessment.”

That insulting and silencing were very real. I experienced the shouting down when I criticised Clinton’s dishonest use of neo-McCarthyist tactics to divert attention aways from her faults. Critics, and even the ordinary people, were insulted and, yes, silenced by this intimidation. Frank points out – “And then they lost.” We are now forced to face up to facts – the emperor really has no clothes.

But I  hope at least some of those social media friends who were caught up in the wishful thinking and group thinking – the partisanship of the US elections – can take on board this bit of advice from Frank:

Maybe it’s time to consider whether there’s something about shrill self-righteousness, shouted from a position of high social status, that turns people away.”

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The problem with reasoned discussion

scienceoftruth-460-300x168

Why is  a straightforward logical discussion so impossible? Why do our discussion partners refuse to accept our reasoned arguments? And, if we are honest, why do we ourselves find it so difficult to accept the reasonable logic of our discussion partners?

Well, a recent article at the blog “Why We Reason” provides an answer. It is  Psychology’s Treacherous Trio: Confirmation Bias, Cognitive Dissonance, and Motivated Reasoning and reinforces what I have often felt – we are not really a rational species – more a rationalising one.

Beliefs dictate what and how we see

The article gets to the root of the matter – the psychological forces that fuel our conversations:

“While many like to believe that they have a special access to the truth, the reality is that we all see the world not as it is, but as we want it to be: Republicans watch Fox while Democrats watch MSNBC; creationists see fossils as evidence of God, evolutionary biologists see fossils as evidence of evolution; a mother sees abortion as the best thing for her daughter, and the church sees it as unholy and sinful. You get the point – our beliefs dictate what we see and how we see.”

The article goes on to discuss “a few psychological tendencies that when mixed together form a potent recipe for ignorance.”

Confirmation bias

dilbert-confirmation-bias

Confirmation bias sticks out like a sore thumb when participants in discussion cherry-pick authorities and citations to support their arguments. Well, it sticks out like a sore thumb to the discussion partner anyway (who may also be cherry-picking to confirm an opposite bias).

“Confirmation bias is exactly what it sounds like – the propensity for people to look for what confirms their beliefs and ignore what contradicts their beliefs while not being concerned for the truth.”

Hard not to fall into that trap when discussing complex issues within the constraints of limited space and time. But, nevertheless, something we should attempt to avoid.

Cognitive dissonance

dilbert_diss

“Then there’s cognitive dissonance, which describes a “state of tension that occurs whenever a person holds two cognitions that are psychologically inconsistent.” “

The article provides an example:

“Leon Festinger introduced it in 1957 after he infiltrated and studied a UFO cult convinced the world would end at midnight on December 21st, 1954. In his book When Prophecy FailsFestinger recounts how after midnight came and went, cult members began to look for reasons for why the end of the world had not come. Eventually the leader of the cult, Marian Keech, explained to her members that she received a message from automatic writing, which told her that the God of Earth decided to spare the planet from destruction. Relieved, the cult members continued to spread their doomsday ideology to non-believers. Although Festiner’s example is extreme, all of us do this everyday. Take unhealthy food; we all know that pizza is bad for us, but we still eat it. And after finishing a few slices we say “it was worth it,” or “I’ll run it off tomorrow.” Or take smokers; they know that smoking kills but continue to smoke. And after unsuccessfully quitting, they justify their failures by claiming that, “smoking isn’t that bad” or that “it is worth the risk.” Whether it’s UFO’s, food, or smoking we all hold inconsistent beliefs and almost always side with what is most comfortable instead of what is true.”

Motivated reasoning

Dilbert - mot reason

The article describes this as “our tendency to accept what we want to believe with much more ease and much less analysis than what we don’t want to believe.”

I think religious apologists often provide the most obvious examples of motivated reasoning – probably because they are often trained in philosophy and logic. They will argue that their beliefs are based on reason and not faith, and seem to enjoy constructing logical arguments for their claims which seem to be built on simple logical steps. Yet, they gloss over, or ignore, the huge jumps in logic which are inevitably part of their reasoning.

Maybe a faith-based belief reinforced by motivated reasoning is the hardest to defeat because the proponent actually believes their arguments are completely rational.

The article concludes:

“So what’s the difference between confirmation bias, cognitive dissonance, and motivated reasoning? The short answer is that there really aren’t any differences. Generally speaking, they serve the same purpose, and that is to frame the world so it makes sense to us. But there are a few nuances worth mentioning. For one, motivated reasoning is like an evil twin to cognitive dissonance in that it tries to avoid it. And for another, and I quote NYU psychologist Gary Marcus who says it perfectly, “whereas confirmation bias is an automatic tendency to notice data that fit with our beliefs, motivated reasoning is the complementary tendency to scrutinize ideas more carefully if we don’t like them than if we do.””

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How to change your Mind – and why it is good for you

It’s funny how we all recognise confirmation bias in others but a loath to see it in ourselves.

Yet it is only human – and in fact the desire to fit new evidence into existing models in our mind does play an important role in attempts to understand the real world. At the same time, one must realise that our mental models do not correspond exactly to reality, no matter how good they are, or we think they are.

That is why it is important to develop the skills to recognise when our mental models really are out of step with new evidence, with reality.

Julia Galef trains people to do this. To learn to change their mind. She described the process in her talk at TAM 2014.

TAM 2014 – Julia Galef – How to Change Your Mind -TAM 2014.

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Approaching scientific literature sensibly

thinking-conf-bias

We all suffer more or less from confirmation bias – it is just human.  So it’s natural for people to be selective, and to indulge in some cherry-picking and biased interpretation, when quoting scientific literature to support an idea they promote.

pseudoscience-cherry-picking

In the scientific community peer review and continual submission of ideas to scrutiny by colleagues helps keep this under control. But it can really get out of hand when used political activists use the literature to support their claims.

I have got used to anti-fluoride commenters on social media simply citing a paper or even providing a bare link, without comment, as if this somehow makes their claims irrefutable. Perhaps, in truth, they have not even read the paper they cite, or understood it, so do not feel confident discussing it.

But this tactic is particularly lazy – and stupid. To simply give a Google Scholar search as proof. Lately I have been presented with links to such searches to argue that fluoridation is toxic. Just a search for “fluoride toxicity.”

This is what that search produces – 234,000 hits:

Fluoride toxicity – 234,000 results

fluoride-toxicity

Sounds good to the uninitiated, I guess. It does seem to produce a large number. But does that mean anything?

What about searching for water toxicity. This produces over 2 million hits. Are we to assume from this that water is toxic, seemingly 10 times more toxic than fluoride?

Water toxicity – 2,190,000 results

water-toxicity

Yes, I know some social media do not offer much space for commenting but that should not be an excuse for such silly citations.

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Extreme confirmation bias in action

How’s this for an egregious example of confirmation bias. This morning the local blog Whale oil presents this graphic to “prove” his assertions that current climate science is a “hoax’ and those who accept the science are either fools or worse (see Chart of the Day – Proof of global warming).

guide_2505022cThe chart is taken from well-known climate denying journalist Christopher Booker’s Telegraph article Look at the graph to see the evidence of global warming. Trouble is, one has to do a lot of ignoring of facts to produce such charts. In fact he has taken only two data points (and drawn a vague sort of line between them). Isn’t Booker’s little chart somewhat misleading when you see what he ignores in the total data set:

compare_datasets_new

Global near-surface temperatures from 1850 to 2012 from Met Office Hadley Centre/Climatic Research Unit HadCRUT4, NASA GISS and NOAA NCDC

I discuss this sort of cherry picking in my recent post :

“There’s a lot of noise in that graph but it does sort of support the conclusion that global temperatures have increased in the last 100 years. Mind you, if you want to create a contrary impression you can easily take a short time period – say around 1950, 1960 – 1980, 1985 – 1995 – or even the last 16 years. Cherry picking is a great thing – if your aim is to support a predetermined conclusion, and avoid (or even hide) evidence to the contrary.’

I know, I’m hardly likely to change this blogger’s position. He is operating under the completely human process of confirmation denial. Will Storr, in his recently published book The Heretics describes confirmation bias this way:

“When confronted by a new fact, we first feel an instantaneous, emotional hunch. It is a raw instinct for whether the fact is right or wrong and it pulls us helplessly in the direction of an opinion. Then we look for evidence that supports our hunch. The moment we find some, we think ‘Aha!’ and happily conclude that we are, indeed, correct. The thinking then ceases.

Psychologists know this as the ‘makes sense stopping rule’. We ignore anything that runs counter to our hunch, grab for the first thing that matches, think, Yep that makes sense, and then we rest, satisfied by the peerless powers of our fantastic wisdom. Perhaps the most embarrassing aspect of confirmation bias is the fact that we mistake the process of searching for favourable evidence as a fair survey of both sides of the argument.”

You see this psychological phenomena again and again in internet articles and comments on climate change. But what is becoming clearer and clearer is that the prejudice underlying this particular confirmation bias is an extreme right-wing political position of the sort promoted by Chris Monckton and his “Agenda 21” myth.

Perhaps the fact that these extreme distortions and misrepresentation of current climate change science is becoming so obviously associated with this sort of politics is one reason more and more people are refusing to subscribe to the “climate change hoax” myth.

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Converting beliefs to “truths”

Michael Shermer‘s latest book looks interesting – The Believing Brain: From Ghosts and Gods to Politics and Conspiracies—How We Construct Beliefs and Reinforce Them as Truths.

Chris Mooney interviews him about the book in the latest Point of Inquiry podcast (see Point of Inquiry or  download the MP3).

Shermer’s thesis is that with humans belief comes first – then we look of evidence to support that belief. I have often made the same claim – we are a rationalising species, not a rational one. There are good evolutionary reasons for this.

At first sight this seems a rather pessimistic thesis for a scientist and sceptic. However, in the book Shermer deals with the tools that science offers for overcoming this problem. For approaching a more objective knowledge of reality. He asserts that science is unique in this.

I have managed to get a copy and look forward to reading it.

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“Historical science”

Matthew_Shultz_webHere’s another faulty argument from The ghetto of apologetics “science”. A trick that creationists use to discredit scientific findings and justify by default their own “supernatural” explanations. This is their mechanical classification of science into “historical science” and “experimental science.” The creationist NZ blog True Paradigm was promoting this recently (see Types of science).

The usual philosophical “authority” used for this classification is Stephen Meyers, Executive Officer and co-founder of the Discovery Institute‘s Center for science and Culture. The intelligent design think tank and poliitcal promoter. He outlined it in his 1990 Ph D thesis “Of clues and causes: a methodological interpretation of origin of life studies.”

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