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If you want to save democracy, learn to think like a scientist Bobby Azarian; Quartz; 8 Dec 2016

brief article about thinking critically

Paradigms U Like Ophelia Benson; Butterflies and Wheels; 11 Oct 2003

The hostility to science goes back for millennia. We don’t like brute facts, we don’t like having to check our wishes and hopes against the reality of how the world is. We’ll submit to the necessity for survival purposes, we’ll learn what we need to know of leopards and rabbits, fire and ice, but beyond that we want the right to believe our fantasies. ‘May God us keep/From single vision, and Newton’s sleep!’ said Blake, and Wordsworth agreed: ‘Sweet is the lore which Nature brings;/Our meddling intellect/Mis-shapes the beauteous forms of things:–We murder to dissect.’
But there is a new kind of animus that has become conventional wisdom in many universities over the past three decades. It goes by the name of perspectivism or situatedness or social constructionism . This view purports to show that science is neither universal nor peculiarly well equipped to arrive at the truth; that on the contrary it is local, Western, socially and culturally embedded, and therefore, merely one form of knowledge among many.

Why Are Environmentalists Taking Anti-Science Positions? Fred Pearce; Yale environment 360; 22 Oct 2012

On issues ranging from genetically modified crops to nuclear power, environmentalists are increasingly refusing to listen to scientific arguments that challenge standard green positions. This approach risks weakening the environmental movement and empowering climate contrarians.

Why Science? Iida Ruishalme; THoughtscapism; 13 Feb 2015

Where should we turn to if we want to know something? What are good sources of information? What do they look like? These questions apply to most areas of life. It all really boils down to: why science? Aren’t there other just as important sources? What makes science so infallible? I’ve often heard the counter-argument that science doesn’t know everything. So why should we listen to it? The answers are: science is not infallible. It doesn’t know everything. But it’s the only one in the game. There is no competing system of knowledge. Science is the common denominator for all those endeavours that openly admit that ‘we think that this might be the case but we will test real hard to see if it turns out really to be so’. If you are looking for knowledge about the world, science is the one gig in town that’s sitting down around the table and thinking hard on ‘how can we truly know something?’

How to read and understand a scientific paper: a guide for non-scientists Jennifer Raff; LSE blog; 9 May 2016


The appeal to “science was wrong before”

The argument is that since science is sometimes wrong, the believer’s claim is as likely to be true as one supported by scientific evidence.


The Debunking Handbook John Cook, Stephan Lewandowski; Skeptical Science; 27 Nov 2011

Debunking myths is problematic. Unless great care is taken, any effort to debunk misinformation can inadvertently reinforce the very myths one seeks to correct. To avoid these “backfire effects”, an effective debunking requires three major elements. First, the refutation must focus on core facts rather than the myth to avoid the misinformation becoming more familiar. Second, any mention of a myth should be preceded by explicit warnings to notify the reader that the upcoming information is false. Finally, the refutation should include an alternative explanation that accounts for important qualities in the original misinformation


You are not going to believe what I'm about to tell you The Oatmeal; May 2017

illustrated explanation of the backfire effect in comic strip form

Why fighting anti-vaxxers and climate change doubters often backfires Science

If there’s a war on science, it’s not just one war. And branding people who disagree with you about vaccines, climate change, or genetically modified organisms (GMOs) as the enemy may be unwittingly fueling the conflicts. Those were some of the arguments made at a session here today at the annual meeting of AAAS

Injecting kindness into the debate Iida Ruishalme; Thoughtscapism; 19 Feb 2015

Vaccines are a topic that stir up a lot of emotions. How should we talk about them? Will anything we do make a difference? I think a useful perspective on the topic comes from framing the question somewhat differently: can we make a difference by the way behave in our interactions with other people? When I first encountered vaccine skepticism at a mommy-group, I found myself on a furious Google and PubMed-fest, pasting from scientific sources and official health authorities. The thread went south. The worst names we called each other may only have been ‘irresponsible’, ‘ignorant’, and ‘biased’, but going on 150 comments, each time that notification button turned red it added double digits to my blood pressure. I’d wake up at 3 am to feed the baby, unable to get back to sleep thinking of *how they could just not get it*. Giving up on sleep, I’d answer adjuvant questions at 3:45.

We Are All Confident Idiots DAVID DUNNING; 27 OCT 2014

The trouble with ignorance is that it feels so much like expertise. A leading researcher on the psychology of human wrongness sets us straight.

Ban academics talking to ministers? We should train them to do it Ben Goldacre; Times Higher Education; 7 Mar 2016

The Shock of the New: Finding a Circuit Breaker for Health Fears Around New Technology Ketan Joshi·In; The Wheeler Centre - Health & medicine; 13 Apr 2015

Often, despite the evidence, new technology provokes anxieties around human health. As Ketan Joshi explains, there's more to this fear than errant logic — and symptoms of ill health can even be induced by it. But, in the case of large-scale developments like wind farms, there are simple and practical ways to improve the experience of communities living nearby.

Persuasion: Fascinating Study Shows How To Open A Closed Mind Stephen J. Meyer; Forbes; 12 Jun 2014

So how can we get people to see things our way? Researchers Brendan Nyhan from Dartmouth University and Jason Reifler from Georgia State considered that question in a context where convictions tend to be especially resistant to facts: politics. They ran experiments where they presented people with information that contradicted their political attitudes. They deliberately chose topics that were highly emotional – highly polarizing issues that make people really dig in their heels. ... They tested three different strategies:
  • Presenting a paragraph of text that summarized the factual evidence
  • Presenting the evidence in a chart
  • Building up subjects’ self-esteem so they’d feel less threatened.
The least effective approach was explaining the facts in words. Building up subjects’ self-esteem didn’t work very well either. The most effective of the three techniques was simply presenting the information in a simple chart like the one below.

Socially constructed silence? Protecting policymakers from the unthinkable. PAUL HOGGETT and ROSEMARY RANDALL;; 6 Jun 2016

In 2013-14 we carried out interviews with leading UK climate scientists and communicators to explore how they managed the ethical and emotional challenges of their work. ... a picture emerged of a community which still identified strongly with an idealised picture of scientific rationality, in which the job of scientists is to get on with their research quietly and dispassionately. As a consequence, this community is profoundly uncomfortable with the storm of political controversy that climate research is now attracting.

Me vs. We: Rethinking Personal Guilt Daisy Simmons; Yale Climate Connections; 10 Aug 2016

New research suggests that people donate more money to a climate cause when they're thinking about collective rather than personal responsibility for the problem.

People Can Handle the Truth About the Environment Mark Buchanan; Bloomberg; 27 Dec 2017

Some scientists think that humans can’t handle the truth about the damage they are doing to the environment -- that findings must be sugar-coated lest people lose the hope needed to act.
They should listen to psychologists and stop holding back.
Earlier this year, the journalist David Wallace-Wells examined some of the more extreme possible consequences of climate change, including collapsing food supplies, perpetual war and extreme heat making cities uninhabitable. Climate skeptics were predictably outraged, but some scientists also criticized the article for scaring people. "The most motivating emotions,” they claimed, “are worry, interest and hope.” Fear, they argued, tends to make people disengage and dismiss the issue.
Is that true? Not really. In a recent paper, the psychologist Daniel Chapman and co-authors argue that this oversimplifies how emotions influence our actions. They aren't like buttons that can be pushed to trigger a certain behavior. Rather, they act in a subtle way, tagging information in our memory with emotive tones, or influencing how we might seek out further information. As a result, any simple recipe for emotional persuasion -- say, being negative or positive -- is unlikely to have the desired effect.

Finding common ground amid climate controversy Generating productive conversations - ranters need not apply - and finding shared values on climate issues IS possible. Karin Kirk; Yale Climate Connections; 3 Apr 2018

It’s not difficult to get a sense of that stalemate while skimming comments on social media or dodging the topic at a family gathering. But climate change also offers tantalizing opportunities for finding common ground: energy efficiency is something few argue against, for example. The notions of stewardship of the planet and clean energy enjoy broad acceptance across the U.S. So can areas of general agreement serve as a launch pad to venture into trickier, more polarizing aspects of climate change? Will people join a conversation with those holding different viewpoints? Would mutual understanding be possible?
In challenging times for public discourse, this project offered an opportunity for people to interact with those beyond their usual ideological sphere in an attempt to resolve differences.
The project involved learning how to uncover common ground between varying ideologies. Collaborators helped refine the questionnaire used to invite participants and measure their ideologies. Once the methods were firmed-up, pairs of people engaged in live conversations via video conference, leading to a series of articles along the way.
With each dialogue, the approach has yielded worthwhile insights, and, taken together, promising themes.

Should I tell my Republican friend that her Florida mansion is doomed by sea-level rise? Sara Peach; Yale Climate Connections; 24 Sep 2018

My friend is a Republican who owns a very expensive mansion on Fisher Island in Miami. I’m fairly sure my friend believes that climate change is real but does not know how serious the situation may get within her or her children’s lifetimes. What year will I tell her is the last I’ll be able to visit her there, because it will be underwater? How many years ahead of that will she need to sell it before it’ll be rendered worthless? I’m thinking of getting her a garden gnome wearing a snorkel. – Climate Concerned in New York City

Dan Kahan

Misconceptions, Misinformation, and the Logic of Identity-Protective Cognition Dan M. Kahan (Yale University - Law School); SSRN; 24 May 2017

This paper supplies a compact synthesis of the empirical literature on misconceptions of and misinformation about decision-relevant science. The incidence and impact of misconceptions and misperceptions, the article argues, are highly conditional on identity protective cognition. Identity protective cognition refers to the tendency of culturally diverse individuals to selectively credit and dismiss evidence in patterns that reflect the beliefs that predominate in their group. On issues that provoke identity-protective cognition, the members of the public most adept at avoiding misconceptions of science are nevertheless the most culturally polarized. Individuals are also more likely to accept misinformation and resist the correction of it when that misinformation is identity-affirming rather than identity-threatening. Effectively counteracting these dynamics, the paper argues, requires more than simply supplying citizens with correct information. It demands in addition the protection of the science communication environment from toxic social meanings that fuse competing understandings of fact with diverse citizens’ cultural identities.

Dan Kahan: Science Literacy, Numeracy and Climate Change Risk Perceptions GarrisonInstitute; YouTube; 2 Mar 2012

Dan Kahan of Yale University suggests that evidence from a large survey of U.S. adults reflects a conflict between two levels of rationality: the individual level and the common level. Kahan argues that dispelling the "tragedy of the risk-perception commons," should be understood as the central aim of the science of science communication.

Katharine Hayhoe

Katharine Hayhoe: 'The true threat is the delusion that our opinion of science somehow alters its reality' JOÃO MEDEIROS; Wired; 9 Dec 2017

In her 2009 book, co-authored with husband Andrew Farley, Climate for Change: Global Warming Facts for Faith-Based Decisions, Katharine Hayhoe wrote: “Most Christians are not scientists, and it’s hard to say how many scientists are Christians. In our family, we are both.” The Texas Tech atmospheric physicist, who’s also an Evangelical Christian, has long been one of the most vocal evangelists for the environment. Hayhoe has been featured in the James Cameron-produced TV series Years of Living Dangerously and once nominated as one of the most influential people in the world by TIME. She talks to WIRED about president Trump, clean energy, and, of course, climate change.

Video: Katharine Hayhoe & George Marshall on how to talk about climate change Climate Outreach; 5 Dec 2017

Katharine Hayhoe is a climate scientist and Christian based in Texas. She has been named one of TIME’s 100 Most Influential People for her ability to talk about climate change beyond the green bubble in a way that is effective and compassionate.
We were delighted to host her in partnership with the University Church of St Mary in Oxford, for a climate conversation with Climate Outreach founder George Marshall and with the hundreds of people who joined us.

Truth Decay

Truth Decay : An Initial Exploration of the Diminishing Role of Facts and Analysis in American Public Life Jennifer Kavanagh, Michael D. Rich; RAND Corporation

Over the past two decades, national political and civil discourse in the United States has been characterized by "Truth Decay," defined as a set of four interrelated trends: an increasing disagreement about facts and analytical interpretations of facts and data; a blurring of the line between opinion and fact; an increase in the relative volume, and resulting influence, of opinion and personal experience over fact; and lowered trust in formerly respected sources of factual information. These trends have many causes, but this report focuses on four: characteristics of human cognitive processing, such as cognitive bias; changes in the information system, including social media and the 24-hour news cycle; competing demands on the education system that diminish time spent on media literacy and critical thinking; and polarization, both political and demographic. The most damaging consequences of Truth Decay include the erosion of civil discourse, political paralysis, alienation and disengagement of individuals from political and civic institutions, and uncertainty over national policy.
This report explores the causes and consequences of Truth Decay and how they are interrelated, and examines past eras of U.S. history to identify evidence of Truth Decay's four trends and observe similarities with and differences from the current period. It also outlines a research agenda, a strategy for investigating the causes of Truth Decay and determining what can be done to address its causes and consequences.

Impact factor

Impact factors are not the same thing as reliability The Mad Virologist; 9 Dec 2015

A very common issue that I see among scientists and science lovers (skeptics, enthusiasts, etc.) is this idea that impact factors are useful in determining the quality and reliability of a scientific study. Some take it to the point that anything with an impact factor less than 10 is questionable. Unfortunately, there are issues with this idea that become apparent once what an impact factor really means is defined. An impact factor is the number of times that the articles in a journal are cited the previous year divided by the number of articles published that year.


Men Resist Green Behavior as Unmanly Aaron R. Brough, James E.B. Wilkie; Scientific American; 26 Dec 2017

Women have long surpassed men in the arena of environmental action; across age groups and countries, females tend to live a more eco-friendly lifestyle. Compared to men, women litter less, recycle more, and leave a smaller carbon footprint. Some researchers have suggested that personality differences, such as women’s prioritization of altruism, may help to explain this gender gap in green behavior.
Our own research suggests an additional possibility: men may shun eco-friendly behavior because of what it conveys about their masculinity. It’s not that men don’t care about the environment. But they also tend to want to feel macho, and they worry that eco-friendly behaviors might brand them as feminine.
The research, conducted with three other colleagues, consisted of seven experiments involving more than 2,000 American and Chinese participants. We showed that there is a psychological link between eco-friendliness and perceptions of femininity. Due to this “green-feminine stereotype,” both men and women judged eco-friendly products, behaviors, and consumers as more feminine than their non-green counterparts. In one experiment, participants of both sexes described an individual who brought a reusable canvas bag to the grocery store as more feminine than someone who used a plastic bag—regardless of whether the shopper was a male or female. In another experiment, participants perceived themselves to be more feminine after recalling a time when they did something good versus bad for the environment.