Deep thought - Aug 8
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How facts backfire
Joe Keohane, Dallas Morning News
. . . Recently, a few political scientists have begun to discover a human tendency deeply discouraging to anyone with faith in the power of information. It's this: Facts don't necessarily have the power to change our minds. In fact, quite the opposite. In a series of studies in 2005 and 2006, researchers at the University of Michigan found that when misinformed people, particularly political partisans, were exposed to corrected facts in news stories, they rarely changed their minds. In fact, they often became even more strongly set in their beliefs.
Facts, they found, were not curing misinformation. Like an underpowered antibiotic, facts could actually make misinformation even stronger.
This bodes ill for a democracy, because most voters – the people making decisions about how the country runs – aren't blank slates. They already have beliefs and a set of facts lodged in their minds. The problem is that sometimes the things they think they know are objectively, provably false.
. . . The general idea is that it's absolutely threatening to admit you're wrong," says political scientist Brendan Nyhan, the lead researcher on the Michigan study. The phenomenon – known as "backfire" – is "a natural defense mechanism to avoid that cognitive dissonance.
. . . Part of the answer lies in the way our brains are wired. Generally, people tend to seek consistency. There is a substantial body of psychological research showing that people tend to interpret information with an eye toward reinforcing their pre-existing views. If we believe something about the world, we are more likely to passively accept as truth any information that confirms our beliefs and actively dismiss information that doesn't (confirm our beliefs).
. . . And relentless self-questioning, as centuries of philosophers have shown, can be exhausting. Our brains are designed to create cognitive shortcuts – inference, intuition and so forth – to avoid precisely that sort of discomfort while coping with the rush of information we receive on a daily basis.
(7 August 2010)
Contributor Jeffrey J. Brown writes:
The author is focused on political issues, with a look at persistent myths among both conservatives and liberals, but the topic is certainly relevant to Peak Oil issues, on both sides of the debate.
But I would argue that the post-2005 crude oil production versus price facts (especially 2005 to 2008) argue for what was (so far) an effective global crude oil peak in 2005, especially in regard to conventional production--in marked contrast to the large increase in crude oil production in the 2002-2005 time frame, in response to rising oil prices.
Deffeyes' prediction was for a global crude oil peak between 2004 and 2008, mostly likely in 2005 (and an erroneous observation about a 2000 peak doesn't count as a wrong prediction; he never backed away from what his model showed).
An evolutionary biology story of stuff
Steve, A Very Beautiful Place
There is an evolutionary biology story of stuff – are you ready to hear it?
You would think that with signals everywhere about how world energy production has peaked, there would be more rational discussion generally about how to prepare for the future. In some ways, our way of living is ridiculously wasteful of energy. At least ten litres of fuel are used to get the 50 litres of petrol to your local filling station and into your car. And when you go and pick up the shopping in the car, you use more energy in the transport to do that than is embodied in the calories in the food itself. In fact we are surrounded by huge amounts of energy in embodied form. To make a car uses nearly as much energy as the car uses over its lifetime.
... A theory of evolutionary biology says that animals, often males, develop features signalling they have an excess of energy. This makes them more attractive to the opposite sex. Crudely put, the female thinks “if he has all that excess energy to make those stupid antlers then he probably has enough to look after me and all the wonderful kids we are going to have”.
What does this all have to do with the peak of oil production? Well, humans work the same way too. We don’t develop protuberances or fancy feathers, but we are nuts about making things look really neat, shiny, straight, flat, fancy, big … you get the idea. I could go on for ages.
This drive to make great stuff, including clothes and running all the way up past yachts to skyscrapers is in part down to a built-in evolutionary drive to procreate. As we are flock animals, the position in the flock is important for the couple so both males and females drive the creation and acquisition of possessions that signal excess of energy.
(29 July 2010)
There's probably truth in this ... and yet, in my opinion, cultural factors are much more important. For example, U.S. industrialists invented modern advertising and consumerism in the early part of the 20th century out of a fear that people would not buy any more manufactured goods once their needs had been satisfied. Because we live in a hyper-consumerist society, we tell ourselves that this is human nature, when in fact it is the result of advertising and insittutional pressure.
The problem with attributing things to human nature is that it leads to despair and cynicism. If cultural factors are to blame, then we have dozens of remedies at our disposal. -BA
State of the World 2010: Transforming Cultures from Consumerism to Sustainability
Throughout history, social movements have played a powerful part in stimulating rapid periods of cultural evolution, where new sets of ideas, values, policies, or norms are rapidly adopted by large groups of people and subsequently embedded firmly into a culture. From abolishing slavery and ensuring civil rights for all to securing women’s suffrage and liberating states nonviolently from colonial rulers, social movements have dramatically redirected societal paths in just an eye blink of human history.
For sustainable societies to take root quickly in the decades to come, the power of social movements will need to be fully tapped. Already, interconnected environmental and social movements have emerged across the world that under the right circumstances could catalyze into just the force needed to accelerate this cultural shift. Yet it will be important to find ways to frame the sustainability movement to make it not just possible but attractive. This will increase the likelihood that the changes will spread beyond the pioneers and excite vast populations.1
This section looks at some ways this is happening already. John de Graaf of the Take Back Your Time movement describes one way to “sell” sustainability that is likely to appeal to many people: working fewer hours. Many employees are working longer hours even as gains in productivity would allow shorter workdays and longer vacations. Taking back time will help lower stress, allow healthier lifestyles, better distribute work, and even help the environment.
This last effect will be due not just to less consumption thanks to lower discretionary incomes but also to people having enough free time to choose the more rewarding and often more sustainable choice—cooking at home with friends instead of eating fast food, for example, making more careful consumer decisions, even taking slower but more active and relaxing modes of transport.
Closely connected to Take Back Your Time is the voluntary simplicity movement, as Cecile Andrews, co-editor of Less is More, and Wanda Urbanska, producer and host of Simple Living with Wanda Urbanska, discuss.
22-page PDF. Articles include:
- "Reducing Work Time as a Path to Sustainability" by John de Graaf
- "Inspiring People to See That Less Is More" by Cecile Andrews and Wanda Urbanska
- "Ecovillages and the Transformation of Values" by Jonathan Dawson