Awkward conversations and science and YOU

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Orca
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Awkward conversations and science and YOU

Post by Orca » Wed May 18, 2022 8:09 pm

How should a scientifically literate person conduct a constructive conversation with someone who holds pseudo-scientific beliefs?

My usual approach is to avoid conflict and quietly scrunch my face, like a frazzled Kermit the Frog. I am not convinced that this is the best solution, considering the rampant misinformation bombarding society from all directions these days.

kermit.jpg

Slogging waste-deep into “battle” every time someone delves into the “healing properties of crystals” or suggests you shouldn’t eat anything you can’t pronounce because “chemicals aren’t natural” is not really sustainable, either.


Image


I have thought about this quite a bit (sorry if I have brought up this topic on APOD before, I think it is very important). Generally I think it is wise to approach such a conversation in a way that doesn’t put the other person on the defensive. If someone feels that he/she is being singled out or attacked – particularly on a subject to which the individual derives self-identity – you are not likely to change that person’s position.

Some conversations grind to a halt in seemingly unavoidable impasse. Let’s say person A is making arguments based on established scientific principles and person B is espousing pseudoscience. If person B does not have even a rudimentary understanding of those scientific principles, to him, person A will sound closed-minded and arrogant. From B’s perspective, A is just describing an “alternate point of view” and is biased because he/she won’t entertain any other solution. If A tries to summarize/explain the scientific positions on which his/her arguments are based, person B is already on the defensive.
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Chris Peterson
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Re: Awkward conversations and science and YOU

Post by Chris Peterson » Wed May 18, 2022 9:36 pm

Orca wrote: Wed May 18, 2022 8:09 pm How should a scientifically literate person conduct a constructive conversation with someone who holds pseudo-scientific beliefs?

My usual approach is to avoid conflict and quietly scrunch my face, like a frazzled Kermit the Frog. I am not convinced that this is the best solution, considering the rampant misinformation bombarding society from all directions these days.


kermit.jpg


Slogging waste-deep into “battle” every time someone delves into the “healing properties of crystals” or suggests you shouldn’t eat anything you can’t pronounce because “chemicals aren’t natural” is not really sustainable, either.


Image


I have thought about this quite a bit (sorry if I have brought up this topic on APOD before, I think it is very important). Generally I think it is wise to approach such a conversation in a way that doesn’t put the other person on the defensive. If someone feels that he/she is being singled out or attacked – particularly on a subject to which the individual derives self-identity – you are not likely to change that person’s position.

Some conversations grind to a halt in seemingly unavoidable impasse. Let’s say person A is making arguments based on established scientific principles and person B is espousing pseudoscience. If person B does not have even a rudimentary understanding of those scientific principles, to him, person A will sound closed-minded and arrogant. From B’s perspective, A is just describing an “alternate point of view” and is biased because he/she won’t entertain any other solution. If A tries to summarize/explain the scientific positions on which his/her arguments are based, person B is already on the defensive.
Pseudoscience, science denialism, conspiracy theory beliefs. These are all closely related, and are generally identified as actual mental disorders. Treatment might work. Argumentation will not, because the stronger the evidence against their views becomes, the more they'll entrench themselves and double down on the nonsense. The only time I argue with such people is in forums where others are listening, because the arguments may be of value to them. But one-on-one? I say nothing, or I say I think differently, or maybe I'll ask a pointed question or two in the hopes that it will make them think at some later time.

(There are a few things that are identified with conspiracy theories, like claiming the COVID vaccine doesn't work, or that Trump won the election. But these are actually claims related to group identity, like some nonsensical religious beliefs, and not conspiracy theories in the usual sense.)
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Re: Awkward conversations and science and YOU

Post by Orca » Mon May 23, 2022 7:56 pm

Another difficult conversation is one with the individual who is completely cynical, to the point that he/she won’t accept any new information. For instance, one might proclaim “Democrats and Republicans are the same, and if you think one is different than the other you are just a rube.” Once that mindset is established there is almost nothing you can say to counter it because any statement or example you provide just reinforces their position. “Oh that’s what they want you to think, you shouldn’t fall for it.” The usual mix of logical fallacies and misinformation are exacerbated by years of frustration and anger (in this case, due to the perceived lack of progress in Washington, etc.)

A recurring theme among conspiracy theories is “special knowledge.” People are validated by the feeling of being “in the know,” having some special perspective others lack. One of the difficulties in countering conspiratorial or pseudo-scientific talking points is that the individual is likely to perceive your counterpoint as a direct attack on this “special knowledge.” Chris, I think this ties into your point about group identity.

While there plenty of hard-line conspiracy folks out there, there are a lot of people who are just misinformed. Sometimes well-meaning people parrot misinformation they’ve picked up - either from family, social media, etc. I have encountered multiple people passing along misinformation during the pandemic; not because they are politically inclined or malicious. These folks are simply repeating “what they have heard.” For example, I heard a co-worker conflating the ideas of antibiotic resistance and virus mutation. “Sure, more people will be protected if they are vaccinated, but the disease will mutate for those who don’t get the vaccine.” I realized she was applying to vaccination efficacy another concept she’d heard about in the news: increasing resistance to antibiotics due to misuse or overuse (because a certain percentage of individual bacteria survive most cases; the surviving bacteria will be the most statistically resistant to the drugs that were used). In fact, the only way to slow down the rate of virus mutation is to prevent its spread because there is a chance of a random mutation every time the virus reproduces. I explained the difference between these two concepts and my co-worker responded with a generally positive attitude; a sort of “...ah, ok, thanks!”

So at least for some there is hope.

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Re: Awkward conversations and science and YOU

Post by geckzilla » Tue May 24, 2022 3:04 am

it's an inherent problem with massive communication forums (ie twitter and facebook) and the idea that any speech that isn't directly threatening or harmful falls under the dome of free speech that we are going to be bombarded by stuff that hits a certain nerve center in the human brain. smaller forums like this one can easily do away with it by establishing rules and moderating away any posts that break them. so yeah, until you can have mass moderation for mass communication, it's going to persist. of course, mass moderation has its own problems... one wonders which is worse.
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Re: Awkward conversations and science and YOU

Post by Chris Peterson » Tue May 24, 2022 4:09 am

geckzilla wrote: Tue May 24, 2022 3:04 am it's an inherent problem with massive communication forums (ie twitter and facebook) and the idea that any speech that isn't directly threatening or harmful falls under the dome of free speech that we are going to be bombarded by stuff that hits a certain nerve center in the human brain. smaller forums like this one can easily do away with it by establishing rules and moderating away any posts that break them. so yeah, until you can have mass moderation for mass communication, it's going to persist. of course, mass moderation has its own problems... one wonders which is worse.
I suspect that we're going to figure out how to control what moves through social media, or we're not going to survive in anything like our current societies.
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Orca
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Re: Awkward conversations and science and YOU

Post by Orca » Tue May 24, 2022 6:18 am

Reddit uses an interesting model. As a whole, reddit is huge; but it is split up into a vast number of dedicated groups (subreddits). I, for instance, subscribe to the sysadmin subreddit and glance at it occasionally. I am insulated from what is happening generally across the platform because I am only focused on specific areas. I wonder if some sort of modular or focused reorganization of social media would help.

Bookface sort of started as a "toss it all up and see what sticks" format for college kids and that hasn't fundamentally changed in all these years despite the ever-expanding audience and scope. It is not uncommon to hear complaining users, annoyed and frustrated by its disjointed nature. Political rant...scroll...advertisement...scroll...dinner pics posted by someone you haven't spoken to in 10 years...SCROLL SCROLL...

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Re: Awkward conversations and science and YOU

Post by Fred the Cat » Tue May 24, 2022 2:45 pm

When I was working as a pharmacist, I had opinions I felt unheard or even unwanted. The internet has opened a platform for all to voice their opinions but societal courtesies have not kept pace with technology. In golf there is an observed etiquette that parallels the rules. Society, currently, has no such equivalent.

In our political system founders conceived checks and balances. I’ve often wondered if they missed one – an ethical branch that guides rather than rules. Just my opinion. :wink:
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Re: Awkward conversations and science and YOU

Post by CampfireDan » Wed Jun 08, 2022 2:21 am

Fred the Cat wrote: Tue May 24, 2022 2:45 pm When I was working as a pharmacist, I had opinions I felt unheard or even unwanted. The internet has opened a platform for all to voice their opinions but societal courtesies have not kept pace with technology. In golf there is an observed etiquette that parallels the rules. Society, currently, has no such equivalent.

In our political system founders conceived checks and balances. I’ve often wondered if they missed one – an ethical branch that guides rather than rules. Just my opinion. :wink:
Opinions are great, but the problem is where people get emotional. I watched a few youtube videos earlier by Steven Crowder called "<topic> Change my mind" which were conversations on controversial topics and many people who had a conversation with him got quite heated. Then it kind of turned into an argument or debate.

For example, I don't think we need pride month anymore because it is just exploited by businesses for money and by loud fools and fakers. The people who argue always say "straight people have all year" which isn't true anymore. The reason why they all say that is because there are so many old and uneducated people who don't understand and turn to hate people for it.

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Re: Awkward conversations and science and YOU

Post by Orca » Fri Jul 01, 2022 6:17 pm

CampfireDan wrote: Wed Jun 08, 2022 2:21 am
Fred the Cat wrote: Tue May 24, 2022 2:45 pm When I was working as a pharmacist, I had opinions I felt unheard or even unwanted. The internet has opened a platform for all to voice their opinions but societal courtesies have not kept pace with technology. In golf there is an observed etiquette that parallels the rules. Society, currently, has no such equivalent.

In our political system founders conceived checks and balances. I’ve often wondered if they missed one – an ethical branch that guides rather than rules. Just my opinion. :wink:
Opinions are great, but the problem is where people get emotional. I watched a few youtube videos earlier by Steven Crowder called "<topic> Change my mind" which were conversations on controversial topics and many people who had a conversation with him got quite heated. Then it kind of turned into an argument or debate.

For example, I don't think we need pride month anymore because it is just exploited by businesses for money and by loud fools and fakers. The people who argue always say "straight people have all year" which isn't true anymore. The reason why they all say that is because there are so many old and uneducated people who don't understand and turn to hate people for it.

I think this is an example of a subjective issue – one’s position can be driven entirely by opinion/beliefs. In this case I suppose you bolster your argument for or against using polling data on public opinion surrounding the awareness month?

There will always be subjective issues we won’t agree on. My concern is the frequency of discord on things that have a basis in objective reality, yet our knowledge/experience is not the framework on which policy and decisions are made.

If you set a burner on your electric oven to high, wait for it to glow orange, and put your hand on it you’ll be burned. The tissues in your hand are damaged by high temperatures. Your political views, religious beliefs, profession, favorite sports-ball team, preferred car brand, artistic taste, musical preferences, sexual orientation, favorite color, GPA, etc. will have zero effect on this fact. Damage from high temperatures is an inextricable aspect of our biology. Most of us tend to make decisions about whether we should touch hot stoves based on this reality, not how we “feel” about it or what we want to happen when do touch hot stoves. I am hesitant to make assumptions on anything these days, but I feel confident we’d all agree that our physiology is reason enough to maintain a “no touch” policy for hot stoves.

Should we think of viruses, as a threat to our health and safety, any differently than hot ovens? Viruses don’t care about political persuasion or religious beliefs any more hot surfaces do. Viruses simply go about the process of reproduction using any host they can access. So why is there such a dependency between our response to a global pandemic and how we deal with hot surfaces?

I hypothesize that humans – all of us - are susceptible to, lets call them, “emotional short circuits” preventing the direct path to a rational solution. I feel like politicians and advertisers have become extremely adept constructing “emotional short circuits” and once they are in place, they are very difficult to remove. There is no political motive to suggest that hot stoves are not dangerous, so it’s easy to find consensus.

Another thing to consider is the human brain’s predisposition for deferring to consistency. The most effective propaganda is not the sudden accusation but the subtle messages over time. In Ukraine today there are people calling back to their families in Russia, explaining what is happening. There are parents who refuse to believe their own children. The state media has been feeding them a narrative for decades and the words of their own children, experiencing the effects of the war first hand, won’t sway them. This shows you how powerful “emotional short circuits” can be, and the hill we have to climb if we ever want to become a society that bases its problem-solving methodology and policy decisions on objective reality.

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Re: Awkward conversations and science and YOU

Post by saturno2 » Sat Jul 02, 2022 2:29 am

Orca wrote
" How should a scientifically literate person conduct a constructive
conversation with someone who holds pseudocientific beliefs? "
Sometimes, some teachers,teach their subject as if it were a dogma
that no admit discussion.
In University, I had a teacher who gave a subject with a pseudocientific
explanation.
I asked him a key question that showed his mistake. The teacher did
not answer me, he got very furious and he said end of the class.

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Re: Awkward conversations and science and YOU

Post by Markus Schwarz » Mon Jul 18, 2022 2:51 pm

Orca wrote: Wed May 18, 2022 8:09 pm How should a scientifically literate person conduct a constructive conversation with someone who holds pseudo-scientific beliefs?
[...]
Some conversations grind to a halt in seemingly unavoidable impasse. Let’s say person A is making arguments based on established scientific principles and person B is espousing pseudoscience. If person B does not have even a rudimentary understanding of those scientific principles, to him, person A will sound closed-minded and arrogant. From B’s perspective, A is just describing an “alternate point of view” and is biased because he/she won’t entertain any other solution. If A tries to summarize/explain the scientific positions on which his/her arguments are based, person B is already on the defensive.
My response depends on their arguments. If it's just pseudo-scientific humbug there is nothing I can do. Sometimes, though, they try to argue for pseudo-science by using established scientific theories. Then, I ask them for more information, which quickly leads back to some pseudo-science argument. But I argue that they have to use only scientific methods, since they themselves said they wanted to use science. So they have to abide to the scientific method. I bring up the analogy with a football (soccer) player who tackles a player from the opposing team and, after receiving a red card from the referee, complains that this move is allowed in rugby. If they want to play football, they have to play by football rules. At least, my reasoning stops their misuse of science for their pseudo-science. But I only discuss in-person and not on or over (in case of friends or relatives) the internet.

I used this strategy recently when one person was "explaining" homeopathy by referring to quantum physics.

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Re: Awkward conversations and science and YOU

Post by Orca » Tue Jul 19, 2022 7:30 pm

saturno2 wrote: Sat Jul 02, 2022 2:29 am In University, I had a teacher who gave a subject with a pseudocientific
explanation.
I asked him a key question that showed his mistake. The teacher did
not answer me, he got very furious and he said end of the class.

Good point. We often assume certain professions – teachers, doctors, scientists – are immune to logical fallacies and “mental traps” such a conspiracy theories or irrational/indefensible positions. However, we’re all human, and thus we are all vulnerable. We can all end up with blind spots.

Markus Schwarz wrote: Mon Jul 18, 2022 2:51 pm My response depends on their arguments. If it's just pseudo-scientific humbug there is nothing I can do. Sometimes, though, they try to argue for pseudo-science by using established scientific theories. Then, I ask them for more information, which quickly leads back to some pseudo-science argument. But I argue that they have to use only scientific methods, since they themselves said they wanted to use science. So they have to abide to the scientific method. I bring up the analogy with a football (soccer) player who tackles a player from the opposing team and, after receiving a red card from the referee, complains that this move is allowed in rugby. If they want to play football, they have to play by football rules. At least, my reasoning stops their misuse of science for their pseudo-science. But I only discuss in-person and not on or over (in case of friends or relatives) the internet.


I used this strategy recently when one person was "explaining" homeopathy by referring to quantum physics.

That sounds like a pretty good strategy for folks who are misinformed but actually care whether their positions are based on evidence and legitimate science. There is not much you can say to the cynic, especially the conspiratorial cynic. I read a comment regarding the Webb images recently that went something like, “I can’t believe you fools actually believe these NASA images are real.” If you were to engage such a person, you’d provide evidence and stay within the confines of science and rational argument; the cynic has no such constraints and can perpetually move the goal posts, throwing out any claim they please.

Proponents of pseudoscience often throw around “science-sounding” terms in an attempt to add legitimacy to their beliefs. One I’ve heard often goes something like this: “...of course we live on after death. Even science says ‘energy can’t be created or destroyed.’” In this case, the word energy is being misused. In science, energy is precisely measured – it is a quantifiable part of the natural world. However in the example, the word “energy” is really just being used in place of traditional words like “spirit” or “soul” but with a modern, “sciency” twist. While it is true that energy is conserved in the universe, it is unlikely to remain in the same form.