Smart People Believe Dumb Things

From this article, comes this quote:

Rarely do any of us sit down before a table of facts, weigh them pro and con, and choose the most logical and rational explanation, regardless of what we previously believed. Most of us, most of the time, come to our beliefs for a variety of reasons having little to do with empirical evidence and logical reasoning.

What's interesting to me is that this applies to far more than the pseudo-science babbling out there. I'm also thinking about people's views on politics and the media. Allegedly, when Clarke was on 60 Minutes, criticizing the administration's handling of terrorism prior to 9/11, there were apparently many people calling in and demanding to know why 60 Minutes wasn't being "Fair and Balanced like Fox News." That Fox News offers incredibly blatant yellow journalism isn't what bothers me. It's the people who so blindly swallow it without doing even a minimal digging for the truth. How terribly sad for them.

  • Current Mood: thoughtful thoughtful
  • Current Music: :wumpscut: | Our Fatal Longing
It's an ok article until it lumps alternative medicine in with UFOs and ESP. There is in fact, a great deal of medical and scientific research being done on "alternative medicine" these days. And when you start to actually study the empirical evidence underlying commonly accepted "traditional" medical practices you frequently discover it's much shakier than you would expect.
Yeah, I had some serious problems with the "alternative medicine" comments. That was a bit much for me. There are certain forms of alternative medicine that have proven to be bunk (homeopathy), but others (naturopathy) quite frequently have merit.

On the other hand, one serious problem with naturopathy is the poor quality of the research. Ginkgo biloba? Forget it. Lemon balm to soothe you? There does appear to be some support for this. Unfortunately, it's tough to patent a plant, so drug companies don't want to pay for research.
Part of the problem with studying alternative medicine actually relates to the scientific method and the reductionist nature of Western science. That is: strip everything down to one variable (one drug, treatment, etc...) and test only that variable for efficacy.
But naturopaths traditionally tend to prescribe more elaborate treatments that change many variables at a single time, and are highly customized to the individual patient... like recomending a set of vitamins/supplements/dietary changes. And this kind of technique is virtually impossible to test in a large scale clinical trial.
I AM a scientist, and I (obviously) do believe in the scientific method. But I also think it has limitations, particularly in the field of medicine. Real progress in confirming or disputing naturopathic care is going to require some shifts in the scientific paradigm as well.
But then, we have these problems with everything. We've repeatedly found that the observer and the observed affect one another. We know that nothing significantly complex can be reduced to a single variable. Then Bertrand Russell, while working on his Principia Mathematica, showed that even mathematics cannot provide absolute answers. Everything that we describe with mathematics must, but its very nature, be accepted as having a degree of "fuzziness", if you will. Even science requires a bit of faith.

However, it's reproducible faith. It's painful watching people waste parts of their lives on things that even a minimal amount of research show to be bunk. I will never forget my friend who didn't apply for a "dream job" because her horoscope warned her not to take chances.
And as a correlary to Russell, you'd also want to lump in Kurt Goedel's thoughts on proving the consistency of a system by facts expressed in that system.
Ginkgo biloba? Forget it.

Very nice. :)

I'm too buried right now in a maintenance event gone evil to respond to anything beyond the beautifully executed pun.
I think, fundamentally it's laziness that drives this behavior. Often it's easier to just take what you're given and not ask questions, especially if a topic that does not hold too much interest. There's also a tremendous urge to trust anything that comes from an authoritative sounding source. I have a complete addiction to infomercials and one of the things that is very interesting about them is how cleverly they can present supposition as fact.
Just remember how dumb the average person is.

Then realize that half of them are dumber than that.
You mean Fox News isn't Fair and Balanced? Are you smoking crack, or do you just hate America?
My third year in grad school we added an Indian grad student to the group, fresh off the plane from one of the ITT schools. I can still remember his amazed face the next morning after he discovered the Fox News channel out on the high end of his cable system. He showed up for work and immediately blurted out: "Did you know the Republicans have their own network just for bashing Clinton? How can they do that?"
What's difficult about the Fox News argument is that the average viewer does not discriminate between Fox news and Fox programs.

Because I work from home, I can click through the news channels every couple of hours. Honestly, the headline news coverage on Fox doesn't seem that different to me from the headline news coverage on CNN.

But late afternoon PT, the Fox prime time programming begins and "Fair and Balanced" goes out the window. O'Reilly might interview 2 different consultants ("liberal" versus "conservative") for a segment, but he doesn't hesitate to steamroll over everyone with his own opinion. No one's opinion is fair or balanced - it's opinion!

But because Fox commercials tell viewers that their coverage is "Fair and Balanced," loyal ditto-heads believes that every second on air is just that. And there is a large population segment that agrees with O'Reilly & Co., so why shouldn't they consider that "Fair and Balanced," right?

Ugghhh. It's enough to remind me why I left Dallas, Texas.
Then again, maybe I've worked for PR Newswire too long and I can't tell the difference between fact and press release. ;>