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YANSS 151 – What we can learn about our own beliefs, biases, and motivated reasoning from the community of people who are certain the Earth is flat

April 9, 2019 - 18:11

In this episode we sit down with the director and producers of the documentary film, Behind the Curve, an exploration of motivated reasoning and conspiratorial thinking told through the lives of people who have formed a community around the belief that the Earth is flat.

Also in this episode, we spend time with political scientist Joseph E. Uscinski who researches conspiracy theories and the people who believe in them.

In the show, you hear from these conversations that, like most conspiracy theorists, Flat Earthers are usually reasonable, intelligent, scientifically curious people. They love their families, they hold down jobs, they pay their bills and so on. In other words, they aren’t crazy or stupid.

So, what leads reasonable, intelligent, scientifically curious people into fringe beliefs such as these? What makes a smart person susceptible to conspiratorial thinking? Why doesn’t counterevidence seem to sway them? You will learn all that and more in the episode.


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This episode is sponsored by The Great Courses Plus. Get unlimited access to a huge library of The Great Courses lecture series on many fascinating subjects. Start FOR FREE with Your Deceptive Mind taught by neurologist Steven Novella. Learn about how your mind makes sense of the world by lying to itself and others. Click here for a FREE TRIAL.

Support the show directly by becoming a patron! Get episodes one-day-early and ad-free. Head over to the YANSS Patreon Page for more details.

• You can also support the show by donating through PayPal at this link.

Links and Sources

Download – iTunes – Stitcher – RSS – Soundcloud

Previous Episodes

Behind The Curve Website

The Study of Conspiracy Theories

Conspiracy Theories Can’t Be Stopped

Meta-Analysis of Psychological Research on Conspiracy Beliefs

American Conspiracy Theories

YANSS Episode on Conspiratorial Thinking

YANSS 150 – Belief Change Blindness

April 9, 2019 - 16:47

When was the last time you changed your mind? Are you sure?

In this episode we explore new research that suggests for the majority of the mind change we experience, after we update our priors, we delete what we used to believe and then simply forget that we ever thought otherwise.

In the show, psychologists Michael Wolfe and Todd Williams, take us though their new research which suggests that because brains so value consistency, and are so determined to avoid the threat of decoherence, we hide the evidence of our belief change. That way, the story we tell ourselves about who we are can remain more or less heroic, with a stable, steadfast protagonist whose convictions rarely waver — or, at least, they don’t waver as much as those of shifty, flip-flopping politicians.

This can lead to a skewed perception of the world, one that leads to the assumption that mind change is rare and difficult-to-come-by. And that can lead to our avoiding information that might expand our understanding of the world, because we assume it will have no impact.

The truth, say Wolfe and Williams, is that mind change is so prevalent and constant, that the more you expose yourself to counterevidence, the more your worldview will erode, replaced by a better, more accurate one — it’s just that you probably won’t realize it until you look back at old posts on social media and cringe.

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This episode is sponsored by The Great Courses Plus. Get unlimited access to a huge library of The Great Courses lecture series on many fascinating subjects. Start FOR FREE with Your Deceptive Mind taught by neurologist Steven Novella. Learn about how your mind makes sense of the world by lying to itself and others. Click here for a FREE TRIAL.


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Support the show directly by becoming a patron! Get episodes one-day-early and ad-free. Head over to the YANSS Patreon Page for more details.

Links and Sources

DownloadiTunesStitcherRSS – Soundcloud

Previous Episodes

Boing Boing Podcasts

Cookie Recipes

Poor Metacognitive Awareness of Belief Change

Michael Wolfe

Todd Williams

YANSS 149 – Expert advice on how health experts can better provide good health advice to combat bad health advice from non-experts

March 11, 2019 - 18:02

In this episode, we sit down with vaccine expert Dr. Paul Offit to discuss his new book, Bad Advice or Why Celebrities, Politicians, and Activists Aren’t Your Best Source of Health Information.

Offit has been fighting for years to educate the public, promote vaccines, and oppose the efforts of anti-vaxxers, and in his new book he offers advice for science consumers and communicators on how to deal with what he calls the opaque window of modern media which often gives equal time to non-experts when it comes to discussing vaccination and other medical issues.


Offit likes to say, “Science doesn’t speak for itself.” Someone always speaks for it. Evidence can be twisted, ignored, and selectively presented to support just about any conclusion. Although scientists and other experts are the best source of information about the topics they study, they aren’t always great communicators, he says, and so the media instead gathers around those who are — celebrities, politicians, activists, lobbyists and other camera-savvy non-experts who often cause harm with misleading and incorrect interpretations of facts that ignore the scientific method that produced those facts in the first place.

He urges scientists to learn from his own mistakes over the years as he slowly figured how to deliver medical advice and scientific summations in a way that clearly and simply communicates what we know so far without inflaming fears or providing fuel for conspiratorial thinking.

Download – iTunes – Stitcher – RSS – Soundcloud

This episode is sponsored by The Great Courses Plus. Get unlimited access to a huge library of The Great Courses lecture series on many fascinating subjects. Start FOR FREE with Your Deceptive Mind taught by neurologist Steven Novella. Learn about how your mind makes sense of the world by lying to itself and others. Click here for a FREE TRIAL.

There is no better way to create a website than with Squarespace. Creating your website with Squarespace is a simple, intuitive process. You can add and arrange your content and features with the click of a mouse. Squarespace makes adding a domain to your site simple; if you sign up for a year you’ll receive a custom domain for free for a year. Start your free trial today, at Squarespace.com and enter offer code SOSMART to get 10% off your first
purchase.

Support the show directly by becoming a patron! Get episodes one-day-early and ad-free. Head over to the YANSS Patreon Page for more details.

• You can also support the show by donating through PayPal at this link.

• Survey with chance for $100 Amazon gift card: podsurvey.com/sosmart

From his official bio, “Paul Offit is a pediatrician specializing in infectious diseases and an expert on vaccines, immunology, and virology. He is the co-inventor of a rotavirus vaccine that has been credited with saving hundreds of lives every day.” Offit is a professor of vaccinology and pediatrics at the Perelman School of Medicine at the University of Pennsylvania and the director of the Vaccine Education Center at The Children’s Hospital of Philadelphia. Offit has published more than 160 papers in medical and scientific journals. He is the author of ten books on science and medicine.

Links and Sources

Download – iTunes – Stitcher – RSS – Soundcloud

Previous Episodes

Paul Offit’s Official Website

10,000 Vaccines Paper

YANSS 148 – How their tightness or looseness predicts how cultures will react, evolve, innovate, and clash

March 1, 2019 - 19:42

In this episode, we sit down with psychologist Michele Gelfand and discuss her new book: Rule Makers, Rule Breakers: How Tight and Loose Cultures Wire Our World.

In the book, Gelfand presents her research into norms, along with a fascinating new idea. It isn’t norms themselves that predict how cultures will react, evolve, innovate, and clash, but how different cultures value norms and sanction people who violate them. Through that lens, she categorizes all human cultures into two — kinds, tight and loose.

Tight cultures heavily sanction norm violators. Loose cultures value leniency. Zoomed in, each kind of culture features areas of tightness and looseness, depending on the specific issue or subculture, but as a whole, cultures lean one way or the other. She argues that all human behavior depends on whether a person lives in either a tight culture or a loose one.

In the book, Gelfand explains that evolution shaped our brains so that we biologically inclined to conform to normative influence. Studies show that infants prefer hand puppets that engage in our most fundamental socially normative behavior, like helping others to open a box full of toys instead of preventing others from opening it, or worse still, opening the box and stealing the toys before others can get to them. And by age three, children will openly and vocally sanction other children who do things that are considered taboo in their cultures by saying, “No, you aren’t supposed to do that!”

Why? Gelfand explains that being predisposed to create and live by norms serves a vital function. They allow human cultures to behave automatically and intuitively in familiar environments. In the interview, Gelfand asks us to imagine a restaurant where people grab food off each other’s plates. Then imagine in another restaurant eating before everyone is served could result in a prison sentence. Now imagine a different set of rules for each restaurant you visit. Common restaurant norms, like all norms, allow humans to coordinate efficiently by using a common set of behavioral expectations. With them, human cultures can develop solutions to solve communal problems, to reach common goals, and deal with group threats. They unite us and allow us to quickly and nearly effortlessly get on with the business of living together in groups.

In the book, Gelfand explains how tightness or looseness develops. You’ll hear about it in the interview, but the short version is that cultures tighten up when they face threats. Those threats can be ecological, like food shortages or natural disasters, or they can be historical, like the threat of invasion, the aftermath of wars, or the wreckage of an economic collapse. When resources are tight or in danger of being lost, cultures become rule makers. When resources are plentiful and threats are few, they become rule breakers.

There are drawbacks and benefits to both, and the dynamic within and between tight and loose cultures explain a great deal of the mysteries of human social conflict and evolution. And you’ll hear all about that in the interview.

Download – iTunes – Stitcher – RSS – Soundcloud

This episode is sponsored by The Great Courses Plus. Get unlimited access to a huge library of The Great Courses lecture series on many fascinating subjects. Start FOR FREE with Your Deceptive Mind taught by neurologist Steven Novella. Learn about how your mind makes sense of the world by lying to itself and others. Click here for a FREE TRIAL.

Support the show directly by becoming a patron! Get episodes one-day-early and ad-free. Head over to the YANSS Patreon Page for more details.

You can also support the show by donating through PayPal at this link.

Michele Gelfand is a professor of psychology at the University of Maryland. She directs the Culture Lab, which studies the strength of cultural norms, negotiation, conflict, revenge, forgiveness, and diversity. The lab focuses on an interdisciplinary approach to research, relying on computer scientists, neuroscientists, political scientists, and–increasingly–biologists to understand all things cultural.

Links and Sources

Download – iTunes – Stitcher – RSS – Soundcloud

Previous Episodes

Michele Gelfand’s Official Site

The Culture Lab

YANSS 147 – The replication crisis (rebroadcast)

March 1, 2019 - 18:51

Psychology is working on the hardest problems in all of science. Physics, astronomy, geology — those are easy, by comparison. Understanding consciousness, willpower, ideology, social change — there’s a larger-than-Large-Hadron-Collider level of difficulty to each one of these, but since these are more relatable ideas than quarks and bosons and mass coronal ejections, it’s easier to create eye-catching headlines and make podcasts about them.

This is the problem. Because the system for distributing the findings of science is based on publication within journals, which themselves often depend on the interest of the general media. So all the biases that system, and media consumption in general, inflame are now causing the sciences that are most interesting to the public to get tainted by that interest.

As you will hear in this episode, one of the most famous and most talked-about phenomena in recent psychological history, ego depletion, hasn’t been doing so well in replication attempts.

In the show, journalist Daniel Engber who wrote an article for Slate about the failure to replicate many of the famous ego depletion experiments will detail what this means for the science and the scientists involved.

Also, you’ll hear from psychologist Brain Nosek, who says, “Science is wrong about everything, but you can trust it more than anything.”

Nosek is director of the Center for Open Science, an organization working to correct what they see as the temporarily wayward path of psychology.

Nosek recently lead a project in which 270 scientists sought to replicate 100 different studies in psychology, all published in 2008 — 97 of which claimed to have found significant results — and in the end, two-thirds failed to replicate.

Clearly, some sort of course correction is in order. Which is what science does best. When science has been wrong in the past, it was science itself that discovered it. There is now a massive effort underway sort out what is being called the replication crisis. Much of the most headline-producing research in the last 20 years isn’t standing up to attempts to reproduce its findings. Nosek wants to clean up the processes that have lead to this situation, and in this episode, you’ll learn how he and others plan to do so.

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This episode is sponsored by The Great Courses Plus. Get unlimited access to a huge library of The Great Courses lecture series on many fascinating subjects. Start FOR FREE with Your Deceptive Mind taught by neurologist Steven Novella. Learn about how your mind makes sense of the world by lying to itself and others. Click here for a FREE TRIAL.

There is no better way to create a website than with Squarespace. Creating your website with Squarespace is a simple, intuitive process. You can add and arrange your content and features with the click of a mouse. Squarespace makes adding a domain to your site simple; if you sign up for a year you’ll receive a custom domain for free for a year. Start your free trial today, at Squarespace.com and enter offer code SOSMART to get 10% off your first
purchase.

Support the show directly by becoming a patron! Get episodes one-day-early and ad-free. Head over to the YANSS Patreon Page for more details.

Links and Sources

Download – iTunes – Stitcher – RSS – Soundcloud

Previous Episodes

Boing Boing Podcasts

Cookie Recipes

The Reproducibility Project

How Reliable are Psychology Studies?

Psychology’s reproducibility problem is exaggerated – say psychologists

First results from psychology’s largest reproducibility test

Daniel Engber on Twitter

Everything is Crumbling (Engber’s Article)

How much of the psychology literature is wrong?

The Open Science Framework

The Center for Open Science

The Truth Wears Off

Psych File Drawer

YANSS 146 – Tribal Psychology (rebroadcast)

March 1, 2019 - 18:20

We aren’t treating tribalism as a basic human drive, but that’s what it is. Fast food lowered the cost to satisfy a basic drive, and we grew fat. Social media lowered the cost to exhibit tribal behaviors, and we are growing apart.

In this episode of the You Are Not So Smart Podcast, we spend time with political scientist Lilliana Mason and psychologist Dan Kahan, two researchers exploring how our tribal tendencies are scrambling public discourse and derailing so many of our best efforts at progress — from science communication, to elections, to our ability to converge on the facts and go about the grind of building a better democracy.

In the show, we explore how some incorrect beliefs can be changed with facts alone, with evidence. For those kinds of beliefs, like “It’s going to rain on Sunday,” when we learn new information, we update our priors.

To manage our beliefs in this way is to think, as they say in some circles, like a Bayesian, a term that doffs its hat to the 18th century statistician Thomas Bayes who used a pen and paper to scribble out a formula to describe how that kind of reasoning works. To think like a Bayesian, you imagine your beliefs as a percentage of confidence instead of a simply true or false. So, instead of saying “I believe my hamster is alive and well,” you would say, “I am 70 percent sure that my hamster is alive and well, based on the evidence available to me at this time.”

If we were driven by the pursuit of accuracy above all else, Bayesian reasoning would be how we updated all of our beliefs, but we aren’t and it isn’t. That’s because humans are motivated reasoners. We interpret facts in ways that best meet our goals, and our goals are not always the pursuit of the truth.

In a professional domain like medicine, science, academia, or journalism, people are trained to pursue accuracy, to operate within a framework that helps them overcome other motivations. But we are not always motivated by such empirically lofty goals. Outside of fact-based professions, we are often more motivated to maintain our social support networks, or prevent the decoherence of our identity, or keep our jobs or our bonds with our family or our churches, so if doing so means being wrong about climate change or the moon landing or gun control, that’s an acceptable price to pay to reach such goals.

As you will learn, the latest evidence coming out of social science is clear: Humans value being good members of their tribes much more than they value being correct, so much so that we will choose to be wrong if it keeps us in good standing with our peers.

Once an issue becomes politicized, it leaves the realm of evidence-based reasoning and enters the realm of tribal signaling. It’s always been a challenge to progress, but the power of modern media and modern social media has allowed humans to signal their tribal loyalties on a scale that has never, ever been possible, and this one thing might just be what is driving our intense, modern polarization problem.

Compromise and agreement on policies and laws and decisions and judgments and notions of what is and is not true will naturally become more and more difficult as our ability to signal to others to which tribes we belong increases. In this episode, we learn why this is true, and what we can do about it.

Transcript

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This episode is sponsored by The Great Courses Plus. Get unlimited access to a huge library of The Great Courses lecture series on many fascinating subjects. Start FOR FREE with Your Deceptive Mind taught by neurologist Steven Novella. Learn about how your mind makes sense of the world by lying to itself and others. Click here for a FREE TRIAL.

There is no better way to create a website than with Squarespace. Creating your website with Squarespace is a simple, intuitive process. You can add and arrange your content and features with the click of a mouse. Squarespace makes adding a domain to your site simple; if you sign up for a year you’ll receive a custom domain for free for a year. Start your free trial today, at Squarespace.com and enter offer code SOSMART to get 10% off your first
purchase.

Support the show directly by becoming a patron! Get episodes one-day-early and ad-free. Head over to the YANSS Patreon Page for more details.

You can also support the show by donating through PayPal at this link.

Lilliana Mason is professor of Government and Politics at the University of Maryland where she researches partisan identity, partisan bias, social sorting, and American social polarization. She is the author of Uncivil Agreement: How Politics Became Our Identity, and her work has been featured in the New York Times, the Washington Post, CNN, and National Public Radio.

Dan Kahan is a professor of law and psychology at Yale Law School were he studies risk perception, criminal law, science communication, and the application of decision science to law and policymaking. Today he is a member of the Cultural Cognition Project, an team of scholars “who use empirical methods to examine the impact of group values on perceptions of risk and related facts.”

Links and Sources

Download – iTunes – Stitcher – RSS – Soundcloud

Transcript

Previous Episodes

Boing Boing Podcasts

Lilliana Mason

Dan Kahan

Cultural Cognition Project

Behavioral economist Peter Atwater discusses tribal moods

Kahan paper on politically motivated reasoning

The Minimal Group Paradigm

Political Polarization in the American Public

Papers mentioned:

Image Source: Wikimedia Commons

Music: Incompetech and Caravan Palace

YANSS 145 – Douglas Rushkoff explains why we should revolt against the algorithms so we can get back to our essential human messiness

January 19, 2019 - 21:22

In this episode of the You Are Not So Smart Podcast we sit down with one of the original cyberpunks, the famed journalist, documentarian, media theorist, all-around technology superstar and weirdo, Douglas Rushkoff.

MIT considers Rushkoff one of the “world’s ten most influential thinkers,” and in the episode we talk about his latest (and 20th) book, Team Human

The book is a bit of a manifesto in which he imagines a new counterculture that would revolt against the algorithms that are slowly altering our collective behavior for the benefit of shareholders. Instead, he implores us, we should curate a digital, psychedelic substrate that embraces the messiness of human beings: our unpredictability, our pursuit of novelty and innovation, and our primate/animal/social connectedness.

The book is presented in a series of aphorisms that add up to a rallying cry for building communities outside of what the machines that tend our walled gardens might suggest we build. As the title suggests, he would prefer that we turned our technological attention to encouraging and facilitating teamwork.

In the book, he says that any technology whose initial purpose is to connect people will eventually become colonized and repurposed to repress and isolate them. But, the good news is that we’ve seen this pattern so often that we can now stop it in its tracks and choose to build something else. In the interview, you’ll hear what his thoughts are on all this — and much more.

Download – iTunes – Stitcher – RSS – Soundcloud

This episode is sponsored by The Great Courses Plus. Get unlimited access to a huge library of The Great Courses lecture series on many fascinating subjects. Start FOR FREE with Your Deceptive Mind taught by neurologist Steven Novella. Learn about how your mind makes sense of the world by lying to itself and others. Click here for a FREE TRIAL.

There is no better way to create a website than with Squarespace. Creating your website with Squarespace is a simple, intuitive process. You can add and arrange your content and features with the click of a mouse. Squarespace makes adding a domain to your site simple; if you sign up for a year you’ll receive a custom domain for free for a year. Start your free trial today, at Squarespace.com and enter offer code SOSMART to get 10% off your first
purchase.

Support the show directly by becoming a patron! Get episodes one-day-early and ad-free. Head over to the YANSS Patreon Page for more details.

You can also support the show by donating through PayPal at this link.

Douglas Rushkoff is a professor of Media Theory and Digital Economics at the City University of New York and a titan of technology journalism who coined the terms viral media, digital native, and social currency. His bestsellers include Coercion, Present Shock, Throwing Rocks and the Google Bus, Program or Be Programmed, Life Inc, and Media Virus, and his famed PBS Frontline documentaries include Generation Like, The Persuaders, and Merchants of Cool. His latest project is the Team Human podcast.

 

Links and Sources

Download – iTunes – Stitcher – RSS – Soundcloud

Previous Episodes

Douglas Rushkoff’s Official Website

Douglas Rushkoff’s Twitter

The World’s Most Influential Thinkers

Team Human Podcast

Team Human Book

Generation Like

YANSS 144 – The Backfire Effect – Part Four (rebroadcast)

January 19, 2019 - 18:27

In 2017, You Are Not So Smart produced three episodes about the backfire effect, and by far, those episodes were the most popular the show has ever done.

In fact, the famous web comic The Oatmeal turned them into a sort of special feature, and that comic of those episodes was shared on Facebook a gazillion times, which lead to a stories about the comic in popular media, and then more people listened to the shows, on and on it went. You can go see it at The Oatmeal right now at the top of their page. It’s titled, you are not going to believe what I am about to tell you.

The popularity of the backfire effect extends into academia. The original paper has been cited hundreds of times, and there have been more than 300 articles written about it since it first came out.

The backfire effect has his special allure to it, because, on the surface, it seems to explain something we’ve all experienced — when we argue with people who believe differently than us, who see the world through a different ideological lens — they often resist our views, refuse to accept our way of seeing things, and it often seems like we do more harm than good, because they walk away seemingly more entrenched in their beliefs than before the argument began.

But…since those shows, researchers have produced a series of new studies into the backfire effect that complicate things. Yes, we are observing something here, and yes we are calling it the backfire effect, but everything is not exactly as it seems, and so I thought we should invite these new researchers on the show and add a fourth episode to the backfire effect series based on what they’ve found. And this is that episode.

Download – iTunes – Stitcher – RSS – Soundcloud

This episode is sponsored by The Great Courses Plus. Get unlimited access to a huge library of The Great Courses lecture series on many fascinating subjects. Start FOR FREE with Your Deceptive Mind taught by neurologist Steven Novella. Learn about how your mind makes sense of the world by lying to itself and others. Click here for a FREE TRIAL.

There is no better way to create a website than with Squarespace. Creating your website with Squarespace is a simple, intuitive process. You can add and arrange your content and features with the click of a mouse. Squarespace makes adding a domain to your site simple; if you sign up for a year you’ll receive a custom domain for free for a year. Start your free trial today, at Squarespace.com and enter offer code SOSMART to get 10% off your first
purchase.

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Support the show directly by becoming a patron! Get episodes one-day-early and ad-free. Head over to the YANSS Patreon Page for more details.

You can also support the show by donating through PayPal at this link.

Tom Wood is a political scientist at Ohio State University where he studies political behavior, campaigns, vote choice, and elections. He also studies how conspiratorial and magical thinking influence attitudes and votes, especially when voters experience anxiety and uncertainty. He tweets @thomasjwood.

Ethan Porter is a political scientist at George Washington University where he studies where he studies public opinion, political communication, political psychology, and experimental design. He is working on a book, The Consumer Citizen, which explores how consumer decision-making affects political attitudes and behavior.He tweets at @ethanvporter

Brendan Nyhan is a political scientist at Dartmouth College.  He is a contributor to The Upshot at The New York Times and served as media critic for Columbia Journalism Review. He was co-editor of Spinsanity, a non-partisan watchdog of political spin, and co-authored All the President’s Spin. He is currently research “fake news,” and he tweets @BrendanNyhan

Links and Sources

Download – iTunes – Stitcher – RSS – Soundcloud

Previous Episodes

Boing Boing Podcasts

Cookie Recipes

When Corrections Fail (the original research)

The Elusive Backfire Effect (the new research)

Why We Fight