Lisa Harris (lrph) Fri 27 Jun 08 17:10
I have that science faith, too. I think that enables me (and others who are science-based) to keep an open mind to new research and changing "truths". People who are religious-based have centuries old ideas that are meant to be adhered to with little change to "truths". I find watching FoxNews is enlightening. I have to remind myself that the majority of the viewership really believes all that is reported on FoxNews, and I try very hard to get into that mindset to see if there is anything I can learn. All I have learned so far is that I really don't see it that way. But knowing that there are those who do believe it keeps me open to trying to find out how or why.
Spero, Ergo Dubito (robertflink) Sat 28 Jun 08 06:52
Isn't "open-minded faith" a bit of an oxymoron? The term "faith" has a long association with not questioning and not inquiring. Is this a sort of metaphorical use of religious terms when discussing science?
"The Best for Your Health!" (rik) Sat 28 Jun 08 08:46
At the risk of speaking for Farhad, I'd say that we're not discussing the content of science so much as the relationship of the general public with science. Science is generally taught so poorly in this country that for most people, it's a collection of facts that a priesthood made up of scientists have found to be true, rather than a method for examining hypotheses. Most Americans have no idea how it's done, and they're left with the results. What's worse, they don't get that these results are provisional, and they feel betrayed every time new results invalidate previous results. And so they percieve science as a somewhat flaky enterprise in which people are proven wrong a lot.
Maria Rosales (rosmar) Sat 28 Jun 08 09:03
Nietzsche talked about the priesthood of scientists back in the 19th century.
My free and simple demeanor set everybody at ease. (pdl) Sat 28 Jun 08 12:16
I thought this op-ed piece from yesterday's times was germane to this topic, Your Brain Lies to You by Sam Wang and Sandra Aamodt: <http://www.nytimes.com/2008/06/27/opinion/27aamodt.html> My question to Farhad is to what extent do you think people are using neuro- and cognitive science deliberately in efforts to promote agendas and turn people's beliefs into reality. Is it possible that the swift boat campaign, for example, was crafted based on scientific research about perception and cognition? Or that folks with anti-science agendas, anti-evolutionaists or climate nay-sayers, for example, are using science to promote their own anti-science agendas? (fwiw, i have not read the book so do not know if you cover this in the book)
Straight Outta Concord (angus) Sat 28 Jun 08 16:22
Pdl, thanks for the link to that NY Times piece. Dynamite.
Andrew Alden (alden) Sat 28 Jun 08 17:42
I would say that I have trust in science, not faith in science. I have faith in ingenuity, not trust.
Cupido, Ergo Sum (robertflink) Sat 28 Jun 08 20:51
Heck, I'm even skeptical about skepticism. BTW, I see no problem committing to a course of action while remaining uncertain about the information on which it it based. OTOH, I can understand why those trying to appeal to voters are less than candid about their uncertainty. (I hope they are actually uncertain, though.)
Steve Bjerklie (stevebj) Mon 30 Jun 08 03:37
>>>People who are religious-based have centuries old ideas that are meant to be adhered to with little change to "truths".<<< This observation might be true except for history. Just within Christianity, reinterpretation, new understandings and even doubts of "centuries old ideas" are the cause of the Reformation and the full array of denominations and sects. Even within the single Biblical book of Genesis (which was written and edited by a handful of different authors) there are different versions of God's presence and authority.
Lisa Harris (lrph) Mon 30 Jun 08 06:43
This is true, but change in religion is not the norm, and major shifts (as in new sects or denominations) occur when big changes happen. ANd those changes may take decades or even centuries to take hold.
"The Best for Your Health!" (rik) Mon 30 Jun 08 07:15
The whole fundie thing isn't much more than a hundred years old.
Steve Bjerklie (stevebj) Mon 30 Jun 08 07:18
Indeed. And big changes are going on now. See: the Anglicans.
Bob Rossney (rbr) Tue 1 Jul 08 08:19
> I have that science faith, too. I think that enables me (and others who > are science-based) to keep an open mind to new research and changing > "truths". People who are religious-based have centuries old ideas that > are meant to be adhered to with little change to "truths". As Winston Wolf put it, let's not start sucking each other's dicks just yet. Thomas Kuhn demonstrated 40 years ago (in _The Structure of Scientific Revolutions_) that the open-mindedness of the scientific community is not all it's cracked up to be. Scientists fall prey, all the time, to the very sorts of selection bias that Farhad describes in his book. They've got a good ideology, but in practice they're canalized by their careers and their culture just like anyone else. (As <dyche> once said, two scientists would rather use each others' toothbrushes than their terminology.) There's a reason that medical anthropology is a booming field. If you're making a distinction between "scientific-minded" and "religious-minded," what you're probably doing is dividing the world into cliques and claiming that the one you're in is cool. The "religious-minded" brush is broad indeed, and the ease with which we slip into tarring others with it ought to tell us something. I'm personally a little leery of any theory that tells us that Richard Dawkins is smarter than Thomas Aquinas, much as I like scientism. I think, for instance, that many of the groups that Farhad writes about would characterize themselves as "scientific-minded." The 9/11 deniers sure do, and you can bet that Peter Duesberg calls himself that. This should give pause to anyone who wants to claim that mantle for themselves.
Brian Slesinsky (bslesins) Tue 1 Jul 08 08:34
That's a good point. However, I still think a distinction can be made. When speaking of people who follow science rather than the scientists themselves, how about distinguishing between people who follow the scientific news with a serious intent of understanding what scientists have learned, versus those who are suspicious of scientists in general and place little weight on what they publish?
Scott MacFarlane (s-macfarlane) Tue 1 Jul 08 08:54
...and our postmodern mainstream is not controlled by either religion or the science, but by whichever approach best serves the geo-political marketing (P&L/R.O.I.) interests of the plutocrats hiding behind the curtain of media and governance.
Bob Rossney (rbr) Tue 1 Jul 08 23:31
> how about distinguishing between people who follow the scientific news > with a serious intent of understanding what scientists have learned, > versus those who are suspicious of scientists in general and place > little weight on what they publish? You mean, between people who aren't skeptical and people who are? No, of course you don't, but it's not so easy to tell the difference except in cartoon-character cases.
Phil (philg25) Wed 2 Jul 08 00:01
phil (philg25) Wed 2 Jul 08 00:03
"whirled peas" That always struck me as frighteningly accurate in that off-hand, unintended way that many things are. So many folks are spun and spun and come out with an approximation of what they think might be real. So often anymore, that has become good enough to call Life. Keeping one's nose to the ground and filtering out as much peripheral input as possible might keep us on the trail, but how long can we keep it up and how much of that can we do before we are not living in any meaningful way at all? The more labels we apply to ourselves, the "others" and processes, the more we are clouding our nasal metaphor with the scent of other's droppings and leaving off our focus on the hunt. While trying to convince myself and others I am "scientific-minded" or "religious-minded" or whatever, I am deeply into the game and not the search. The whole concept of "open-minded" anything ("scientific-minded", etc.) does mean something to me. To me, it means I am not limiting my thought process by unnecessarily labeling and therefore limiting and possibly mis-labeling, whatever I am examining. The NYT article was excellent (perhaps because it so personally meaningful - Question. Does the fact that it is personally meaningful make it any less "true"?) Our brain is stacked against us. Our past and the sum total of our experiences lead us by the nose. The Politicians, Wall Street and any number of Corporate Greed Monsters, Religions, NonProfit Organizations and True Believers of every ilk are out there with the precise intention of convincing us what they have to say is the Truth. That we can filter as much as we do and glean what little we can is quite nearly a miracle. Now it is becoming something akin to a religious experience. I always felt that the "seeing the Truth" or "seeing God" aspect of the more effective hallucinogens had to with the chemical stripping of our mental filtration system. We are "allowed" to see things as they "really are". But, of course, there is all that other fun stuff that often got in the way. So filtering to keep it real or not filtering to keep it Real - what are we to do when we are hampered by our brains from the very get?
Dodge (clotilde) Wed 2 Jul 08 08:26
I was grimly amused last night while flipping channels when the story about the woman who died on the hospital emergency room floor after sitting there for 24 hours without care. They showed the videotape of her getting up out of her chair or trying to then sliding to end up face down on the floor - where she stayed for several hours while nurses, security guards and other patients either ignored her or poked her. There was a female(Amy somebody) talking head on the right screen and another female talking head on the left screen. The right screen was the woman carefully stating the news from the locality and she was not obviously, at first, shellacking the matter a bit. And the left screen woman was stopping her and underlining some of her, um, Understatements. Left Woman was carefully not insulting her intelligence and her VOICE said she was just being inquisitive and her Facial expression said she was just being curious but the wording of the questions were downright incredulous and a bit sarcastic about what Right Woman was saying. Which began pointing out to the audience the downright baldface SPIN being put on the news story by the people Right Woman worked for. I was thinking of your book the whole time. MUST buy a copy of mine own now.
Farhad Manjoo (fmanjoo) Wed 2 Jul 08 08:30
Sorry I've been absent for a few days; I've been writing about the Smart car (another topic altogether). But let me get to the discussion post-by-post. I'm going to side with Bob in this business of whether the problems I'm talking about don't affect "scientific-minded" people. As Bob nicely puts it -- though Winston Wolfe says it better! -- scientists sometimes fail in much the same way the rest of us do (after all, they're human). The 9/11 example is a good one: Many scientists, working beyond their expertise or looking at partial bits of evidence or falling for confirmation bias, believe that the government cooked up that attack. The HIV-denialists are an even better example of the same dynamic. Scott, you're arguing that there's a "postmodern mainstream," and I'm saying that the breaking up of media sources has eliminated the mainstream altogether: And yet I don't think we're so far apart. I think the primary difference is that you're allowing for some (or many?) commonly held views, ideas that can still cross the many niches. More generally I think you're saying that there remain mechanisms or forms of media that can disseminate these shared notions. If that's a fair summary of your views, then I don't disagree with you; after all, a large majority of Americans once believed Saddam had weapons of mass destruction and that he'd been involved in 9/11. I think you'll agree, though, that as a national culture we share many fewer such beliefs than we did in the past, no? That things are more nichey? So we can meet somewhere in the middle? PDL, citing that fine NYT op-ed, asks, "My question to Farhad is to what extent do you think people are using neuro- and cognitive science deliberately in efforts to promote agendas and turn people's beliefs into reality." I don't think the practice is widespread, not consciously. That is, for instance, the Swift Boat Veterans for Truth certainly never thought that their ideas had some scientific basis. That's not to say that knowledge from these fields hasn't filtered through to propaganda machines. Marketers are fond of psychology and brain science; commercial persuasion relies on the fruits of these sciences. What's interesting is that the most overt call for the use of brain-science findings in persuasion has come from the left -- namely, George Lakoff.
Scott MacFarlane (s-macfarlane) Wed 2 Jul 08 09:16
"the most overt call for the use of brain-science findings in persuasion has come from the left -- namely, George Lakoff." Yes, but Lakoff's argues for this as a reaction to the very effective way that the Right initiated such intentional "framing" of information. In other words, more than ever, whether from the clowns on the left of us, jokers to the right, or the plutocrats behind the industrial/info curtain, we need to recognize that we are consumers of perspective as much as we are consumers of goods and services. The question, then, is one of who is doing the selling, what do they want me to buy, and why. Most of the time, as philg25 points out, we become wired to not even ask such questions. The French philosopher, Jaque Ellul, called this Propagadas"--plural--where such things as plugging into a 9 to 5 work system is largely taken for granted. Ellul wrote this in the 1970's, but with global capitalism and information age control systems, it's more true than ever. However, a distinction needs to be made between the political realm where "framing" is intentional as a way to sway opinion, or ingrained institutional propagandas which form much of the way we plug into the system in a day-to-day fashion. As long as the populous is acquiescent to such participation we are all part of the machine. One of the key differences between the era of the counterculture and now is in how the marketing of individuality and alternatives is, ironically, part of creating pocket conformity within the larger system, instead of the idea of fashioning a whole new system. Globalized consumer capitalism is the new postmodern mainstream, yet I agree that, this system is malleable to niches, including such enormous niches as the centralized state capitalist governments as the People's Republic of China. (Don't hear much anymore of the old American mainstream adage that the only good commie is a dead commie).
Get Shorty (esau) Wed 2 Jul 08 09:52
This reminds me of the provocative BBC documentaries by Adam Curtis, "The Century of the Self" and "The Trap." They both deal with the world after Freud, and how various psychological theories of human behavior have fed political and consumer ideologies. Freud's nephew, Edward Bernays, created modern public relations (a term he coined because of the negative connotations of "propaganda"). "The Trap" shows how consumerism, modern politics, and even organization design in business have evolved from the self-interest of game theory to subtle promises of "freedom" -- a kind of personal empowerment to live life the way we want (even if, as Curtis shows, this can lead to less real freedom). conservatives like Thatcher and Reagan successfully played these promises one way, Clinton and Blair another. The link is a bit tenuous, I suppose, but I see it in Rove's "we make our own reality" quote above and in the rejection of authority -- of government, certainly, but also of science, and facts themselves. Perception is reality, and maybe what Rove meant, consciously or not, is that all of us make our own reality, and those who are especially adept at controlling their audience's perceptions thus control the reality they get to live in. Current communications techology has sped up the process but not really altered the techniques: repeat your message often and with various forms of force, while carefully discrediting your enemy's.
Wagner James Au (wjamesau) Wed 2 Jul 08 21:23
Farhad, I'm not sure it's specifically covered in your book (which I still look forward to reading), but I wonder if you could talk about some of the experiences you had with Salon readers over stories which didn't fit their own ideological skew, and thus generated tremendous outrage-- for example, your series of articles saying there was no evidence that the Bush campaign didn't steal the 2004 election. What lessons did you draw from that which informed your book?
Cogito? (robertflink) Fri 4 Jul 08 06:37
I second the question.
Dodge (clotilde) Fri 4 Jul 08 07:52
Um. To clarify... Bush DID steal the election Or Bush Did Not steal the election Or There just isn't any evidence one way or the other leaving us with an unverified contrary belief - I'd trade you for a bit of lunch.
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