When Debate Fails, Turn to Analysis

Posted on by Pastabagel and tagged , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

The question is the symptom.

In a previous article, “Is Science Just a Matter of Faith?” I argued that for non-scientists, science is a matter of belief–faith, if you will–in the statements made by authority figures about science. An article in Mother Jones, “The Science of Why We Don’t Believe Science”, presents a series of very elaborate and rather convoluted propositions from philosophy and neuroscience to argue that due to the way humans imbue reasoning with emotion, science is not only a matter of belief, but a matter of believing only the science that is consistent with what we already believe.

But the article then leaps to a seriously erroneous conclusion: “And that undercuts the standard notion that the way to persuade people is via evidence and argument. In fact, head-on attempts to persuade can sometimes trigger a backfire effect, where people not only fail to change their minds when confronted with the facts—they may hold their wrong views more tenaciously than ever.”

In support of this, the article cites studies attempting to change change people’s deeply held but factually wrong beliefs about global warming and the Iraq-9/11 link.

There error here is in assuming that people hold these beliefs because they conform to previously held beliefs and biases. People believe these things because they want to believe them. If someone continues to believe in a link between Ira and the 9-11 attacks, showing them a mountain of evidence to the contrary will never change their mind, because you are not attacking the deep and personal reasons they hold that belief. That belief may be as simple as the desire to see someone punished for the attacks (not blamed, punished), or the need to feel strong after feeling so weak and vulnerable. We were attacked that day and seeing it on TV and hearing all the emotional stories afterwards made me feel so vulnerable, upset and exposed that I want to lash out at anyone anywhere who has ever threatened us. In this hypothetical person’s mind, there actually is a similarity between the Iraq and Al Qaeda. And that similarity forms the link. Proving that the Hussein government was never in contact with the Al Qaeda leadership in no way affects that smiilarity.

Likewise, global warming is equally a threat. Maybe it’s true, maybe not, but I’ve built an enitre life relying on cars, air conditioning, and cheap and reliable electricity and I don’t think I could handle changing all that. It’s easier to say “your science is wrong” then to face a reality: “These changes are scary to me. My job is 20 miles from my work and there is no public transport, and I’ll be stranded without my car. If global warming is real, I’ll have to move away…”

The problem is not argumentation or reasoning. The problem, as in most cases, lies in understanding the real problem. And there is a real problem that affects those people very personally. No one protests tax hikes that won’t actually affect them directly unless they are really really angry, and they are usually really really angry about something else that does affect them directly.

If you want to change a 9-11 conspiracy theorists mind about the government, start by asking the person what their mother/father/teacher/older brother/coach thinks about the theory and what that authority figure thinks of the person’s belief in the conspiracy theory. Because a conspiracy theory is about a very personal anger, resentment, and distrust of an authority figure in their lives that is projected onto the government. It isn’t about the tensile strength of steel at high temperature.

Being a birther is not about birth certificates and hospital records. It’s about fear of the Other (a fear implanted by parents or a social group) where the too-close Other is embodied by a president who doesn’t code as President (not a patrician, not a cowboy, not Horatio Alger poor-boy-makes-good), doesn’t code as “black” (not Ice Cube, Denzel, Oprah, Colin Powell, or Condi Rice), and has an arabic middle name.

These wrong but strongly held beliefs are symptomatic of an underlying personal conflict, and when they are held by a great many, it suggests that the underlying conflict is likewise widepsread.

The way to overcome these beliefs is not through argument and evidence, but through questions that get to heart of the matter for that individual. Only when the issue is resolved for a number of individuals will the pattern among the national demographic emerge.

If the body politic holds beliefs that conflict with reality, and the persistence of those conflicts prevent it from addressing its problems or cause it to stagnate, then we need to put the body politic on the couch.

And you have to ask the right questions. What really upsets them about this idea? What is really the problem inside the problem? When

“Tell me, what’s bothering you today?” 

Related posts:

  1. Is Science Just a Matter of Faith?
  2. Science Journalism, or, at some point you just believe

34 Responses to When Debate Fails, Turn to Analysis

  1. DJames says:

    As I began reading this, I really hoped PB was applying the thesis to the scientific community, not merely Joe the Plumber. Wouldn’t that have been more intriguing? Or is that post coming up?

  2. ExOttoyuhr says:

    Employing analysis in the failure of debate is an interesting point, but an awful lot of people are now very strongly vested in the idea that Obama’s grandmother is lying through her teeth. If he actually turns out not to have been born in the US, the constitutional crisis will be _nothing_ next to the crisis of credibility. The floodgates will be opened for the conspiracy theorists — that is to say, for the hollow-earth and Mexican Jew Lizard people who were the only sorts described by the label “conspiracy theorist” before 2008.

    • Balsamred says:

      “but an awful lot of people are now very strongly vested in the idea that Obama’s grandmother is lying through her teeth.”

      Why does she have to be lying? I watched those videos of her being interviewed, too, and it seemed like all she really said was that she remembered his birth. You could make the leap that she remembered it because she was there, but that is assuming a lot of the words of someone being questioned through an interpreter.

      And the jury’s still out on whether being born abroad to a US citizen parent makes a person ineligible to be president anyway, so a constitutional crisis seems unlikely. I don’t get your second point–the floodgates will be opened for other conspiracy theorists to… do what, exactly? It’s unlikely that people will start accepting theories that contradict the facts if they don’t fit into their worldview in some way already.

  3. Dan Dravot says:

    The birthers are probably wrong, and they look like they shop at Walmart; therefore, everything you disagree with is just a lot of silly vaporish stuff that silly little people made up because they have emotional problems.

    You, on the other hand, believe everything you believe for purely Objective and Scientific reasons. And logic (see above). It’s all evidence and logic all the time, with Ol’ Steely-Nerved Pastabagel! Maybe other people need to sit down and ask themselves why they believe what they do, maybe take a long look in the mirror, but you don’t. You’re a wry, thoughtful, objective, dispassionate observer of the foibles of lesser types. You’re the baseline. You’re perfect just the way you are.

    De haut en bas and all that. What a happy coincidence that the narrative you’ve constructed makes you feel so secure and superior and safe.

    When I was fifteen, I discovered that you can bully somebody by talking about him to others, in the third person, while he’s there in front of you. You “psychoanalyze” him, and you refuse to answer anything he says to you. If he calls you a prick (quite likely, since you are one), you say “notice how irritable and defensive he’s getting. That’s usually caused by sexual inadequacy.” Stuff like that. I did this to one kid I knew, a friend. If you keep it up long enough it’s incredibly annoying. I didn’t realize how annoying until I noticed he’d begun hating me.

    What I was doing was pushing a narrative in which he was not a fellow human being, but a sort of dehumanized research subject. It’s really degrading to treat somebody that way. You can assert a sort of power over somebody simply by refusing to stay within the bounds of civilized behavior. The power you have is that he can’t make you stop. The power to be a mean-spirited asshole is a pathetic, contemptible sort of power, though, and only weak people feel energized by it. I grew out of it soon enough, and when I look back now on my very much younger self, I squirm with embarrassment. I was fifteen, and it was unforgivable. How old are you?

    In this post, you are rehearsing a narrative in which you depict yourself as being more powerful than people you regard as the Other, and in which you demonstrate your superiority by treating them with contempt, as hopelessly inferior things rather than as people. You tell the story, and then you stand back and admire the hero, yourself.

    What an embarrassing, repulsive little fantasy that is. And you’re just rolling around in it with a box of Kleenex. Ugh.

    I’ve said the same thing in a few different ways. I don’t believe that any of them will even dent your ego defenses.

    Here’s how grownups in a democracy think: Everybody’s full of shit about something. Like you, we all think the other guy is obviously wrong. AND THAT’S OK. Objective truth exists, but outside of bone simple stuff like particle physics and the efficiency of algorithms, there is no trusted and infallible third party to decree for us whose opinion about objective truth is correct. Elections and rule of law are the gold standard for getting along with each other in the absence of that trusted and infallible third party. The answers we arrive at in a democracy will often, in the long run, turn out to have been wrong. But even the best philosopher king will be more wrong, more often, in ways that trample on more people’s rights. (And who do you trust to pick the “best” philosopher king anyway?) We will always have wrong answers. Let us therefore arrive at those wrong answers peacefully and with minimal trampling of rights, like civilized fucking human beings.

    If you want to retreat into an adolescent fantasy where we can free ourselves from wrong answers, you’re an idiot. We can’t do that. It’s not an option on the menu here at Restaurant Earth. If you don’t know that you might be wrong, you are still a child. Fortunately, as long as we have elections, we’ll be averaging my dumb mistakes with yours and with any luck we won’t start killing each other. Killing each other would be incredibly tedious and unpleasant.

    Incidentally, nobody is “protesting tax hikes that won’t affect them directly”. They are protesting radically irresponsible policies which are 99% certain to result in future tax hikes which will crush them. There is serious talk in wonk circles about a VAT, which will affect everybody, even the poor who now pay no federal taxes at all (not counting the hidden cost of import duties, price supports, ag subsidies, and other dumb stunts). The Dems wanted to have a carbon tax by now, and that would have affected everybody. They may get it yet. You can’t possibly tax the rich enough to pay for the kind of insane spending the Democrats want. The numbers don’t add up. No man is an island, either: Do you have any idea how important private capital is for an economy? Destroying the rich would hurt you, me, and everybody. Anyhow, fundamentally, there IS such a thing as too much government. You can’t have half the country standing around giving orders to the other half. Nobody needs that much government, nobody can afford it, and you’d end up like East Germany in any case.

    It’s like you spend your days collecting stupid, and then you bring it all here to share with us.

    • Pastabagel says:

      It’s like you spend your days collecting stupid, and then you bring it all here to share with us.

      Okay, so obviously, you’re upset, right? So if it makes you feel any better, everything I wrote applies equally to all the ANSWER folks protesting the war in 2002 and 2003, it applies to all the radical left-wing G8 protestors, etc. Happy now?

      You can’t possibly tax the rich enough to pay for the kind of insane spending the Democrats want.

      Seriously? Your argument is “tax and spend democrats”?

      Do you have any idea how important private capital is for an economy? Destroying the rich would hurt you, me, and everybody. Anyhow, fundamentally, there IS such a thing as too much government. You can’t have half the country standing around giving orders to the other half. Nobody needs that much government, nobody can afford it, and you’d end up like East Germany in any case

      Tell me, Dan, what’s bothering your today?

      • ThomasR says:

        I don’t agree with some of what Dan wrote, but I do have to agree that a condescending tone of absolute certainty can be as annoying coming from a psychiatrist as it is coming from a right-wing Ayn Rand lover or a left-wing environmentalist.

        I thought your post was pretty good, interesting, and could help in some cases. I think Dan’s first four paragraphs or so are also pretty interesting (and entertaining). As well as the later statement that “Here’s how grownups in a democracy think: Everybody’s full of shit about something. Like you, we all think the other guy is obviously wrong.”

        Luckily I’m 100% infallible, so I can tell when you’re right and when Dan’s right and put it all together into a perfect package of truth…

    • CubaLibre says:

      So we’re all wrong, all the time?

      Well, no, so – sometimes, one of us is wrong and one of us is right. Or maybe we’re both wrong in different ways, or both right in certain limited circumstances. How do we navigate this forest of possibilities? Maybe by asking the questions pastabagel recommends in his post? We can ask them of ourselves, too – it’s not like he foreclosed that option.

      • blithelyunaware says:

        Taking your argument further, one of us will be more right more often than the (O)ther. Simply because the philosopher king is not infallible does not mean he isn’t the best suited to rule. Sure, everyone constructs narratives that jibe with their values and worldview, but I for one would not like to see the Supreme Court replaced with nine random birthers. You could say that some people are born extraordinary and others just ordinary. I prefer the extraordinary be in power.

    • Guy Fox says:

      Dan, if you’re reading it, it’s for you. Why did you continue reading beyond the point when the bile started to rise in your throat?

      It’s a free country (and a free ‘net, more importantly), brother, for PastaBagel and for you. He’s free to write what he pleases (and I hope you’re a ‘he’, Pastabagel, otherwise, I apologize), and you’re free to stop reading whenever you want. But you didn’t. Why not?

      • blithelyunaware says:

        In Dan’s defense I find it noble when someone reads and engages with ideas they don’t agree with. You learn much more constructing dialectics than you do reading material that only reinforces what you already believe.

      • CubaLibre says:

        Yeah, this kind of objection is one of the flimsiest. No one disputes pastabagel’s “right” to make this post, least of all Mr. Dravot. He instead disputes its content and has opened a dialogue about it – not only is this appropriate in almost any situation, but especially here, where such dialogues are explicitly the entire purpose of the blog.

  4. thecobrasnose says:

    What an infuriating post! The smug, simplistic mis-characterization of people with political opinions and priorities different than your own seems an example of that “fear of the Other” you ascribe to those whom you presume to analyze. From this end, it came across as just so many iterations of “It’s what plants crave.”

  5. qerplonk says:

    I’ve got a bone to pick on the interpretation of global warming. Isn’t it fair to say that there are people who champion global warming out of similar deeply held personal beliefs? People are evil and are polluting the planet; it’s up to people like me to bring them to their knees.

    I think it’s ok to believe the globe is warming, and be fine with that. There’s a wide gulf between a modest increase in temperature over decades and armageddon. If there were other solutions to the “problem” other than transferring the energy industry to government control, I’d listen. Though I’m betraying my deeply held beliefs now.

    Also: Dan Man. C’mon with these comments.
    This blog is powered by WordPress. You should look into getting your own.

    • Pastabagel says:

      Isn’t it fair to say that there are people who champion global warming out of similar deeply held personal beliefs?

      Yes, that’s exactly right. That’s the point. But the Mother Jones article was arguing from the other side so I followed that lead in the interests of making the point that it isn’t about convincing people that the position they’re voicing is wrong, it’s about understanding what the very personal stakes the person is defending.

  6. xylokopos says:

    Dan might be a tad harsh on PB, but seriously, the whole ” that’s not the issue, i’ll tell you what the issue is and why you are wrong” approach is patronizing and rubs alot of people the wrong way; and the whole post-modern yapping about the “Other” is a pile of rubbish.

    • boeotarch says:

      Ok, well let’s take the birthers then. Why do they care so much about the birth certificate? It’s the kind of technicality they wouldn’t even bother looking at unless they already wanted him gone for some other reason. I sincerely doubt that the birth certificate issue was the last straw for anyone, it was just another validation of the belief that he’s not a real American.

      • boeotarch says:

        Sorry about the strike, meant to italicize. Not exactly well-versed in the tags.

        • thecobrasnose says:

          While I am unconvinced President Obama was born someplace other than Hawaii, I have some sympathy for the birthers on the basis of what I call The Parable of George W. Bush’s Hemorrhoid. In the aftermath of CBS New’s attempted character assassination of GWB using forged documents, the then President ordered all of his military records (again) become available to the press. The New York Times saw fit to report that he had a hemorrhoid when he applied for service in the National Guard–a detail that was gleefully splashed all over the media.

          Fast forward a mere five years and marvel as that same media characterizes demand to see a key document in a President’s history as crazy and invasive. Whence the passion for thoroughness and accuracy (not to mention the love a a cheap shot)?

          Or we could turn the question around and ask, why would the media be so hostile to a group–even one as shrill and naive as birthers sometimes are–interested in basic biographical documentation of the origins of leader of the free world unless deep down they suspected there was something he wished to conceal and they were eager to abet him? Is one behavior really that much more nuts than the other?

          To recap:

          GWB’s hemorrhoid–Newsworthy!
          BHO’s birth certificate–Why would you want to see that, you lunatic fearer of The Other?!

  7. xylokopos says:


    9/11, the whole Iraq thing and Obama’s b-place, are all issues that can be viewed as strictly political and therefore part of the debate.

    Climate change ( along with resource depletion, alt energy and population) is a scientific issue that has been hijacked by politicians, journos and assorted interest groups and turned into a political/financial issue; it is constantly misunderstood and misrepresented and therefore, is “debated” rather than analysed or explained.

    People don’t believe in chemical engineering the way they believe in scientology. You are abusing a variety of terms and definitions. The Pope has a vested interest in refusing evolution and natural selection, but the average plummer/pornstar/photographer etc. is a victim of ignorance, pure and simple; he just doesn’t get it. And to correct this, you don’t need to address some sort of deep seated fear of whatever. Proof, theory, argument, hypothesis etc. are all words that are defined differently within a scientific context. The general theory of relativity is something different than the general theory of the correlation between lower back tattoos and sex on the first date. And you don’t really need to be a scientist to get that, if you have finished your primary school education and undestand things like the multiplication table or the heliocentric model ( note: anothe word with a different meaning in science than everyday life), you have more than enough to understand that you don’t just take a scientist’s word for it. You get it.

    • Pastabagel says:

      The Pope has a vested interest in refusing evolution and natural selection, but the average plummer/pornstar/photographer etc. is a victim of ignorance, pure and simple; he just doesn’t get it. And to correct this, you don’t need to address some sort of deep seated fear of whatever.

      First, the Pope and the Catholic church all accept and acknowledge the scientific veracity of evolution, and evolution is taught in Catholic schools.

      The people who do not accept evolution do have some non-scientific personal issue or belief system that prevents them from accepting evolution as scientific fact the way all the other non-scientists do. And until we understand what that is, then the evolution creationism debate will never end, because the debate is taking place on the wrong terms.

      And the general theory of relativity is a terrible example to use, because no one just “gets it.” The theory directly conflicts with our experience, because the theory deals with extreme conditions that we never experience. But most people don’t have a problem accepting it as the scientific truth because it doesn’t conflict with anything they already believe much more deeply.

      • Rooster says:

        Anecdote: I went to a catholic university, and we had an obligatory “Christian Ethics” four-hours a week one-semester period. This was by my third year of college.

        First thing we did in that class? We watched the old version of “12 Angry Men” (the black-and-white one, not the one with Tony Danza) and had weeks of debate on the nature of truth and how it relates to its impact.

        If you didn’t see either of the versions of that film, there’s a murder trial (not shown) and the jury is taken to a room they can’t leave until there is a consensus on guilt/innocence. At first sight all evidence presented on the trial point to guilt, but one of the jurors begins to point flaws in the whole process, gradually winning over the initially hostile others.

        The point of showing that in a religion class for grown-ups is that passion (which the accused’s court-appointed lawyer didn’t have, but the juror-champion did) and impact (if the evidence is weak enough, the preferable option is to acquit, because it means putting a kid behind bars and ruining the rest of his life re:jobs, etc.) make a world of difference in what we come to accept as truth. As odd and “self-serving” as it seems, I think this is why the church doesn’t just shed away the child abusing priests.

        All of this, of course, is a very pietist stab at deconstruction, but it is nevertheless deconstruction. The really odd thing is that the catholic church has been playing this game of deconstruction at least since Aquinas in a very public way that can’t quite be characterized as “self-serving”, as this “self” is mutating out of its own deconstruction.

      • xylokopos says:

        Hmm, aright, the Pope thing, terrible argument, my apologies, don’t really know how savvy the Vatican’s PR machine is these days, though I do know they are more relaxed about the whole Evil Jews and Evil Galileo issues, so feel free to substitute “Pope” for “Patriarch at Constantinople” or “Mullah Omar” etc. I merely wanted to show that figures of authority or symbols of office whose authority rests on a decidedly non-scientific worldview might have a type of systematic bias preventing them from acknowledging stuff, but the rest laymen/average beer drinkers might just suffer from a lack of training/understanding basic principles.

        I didn’t use the theory of relativity as an example of what people get or not, I used it as an example of “theory” in a scientific context, as decidedly different than “theory” in a pub setting, where I turn and tell my mate Jeff, you know Jeff, I’ve got this theory about fat women…

  8. ThomasR says:

    I think this post and the reactions to it are worth a deconstructive post of their own…

  9. SNAFU says:

    Ha! this post turned into a hot mess.

    My 2 cents, I agree with PB’s premise regarding different things bothering people. But I don’t know if that can be applied categorically to every time someone holds a view.

    The thing that rubbed me the wrong way about the Mother Jones article is that it was an exercise in confirmation bias for left leaning individuals. It was basically saying that anyone who holds Conservative views is a hick fool. I can see why PB’s post would likewise rub some people the wrong way because it is a bit over-broad and it does not challenge the anti-Conservative tone of the Mother Jones article.

    Honestly though, PB doesn’t have to defend Conservatism, Birthers, or people who deny Global Warming. If you’re inclined to take offense to that, then address the hypocrisy of Mother Jones. PB, I believe, was attempting to address a different premise. Let’s not make him a proxy for for something else.

  10. Guy Fox says:

    Pastabagel, your interpretation is intuitively appealing, but where’s the data? You might be right that adamant beliefs are due to personal beefs, but how do we know that it’s not due to skewed information consumption (on either side), ulterior political motives, etc.? Plausibility is not the same as truth, is it?

  11. DJames says:

    Perhaps Dan Dravot and PB could collaborate on a similar post based off something in, say, the Weekly Standard?

    In other news, SNAFU and ThomasR’s most recently comments are spot on.

  12. SeanM says:

    I’m not sure why this article gets such a rise from people, except that perhaps they’re used to this sort of thing. I’ve been an observer and participant in a fair share of internet arguments which quickly devolve from “Here’s why you should believe X” to “You don’t believe X because you were beat as a child.” Some people throw out those latter accusations as soon as they get frustrated in the argument, which is very irresponsible.

    But it’s also quite possible those claims are true. I’ll use religion because nothing tends to involve more rigid, dogmatic, and emotional attachment. Suppose Person A is a Christian and someone presents a logical argument that disproves a foundational belief of theirs; Person A accepts all the premises to the argument, and so should accept the conclusions as well. But since believing in the religion is very comfortable, convenient, emotionally rewarding, doesn’t involve changing one’s life, or perhaps reflecting on the consequences of there not being a god or afterlife, Person A refuses to be persuaded by the argument. Now why is it wrong to point this out? If this individual concedes the points, which is usually done indirectly by not having a functional argument against them, then why shouldn’t it be clear that something else is going on? A rational person who was not invested in the matter wouldn’t behave that way.

    And somebody above criticized this as a matter of dogmatism. I can’t speak for Mr. Bagel, but a rational person could be convinced by one argument, convinced by a rebuttal, and so on; they could be a Christian one day, then Muslim, then agnostic, then atheist, and back through the loop. The point is, if someone can’t argue against something or argues dishonestly, why are they still clinging to it? And could it be more obvious that it stems from some deeper issue other than the raw logic in the debate?

  13. foxfire says:

    One small hole in your theory. The default state of mind for a scientist is skeptcisim. Science doesn’t prove anything. Science fails to disprove over time. We accept the Law of Gravity because except for certain edge cases like relativity, we have been trying to refute it for hundreds of years and failed.

    In short, there is a difference between rejecting the evidence as being insufficient, and rejecting the evidence because you don’t want to believe what it implies. How do you know the difference between the two? This whole essay sounds like a carefully constructed argument to complete disreguard the scientific opinions of anyone who isn’t a specialist in their respective field.

    • Rooster says:

      I don’t have time to argue this properly, but maybe others will continue for me.

      That’s not “science”, that’s the Popper Method. And I do agree the Popper Method is not only an excellent way to conduct research, it’s a great way to make sense of your life and the context it’s in.

      “Science”, however, is a post-illuminist synonym for “truth”. The word itself means “knowledge”. Now, you may say that “science” can’t scientifically exist for reasons that range from epistemology to the neuroscience of cognition, and I’ll probably agree with most of them. But the fact is that the social construct of “science” is out there, is very powerful and as rationalist bayesian popperians cool dudes we have a vested interest in having good ideas like evolution put forward and bad ideas like ID buried, even if it means tilting the table.

      There’s not one hint of controlled confirmatory evidence, let alone hypothesis testing, in Darwin’s original works. He didn’t even have a clue as for the mechanism of inheritance. It took the “science” apparatus 50 years to build a proper “darwinian theory”, which could then be weighted against evidence as in the Popper Method — which it of course did, with flying colors.

      But what was that glimmer in the eye, that intuition that led Darwin to write the things he did without worrying about getting caught in confirmation bias, and led two generations of scientists into building the scientific darwinism apparatus? Darwin clearly knew he was right.

      Is that a good way of conducting research, particularly now that “science” is again politically and financially charged? It isn’t. Our best bet right now is in the Popper Method. But our major dude Alone has shown time and again the huge flaws that arise from institutional use of the Popper Method without a darwinian glimmer in the eye — everything from obscurity in statistical algorithms to not knowing (or worse yet) knowing which null hypothesis to select, etc. etc.

      • Comus says:

        It’s a good thing this blog has several contributors. It gives a nice lateral view on the issue as we can simultaneously run both an array of unnecessary ad hominem -attacks and a debate on the philosophy of science. While the former issue is at last entertaining, with it’s claimed objectivity vs. shouting out loud subjectivity angle, I’ll limit myself to a brief notion on the latter issue. Brief, as this thread has practically stumbled on to the end of it’s life span, or at least reached it’s third halving time. Oh, the internets.

        An interesting look at how to combine the subjectivism of the scientists, popperian notions and Kuhnian paradigm shifts is Imre Lakatos’ Research programmes. It leads from the premise that people have misunderstood Popper as a crude falsificationist and goes on to recap on his writings and concludes his own take on them.

        Like in Popper, Lakatos sees a scientific theory as something to be tested at all times. When dogmatic popperians facing a falsification would abandon ship, Lakatos states that this should only lead to a new analysis and modification of the theory (this area surrounding the core theory is called the projective belt) and to auxiliary hypotheses (which Popper would state as ad hoc). So scientists, being highly invested in the theory they are studying, do everything in their power to maintain the projective belt. Science moves onwards as the competing theories are viewed against each other. They can be sometimes labelled as progressive or degenarating RP’s (Progressives being the ones gaining momentum and new evidence, degeneratings just keep on gearing up their protective belt without new facts [these are "ad hoc"]). Eventually this would lead to a Kuhnian paradigm shift in the typical Hegelian fashion.

        This would in my opinion mean that different paradigms being lobbed and financed are a way of artificially strengthening their projective belts and not a mean of progressing science per se. This is an important notion, as it could explain partly why we for example have a creationism vs. evolution debates, even though the objective evidence appears to be obvious. We might see creationism as an auxiliary hypothesis created to defend the hard core of the issue, namely the existence of an Abrahamic god.

        This leads to a tree-like view of science as a belief system, in center of which are the main truths, which are protected by a belt of auxiliary hypotheses, which in turn are protected by auxiliary hypotheses and so on and so forth.

        So debating on these issues like creationism, just as it has been pointed out, is not a level discussion, as we are shouting at each others from different mutually exclusive trees, from which some have to be based on a false core.

        We as something of scientifically minded individuals, who are versed with Popperian notions and bow before repeated significant p-values appear to expect a single falsification to bring down the whole tree of the opposition. This of course is madness, but still leads us to being quite cross and nihilistic on the state of the world.

        • Pastabagel says:

          I think the problem is also one that Popper himself specifically identified-demarcation. Where do we drawn the line between science and..everything else? We’ve chosen not to engage this problem, and given the elevated status of “experts” in media and communications, there is great incentive to lump everything into science. And the result is attempting to confirm some social scientific or cultural “truth” (Do video games cause violence”) using statistical regression.

          I think this can change though, as mass media fractures, the reliance on bogus and battling “experts” to settle some of these not-quite-scientific questions will start to diminish, in favor of moral or ethical arguments (which are, of course, just as controversial and hotly debated).

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