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The problem with facts (in advocacy)

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#1 jis



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Posted 22 May 2017 - 09:00 AM

A very nice article discussing how presenting unadorned facts in an attempt to disabuse someone who is already invested in a specific position contradicted by the facts being presented, is not the best way to change anyone's mind about anything. The method that works is quite surprising and also requires an order of magnitude more investment than merely repeating the facts like a parrot to everyone. We advocates here might gain more success if we heed the message buried in the article below, than merely repeating the history of how passenger rail came to be not liked in the US....




Hopefully this will not lead to an off topic frenzy by folks who are invested in such frenzies, and if such happens, Mods please feel free to kill this thread.


I found the fine distinction of "educated in science" and "curious about science" to be quite fascinating, and the resulting difference in behavior regarding handling of facts quite a revelation. Thinking back about it I can see that this is a key determinant in how people handle facts in my experience too, but I had never made the connection.


Anyway, hope at least some of you get something out of this article that is useful in your advocacy work.

Edited by jis, 22 May 2017 - 10:09 AM.

#2 KmH



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Posted 22 May 2017 - 09:45 AM

Thanks. I had never made the connection either.

A very interesting article that puts into words my visceral perception of how people process information, because I'm one of those curious about science.


I'll be distributing that article widely among my contacts.

Edited by KmH, 22 May 2017 - 09:46 AM.

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#3 cirdan



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Posted 22 May 2017 - 10:34 AM

The article is well-written, entertaining, and makes some good points.

However, I feel it also misses some issues.

When you're doing math or physics, usually there is a clear right and a clear wrong. You can find a fault in a bad math formula. You can build an experiment to reveal a false claim in physics.

This is because these are branches of science with a high level of reproducability, and in which you can work under highly controlled conditions.

At the other end of the scale you have social sciences. You cannot answer questions such as, is migration good, or, should we raise taxes, or should children be taught to play musical instrument at school, in the same way that you can answer questions as is it good to have haemoglobins in your blood.

You cannot answer that because you must first define the meaning of good. If you don't have haemoglobins you die. We all agree that's not good. But in a coomplex system such as a society there are things that are good and things that are bad and every change makes some things better and other things worse.

You thus need to say, this is more important that that. In order to improve this we need to accept that we are sacrificing that. And this is an area of personal preference and of one's personal value system.

This is why appealing to facts is often counterproductive.

This is why in a democracy we have multiple valid opinions. If there was a clear right and wrong we could build s superconmputer to work out what is best and set that computer up as supreme dictator of the world. Problem solved.

But such a computer cannot exist for the simple reason that there is no right and no wrong but just differing priorities.

And this is why in every political debate we have to accept that the other side holds valid views too, they just have a different perspective.

If we want to win a debate we are not going to do it by attacking the other ad hominem or foaming about supposed facts.

If we want to convince others we have to start with ourselves and be an example. People don't want facts or logic. They want leaders and integrity.

Edited by cirdan, 22 May 2017 - 10:41 AM.

#4 jis



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Posted 22 May 2017 - 12:21 PM

Well, it is not at all surprising that the article did not address that point, since it really is not about that point. Someone is most welcome to write an article focused on that point, but that would be a different article :P Just IMHO of course. ;)

#5 neroden



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Posted 14 September 2017 - 04:14 PM

This is all true but unhelpful.  The suggestion the article makes is to encourage curiosity.  But it doesn't say how.  In my experience, incurious people are permanently incurious: curiosity seems to be inborn.  If it isn't... well, what's the evidence regarding how to make people curious?


I've never been able to get an incurious person interested in anything -- not even Sagan or Attenborough could do it.  And the people who would watch Sagan or Attenborough *weren't the problem*.

Edited by neroden, 14 September 2017 - 04:15 PM.


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#6 Green Maned Lion

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Posted 15 September 2017 - 09:45 AM

If people were basically incurious, Click Bait wouldn't be so annoyingly prevalent, Nate.
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