Sunday, August 9, 2009

Daniel Gardner

I'm continuing to enjoy immensely Daniel Gardner's book "The Science of Fear". In his chapter "The herd senses fear" he reviews the studies on how researchers see us forming opinions. The most imposing factor is that whatever the opinion or belief we hold we indeed select information from the environment that confirms that belief.
This is called CONFIRMATION BIAS. Even when faced with hard overt evidence to the contrary people will stick to their belief or opinion. To quote Gardner 'the blind can actually lead the blind indefinitely....Once a belief is established, our brains will seek to confirm it."
Now when people join groups another factor comes into play, CONFORMITY. 20 to 30% of the people 20 to 30% of the time will change a right answer to a wrong answer just to be part of the group they are in.
Sadly when groups of like minded people get together, this gets worse, because GROUP POLARIZATION comes into play. This results in the following: 'groups usually come to conclusions that are more extreme than the average view of the individuals who make up the group."
Finally, Culture imposes a further threat to our ability to assess risk rationally or see reality truly. Four world views have been studied. These are INDIVIDUALIST, EGALITARIAN, HIEARCHIST, AND COMMUNITARIAN. The WHITE-MALE EFFECT, which tends to minimize risks, turned out to be only a factor because of the 30% of white males, those who have hierarchist or individualist world views. These "confident minority of white men tended to be better-educated, wealthier and more politically conservative than others." The remaining 70% of white men saw things much as women and minorities did. However regardless of education or status women did tend to perceive greater risk than men.

Given these factors Gardner says that each of us is really, "a Stone Age hunter wandering a city it can rarely comprehend in the company of millions of other confused Stone Age hunters."

He warns against cynicism, which 'denies the very possibility of knowing the difference between true and untrue, between the more accurate and the less....that's just wrong....along with truth, cynicism endangers trust."
He says the 'truth is out there' but it appears that there's a need for healthy skepticism about how we ourselves arrive at our understanding of truth and how those around us do as well.

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