April 10, 2010

Science Friday live

Yesterday, SOF and I had the opportunity to attend the live broadcast of Science Friday with Ira Flatow. It was a very cool experience. Fun just watching the process, and the additional thoughtful discussion was even more enjoyable. Couple of take-aways:

1) One of the Poli Sci profs discussed the way that people process information when trying to understand complex problems. He suggested that there are numerous ways that people filter information and those filters often have a bigger impact on how they view that problem. These filters include world-view, view of experts, etc. So, a person who fears government as intrusion is more likely to disbelieve the human cause of climate change because they know it will lead to more government intrusion.

This was very nice to hear as it relates to how I see people processing information on evolution as well. Those predetermined to not like the philosophical implications of evolution, are very likely to dismiss evidence (and often evidence they don't understand) for evolution out of hand.

I have observed this in person, and it struck me that that particular kind of filter does not apply to all issues, even those that are complex. Many people who automatically dismiss evolution, for example, and for the reasons above, will not automatically filter financial data in that way. That financial data, or even perhaps, medical data, will be examined in a more logical fashion.

Anyway, I have an email into this prof to get some more information. He told me in a conversation afterward that this filter and assumption issue is the key to getting beyond the bitter partisanship of the climate change debate. Deniers, he said, feel completely under siege, and more scientific data will not budge that. Further, he noted, those of us who see the science as conclusive, can't indulge ourselves and participate in the debate as it is currently framed. I am curious how we do participate, but that may be more clear with some more conversation.

2) During the post-broadcast reception, Flatow addressed the changing nature of the media in his explanation for the origins of Science Friday. He connected some dots that I am sure all of you already have, but I had not. He noted that news has ceased to be about news--something we have all talked about--and that the news media has been transformed into entertainment because these organizations are owned by entertainment companies. We have talked about that too, but for some reason, I didn't make the next connection, when he noted that results in making news into entertainment. I had always focused on the entertainment content that took the place of news, but not really realized that they wanted to make even actual news events entertaining. The coverage of the healthcare debate or the idiocy of the Tea Party townhall crashers are good examples. It doesn't matter if it infuriates you or makes you laugh--as long as you are entertained and keep tuning in, they will do it. The goal, however, is explicitly not to educate or inform you.

It was a great afternoon, though I was completely wiped out last night. Today, I hope to get a little grading done, mow the weeds that live where grass might, and join a little jam session down the block.



leighton said...

I'm interested too to hear what that political science prof thinks is the best way to engage (for instance) climate change deniers. The only way I've found to make progress is to approach laterally through relationships founded on unrelated projects, e.g. being coworkers who have a high mutual respect for each other's skillsets. (Being family is definitely not enough for, or even relevant to, the Fox News viewers in my family tree.) In this sense, local action would be the only possible action. I would very much like there to be an easier/quicker/broader way, but I can't for the life of me figure out what that would look like.

Have fun jamming. This weekend is a lot of cleaning for me, which is actually a lot more fun than it sounds. Or maybe having it done is the fun part. Either way, it's good.

steves said...

Sounds like a good time. I recall studying something similar in grad school. In the psych area, they are called heuristics.

As for the climate change debate, I am interested too. I have found that in the gun/gun control debate that some of the "control" side folks aren't interested in science or evidence and usually fall back to some kind of emotional argument. To some degree, this is probably true with the climate change deniers.

Smitty said...

I really like Science Friday, so color me jealous!

Your first piece there is absolutely in-line with Al Gore's whole thesis in Assault On Reason. His first chapter is a cool piece about how the brain processes fear, and how fear in turn governs our ability to reason.