Posts Tagged ‘democracy’

TOADS versus Scientists and Responsible Citizens

May 8, 2017

If you do not know who the TOADS are, please read the immediately preceding post (the one immediately below this one).  The motivation that these TOADS have for scientists providing data and analyses on global warming, is that the scientists are doing this so that they receive grants and contracts for further research.  This claim is absurd, as if there was big money to be made doing research in this area.  No the big money is made by the CEOs and their folks who are responsible for global warming.  That’s where the big money is.  True, there are scientists for hire who will argue against global warming for cash.  The first documented activity like this was the Tobacco’s industry’s efforts to deny the research that smoking increased the risk of getting lung cancer. This activity is discussed in the blog “Did Corporate PR initiate the Post Fact Era?”

HM has the deepest contempt for these TOADS.  They are complete hedonists, not eudaemonists.  They are consumed by material things and physical pleasures.  As they are biologically constrained as to the number of physical pleasures they can enjoy, they keep score with their cash and material things that are purchased and developed for prestige.  Numbers are important to them.  They are materialists and too hell with the quality of life.   Their attitude is too hell with people who need money for the quality of their lives and their ability to provide education for their children so that their children can live well.

HM also feels sorry for these individuals.  They are stunted.  They have no appreciation for science.  Pure hedonism stunts growth.  However, scientists and responsible citizens are eudaemonists who are interested in the quality of life, intellectual pursuits such as science and the arts, and are concerned about their fellow citizens who are not so well off.

So what should people do?  They need to educate themselves as a part of a growth mindset.  Watch television programs on science.  Consult the Wikipedia on scientific topics.  The Wikipedia is also a good source for learning about scientific controversies.  Healthy memory blog readers should be aware of the frequent references to the New Scientist.  The New Scientist is a superb source of science information for the general public.  The New Scientist is a British product.  The Scientific American is a fine publication along with Scientific American Mind.  Scientific American Mind is discontinuing its print publication, but if you have not be won over by electronic publications, try them  You’ll learn just as much with much less clutter. Actually there are too many publications to list.  And to online searches for questions of interest.

There is a previous post “Science Should Inform Democracy, which is on a topic that is extremely important.  TOADS abuse science and put democracy at risk.  They are putting the United States and the world at risk.  Use available means, email, conventional letters, and phone messages, to disabuse them of their comments.  This is especially important for TOADS who are your Senators or in your congressional district.  And do not neglect the leader of the TOADS in the United States, its current president.

This post has barely scratched the surface of Dave Levitan’s “NOT A SCIENTIST:  How Politicians, Mistake, Misrepresent, and Utterly Mangle Science.”  To provide you with a feeling for the variety and complexity of techniques used by TOADS here are the chapter titles.

The Oversimplification
The Cherry-Pick
The Butter-Up and Undercut
The Demonizer
The Blame the Blogger
The Ridicule and Dismiss
The Literal Nitpick
The Credit Snatch
The Certain Uncertainty
The Blind Eye to Follow-Up
The Lost in Translation
The Straight-Up Fabrication

HM has taken it as his responsibility to inform you about the TOADS, the danger they present not only to the country, but to the entire world, and means of combatting their disinformation.  He hopes he has succeeded in his mission.

© Douglas Griffith and, 2017. Unauthorized use and/or duplication of this material without express and written permission from this blog’s author and/or owner is strictly prohibited. Excerpts and links may be used, provided that full and clear credit is given to Douglas Griffith and with appropriate and specific direction to the original content.

Science Should Inform Democracy

April 23, 2017

The immediately preceding post, “Can Science Survive in a Democracy?”, focused primarily on the funding of science.  An equally, if not more, important issue is the use of science by a democracy.  Environmental and health issues are in the spotlight, but there is a wide variety of issues that can be usefully informed by science.  The failure to consider scientific evidence can have seriously adverse consequences.

One of the best examples of this failure is the size of the prison population in the United States.  The United States has 5% of the world’s population and 25% of its prisoners.  Remember that totalitarian governments imprison political dissidents, but the United States manages to surpass even these totalitarian countries on this grim statistic.  Moreover, this high rate of imprisonment did not address the problems they were supposed to solve.

The problems that were supposedly addressed were crime and drug abuse.  The public thought the best way to address these problems was by getting tough.  Politicians picked up this public sentiment and passed laws that were excessively severe for crime and proscribed drugs.  “Getting tough” might seem like a reasonable approach.  But it is a gut response, an emotional response that involves only System 1 processing according to Kahneman.  If thought processes had been engaged, System 2 processing in Kahneman’s terminology, the question would have been asked, does science have anything that would inform us as to what would be a reasonable policy?  If this question had been raised, the clear answer would have been that “getting tough” would be counterproductive, and it certainly was.

There are very few scientists or engineers, sometimes none, in Congress.  And few normal citizens read articles relevant to science.  As a consequence, they are unaware of their personal ignorance.  So what can be done to correct this widespread ignorance?

In the schools, science is taught primarily as an academic subject, and the subjects covered are typically biology, chemistry, and physics.  This is fine, but the relevance and applications of these sciences need to be taught.  The social sciences and statistics also need to be taught.  Every citizen needs to understand inferential statistics at some level to be a responsible citizen and to make reasonable decisions about personal health.  Unless college is going to be pursued, citizens can get by without understanding geometry or trigonometry.

It is essential that all students receive this education before graduating from high school, and not just students with plans for college.

Public television and a few dedicated cable channels have good programs on these topics, but they need to be increased, and they need to be presented on the major networks.

If done satisfactorily, constituents should inform their representatives as to the importance of these topics.  Then science would not only survive, but would prosper in this democracy.  And public policies would be informed by the best available scientific evidence.

© Douglas Griffith and, 2017. Unauthorized use and/or duplication of this material without express and written permission from this blog’s author and/or owner is strictly prohibited. Excerpts and links may be used, provided that full and clear credit is given to Douglas Griffith and with appropriate and specific direction to the original content.

How Journalism Shapes Public Discourse

June 26, 2016

This post is motivated by an article by Lisa Grossman in the Features section of June 18 20016 Issue of the New Scientist.  The topic is the concern among whites that in just a few decades most people in the US won’t be white.  The article reports research done by Jennifer Richeson.  She is addressing the increasingly prevalent media narrative in the US the because a rapidly changing racial demographics, the country will become a so-called majority-minority country.  If all members of self-identified  racial ethnic groups—Asian Americans, black Americans, Latinos, Native Americans, multi-ethnic individuals, and so on, somewhere around 2045 those groups will add up to 50.1% of the population, with white people in the “minority.”  Jennifer Richeson wanted to know how people are responding to this information.

So she asked white Americans to read about the changing demographics that point to this so-called majority-minority distinction.  Control groups of white American read information about other aspects of demography.  Afterwards the first group expressed more negative attitudes to a variety of racial groups, black, Latinos, Asian American.  She asked questions like “How much do you like members of these groups and found it on measures of unconscious racial attitudes tool.  It is a robust effect.   Moreover, when whites read about these racial shifts, they were also more likely to endorse politically conservative policies that were not race related such as drilling for fossil fuel in the Alaska wildlife refuge.

It is important to understand that this response is not unique to whites.  The same type of experiment was done with black Americans, but this time it was tailored to highlight growth and the threat of the Latino population.  The same basic result was obtained including a general shift to conservatism.  So Richeson argues that the issue is not racism, but other the threat of losing status.  This is psychologically threatening and a way to cope with this is by becoming more conservative.

In follow on research Richeson did  studies reminding whites that even if they were in a numerical minority they would still have greater wealth, better jobs, and better education and so are still going to be doing well in the status hierarchy, regardless of changes in the US racial distribution.  This reduced white people’s perceived threat about what’s going to happen to them, and then they show no difference in their expression of racial bias or conservatism than participants in the control condition.

At this point Healthy Memory (HM)  will ask the question as to why this issue was raised in the first place.  Is this some conspiracy by the conservative press to elicit racial disharmony and enhance conservative attitudes?  HM does not think so.  HM thinks that the motivation of the press is to increase readers, and contentious issues such as this increases readers.

Currently in the US there is the phenomenon of Donald Trump.  Trump has earned many millions of dollars in free press coverage because of his outlandish statements and insults.  Moreover, many of his statement are contradictory, yet he thrives.

There is an explanation for this phenomenon, but first a quick overview of Kahneman’s Two Process Theory is needed.  The fast processing which we normally do and allows us to respond so quickly is called System 1.  System 1 is named Intuition. System 1 is very fast, employs parallel processing, and appears to be automatic and effortless. It is so fast that operations are executed, for the most part, outside conscious awareness. Emotions and feelings are also part of System 1.  System 2 is named Reasoning. It is controlled processing that is slow, serial, and effortful. It is also flexible. This is what we commonly think of as conscious thought. One of the roles of System 2 is to monitor System 1 for processing errors, but System 2 is slow and System 1 is fast, so errors to slip through.  (To learn more enter “Kahneman” into the healthy memory blog search block).

Our default mode is System 1.  System 2 requires thinking and mental effort.  Trump supporters do not do much System 2 processing, thinking, so little, if any, of what Trump says is evaluated.  His statements resonate with their biases so they become strong supporters.

Unfortunately for democracies to thrive, System 2 processing, thinking, is required.  The upcoming election will indicate whether there is sufficient System 2 processing for our democracy to survive and thrive.

© Douglas Griffith and, 2016. Unauthorized use and/or duplication of this material without express and written permission from this blog’s author and/or owner is strictly prohibited. Excerpts and links may be used, provided that full and clear credit is given to Douglas Griffith and with appropriate and specific direction to the original content.

Cognitive Misers, Cognitive Spendthrifts, and Democracy

March 4, 2016

I fear that an earlier post, “Cognitive Misers and Democracy,” did not adequately explain the term “cognitive miser.”  It referenced previous healthy memory blog posts, but unless you went back and read those posts or are an assiduous healthy memory blog reader, I do not think that the term was clear.  To make the term clearer, I have created a new term, cognitive spendthrift.

Here is a quick synopsis of how we process information.  The default upon the receipt of new information is to believe it. This is Kahneman’s System One processing. This default value makes sense because if we questioned everything when we came out of the womb, we would not be able to survive.  When we receive new information, if it is in accord with previous information, it is accepted.  However, when discordant information is received, the brain responds so that it is obvious from brain recordings.  This is an example of Kahneman’s System 2 processing.  An important role for System 2 is to monitor the processing from System 1.  To resolve this discordant information requires thinking, searching for, and trying to discover additional information.   This is effortful System 2 processing.  This can require substantial effort. This is basically what scientists do.  They look for discrepant information, and then conduct research to resolve this discrepant information.  Of course this is an oversimplification of the process, but it is a very brief synopsis of what occurs.  And it is science, the systematic use of tis process, that provides the basis for the advancement of civilizations.

So, by default we are cognitive misers.  Moreover, we have defense mechanisms that makes us feel that we know more and perform better than we actually do, but these mechanisms will be discussed in another post (until then, enter “overconfidence” into the healthy memory blog search block).  Unfortunately the internet typically facilitates further biased searches, which exacerbate the problem further.The term cognitive spendthrift refers to someone who questions and thinks about many things.  The internet is an ideal too for cognitive spendthrifts when they use the internet to explore contrary opinions and new information.   If too much cognitive capital is spent, mental illness and other adverse consequences result.  Even scientists ned to be focused on a subset of questions that they can handle.

The healthy memory blog encourages growth mindsets.  Growth mindsets require the spending of cognitive capital to think and to grow, but this expenditure of cognitive capital must be expended with regard to a budget.  You grow within the constraints in which you are comfortable and continue to grow.

The primary point of “Cognitive Misers and Democracy” was to encourage people to think.  Democracy is important enough to warrant the expenditure of cognitive capital.  And politics is an area where beliefs can be deeply held.  But these deeply held beliefs do need to be questioned.  They always need to be amenable to change.  This is why I was so disturbed by the survey indicating beliefs and principals were more important than the willingness to compromise.  Without  any compromise, democracies cannot survive.

Watching the political debates in one of the parties this year suggests that some opinions are not even being governed by beliefs, but rather by anger and disenchantment.  I am not sure that the opinions these people offer even make it to the cortex.  They see to come directly from the limbic system,

© Douglas Griffith and, 2016. Unauthorized use and/or duplication of this material without express and written permission from this blog’s author and/or owner is strictly prohibited. Excerpts and links may be used, provided that full and clear credit is given to Douglas Griffith and with appropriate and specific direction to the original content.

Cognitive Misers and Democracy

February 17, 2016

Cognitive misers are people who do not like to exert the effort involved in thinking.   In addition to entering “cognitive misers” into the healtymemory search block, you can also enter “System 1” or “Kahneman.”  Cognitive misers like to believe in things because questioning beliefs or principles or learning new things involves cognitive effort and thinking.

A short while back I read a poll that I found extremely discouraging.  The question asked what was more important to voters, a politician’s willingness to compromise or to  principles.
Here is a breakdown of the responses by political party.  Note that they do not add up to 100% as some respondents refused to answer.

Group                   Principles        Willing to Compromise
All Voters             40%                  50%
Republicans        54%                   36%
Independents     40%                  47%
Democrats           23%                  68%

I guess that the good news is that with the exception of one group, the remaining groups a larger percentage indicated a Willingness to Compromise.  In only one group did this percentage reach 50% and only one other group indicated a slightly greater than a two to one preference.  If the results are representative, then I argue that these beliefs present a far greater existential threat to the Democracy in the United States than does ISIS.

Before addressing cognitive miserliness per se, let me remind readers what a democracy is supposed to be..  A democracy is a system in which people vote for candidates and the candidates try to vote for what they think are the correct policies, but negotiate when the need to get the most palatable policy that they can accept.  There will be times when the vote goes against them, but they accept the result.  They do not threaten to shut down the government or actually shut down the government.  As you know this has already happened at least twice.

It is unfortunate that “politician” has negative connotations.  Using “politician” in a pejorative sense, “he’s a politician,” or he is doing this for “political reasons” is both unfair and wrong.  The first requirement of a politician is to make the political system work.  Sometimes that might correspond to political beliefs, sometimes it will not.  But beliefs or principals should not be the driving factor.

The advancement of mankind has been in direct proportion to the advancement of science.  Key to science is thinking.  Cognitive miserliness is anathema to effective science.  Whatever beliefs science has are beliefs that are subject to change.  It that is not the case, then the enterprise is not science.  There have been enormous changes in science during my lifetime.  There is not a single subject matter that has not changed.  Until fairly recently science believed that humans could not generate new neurons.  In other words there was no such think as neurogenesis.  Had I argued to the contrary as a graduate student I would have quickly been booted out of graduate school.  It was not until close to the end of the 20th century that neurogenesis was accepted and the notion of neuroplasticity  was advanced.

I become particularly annoyed when I hear reporters accuse politicians of flip flopping.  It seems like this is the stock in trade for many reporters.  This reminds me of the response the eminent economist John Maynard Keynes gave when he was accused of a statement that was in conflict with previous comments.  He responded,”when the facts change, I change my mind.  What do you do, sir.”  An argument can be made that opinions are not being changed by facts, but by political considerations.  Here I would refer you to the remedial exposition on democracy I offered above.

I also argue that cognitive miserliness is a problem for the Supreme Court of the United States.  There are two views of the Constitution.  One is that it is supposed to be a dynamic document that has been written that is expected to change with the times.  The other, originalism, is that the Constitution needs to be interpreted in terms of what the authors intended.  We need to remember that when the Constitution was written, slavery existed, black people were counted as three-fifths of a human being, and women could not vote.  It should also be remembered that one of the most advanced scientists of the time, Benjamin Franklin, did not know what current high school physics students know.  Moreover, I am virtually certain that if the framers of the constitution knew what we do today, they would have written a different constitution.  I am upset when the Supreme Court Justice who recently passed away is described as having a brilliant mind.  He was an originalist.  He believed that what the framers of the constitution believed at that time should provide the basis of judicial decisions.  I regard such individuals as intellectual runts.

The results of cognitive miserliness are readily apparent in the United States.  Realize that the United States is the only advanced country that does not have a system of national health insurance.  What we do have is the country with the most expensive medical costs with results comparable to third world countries.  We are the only advanced country that has no control over the cost of prescription medications.  And we are the only country that has a major political party that refuses to believe in global warming.  We also have a major TV network that insists on always having a denier of global warming on a show where a scientist is presenting data bearing on global warming and its ramifications.  This is in spite of the fact that this is a small minority of scientists, some of whom are paid scientific guns to counter the overwhelming evidence.

The reason that is often presented is one of American Exceptionalism.  This exceptionalism is a product of cognitive miserliness.

© Douglas Griffith and, 2016. Unauthorized use and/or duplication of this material without express and written permission from this blog’s author and/or owner is strictly prohibited. Excerpts and links may be used, provided that full and clear credit is given to Douglas Griffith and with appropriate and specific direction to the original content.

Revising Beliefs

August 7, 2015

We know from the immediately preceding post, “Understanding Beliefs,” as well as from earlier healthymemory blog posts, that beliefs are difficult to change.  Yet we inhabit an environment in which there is ongoing dynamic change.  Moreover, modern technology accelerates the amount of information that is being processed and the amount of change that occurs.

Nils J. Nilsson, a true genius who is one of the founders of artificial intelligence, recommends the scientific method, as the scientific method is the primary reason underlying the progress humans have made in the past several centuries.

I would like to see a survey of what people believe about beliefs.  I fear that most would fall short of what Nilsson describes in Understanding Beliefs.  I fear that the idea that we do not have direct knowledge of the external world, but rather develop models of the external world based on experience would be alien to most.  I fear that even among scientists, engineers, and educators there are those to whom this concept is alien.  Moreover, probabilities are likely absent regarding many beliefs being replaced by absolute belief and absolute doubt.  People still refuse to believe even given scientific consensus regarding such topics as evolution and global warming.  Moreover an understanding of statistics and experimental design by the general public would be necessary.  So this lack of sophistication or primitive modes of thinking constitute a considerable obstacle to employing the scientific method.

Nevertheless, just for fun, let’s consider how a country might work were it governed according to the scientific method.  Let’s take the United States for example.  Americans would need to accept scientific results even if they conflicted with their personal beliefs.  Sometimes scientific results  are counterintuitive.  For example, research in the arena of public housing has found that it is less expensive to provide public housing initially, rather than having the homeless work their way up in terms of eligibility by freeing themselves from abuse, finding employment, and so forth.  The savings that accrue are due to the decrease in emergency room visits, ambulance and related costs that are spent on the homeless.  In addition there is also the pride of having a residence that fosters personal development.  Of course, there is the option of completely ignoring the homeless and not providing medical services, but instead just sweeping up the bodies and incinerating them.  In lieu of this radical option, using data to pursue policies that control costs is the preferred option

A similar option exists with respect to medical costs.  The United States has had the highest medical costs in the world that result in third world medical statistics for a long time.  The uninsured have gone to emergency rooms for costly care that is passed on to hospital bills.  The Affordable Care Act is a first attempt to remedy this problem.  Yet it still is receiving stiff resistance from those who think it is wrong to consider medical costs as being a citizen’s right.  Government involvement is a way of providing better medical services while controlling these costs.  Another problem is that the most common means of payment is a fee for service.  It is much more rational to compensate physicians for results, normalized by the condition of the patient, as is done in England.

As the United States is divided into states, it would be possible to design experiments in which different policies were followed in different groups of states and then analyze the results in terms of results and costs.  Although questionnaires would be one component of the evaluation, the primary measure would be the success of the different programs in terms of objective medical results.  Now, in the case of studies regarding health, these results would be normalized with respect to the initial health of the patient.  It should be realized  that the survey data might conflict with the medical results.  That is, people might think that care had deteriorated even thought their health had improved.  These people might have been disappointed and felt annoyed because they did not receive treatments that they wanted, even though they would have been ineffective (given an antibiotic for a virus, for example), or had not been given unnecessary medical tests.

This same paradigm could be followed for other issues.

© Douglas Griffith and, 2015. Unauthorized use and/or duplication of this material without express and written permission from this blog’s author and/or owner is strictly prohibited. Excerpts and links may be used, provided that full and clear credit is given to Douglas Griffith and with appropriate and specific direction to the original content.