Posts Tagged ‘Trump’

Back from the 29th Annual Meeting of the Association for Psychological Science (APS)

June 1, 2017

HM attended the very first meeting of the APS. Time really does fly. HM has attended many more meetings since then, and he has become quite proficient at attending these programs. At one time it was common for there to be published proceedings of these meetings. For large meetings one would have several large books to schlep around. Then a transition was made to putting the printed programs on CDs.

However, today the norm has been for there to be no printed records, so one has to try to attend the presentations that are of interest. Unfortunately, it is not unusual for there to be multiple programs of interest at the same time, and a choice has to be made as to which one to attend. Most speakers use slides, and all to often, these slides cannot be read by everyone in the room. Speakers are given an alloted time for their presentations. HM has been a speaker and must confess to making the same mistakes. The primary concern is getting through the presentation in the alloted amount of time. HM used to plan for his presentation to be well within the allotted time, because speakers do go over time with the result of squeezing the remaining speakers of their alloted time. But still HM thinks that most of us do not pace the presentation properly. We do not allow sufficient time for the listeners to think about and process our presentations. And frequently there is insufficient time to take proper notes. The speaker is already on to the next slide before the main points of the preceding slide can be adequately captured. This is HM’s excuse for not adequately summarizing these presentations in his posts. Plus these meetings are mentally exhausting.

This time the exhaustion is even greater due to all the investigations taking place. Watergate took place while HM was a graduate student. That was a time of critical importance for the United States. The current problem portends a much greater importance.

It is already clear that Russia did disrupt the 2016 presidential election. The open questions are whether they stole the election, whether there was collusion between the campaign and the Russians, and financial matters that could have contributed to the problem.

During the election it was disturbing to learn that Trump idolized Putin. Putin worked his way up as a KGB agent and used his skills to become the de facto leader of a kleptocracy. How can a US president idolize such a man? It is doubtful that anyone expressing admiration of a Soviet or Russian leader could ever have gotten a security clearance much less be elected President of the United States.

We learn that a War Room is being set up. A War against what? the truth? It should be understood that given the conclusion that Russia did hack America, it is obligatory that an investigation to undertaken to assess whether the Trump campaign colluded with the Russians. These investigations are not the result of the press or of leakers. Investigations must be done. There are also financial investigations that must be done and they have just begun. It is imperative that we know whether there are any financial dealings resulting in compromises in the Trump administration. This will take some time. All of this could be done more efficiently with the cooperation of Trump. War rooms and tweeter attacks are counterproductive.

There is a good book by Malcolm Nance titled “THE PLOT TO HACK AMERICA: How Putin’s Cyberspies and Wikileaks Tried to Steal the 2016 Election.” This book provides an enormous amount of information that can help us follow the current investigations.

Nevertheless, following these investigations on top of the normal fatigue from attending a scientific meeting will likely slow down my blogging about the conference.

© Douglas Griffith and healthymemory.wordpress.com, 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 healthymemory.wordpress.com with appropriate and specific direction to the original content.

Can Science Survive in a Democracy?

April 22, 2017

This post is motivated by an article in the Comments section of the 22 April 2017 edition of the New Scientist by Dave Levit titled “Marchers, raise your banners for the tortoise pace of progress.”  The referenced March is the March for Science taking place today April 22.  His article begins, “The March for Science reflects the growing gap between slow, steady, vital scientific gains and quick-fire opportunist US politics.  A week is a long time in politics.  Science, however, is in it for the long haul.  Whether studying rising sea levels or isolating proteins in fruit fly nerve cells so that many years down the line we might have a new drug for Parkinson’s, science does not fit with the day-to-day fixed-term imperatives of government.

Politicians back fracking ventures that quickly create jobs, but talk down the risks of long-term pollution.  They take credit for the progress made in renewable energy, ignoring the decades of work underlying this progress.  Levit continues “The slow march of scientific progress does not match well with politics even on a good day.  “And today is not a good day.”

The science community has been shocked by the preliminary budget outlines from Donald Trump.  From the National Institutes of Health (NIH) to NASA’s earth science mission, science would get a buzz cut.  This makes perfect sense for Donald Trump.  Levit writes, “the impulsivity and lack of long-term thinking that places science at odds with politics seems less a feature and more a tenet of Trump’s view.   Why fund the NIH properly, helping to produce the medical advances of 2030, when he can’t see past his next tweet? If politics couldn’t handle science’s tortoise pace years ago, it should be no surprise to see this disdain reach a new peak in a faster moving age.”

This March is one day aimed at making people understand how unimportant one day actually is.  March participants are simply trying to drum up greater appreciation for evidence, scientific rigor, methodology, and expertise.  The March of Science is one of slow, steady, incremental progress.

Trump’s proposed cuts would have an immediate effect—less government spending.  But their long-term outcomes, such as delayed development of life saving drugs or preventing seas from rising to swallow Miami, apparently have little effect for many elected officials.

Levit notes that there is a chance cuts will accelerate the pace of impacts until it becomes impossible to ignore them, even though some of the damage would be irreversible.

It remains to be seen whether the March can wake us up before that happens.

Let us hope that it does wake up the congress.

Donald Trump and Climate Change

January 25, 2017

It is not surprising that the “New Scientist” is alarmed by the presidency of Donald Trump as a threat to science and critical thinking.   The 21 January 2017 issue of the New Scientist offers 4 articles on the potential threats of a Trump Presidency.   It could have offered many more articles, and perhaps it will.  Two of the four published articles will be shared in healthy memory blog posts.  The preceding post was the first.  This post is the second

This article is titled, “Resisting Trump:  How scientists can fight a climate witch-hunt.”  Donald Trump has argued that global warming is a hoax created by China to damage US manufacturing.  As president-elect, he has chosen a climate change denier to head the Environmental Protection Agency, and his pick for the helm of the energy department (DOE) is Rick Perry, who once suggested dismantling it.  If carbon dioxide emissions rise faster as a result, the consequences for the global climate will be. dire.  “We can’t take a four-year break,” says Marcia DeLonge at the Union of Concerned Scientists (UCS) in Washington, D.C.

Moreover, a Trump presidency won’t just be a problem for climate change.  It could also spell trouble for the scientists trying to stave it off.  The Trump transition team asked for a list of DOE employees and contractors who worked on climate change or had attended climate change meetings.  Correctly, the agency refused, but the incident sent a chill through the scientific community, particularly in light of the Republicans revival of the Holman rule.  The Holman rule allows for specific federal employees have their pay slashed to $1.

These fears of being targeted are legitimate.  Already there has been an uptick in Freedom of Information Act requests for the scientists’ private emails, said Peter Fountainee, the lawyer who defended climate scientist Michael Mann in a case against the State of Virginia.  If such tactics also come from within their own agencies, federal scientists might leave en masse.

The director of science and policy at the Union of Concerned Scientists in Cambridge, Massachusetts, Peter Frumhoff, says this would permanently erode federal agencies’ ability to use science to inform public decisions.   He begs scientists not leave because if they leave they’ll lose their ability to know whats’s going on.

Even if they do stay, they may be forced to stop pursuing certain lines of research.  The Trump transition team suggested as much when it said NASA should shift its focus away from “politically correct environmental monitoring.”  Apparently, we are entering a new era of political management, “Management by Thuggery!”

Fears that data will be insured or altered have prompted crowd-sourcing to back up federal climate and environmental data.  Climate Mirror is a distributed volunteer effort supported by the Internet Archive and the Universities of Pennsylvania and Toronto.

© Douglas Griffith and healthymemory.wordpress.com, 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 healthymemory.wordpress.com with appropriate and specific direction to the original content.

Donald Trump and Nuclear Weapons

January 24, 2017

It is not surprising that the “New Scientist” is alarmed by the presidency of Donald Trump as a threat to science and critical thinking.   The 21 January 2017 issue of the New Scientist offers 4 articles on the potential threats of a Trump Presidency.   It could have offered many more articles, and perhaps it will.  Two of the four published articles will be shared in healthy memory blog posts.

One of these articles is titled: “Resisting Trump:  How his chaotic nuclear policy might play out.”  He has said that the US nuclear capability is broken.  As this nuclear capability can destroy the world many times over betrays his woeful ignorance on the topic.  Moreover, the United States is already modernizing its nuclear force along with Russia.  Nuclear official Bill Perry warns, “We seem to b sleepwalking into this new nuclear arms race.”  As planned this modernization would deal the final blow to the tottering Nuclear Non-proliferation Treaty.  Any testing of new weapons would kill the 1992 nuclear testing moratorium and the 1996 Comprehensive Test Ban Treaty.

This nuclear arms race could induce smaller nuclear powers to expand as well.  Moreover, Trump has encouraged additional countries to develop their own nuclear weapons.   And by abrogating the agreement to Iran, the additional of a new Nuclear threat will soon emerge.  And it is likely that Saudi Arabia, Turkey, and Egypt would develop nuclear weapons.

The New Scientist does its best to give Trump the benefit of any doubts.  Trump says that he will stop Kim Jong-Un’s nuclear threat.  Trump had said that he will talk with Kim.  The New Scientist article incorrectly states that talks have worked before halting North Korean weapons development in 1994—until their cessation let it resume.  The truth is that the North Koreans’ effort never ceased.  They continued their work in secret.

The article also mentions that Trump could take US missiles off their alert status.  This idea is especially relevant during the Trump presidency.  Trump does not control his emotions well.  He is childish in his responses to anything remotely sounding like criticism.  What is worse is that these responses are made quickly without any time for reflection.  In any case, he should not be given the nuclear football until it is installed with some safeguards.  To think that the world could end because Trump felt his honor was impugned.

© Douglas Griffith and healthymemory.wordpress.com, 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 healthymemory.wordpress.com with appropriate and specific direction to the original content.

Politics Needs Science

January 22, 2017

The article in the 21 January 2017 issue of the Washington Post by Sarah Kaplan titled “New group encourages scientists to enter politics” was good news.  STEM the Divide is a group that will push to have more scientists involved in politics.  This initiative was set up by the political action committee 314 Action.  The goal  is to connect people with backgrounds in science, technology, engineering and math to the expertise and money needed to run a successful campaign.   The article stated that scientists who have been interested in getting into politics were rarely encouraged and sometimes discouraged.

Shaughnessy Naughton  is the founder of this organization.  When asked whether this raised a risk of politicizing science—framing scientific questions as ideological questions, rather than matters of fact—Naughton argued that that ship has already sailed.  Her  response follows:  “People might think that science is above politics, as it should be, but increasingly we see that politics is not above bringing itself into science.  At a certain point, there’s diminishing returns to not getting involved.”  HM would change “diminishing returns” to “serious existential dangers.”

Moreover, the question she was posed, “framing scientific questions as ideological issues, rather than as matters of fact,” betrays the erroneous concept that science is simply a bunch of facts.  Science can be an ideology, an ideology that should provide the basis for governing.  Science is not a monolithic entity, but rather a set of methodologies devoted to arriving at truth in the various disciplines.  This truth is arrived at by reasoning and data.  Moreover, it is fluid in that as circumstances or facts change, truth is corrected or refined.  Science provides the basis for our standard of living, and it can be argued that social problems are due to the failure to apply scientific approaches to social problems.

A good example of this is medical care in the United States.  Medical care in the United States is the most expensive in the world, with results suitable for a third world country.  All other advanced countries provide superior medical care for all their citizens at a fraction of the costs in the United States.  The Affordable Care Act was the best that could be done given the political environment.  One party wants either to exclude the federal government entirely or severely limit its participation due to ideology.  They use fear, lies, and misinformation to destroy attempts to bring the United States into line with the truly advanced countries of the world.

A good question is why this is the case.  The general argument is against big government.  Any argument about the size of government without considering the question of  what the government can best do versus what private industry can best do is moronic.  Yet it is repeated ad nauseum.

People say that they are followers of Reaganism with great pride.  Ronald Reagan is also regarded as a great communicator, which he was.  But what is overlooked is the reason his ideas were so easy to communicate is that they were so simple.  Reagan demanded that his staff provide brief descriptions of the issues so he could formulate brief descriptions of his policy.

The problem is that simple ideas do not adequately solve complex problems. For example, people will say that they believe in free markets.  One would be hard pressed to find many economists who do not believe in free markets, but they also realize that free markets do not remain free for long.  They are manipulated and monopolies emerge.  The manipulations achieve a variety of ends, one being the financial collapse of 2008.

Moreover, there are always complaints about the excessive regulations that come from big government.  Just think back over time and consider what life would be like without government regulations.  How long would the work week be?  What would salaries be without the minimum wage?  If these are exclusively left to “market forces” they would leave the majority of people in misery.  Were it not for unions, it is quite likely that Marx’s prediction of the revolution of the proletariat would have occurred.  But Marx’s analysis was superficial and did not consider the possibility of workers organizing to achieve a decent wage and working conditions.

Government regulations have also goaded businesses into actions that benefited them.  Gas mileage standards is an example.  And God protect us from what the atmosphere would be like absent government regulations.  One of the costs that decreased the competitiveness of the US Auto Industry in the international market, were the costs of medical insurance.  Had medical insurance been provided by the government, the industry would have been more competitive.  Their ideology acted against their business interests.

One of the most disturbing actions that Trump has promised to undertake is the dismantling of financial regulations taken to prevent another market collapse.  It should be obvious by now that the financial industry does not self regulate.  Smart manipulators cash in, while everyone else in the country and the country itself collapses.

The argument here is not that business is evil and government is good.  There are ample examples of government being a monster.  The reality is that the individual citizen stands between two giants, business and government.  Either one can step on and crush the individual citizen.  The citizen needs to be watchful of both and play each against the other to get the best result.

How should this be done?  By employing science, conducting research, and analyzing data to decide what policies are, and who should do what.  This does not guarantee a good result, but science is self correcting.  So when something does not work, the reason why it didn’t work will be studied, and new approaches will be developed and evaluated.

The fundamental problem is with the individual voter.  Thee is ample evidence that voters do not vote in their own interest.  See the healthy memory blog post, “The Low Information Electorate.” It is also true that voters are governed by their emotions rather than carefully considered opinions.  Previous posts have argued that decisions of most people are governed by their guts, which are System 1 processes.  That certainly is the best explanation of the results of the 2016 presidential election.  People need to invoke their System 2 processes.   System 2 processes require cognitive effort.  The vernacular term for them is thinking.  Entering “System 1” or “System 2” or “Kahneman” into the healthymemory blog search block should yield ample posts on this topic.

© Douglas Griffith and healthymemory.wordpress.com, 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 healthymemory.wordpress.com with appropriate and specific direction to the original content.

Daniel Kahneman and the Stupidity Pandemic

December 26, 2016

In case you haven’t noticed there is a stupidity pandemic.  It’s a pandemic because it rages throughout the world.  Perhaps the most conspicuous example are the religious wars.  These wars are several centuries out of date.  Terrorism is a religious war being largely fought within the Islamic faith with some terrorists groups targeting the west.  Then there is Brexit, a phenomenon that was not predicted by professional politicians.  In general there is lack of faith in what is called the “establishment” and in bodies of knowledge such as science.

In the United States there is the phenomenon of Donald Trump.  When Trump began his campaign it was regarded as a joke and was quite funny.  It is still a joke, but one that is no longer funny.  If every vote had counted in the United States, the Trump problem would not exist.  But an archaic and stupid institution called the electoral college elected Trump, therefore nullifying the will of the majority of US citizens.

So what has Nobel Lauerate Daniel Kahneman have to do with this?  His two process theory of human cognition provides a means of understanding this pandemic.  System 1 refers to our normal mode of cognition.  It is very fast and allows for fluent conversations and skilled performance.  It is the default mode of cognition.  System 2 is called reasoning and corresponds to what we colloquially call thinking.  System 2 requires attention and mental effort.  One of the jobs of System 2 is to monitor System 1 for errors.  However, this requires mental effort and thinking.

Experiments have been run where statements are presented to the research participant.  The brain is monitored.  When a statement conflicts with a participant’s individual beliefs, a signature is reported from the brain.  The question is whether this statement will be ignored, or whether the participant engages in deeper thought to reconsider this statement.  There is a cognitive cost here and the simplest reaction is to ignore the statement and regard it as a mistaken belief.

Trump’s  victory was a victory for System 1 processing.  System 1 appeals to fears, emotions, bigotry, and so forth.  Trump is a genius at connecting with and exploiting the System 1 processes of people.  Trump himself rarely uses System 2 processing.  He does not read books, does not think he needs to attend briefings because he knows everything already.  His gut, his System 1 processing, tells him what is true.  However, Trump does not care what is true.  It is whatever he believes at the moment, and this does change from moment to moment.  This is one of the reasons he is such an effective liar.  He does not care what is true.  It is whatever is expedient for the moment.  When confronted with his lies, he denies the truth.  His promise to make America great again was predicated on the lie that the United States is not regarded throughout the world as a great country.  Enemies dislike the politics of Americans, but nevertheless respect its greatness.

Totalitarian countries have exploited the big lie, and so does Trump.  See the healthy memory blog “Sick Memory.”  Lying has become a profitable industry.  Dana Milbank had an interesting column in the 21 December 2016 Washington Post title “Hoping that he didn’t really mean it.”  Milbank pointed out that many areas of the country that went for Trump will suffer deeply from cuts in government spending that will occur if Trump acts on his promises.  The title of Milbank’s article provides the explanation of how these voters reconcile their vote with the adverse effects that will affect them personally.
It is clear that these people did not employ System 2 processing when they voted.  There is justification for believing that these people rarely engaging in System 2 processing.  Like Trump, they go with their gut feelings.  Unfortunately, there is some question if such people will ever realize that they have screwed themselves.  Trump can continue to exploit their fears and bigotry to keep them in line.

© Douglas Griffith and healthymemory.wordpress.com, 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 healthymemory.wordpress.com with appropriate and specific direction to the original content.

Research Ties Fake News to Russia

November 28, 2016

The title of this post is identical to a front page story by Craig Timberg in the 25 November 2016 issue of the Washington Post.  The article begins, “The flood of ‘fake news’ this election season got support from a sophisticated Russian propaganda campaign that created misleading articles online with the goal of punishing Democrat Hillary Clinton, helping Republican Donald Trump, and undermining faith in American democracy, say independent researchers who tracked the operation.”

The article continues, “Russia’s increasingly sophisticated machinery—including thousands of bonnets, teams of paid human “trolls,” and networks of websites and social-media accounts—echoed and amplified right-wing sites across the Internet as they portrayed Clinton as a criminal hiding potentially fatal health problems and preparing to hand control of the nation to a shadowy cabal of global financiers.  The effort also sought to heighten the appearance of international tensions and promote fear of looming hostilities with the nuclear-armed Russia.”

Two teams of independent researchers found that the Russians exploited American-made technology platforms to attack U.S. democracy at a particularly vulnerable moment.  The sophistication of these Russian tactics may complicate efforts by Facebook and Google to crack down on “fake news.”

Research was done by Clint Watts, a fellow at the Foreign Policy Research Institute has been tracking Russian propaganda since 2014 along with two other researchers,s  Andrew Weisburg and J.M. Berger.  This research can be found at warontherocks.com, “Trolling for Trump:  How Russia is Trying to Destroy our Democracy.”

Another group, PropOrNot, http://www.propornot.com/
plans to release its own findings today showing the startling reach and effectiveness of Russian propaganda campaigns.

Here are some tips for identifying fake news:

Examine the url, which sometimes are subtly changed.
Does the photo looked photoshopped or unrealistic (drop into Google images)
Cross check with other news sources.
Think about installing Chrome plug-ins to identify bad stuff.

Can the US Heal Its Political Rift

November 16, 2016

This blog is motivated by an article in the November 5, 2016 New Scientist’s Analysis Section titled, “Make America whole again:  how the US can heal its political rift.”  This article reviews proven approaches to get groups that differ, sometimes radically, in their beliefs or political positions, to work together productively and achieve useful objectives.  At one time these approaches would have worked in the United State.  But these approaches require that the different parties want to be able to work together.  They also require people to have open minds and be willing to think.

Unfortunately, in the United States there is only one party to clap.  The second party, Trump’s Party, and it is called Trump’s party because this person is no Republican, although he did win the Republican Primary.  Trump not only has no desire to work with the Democratic Party, he has little interest in working within his own Party.  He spoke using fear, bigotry, and misogyny and used the first person, “I”, not “we.”  It is the talk of a potential dictator.  It is extremely depressing to see so many people attracted to him.  Apparently, these people are long on fear and bigotry, and short on thinking.  Correction, they do not think.  Consequently, there is no basis for reasoned deliberation.

The New Scientist article notes that there is evidence that genetics may play a role in determining which party we side with.  Unfortunately, as John Hibbing of the University of Nebraska-Lincoln notes, this makes it difficult to change their opinions.  Hibbing argues that conservatives are more “threat-sensitive”.  Threatening images or sounds elicit a stronger physiological response from them than from liberals.

Another researcher, neuroscientist Read Montgue has also found a link between a person’s politics and the character of their emotional responses.  He put research participants into a brain scanner and measured their response to a series of images chosen to evoke a disgust response from images of feces to dead bodies to insect-covered food.  After they emerged from the scanner, they are asked if they would like to take part in another experiment.  If they say, “yes’ they take a ten minutes to answer a political ideology survey.  They are asked questions about their feelings on gun control, abortion, premarital sex, and so on.  Montague found that that the more disgusted a participant is by the images, the more politically conservative they are likely to be.  The less disgusted, the more liberal.  The correlation is so strong that a person’s neural response to a single disgusting image predicts their score on the political ideology test with 95% accuracy.  This score is remarkably high.

HM would like to see this experiment replicated with the following change.  Anonymity would be assured, numbers would be assigned, but the survey would be administered before the brain scanning.  Actually, this experiment would need to be replicated across a representative sample of US voters.  But if this result could be replicated and found to be extremely robust could anything be done?  Brain scanning at polls with medication administered where indicated?  This question is raised to illustrate how intractable this problem really is.

© Douglas Griffith and healthymemory.wordpress.com, 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 healthymemory.wordpress.com with appropriate and specific direction to the original content.

Wistful Thinking: Why We Are Wired to Dwell on the Past

October 2, 2016

The title of this post is identical to the title of a piece by Teal Burrell in the 24 September 2016 issue of the “New Scientist.”  The article is about nostalgia.  Most of us experience it at least once a week according to research by Tim Wildschut and his colleagues at the University of Southhampton, UK.  Nostalgia is not the cause of loneliness.  Rather it is the antidote to loneliness.  It springs up when we are feeling low and, in general, boosts well-being.  Reflecting on nostalgic events we have experienced forges bonds with other people, and enhances positive feelings and self-esteem according to Wildschut and his colleagues.

Clay Routledge of North Dakota State University  evoked “personal nostalgia” in volunteers by having them listen to songs that had particular meaning to them, the emotion increased perceptions of purpose in life.  When volunteers were asked questions about the point of it all, nostalgia ramped up.  Rutledge says “When people feel uncertain or uncomfortable or unsure, they might use their memories as a stabilizing force.

One notion is that nostalgia gives us a sense of continuity in life.  Although many things in our lives can change—jobs, where we live, relationships—nostalgia reminds us that we are the same person we were on our seventh birthday party as on our wedding day and at our retirement celebration.  Kristine Batch of Le Moyne College says, “It is the glue that keeps us together, gives us continuity, and we need that, ever more so, in times of change.”

Sociologist Fred Davis compared being nostalgic to applying for a bank loan.  Looking back at out past is like checking our credit history.  Other researchers have found the reflecting on nostalgic memories boosts optimism and makes people more inspired to pursue their goals.

Julia Shaw who studies the fallibility of memory at London South Bank University says that nostalgia is a by-product of how we remember.  Memories are inaccurate:  we filter them to focus on the positive.  Each time we reactivate the memory, we make it susceptible to alteration.  Whenever we summon a memory, we might lose some nuances and add misinformation.

Nostalgic memory is about the emotion, not what really happened.  Specific details are either not accurate at all or we confabulate them.  We might not remember  the precise details, but we remember the emotions surrounding the event.

Shaw says that this bias towards positive emotion is at the heart of theories about why we feel nostalgia.  Nostalgic memories tend to be of the best days.  If we fixate on the negative instead, as depressed people are prone to do, it would leave us from an evolutionary perspective in a worse state in terms of adapting and surviving.

When a group shares a vision of the past, collective nostalgia, it promotes a sense of belonging and strengthens group bonds, which may ave had survival benefits in early triple societies.  But that cohesion comes at the cost of driving discrimination towards outsiders.

Nostalgia can lead to a belief in the carefree past that “never really existed.”  Nativist political campaigns in the UK, France, and the US have all hearkened back to a a fabled golden time—as epitomized by Donald Trump’s ‘Make America Great Again” slogan—but those “good all days” had worse standards of living, higher infant mortality rates, lower life expectancies and plenty of other troubles.  Holding up the ideal of a more homogeneous past also made it easy to scapegoat those who weren’t part of it.  So nostalgia can be used to promote disinformation.

The Dunning-Kruger Effect

July 22, 2016

HM had an embarrassing experience when his friend, a physicist, asked him about the Dunning-Kruger effect and he had to express ignorance.  HM was embarrassed because this effect is in the same field in which HM’s interests lay.  After learning about the effect, the relevance of the effect to the current phenomena known as Trump became evident.

There are two parts to the Dunning-Kruger effect.  The first refers to the cognitive bias in which relatively unskilled persons suffer illusory superiority.  The second part refers to a cognitive bias for highly skilled individuals to underestimate the relative competence of unskilled individuals and assume that tasks which are easy for them are also easy for others.

HM will address the second part first.  A fundamental difficulty HM has in teaching is to overestimate what students do and can understand.  HM is not implying that these students are stupid, although this might be the simplest explanation.  However, it is the teacher’s responsibility to teach to the level of what the student can understand.  As a result of repeated experience with students of a certain level, the teacher can and should identify the appropriate level to teach and proceed accordingly.

Dunning and Kruger were not the first to recognize this effect.  Confucius said, “Real knowledge is to know the extent of one’s ignorance.”  Bertrand Russell said, “One of the painful things about our time is that those who feel certainty are stupid, and those with any imagination and understanding are filled with doubt and indecision.”  This statement reminds HM of the phrase, “Ignorance is bliss.”  Charles Darwin wrote, “Ignorance more frequently begets confidence than does knowledge.”  Shakespearean “As You Like It”  wrote “The Foole doth think he is wise, but the wise man knows himself to be a Foole.”

Trump followers appear to be extremely confident in Trump.  How anyone can be confident in Trump given the content of the previous Healthymemory blog posts is completely baffling to HM.  But then, HM is assuming that Trump followers have knowledge that they don’t have.

It would be interesting to have discussion groups with Trump devotees.  The objective of these discussions would not be to try to persuade them to change their opinion, but rather to discuss how the different branches of government work, the role of the Constitution and the Supreme Court.  There would also be discussion regarding the economy, foreign trade, and the subtleties and intricacies of international relations.
I think the results of these discussion group would be extremely depressing.  But they would also be informative.

Palatable, informational presentations might actually urge these followers to think and to invoke their System 2 processes.  Arguing directly regarding the potential disaster Trump could cause the county will not work because people will become defensive.  However, for those who can actually be induced to think might change their minds on their own.

There is some evidence that the Dunning Kruger Effect might be specific to western cultures.  A number of studies using East Asian participants suggest that different social forces are at play in difference cultures.  East Asians tend to underestimate their abilities and see underachievement as a chance to improve themselves and to get along with others.  If only this attitude could be fostered in our culture.

Another Western culture showing the Dunning-Kruger Effect is Great Britain’s Brexit vote.  The Prime Minister assumed that a reasoned discussion of the benefits from remaining in the EU versus the costs in leaving the EU would result in a vote to remain, but just the opposite occurred.  One problem was that a reasoned discussion did not take place.  Rather it became a rowdy political contest in which lies and misrepresentation were made.  HM needs to bring Kahneman’s two process view of cognition into this discussion.  Remember that System 1, intuition, is fast, emotional, and our default mode for processing.  System 2, called reasoning, is slow and effortful.  It became clear that remain arguments had the flavor of System 2 processing.  They were well-reasoned and thought out and supported by data.  Unfortunately, exit arguments smack primarily of System 1 processes that were largely emotional.   They wanted to be British and they wanted to prevent immigration.

For more on the Dunning-Kruger effect and for more specific references see the Wikipedia.

© Douglas Griffith and healthymemory.wordpress.com, 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 healthymemory.wordpress.com with appropriate and specific direction to the original content.

Donald Trump is Bending Reality to Get Into the American Psyche

July 18, 2016

The title of this post is identical to the title of an article in the Comment section of the July 16-22, 2016 issue of the New Scientist.  The article asks the question ”How is is possible that a self-absorbed, egoistical billionaire who criticizes Muslims, Mexicans and women could win more primary votes than any Republican candidate in history?

The answer is that reality does not matter to Trump, who sees himself as more powerful than the facts, nor does it matter to those attracted to his claims.  Yale philosopher Jason Stanley  says that figures such as Trump ruthlessly prey on public fears to reconstruct reality to pander to them.

Psychologist Bryant Welch notes that many people feel beleaguered trying to keep pace with change places ever greater demands on the brain, and this combines with worried about immigration, the economy, unemployment, terrorism, climate change and security.  Anxiety makes crowds turn to a power fun commander.   Unfortunately, the more this happens, the weaker and less capable people become.  Welch makes the comparison to a heroin addict craving larger and larger doses to get the same high.  Welch says, “People are mainlining the Trump drug, a cocktail or absolute certainty, strong opinion, and talk of control.”  Trump demonizes his opponents saying that they are not just wrong, but idiots.  This demonization triggers a primal response, both calming fears and awakening tribal instincts.

Being unhampered by facts and expert evidence, Trump promises:  “don’t worry about climate change, it’s not happening; don’t worry about terrorism, we can stop it with force; don’t worry about jobs, we can build a wall to protect yours; don’t fret abut the economy, we can just rip up free-trade deals.”  These versions of reality are mentally more comfortable than dealing with uncertainty and anxiety.  Trump does not bother with persuading; rather he manipulates fear.

The article concludes as follows:  “After the fireworks, the big question will be; will fear, insults, and hate win the White House?”

Previous healthymemory blog posts have used Kahneman’s Two Process theory of cognition, where System 1 is fast, emotional, and System 2 is slow, methodical and requires mental effort.  The vernacular term for System 2 is thinking.  For democracies to survive, thinking is essential.

© Douglas Griffith and healthymemory.wordpress.com, 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 healthymemory.wordpress.com 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 healthymemory.wordpress.com, 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 healthymemory.wordpress.com with appropriate and specific direction to the original content.

Trump and Behavioral Economics

June 2, 2016

On the June 6 & 13, 2016 “New Yorker” Financial Page there is an article by James Surowiecki.  He is the regular “New Yorker” correspondent for economics, business, and finance.  He has also written a book that Healthymemory would highly recommend, “The Wisdom of Crowds.”  His article is titled “Losers” and it is about how behavioral economics explains the attitude of Trump supporters.  The field of behavioral economics was founded by Daniel Kahneman and Amos Tversky. There have been many, many healthy memory blog posts on this topic and about these authors.   Prospect Theory is key to behavioral economics and resulted in a Nobel Prize being awarded to Kahneman.  Unfortunately Tversky had already passed away when the award was made.

Surowiecki notes that Trump plays to one of the most powerful emotions in economic life, which is what behavioral economics call loss aversion.  The basic idea is that people feel the pain of loses much more than they feel the pleasure of gains.  Empirical studies estimate that, in general, losing is twice as painful as winning is enjoyable. Consequently, people will go to great lengths to avoid losses, and to recover what they’ve lost.

Suroweicki notes that Trump’s emphasis on losing is unusual  even in bleak times.  But he believes that it has worked for him, because it resonates with what many Republican voters already feel.  A study by the Pew Research Center last fall found that 79% of those who lean Republican believe that their side is losing politically.  A RAND survey in January found that voters who believed that “people like me don’t have any say about what the government does” were 86.5% more likely to prefer Trump.  Trump supporters feel that they, and the country, are losing economically, too.  In the RAND survey, Trump did better  with the people who were the most dissatisfied with their economic situation, and exit polls from the Republican primaries show that almost 70% of those who voted for Trump were “very worried” about the state of the economy as compared to only forty-five % of all voters in Democratic primaries.

Surowiki notes some surprising things about all this.  The first is that, in objective terms, plenty of Trump supporters haven’t lost that much.  We’re familiar with Trump’s appeal among white working class voters, many of whom truly have seen wages stagnate and jobs dry up.  But Nate Silver has recently pointed out that the median Trump voter is actually better educated and richer than the average American.  But an important point of Kahneman and Tversky’s work is that people don’t look at their status objectively, they measure it relative to a reference point, and for many Republicans that reference point is a past time when they had more status and more economic security.  Kahneman argues that even people who simply aren’t doing as well as they expected to be doing feel a loss.  And people don’t adapt their expectations to new circumstances.  A study of loss aversion by Jack Levy concluded that, after losses, an individual will “continue” to use the status quo ex ante as her reference point.”  Suroweicki notes that Trump’s promise is precisely that he’s going to return America to the status quo ex ante.  He tells his supporters that he will will help recoup their losses and safeguard what they have.

Suroweicki goes on to say that the other surprising thing is that you might expect loss-averse voters to be leery of taking a risk on an unpredictable outsider like Trump, since loss aversion often makes people cautious:  offered the choice between five hundred dollars and a 50 % chance at a thousand dollars or nothing, most people take the sure thing.  However, loss aversion promotes caution only when people are considering gains; once people have sustained losses, impulses change dramatically.  Offered the choice between losing five hundred dollars and a 50% chance of losing a thousand dollars or nothing, most people prefer to gamble—opposite of what they did when presented with the chance to win a thousand dollars.  People are willing to run huge risks to avert or recover loses.  In the real world , this is why people hold falling stocks, hoping for a rebound rather than cutting their losses, and it’s why they double down after losing a bet.  For Trump’s voters, the Obama years have felt like a disaster.  Taking a flyer on Trump actually starts to feel sensible.

Suroweicki continues, noting that historical parallels are always tendentious, that loss aversion has been instrumental in the success of authoritarian movements around the world.   The political scientist Kurt Weyland has argued that it played a crucial role in the rise of such regimes in Latin American, where the fear of Communism drove putatively democratic societies toward the radical solution of strongman rule.  Suroweicki notes that Trump may not quite be an American Peron, but, to his his supporters, his unpredictability is a selling point rather than a flaw.

It is important to remember that the basis thesis of behavioral economics, a thesis that has ben consistently supported, is that humans do not behave or think rationally.  Rather they are driven by emotions.

Healthy memory feels compelled to note other facets of human cognition that contribute to flawed political decisions.  One is the success of the big lie and the continued persistence of these lies.  It is extremely difficult to correct these lies.

Another problem is  the fallibility of memory and how selective memory makes it difficult to correct erroneous beliefs.  Consider the Iraq war that the younger Bush took us into.  The weapons of mass destruction, on which the invasion was predicated, were never found.  France and Germany were urging Bush to delay an invasion until the inspection were completed and the existence of these weapons could have been ascertained.

It was also the case that the King of Jordan and Henry Kissinger warned Bush that an invasion would result in a broken country that would serve as a base for radical Islamist groups..  This is exactly what has happened.  So the costs of this war not just monetary, which added to the national debt, but more importantly human, produced a situation that is worse, not better, than what prevailed, before the beginning of the war.

People also seem to have forgotten the financial crisis left by the Bush administration that resulted in the very real possibility of a depression.  In spite of recalcitrant Republicans, Obama managed to prevent the depression and aid in an important economic recovery.  By most objective standards, the U.S. economy is in good shape, and the American economy is one of the best performing economies.

Healtymemory still wonders about Trump.  It is difficult for him to imagine Trump curling up with a copy of Kahneman’s “Thinking Fast and Slow.”  It is also difficult imagining Trump taking consul with an expert informing him how to exploit human information processing shortcomings for political gain.  Using the word “instinct” is inappropriate here, but Trump has a flair for exploiting human information processing shortcomings so that System 2 processing is avoided and System 1 prevails resulting in emotions rather than reasoning governing their voting.

© Douglas Griffith and healthymemory.wordpress.com, 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 healthymemory.wordpress.com with appropriate and specific direction to the original content.