On evidence that doesn't fit your narrative

Not too long ago the New York Times published Anti-Vaccine Activists Have Taken Vaccine Science Hostage. To offer up a representative sample of the article's argument:

When I tried to report on unexpected or controversial aspects of vaccine efficacy or safety, scientists often didn’t want to talk with me. When I did get them on the phone, a worrying theme emerged: Scientists are so terrified of the public’s vaccine hesitancy that they are censoring themselves, playing down undesirable findings and perhaps even avoiding undertaking studies that could show unwanted effects. Those who break these unwritten rules are criticized.

It doesn't seem to me to be all that surprising that people might opt for differing narratives fed to them by grifters or others with dubious agendas if the above is what they pick up on hints of in the media. Politics has a lot of damned-if-you-do-/-damned-if-you-don't terrain. One element of that I think is that the "pro-science" crowd may in some instances be as big a threat to science as the "anti-science" appears, due to the extent to which its use of propaganda and political pressure seems to increase the vulnerability of the population to false narratives.

Kahneman on complex language

If you care about being thought credible and intelligent, do not use complex language where simpler language will do. - Daniel Kahneman

Random links

Effective of changes in urban density from the London Blitz and the building/destruction of the Berlin Wall
To quote from the latter: "Theory and empirical evidence confirm the positive relationship between urban density and productivity in a virtuous circle of ‘cumulative causation’."
Brahmin Left vs Merchant Right: Rising Inequality & the Changing Structure of Political Conflict
"In the 1950s-1960s, the vote for left-wing (socialist-labour-democratic) parties was associated with lower education and lower income voters. It has gradually become associated with higher education voters, giving rise to a “multiple-elite” party system in the 2000s-2010s: high-education elites now vote for the “left”, while high-income/high-wealth elites still vote for the “right” (though less and less so). I argue that this can contribute to explain rising inequality and the lack of democratic response to it, as well as the rise of “populism”."
Male and female bosses share the same “classically masculine” personality traits
"Men and women in non-leadership roles differed in their personality traits in ways consistent with the existing literature – for instance, women scored higher than men on characteristics associated with being more agreeable, such as being cooperative and people-oriented, while scoring lower on emotional stability and aspects of extraversion. In contrast, the personalities of male and female bosses were far more similar, with many sex-linked differences absent altogether or greatly attenuated (although the women still scored higher on aspects of agreeableness)." See also Women who adopt 'male traits' often see business success, study says

"So you think you’re open-minded…"

Towards the end in a discussion of biases is the bit that I particularly want to point out:

... the last one I’m going to mention is probably the most important. The sophistication effect, in which the most knowledgeable and politically engaged people, “because they possess greater ammunition with which to counterargue incongruent facts, figures, and arguments, will be more susceptible to motivated bias than will unsophisticates”.

Let’s go over that again: the better-informed and cleverer you are, the more vulnerable you are to certain biases, such as motivated scepticism, because you are more able to destroy the arguments that you don’t like, but still feel no particular desire to examine the ones that you do. If you’re a politically well-informed and intelligent Corbynite, it will be amazingly simple to find the examples of Tories using it as a smear, and vice versa.

So it becomes easy to tear down silly arguments by your opponents, and so you become ever more convinced of your own brilliance and their idiocy or malignity.

I don't think in the case of journalism that something like Breitbart is a great alternative, but it seems to me that groupthink exists amongst journalists as, e.g., Nate Silver has argued. I also think that the same applies amongst academics when it comes to a number of politically sensitive subject areas.


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