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Posted By Hastamorir Artists Society

Neither intelligence nor education can stop you from forming prejudiced opinions – but an inquisitive attitude may help you make wiser judgements. Tom Stafford

stay curious

The political lens
There is now a mountain of evidence to show that politics doesn’t just help predict people’s views on some scientific issues; it also affects how they interpret new information. This is why it is a mistake to think that you can somehow ‘correct’ people’s views on an issue by giving them more facts, since study after study has shown that people have a tendency to selectively reject facts that don’t fit with their existing views.

Other research shows that people with the most education, highest mathematical abilities, and the strongest tendencies to be reflective about their beliefs are the most likely to resist information which should contradict their prejudices. This undermines the simplistic assumption that prejudices are the result of too much gut instinct and not enough deep thought. Rather, people who have the facility for deeper thought about an issue can use those cognitive powers to justify what they already believe and find reasons to dismiss apparently contrary evidence.

It’s a messy picture, and at first looks like a depressing one for those who care about science and reason. A glimmer of hope can be found in new research from a collaborative team of philosophers, film-makers and psychologists led by Dan Kahan of Yale University. Kahan and his team were interested in politically biased information processing, but also in studying the audience for scientific documentaries and using this research to help film-makers. They developed two scales. The first measured a person’s scientific background, a fairly standard set of questions asking about knowledge of basic scientific facts and methods, as well as quantitative judgement and reasoning. The second scale was more innovative. The idea of this scale was to measure something related but independent – a person’s curiosity about scientific issues, not how much they already knew. This second scale was also innovative in how they measured scientific curiosity. As well as asking some questions, they also gave people choices about what material to read as part of a survey about reactions to news. If an individual chooses to read about science stories rather than sports or politics, their corresponding science curiosity score was marked up.

Armed with their scales, the team then set out to see how they predicted people’s opinions on public issues which should be informed by science. With the scientific knowledge scale the results were depressingly predictable. The higher levels of scientific education results in a greater polarisation between the groups, not less.

So much for scientific background, but scientific curiosity showed a different pattern. The team confirmed this using an experiment which gave participants a choice of science stories, either in line with their existing beliefs, or surprising to them. Those participants who were high in scientific curiosity defied the predictions and selected stories which contradicted their existing beliefs. So, curiosity shows that to promote a greater understanding of public issues, it is as important for educators to try and convey their excitement about science and the pleasures of finding out stuff, as it is to teach people some basic curriculum of facts.

Taken from BBC. Article can be found here

Posted By Hastamorir Artists Society

the locus effect by gary haugen

The Locus Effect by Gary Haugen

THE author of a new book, “The Locust Effect”, was in London recently to talk at the Legatum Institute, a think-tank. Gary Haugen founded the International Justice Mission, a non-profit organisation that tries to increase access to justice in poor countries by helping victims to take cases, by training police and by lobbying for more money and attention to be given to what Mr Haugen terms the “plague of everyday violence”.

The subtitle of his book, “Why the End of Poverty Requires the End of Violence”, explains his thesis in a nutshell: no matter how much is done to improve poor countries’ business environments, education or health care, unless they become safer, they will never stop being poor. And the main reason why violence is endemic in so many places is very simple, he thinks: nothing shields most of the world’s poor from those who wish to prey on them. “In the last half-century,” he writes, “basic public justice systems in the developing world have descended into a state of utter collapse.”

When you picture a poor person in a poor country, you probably imagine someone who lacks food, and perhaps safe water and adequate shelter, and who may be suffering from untreated disease. But what you don’t see, because it is not visible, is that he or she is probably outside the protection of any law. Someone who attacks or steals from a poor person (who may have a small plot of land, or tools of a modest trade) will almost certainly never be punished. When poor people are asked what their biggest problem is, says Mr Haugen, they often answer “violence”—even if they are also hungry, jobless or sick.

Much of the book is given over to truly distressing stories: a Peruvian mother who finds her young daughter’s dead body thrown in the street, bearing marks of torture and rape; Indian villagers enslaved in a brick factory, beaten and starved. The common thread is impunity. In the case of the Peruvian girl there was, to say the least, suggestive evidence implicating a powerful local; it was apparently destroyed with the collusion of the police. When some enslaved workers escaped from the brick factory, the owner not only felt so sure he would not be prosecuted that he went to their village to drag them back, but enlisted local police to help him.

But it is not all depressing. Mr Haugen points out that even countries where the rule of law is now reasonably secure used to have corrupt and violent police, dysfunctional legal systems and de facto impunity for the rich and powerful. In the mid-1900s Parisian police saw their job as protecting the elite from the poor; around the turn of the 20th century New York’s police were hand-in-glove with kleptocratic politicians and racketeers. The powerful lesson of history, he writes, is that even terrible criminal-justice systems can be made to function reasonably well—given time, committed campaigners and reform-minded elites.





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