A little too close to home


The latest xkcd:

xkcd

The alt text: “It's like I've always said–people just need more common sense. But not the kind of common sense that lets them figure out that they're being condescended to by someone who thinks they're stupid, because then I'll be in trouble.”

Somebody turn that into a poster that we can hang up as a reminder at atheist conferences.

Comments

  1. says

    Fun part: It’s feelings that tell us what constitutes a “problem.” No emotions means no problems to solve and no goals to accomplish.

  2. robertholmes says

    Wait, but… aren’t we calling for more scientific literacy when we criticize climate change deniers, creationists, and alt-med proponents? Isn’t there sufficient evidence to suggest that we might make progress on these issues if we consulted science rather than faith or subjective interpretation? Do we need a study to demonstrate that people are more likely to accept global warming if they understand basic climate science, or that the earth is more than 10,000 years old if they know some anthropology, or that homeopathy doesn’t work if they’re familiar with placebos and how to approach medical studies with some degree of skepticism? I mean, people’s feelings are certainly important when communicating, because nobody wants to be condescended to, but in the end aren’t we rallying for logical approaches and science-based policy?

  3. monad says

    @5 robertholmes: But then it’s not like global warming deniers don’t also wrap themselves in logic. They poison it with special pleading and statistical tricks, but they usually paint themselves as calm skeptics, who simply argue we should have more evidence before we do anything rash. As opposed to climate scientists and activists, who get dismissed as “hysterical” – which is to say, faulted for admitting to feelings about the destruction of the world around us.

  4. ikanreed says

    I hate how much the WORD “science” is used as a stand-in “my ideological beliefs, and their perceived supports”

    Science is wonderful, science as a method tells us so much about so much. But it also tells us so little about the things people tend to be most certain about.

    Also, I’ll believe anyone’s assertion that they’re logical when literally everything they tell me is presented in the form of valid syllogisms.

  5. robertholmes says

    #6 monad: I take your point, but I don’t think we should devalue logic or rational thought just because other people masquerade as being science-driven when they really aren’t. That’s the danger of pseudoscience – both sides claim to be rational, and to an outside observer they seem equal. I’m reminded of Ken Ham cherry picking passages from biology papers, or purveyors of magnetic bracelets peppering their advertisements with scientific sounding words, or phrenologists claiming that head shape clearly illustrates the superiority of one race over others. But the solution to those things seems to me to be a deeper understanding of the pitfalls of cognitive bias (including appeals to emotion), acceptance of the actual state of the science, and a push for more quality research. Shouldn’t we fight bad science with good science, rather than discourage science in favor of private feelings, as this comic seems to suggest?

  6. consciousness razor says

    Big difference between “instead of relying” and “in addition to relying.” With that minor adjustment, the guy with no hat would just be an asshole.

    ikanreed:

    Also, I’ll believe anyone’s assertion that they’re logical when literally everything they tell me is presented in the form of valid syllogisms.

    Then again, it would be unreasonable if all of their valid syllogisms had false premises, yet they presented them to you anyway. They should know that you probably don’t feel like being told a bunch of irrelevant crap.

    There are other forms of logic besides syllogisms, so this approach (if taken seriously) would yield lots of false negatives.

  7. peptron says

    The post simply means that whoever suffers from a dissociative disorder like depersonalisation is right by default in any argument by virtue of loss of affect.

  8. monad says

    @8 robertholmes: I agree with that. I personally don’t think the comic suggests devaluing logic and science, but rather makes fun of setting them up in opposition to “feeling” as a way to devalue the latter. This is a common derailment to cover problems not everyone is in a position to considered indifferently, from treatment of minorities to, as I said, climate change. If appeal to emotion is a fallacy, so is appeal to its absence.

    To me the comic is clearly aimed at the latter. I mean, you can see who actually cares about science. The second speaker asks about it; the first claims it’s what he wants, but it’s a masquerade, since when it comes to writing off what other people value he suddenly doesn’t need any. You haven’t met many people like that? You’re luckier than I am.

  9. consciousness razor says

    robertholmes:

    But the solution to those things seems to me to be a deeper understanding of the pitfalls of cognitive bias (including appeals to emotion), acceptance of the actual state of the science, and a push for more quality research. Shouldn’t we fight bad science with good science, rather than discourage science in favor of private feelings, as this comic seems to suggest?

    I think this generally okay, but emotions should not just be things which are understood (however deeply) as sources of bias or as warning signs of fallacious reasoning. We couldn’t decide to cast them aside or ignore them, because decision-making itself is part of what they do for people — in the form of our immediate empirical experiences, our interests and goals, etc. You wouldn’t have any good or bad science, logic or whatever else, without them. So, they can be very good and helpful things, and it’s a mistake to only characterize them as problematic.

  10. deepak shetty says

    @robertholmes
    Once upon a time , the “accomodationists” used to argue that its not just the facts/science/logic , but also the way you portray your facts that also matters (For e.g. religious people may be more receptive to accepting evolution IF you also took care to point out that for e.g. Science and Religion are not necessarily in opposition).

    but in the end aren’t we rallying for logical approaches and science-based policy?

    Yes. But there isn’t an objective science-based policy. (For e.g. the sexist atheists might believe but of course science shows that women not as good as men at math/science/logic – should we now base policy on that “fact”)

  11. robertholmes says

    @12 consciousness razor: Hmm. Alright, I guess I can get on board with that. The comic still rubs me the wrong way – partly because it presents science as only a collection of citable facts from studies rather than a broader way of thinking – but I think I can appreciate the sentiment of not rejecting feelings altogether, especially at the expense of self awareness. I don’t think there’s anything inherently good or bad; we have to make some value judgments, if only as simple as “a flourishing society is better than a decaying one,” “happiness is preferable to suffering,” etc. And then there’s the whole mess of defining terms, e.g. what does it mean to flourish and what is happiness really? Logic is almost impossible when language is so imperfect. At the end of the day we’re just appealing to each other’s feelings, but I suppose you need those feelings to dictate where to focus your attention before you start acting on data. I can respect that.

    @13 deepak shetty: Yes, it definitely matters how you portray facts. You can’t just throw data at someone and expect them to receive it well. Always consider your audience. But I’m not so sure that science and religion *aren’t* in opposition, so we might disagree there. (I do think that some scientific discoveries are compatible with some interpretations of religion, but that seems like a different story.) In either case, no, I don’t think we should base policy on sexist beliefs, but I don’t think women’s inferiority is the truth that the facts bear out. (I’m also thinking of different ethnicities performing differently on IQ tests. While true, there are other perfectly scientific explanations for that outside of racism, which actually doesn’t make much sense if you understand how little genetics overlaps with ethnicity, so I would lump that into the bad science pile along with magnetic bracelets and phrenology.) But even if we had reliable data that showed that women were worse in those subjects, we’d still be tasked with figuring out what to do about that, and I don’t see why science couldn’t inform those decisions as well (e.g. history has a few things to say about what is likely to happen when we essentially ban half of our population from entire industries.)

    Sorry, I’m kind of belaboring this, but I’m just trying to wrap my head around it. I’m prone to the same biases as everyone else, so maybe I’m missing the point a little. I’m going to grab a coffee and think it over. Thanks for the feedback.

  12. deepak shetty says

    But I’m not so sure that science and religion *aren’t* in opposition, so we might disagree there.

    No I’m in agreement with you on that topic. However a set of people (who are also smart) disagree.

    Sorry, I’m kind of belaboring this, but I’m just trying to wrap my head around it.

    I don’t think the cartoon is knocking science/logic. It is a smart rejoinder to folks like James Damore who believe they are doing the “science and logic and reason” while refusing to acknowledge their own biases and motivated reasoning and feelings that is causing them to interpret data in a particular way.

    Thats about the cartoon.

    There is another point you bring up which is that isn’t science based policy good? And the answer is of course yes . For topics that are clearly in the realm of science and are agreed to by most scientists (but agreement based on popular vote isn’t science!) this is clear (vaccines, climate change etc). The problem is where there are conflicts , how would a science based policy work (do we have the scientists vote and majority wins)?
    Some philosophers like Massimo Pigliucci for e.g. describe a tendency towards what they call scientism among a set of usually Atheists , who vociferously argue for science everywhere (which is not to say I completely agree with him or them) .

  13. ck, the Irate Lump says

    Common sense is terrible. Common sense says heavy things fall faster than light things. Common sense says the sun orbits the earth. Common sense says the earth is flat. It got so bad that humanity had to invent science just to fix the errors caused by common sense.

  14. latsot says

    @robertholmes

    The point of the cartoon is that hat guy is illogically and unscientifically dismissing other people’s opinions as illogical and unscientific.

    It isn’t saying we need less logic and more feelings, it’s ridiculing a certain type of person who believes they’re perfectly rational without any actual evidence but assumes other people are irrational because they say what he thinks are crazy things. They must be irrational, illogical and unscientific, because they’re wrong!

    As Ophelia suggests, there are an awful lot of people like this at Atheist/Skeptic conferences.

    I don’t think the cartoon is suggesting we should give any kind of equal time to claims presented without evidence. That would be very uncharacteristic of xkcd, which is very strongly pro-science. Just that we – especially we sciency types – need to work on our assumptions.

    If anything, the cartoon is calling for more logic, not less.

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