Addressing Entrenched Beliefs.

 

byyourlogictigerfrinkiac
Lisa attempts to Teach Homer about misinformation and logical fallacies and inadvertently spreads misinformation about tiger-prevention rocks. Via Frinkiac. From The Simpsons S7E23 “Much Apu About Nothing”, Fox Studios.

Diversity JC has a Twitter handle: @Diversity_JC. The three of us will tweet relevant things and one of us will moderate discussions from the account. We also have out newsletter that you can subscribe to

**NOTE:** Our first discussion of 2017 has been moved to Thursday January 19 at 2pm Eastern Time due to the inauguration and the potential for people to be traveling to protests on the 21st. We’ll discuss this paper, The Nature and Origins of Misperceptions (pdf).

There’s been a lot written and said this past few months about reconciling the “post-truth” world with the one many of us in science believe we live in: the one of data, facts, and science.

  • Where confirmation bias is minimized and not everything is evidence of conspiracy.
  • Where our own beliefs are self-interrogated and, at the same time, aren’t held so tightly that any contradictory evidence, real or imagined, continues rationalizing of  misconceptions, instead of new dialogue.
  • Where vetted sources are trusted by many – instead of groups that decide to listen or not based on vague principles instead of facts, and anything perceived as a challenge to one’s identity or even requires change is met with resistance or outright denial.

Inclusiveness in academia is not immune to this trend: There are those that simply deny there’s a problem or see it as a challenge to their identity in some way.

Our Diversity Journal Club aims to not only discuss issues of diversity and inclusion in STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering, Mathematics) fields, but to make a difference. We also hope to provide a way to engage for those that haven’t discussed these topics in the past, and want to learn and listen. There is evidence that an open conversation telling people directly about lived experiences works to combat misperceptions. Yet we need people to come to the table first – to admit the need for discussion and change.

As Brianna Wu points out in this Twitter thread (& many others have as well), facts do not really matter when trying to convince people:

Even Galileo in letters to The Duchess of Tuscany was aware of entrenched beliefs that are hard to get through, even if the facts are on your side:

These men have resolved to fabricate a shield for their fallacies out of the mantle of pretended religion and the authority of the Bible. These they apply with little judgement to the refutation of arguments that they do not understand and have not even listened to.

Galileo used a telescope to observe “new worlds” (moons) around Jupiter. 500 years later, NASA/JPL scientists have further confirmed that observation in unprecedented detail with the Juno mission’s time lapse as it approached and entered orbit around Jupiter. Some scientists argue that exploring nature in greater and greater detail reveals the magnificence of creation, putting a religious narrative structure on why they love science and exploration. The religious story as a way to relate science may not be given by scientists, however, as Dudo and Besley found that scientists in their survey put the lowest priority (& thought their colleagues did too) on tailoring narratives (Dudo and Besley, 2016, open access).

This month in #DiversityJC we’ll discuss this publication by DJ Flynn, Brendan Nyhan, and Jason Reifler “The Nature and Origins of Misperceptions: Understanding False and Unsupported Beliefs about Politics” (pdf).

The paper concludes:

If the conclusions reached so far are correct, however, the threat of misperceptions to democracy cannot be avoided, especially in the highly polarized world of contemporary American politics. Facts are always at least potentially vulnerable to directional motivated reasoning, especially when they are politicized by elites. The polarization that our politics must confront is thus not just over issues and public policy, but over reality itself.

The paper delves into political misperceptions, however, similar principles apply to issues of inclusion and diversity issues in STEM (and beyond). There are entrenched beliefs that increasing inclusion means losing something for those currently in positions of power and influence. To name one misperception.

It is long article, but  the most relevant sections in order of appearance are The introduction, The definition of misperceptions, The effects of misperceptions and corrective information, and Why misperceptions matter for democracy, and the conclusion.

Deficit models don’t work. People come to new information with prior knowledge that can be persistent, and messages not tailored to specific audiences can easily fall flat, as Southern Fried Science recently addressed regarding climate change. The communicator and the message can both matter when correcting misinformation. Some evidence suggests starting with the misperception and filling it with the correct information can be effective (though it takes effort on the part of the person absorbing new information). However, delivering it in a narrative/story form is likely to be most effective. It shouldn’t be shocking that learning is a social process and what matters is what goes on inside the head of the learner.

There also has to be a way for a story to resonate with an intended audience. Identifying that may be especially challenging, as Flynn et al. point out.

The questions we’ll be having in mind and stories we’d like to hear are:

  1. Have you had experienced actually changing someone’s mind on an issue of Diversity/inclusion? Or changed someone’s mind on another STEM topic (like climate change)?
  2. How do we best connect with those expressing strong disagreement? (& are there people that genuinely seem more open to hearing the other side of an argument than others?
  3. How important is it to continue ‘preaching to the choir’ and is there a value in doing so?
  4. What narratives work best with social/inclusion/diversity issues that can appear invisible? With a social issue like inclusion/diversity that may not be seen as solidly researched as say, established physics, are there narratives that work better or worse than others? What has been your experience?
  5. How do you stay open to new ideas/hearing another perspective?

Join us for DiversityJC on Friday, January 20 at 2pm ET! 

@Diversity_JC is:

Ian – @IHStreet

Emily – @DrEmilySKlein

Doctor_PMS – @Doctor_PMS
PS- One thing we should all start to be mindful of is not sharing fake news ourselves, especially be careful if it confirms what you already believe. Here is one list of ways to spot – and then not share- fake news stories (and find what the actual story might be and share that instead).

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