Friday, March 6, 2009

Graph Proves Pseudoscience is Real

There are slow news days and then there are slow blog days. On slow blog days, you skim. The following link was referenced by my arch nemesis of pseudoscience. I know who he is, so no ned to go into all that battle of psychology of pseudoscience verses stupid people cause pseudoscience. 

This graph below was just made up (hit it to link to the original). There isn't any data behind it. Well, there is data, that's how we get graphs like this. So, made up, but the graph has a lot of truth gleaned from the author's experience in the world. 

The truth of this graph is in how we create our beliefs based on their source. In fact, we usually start with another source rather than our own observations. You don't make up an idea in your head and start believing. You start a belief with something you are told, read, see, or hear. The source of the information and the quality of the telling are what get you to belief in the proposed. You are also not likely to go out and confirm the perceived facts. Worse, you will see evidence for such 'facts' everywhere you look and ignore competing data.

The next bit gets a little hairy, hang on. The reason for all of this is that our brain is not really wired for experiments after a certain point. We learn in general what sources to trust and what a lie looks like. Sadly we don't always learn too well nor do our sources always have the absolute truth all the time. There are also quite a few famous liars out there.

The graph is missing some information. It should be a 3D plot because it needs to show the inability of the person believing to change their mind on the subject. People that watch Oprah probably would go to their graves believing what she says.

The brain is lazy. It saves energy to have an authority do all the work for you. Why do you think Oprah is the richest woman in the world? It is her ability to do the thinking for you that gives her all that power. Even though my book are no Color Purple, I want Oprah to recommend them because they will become best sellers as fast as Amazon can start taking orders the moment my name is mentioned in Oprah show teasers weeks before I am on TV.

It only takes a little respect or a believable statement to trigger belief. The worst issue is that this works in all of us. Even those that are best able to tell truth from fiction, they will often go to a restaurant recommended by a friend. Oprah will probably let another author dup her about their fantasy of their fake self-biography. 

Let's end with the bar in the graph titled, "Read in an email which was proved wrong years ago". Why is that so high? And why is it usually from people over age 55 that send those emails? My guess is that the news industry that has caused this. If we are used to believing in the news because in general it is fair, balanced, and fact checked (we assume), then we will believe anything that reads or sounds like the news. Just write in the third person and give a good title and you now have factual news as far as the reader can tell. 

Think about this. Do you double check every fact you hear on the news? You might question some of it (more so now that Fox News confuses news with commentary), but you don't go out and re-contact the story's sources. 

It is human nature to want to hear the truth. 

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