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Tuesday
Oct072014

What I believe about teaching "belief in" evolution & climate change

I was corresponding with friend, someone who has done really great science education research, about the related challenges of teaching evolution & climate science to high school students.  

Defending what I've called the "disentanglement principle"-- the obligation of those who are responsible for promoting comprehension of science to create an environment in which free, reasoning people don’t have to choose between knowing what’s known and being who they are-- I stated that I viewed "the whole concept of 'believing' [as] so absurd . . . ."  

He smartly challenged me on this:

I must admit, however, that I do not find the concept of believing to be absurd. I for example, believe that I have been married to the same women since I was XX years old. I also believe that I have XX children. I also believe that the best theory to explain modern day species diversity is Darwin's evolution theory. I do not believe the alternative theory called creationism. Lastly, I believe that the Earth is warming due largely to human caused CO2 emissions. These beliefs are the product of my experience and a careful consideration of the alternatives, their predictions, and a comparison of those prediction and the evidence. This is not a matter of who I am ( for example it matters not whether I am a man or a women, straight or gay, black or white) as much as it is a matter of my understanding of how one comes to a belief in a rational way, and my willingness to not make up my mind, not to form a belief, until all steps of that rational way have been completed to the extent that no reasonable doubt remains regarding the validity of the alternative explanations that have been advanced. 

His response made me realize that I've been doing a poor job in recent attempts to explain why it seems to me that "belief in" evolution & global warming is the wrong focus for imparting and assessing knowledge of those subjects.

I don't think the following reply completely fixes the problem, but here is what I wrote back:

I believe you are right! 

In fact, I generally believe it is very confused and confusing for people to say "X is not a matter of belief; it's a fact ....," something that for some reason seems to strike people as an important point to make in debates about politically controversial matters of science. 

Scientists "believe" things based on evidence, as you say, and presumably view "facts" as merely propositions that happen to be worthy of belief at the moment based on the best available evidence. 

I expressed myself imprecisely, although it might be the case that even when I clarify you'll disagree.  That would be interesting to me & certainly something I'd want to hear and reflect on. 

What I meant to refer to  as "absurd" was the position that treats as an object of science education students' affirmation of "belief in" a fact that has been transformed by cultural status competition into nothing more than an emblem of affiliation. 

That's so in the case of affirmation of "belief in" evolution. To my surprise, actually, I am close to concluding that exactly the same is true at this point of affirmation of "belief in" global warming. 

Those who say they "believe in" climate change are not more likely to know anything about it or about science generally than those who say they don't "believe"-- same as in the case of evolution.  

Saying one "disbelieves" those things, in contrast, is an indicator (not a perfect one, of course) of having a certain cultural identity or style-- one that turns out to be unconnected to a person's capacity to learn anything.  

So those who say that one can gauge anything about the quality of science instruction in the US from the %'s of people who say that they "believe in" evolution or climate change are, in my view, seriously mistaken. 

Or so I believe--very strongly-- based on my current assessment of the best evidence, which includes [a set of extremely important studies] of the the effective teaching of evolution to kids who "don't believe" it.  I'd be hard pressed to identify a book or an article much less a paragraph that conveyed as much to me about the communication of scientific knowledge as this one: 

[E]very teacher who has addressed the issue of special creation and evolution in the classroom already knows that highly religious students are not likely to change their belief in special creation as a consequence of relative brief lessons on evolution. Our suggestion is that it is best not to try to [change students’ beliefs], not directly at least. Rather, our experience and results suggest to us that a more prudent plan would be to utilize instruction time, much as we did, to explore the alternatives, their predicted consequences, and the evidence in a hypothetico-deductive way in an effort to provoke argumentation and the use of reflective thought. Thus, the primary aims of the lesson should not be to convince students of one belief or another, but, instead, to help students (a) gain a better understanding of how scientists compare alternative hypotheses, their predicated consequences, and the evidence to arrive at belief and (b) acquire skill in the use of this important reasoning pattern—a pattern that appears to be necessary for independent learning and critical thought.

 Maybe you now have a better sense of what I meant to call "absurd," but now it occurs to me too that "absurd" really doesn't capture the sentiment I meant to express.

It makes me sad to think that some curious student might not get the benefit of knowing what is known to science about the natural history of our (and other) species because his or her teacher made the understandable mistake of tying that benefit to a gesture the only meaning of which for that student in that setting would be a renunciation of his or her identity. 

It makes me angry to think that some curious person might be denied the benefit of knowing what's known by science precisely because an "educator" or "science communicator" who does recognize that affirmation of "belief in" evolution signifies identity & not knowledge nevertheless feels that he or she is entitled to exactract this gesture of self-denigration as an appropriate fee for assisting someone else to learn.

Such a stance is itself a form of sectarianism that is both illiberal and inimical to dissemination of scientific knowledge. 

I have seen that there are teachers who know  the importance of disentangling the opportunity to learn from the necessity to choose sides in a mean cultural status struggle, but who don't know how to do that yet for climate science education.  They want to figure out how to do it; and they of course know that the way to figure it out is to resort to the very forms of disciplined observation, measurement, and inference that are the signatures of science.

I know they will succeed.  And I hope other science communication professionals will pay attention and learn something from them.

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Reader Comments (50)

The only reason I, and others, choose not to use the phrase, 'I believe...', when discussing climate change—and this might also apply to evolution, though that is a subject about which I rarely get into arguments—is because it provides an instant opportunity for an adversary to accuse me of following 'the religion of climate change' (a popular meme).

It's a shame such defensive tactics are necessary, but it's a result of the word 'belief' being closely associated with the word 'faith'. Of course one needs no faith to believe in either climate change or evolution. Scientific evidence is enough—unless you're in denial of course...

October 7, 2014 | Unregistered CommenterJohn Russell

I think that one of the things necessary in this discussion is an understanding that the word BELIEF to many religious believers is not a concept that fits into phrasing such as "worthy of BELIEF at the moment". There is nothing of the moment about BELIEF. It is, minus a few theological fine points about such things as revelation and being born again, something that is now and ever shall be.

And that transposes into differences as to what it means to teach. Is teaching about indoctrination, or enlightened exploration?

I mostly agree with your highlighted statement above. I do think that you should be more wary of it's display of ones own tribal biases. The art of teaching students to think for themselves is that "for themselves" part. Which is not the same as exactly the way the teacher thinks. Although, from the teachers point of view as a thinking person, the way the teacher thinks is just great, and with room for future fine tuning, on it's way to being utterly fantastic. I think it is nearly impossible not to harbor a secret wish that others will see things as wisely as you do. But the goal should be to objectively present the evidence, which actually takes guarding against those personal biases.

In educational systems, the importance of a well devised curriculum should be to help the mediocre teachers out there become at least adequate conveyers of disciplines such as science. It also needs to set up warning systems such that the really horrible or subversive teachers are flagged and removed from the system. The great teachers will be able to winnow through the educational fads of the moment and maintain effective teaching practices.

I think that the most illustrative example of failures in this regard is in a field that on the face of it should not impinge on belief systems, namely mathematics.

The intersection of mathematicians and school educators nearly always results in something instructionally horrible. It has to do with the fact that thinking numerically is not really something that can be drilled in as a dogma. Even though there are tools for the task of numerical thinking for which having a few shortcuts committed to memory is incredibly useful. The "new math" of set theory, introduced with the idea of teaching mathematical proof and abstract reasoning, crash landed shortly after being introduced in response to concerns that the Russians were leaping ahead of us with Sputnik. Teachers simply did not grasp or understand this abstract way of thinking and thus resorted to teaching it as a new dogma. Updated math curricula have wobbled back and forth between experiential methods and back to basics ever since. A very recent example of the controversy is this one: http://conservativeread.com/you-wont-believe-the-method-that-common-core-is-using-to-teach-our-kids-subtraction/

Common Core is supposed to be enhancing the teaching of critical thinking. The problem is that this presupposes that teachers are critical thinkers themselves. And that those in positions of power over public schools even think that the teaching of critical thinking is a great idea. Without that, students learn math as something that has to be written out in some newly elaborate form, memorized, and regurgitated for a test. In great detail, and very neatly. Which gets the instructional time further and further from the mathematical concepts. And leads to an interpretation by many that the intention is the end of the world as we know it, as exemplified by the link above. But mathematics instruction can also fail on the lefty liberal side, with such an aversion to "drill and kill' exercises, that arithmetical computation becomes nothing more than a button on a calculator, with little comprehension of what it all means. And students time is spent so involved in the expression of a problem, through writing stories or drawing pictures, that again, little time is left for the mathematical concepts.

This tension between education as indoctrination in dogma and mechanical ability to complete rote tasks and education as developing skills in critical thinking, abstract analysis and reasoning that can lead to a life of further enlightenment is one that is probably as old as human society.

In heated debates between evolution promoting activists and creationists, as at state or school district level curriculum meetings, I am fond of opining that I do not "believe" in evolution. I have frequently done this in a context where it is known that I am a board member of Colorado Citizens for Science, a group organized to work with other groups such as the National Center for Science Education to promote the scientific teaching of evolution and climate science in public school systems. I also like to work in one of my favorite hand waving explanations of gaps, as in gaps in the fossil record. (If you have a gap this wide, and find new information that fits in between, right here, what do you have now? Two gaps!). Scientists aren't afraid of gaps, we love gaps, they are a source of endless future investigational opportunities. The point of such discussions isn't to convince ardent creationists of anything beyond that it would be a really dumb idea, from their point of view, to have people like me teaching their kid religion in the classroom. Therefore, they, of all people, ought to support science education from which religious dogma is stringently separated. But for others on the sidelines of this heated discussion, the idea is that science is a pursuit of evidence, and a mode of thinking that can be seen as in a separate realm from their belief system and one that they do not have to be uncomfortable with. Thus, I am trying to separate out science from faith, as John Russel does above.

In my opinion, this is why the statements that 97% of scientists support climate change are so ineffective. If belief is seen as a measure of faith, the numbers of believers is not really a significant test of the validity of that faith.

That still leaves the question as to how a set public school curriculum, such as the current Common Core, or some new and improved variant, can be successfully implemented as a method of teaching critical thinking in the face of the fact that so many higher government bureaucrats, local school administrators and teachers are innately authoritarian. And that those that are not, may not remain employed under those authoritarians.

October 7, 2014 | Unregistered CommenterGaythia Weis

Terminology is of the utmost importance in these discussions. A distinction should be made between an "observation" that one perceives with one's senses and a "hypothesis" or "theory" which attempts to explain why what has been observed occurred. One does not typically have a "belief" in an observation--everyone assumes that what our senses perceive is an accurate reflection of reality.

Once you disentangle the observations from the ideas that attempt to explain them, I think you start to get to the heart of what belief really is in this context--things we hold to be true that we haven't yet, or cannot ever, actually observe. Then a discussion can be had on what beliefs are based on, and good communication/learning can take place.

October 7, 2014 | Unregistered CommenterEvan

The disentanglement I think you're talking about is the difference between knowing what the arguments and evidence for a proposition are, and believing the proposition to be true. This isn't the same as the fact/belief distinction, which is that beliefs come with different justifiable confidence levels, ranging from demonstrated beyond all reasonable doubt, through most likely on the balance of probability, down to no real evidence for or against it but accepted as probably true for other reasons (e.g. aesthetic). They're all beliefs, but only those with the strongest evidence get called 'facts'.

Your correspondent says:

"Lastly, I believe that the Earth is warming due largely to human caused CO2 emissions. These beliefs are the product of my experience and a careful consideration of the alternatives, their predictions, and a comparison of those prediction and the evidence."

That's great. That's what people ought to do to get those higher confidence levels. The biggest problem with it is, though, that people on *both* sides of the argument say the same thing. But there are a lot of people who don't do it that way. Most people don't download the data and repeat the analysis for themselves - instead, they listen to what 'experts' say, and believe it without question. (Of course, both sides identify different people as 'experts'.) That's what people are talking about when they describe it as "the religion of climate change". The high priests of science have spoken and it is heresy to dispute what they say, although the believers have no more real idea of the evidence for it than the disputants.

Somebody who really has carefully considered the predictions and evidence, and can show it, should not be accused of that. That's not the end of the argument, though. Even people who know the evidence inside out can disagree on how it is to be interpreted. But it's not simply a matter of faith, and that ought to be acknowledged.

From the point of view of science, that people disagree isn't a bad thing. Science thrives on the challenge to orthodoxy, and the need to constantly re-present and re-examine the evidence as a result of the dispute helps to detect any potential flaws in the arguments. Progress is slow, but certain. This should likewise be the purpose of science lessons: to teach the methods of science, of sceptical challenge, of attention to detail, of care over quality and precision, or the need to replicate and check. It motivates people to learn more about the technical methods, too, as this is something they care about for reason s besides the pure joy of science.

Present the evidence, and present the best evidence you can find against it, and let people make their own minds up. If people have seen both sides presented fairly, and conclude that all the global warming claims are true, so be it. If some people conclude otherwise, accept that too. And if people conclude that they don't know, that some of it is true and some of it isn't, or that there isn't sufficient evidence to decide one way or the other, that's acceptable too. The important thing is that people are coming to their conclusions on the basis of evidence and their own judgement, not authority and the judgement of others. Because when everybody does that, and just follows the herd, the entire herd can take the wrong path. Robust decision making depends on diversity of opinion.

October 7, 2014 | Unregistered CommenterNiV

= > "instead, they listen to what 'experts' say, and believe it without question. (Of course, both sides identify different people as 'experts'.) That's what people are talking about when they describe it as "the religion of climate change"."

i feel compelled to point out that while your description does apply to some "skeptics" it doesn't apply to all of them 😊

October 7, 2014 | Unregistered CommenterJoshua

Joshua,

I feel compelled to point out that I already said that. :-)

October 7, 2014 | Unregistered CommenterNiV

@NiV:

The "fact"/"belief" distinct strikes me as mainly a font of confusion. Everything I regard as a "fact" that admits of empirical evidence is something that in fact I "believe" for now, based on the best evidence available to me. I actually don't care if someone wants to object to this useage. But I do object if someone thinks that a "fact" -- if it is the sort of proposition that admits of empirical proof-- is ever to be regarded as something other than a proposition that a reasoning person regards as supported by evidence that *he or she finds compelling*. I know you accept this. Anyone who doesn't -- anyone who thinks that science establishes "facts" by doing anything other than amassing evidence to be critically weighed by reflective people --actually doesn't know what empirical proof is.

I undestand your distinction between "knowing"/"comprehending" evidence, on 1 hand, & assenting to whatever proposition it is that the evidence is supposed to support, on other, I'm sure there are confused people who don't get that, too (do they think Einstein didn't "understand" quantum mechanics?!), and as a result do a poor job in enabling other people to participate in collective knowledge.

But I have in mind something else.

What needs to be disentangled, I'm saying, is a science communicator's or educator's engagement of the reason of a free & reflective person & any expectation that the latter will affirm or renounce a set of shared moral commitments that have nothing at all to do with empirical facts.

The "beliefs in" that I am discussing are *that*-- gestures that express or even perform a cultural identity. One of the ways people do that (strangely, I suppose) is by professing to "believe" or not "believe" in global warming & evolution,. t.

I don't mean to be saying that that's what is going on anytime someone discusses "beliefs" in these things; they can talk that way (as my correspondent did) & be meaning to convey information about assessments of the best available evidence.

But "belief in" evolution & climate change also have social meanings as gestures/performances of identity. Those sorts of gestures are *completely orthogonal* to any sort of engagement with scientific knowledge. The data presented in Measurement Problem -- the simple pattern of covariances in responses to science-literacy items, "belief in" items, & identity items (political & religious) are meant to be empirical evidence of tha

Not getting that can make someone screw up as a communicator or teacher.

Getting that but insisting nonetheless that it is a goal of science communication or education to promote adherence to the sort of identity expressed by "belief in ..." makes someone a zealot whose intentions are hostile to liberalism & to dissemination of scientific knowlede

October 7, 2014 | Registered CommenterDan Kahan

"The "beliefs in" that I am discussing are *that*-- gestures that express or even perform a cultural identity."

You are suggesting, I think, that non-believers in evolution or climate change "know" in a scientific sense that the theories are true, but nevertheless refuse to believe in them for cultural reasons. (Perhaps as a sports fan knows intellectually that their team is not the greatest in the league, and indeed is not much different to any other, but would never admit it where an opposing fan could hear it.)

There may be some people like that - I don't know - but I've never met one, and I'm sceptical that that's the way it works for most of them.

Climate sceptics are well aware that most climate scientists believe in climate catastrophe, but think they're wrong in the scientific, factual sense. Evolution sceptics I'm not so sure about, but most of the ones I've talked to were genuinely sceptical on the basis of perceived gaps in the logical argument, usually due to poor teaching or misunderstanding of the theory.

Or to turn it around, I don't believe that you and the majority of climate scientists are only identifying culturally with global warming belief, and that you don't think of it as scientific fact. There are a few activists who I'm sure are well aware they're going beyond what the evidence can justify, but the rest of you genuinely believe them.

It's why scientific literacy matters - left and right are pretty much equal in their opinions when they don't know the science.

I'd be interested to know why you think differently. What's the evidence for 'knowing disbelief' in climate change?

October 8, 2014 | Unregistered CommenterNiV

==> "Climate sceptics are well aware that most climate scientists believe in climate catastrophe, but think they're wrong in the scientific, factual sense. "

What is "climate catastrophe?"

You speak of "skeptics" as if they are monolithic in what they "know." By what means do you derive your confidence to speak for "skeptics" as a group?

Could you break down, a bit, on what basis "skeptics" as a group, think that climate scientists are "wrong in the science?" Seems to me that most "skeptics," by a long shot, believe that climate scientists are wrong even though they don't know the science well-enough to have a scientific foundation for that belief.

Seems to me that there are all kinds of problems here related to ambiguity in language. For example, the ambiguity between people when people say that they "think" that something is true and when they say that they "believe" something to be true.

You might say that "skeptics" think that climate scientists are wrong in their interpretation of the science (based on some review of the information available) where I would say that "skeptics" believe that scientists are wrong - more or less based on a faith-like confidence that their cultural and social orientation steers them in the direction of scientific truth.


==> " Evolution sceptics I'm not so sure about, but most of the ones I've talked to were genuinely sceptical on the basis of perceived gaps in the logical argument, usually due to poor teaching or misunderstanding of the theory."

I've run into quite a few who are skeptical on the basis of their belief that the bible is the word of god, and therefore can't be wrong. In fact, I'd guess that would be descriptive of the majority of Western, educated people who doubt evolution. IMO, in line with motivated reasoning - they start with a cultural orientation w.r.t . beliefs about evolution and then some of them work backwards to fit their understanding of the science with that original orientation. I'd guess that a strong majority of those reject evolution had their beliefs on the issue formed as children, well before they ever reviewed any of the science involved.

October 8, 2014 | Unregistered CommenterJoshua

Dan -

==> "So those who say that one can gauge anything about the quality of science instruction in the US from the %'s of people who say that they "believe in" evolution or climate change is, in my view, seriously mistaken. "

I have worked with graduate students (in the sciences, including biology) from other countries who have a hard time believing the % of educated Americans (some of whom are undergraduate students in classes where they will work as teaching assistants) who think that the Earth is 6,000 years old, that Noah transported pairs of all animal species on an ark, and who more generally dismiss scientific evidence supporting a view on the evolution of the human species. They also look at the math that American undergrads are studying in college and are shocked to see that it is the same level of math that they studied in high school or even middle school. From this, they draw conclusions about the poor state of STEM education in the U.S. relative to their home countries.

My view is somewhat different, in that many of those students come from cultures with very different educational structures than we have in the U.S., and where, for example, some students are channeled away from STEM curricula at a fairly early age, or where many students spend hours after school every day studying in "cram schools," or where students advance through STEM curricula through a process of rote memorization - with a related effect of difficulty in facing tasks that rely on divergent thinking or independent reasoning.

My view is that like many people in the U.S., those graduate students are drawing wide-ranging implications about the state of STEM instruction in the U.S. from a limited window of evidence. But they aren't the only ones who fall into that pattern. I often hear American educators complain about the poor state of U.S. STEM instruction. I often read references in the popular press and in blog comments about the poor state of STEM instruction in the U.S. The phenomenon you are describing, where people reverse engineer to draw conclusions about the state of U.S. STEM education - without trying to account for important factors that relate to the educational output of U.S. schools - is ubiquitous. It seems to me to be entirely common for people to simplistically leverage decontextualized phenomena related to educational output to confirm their biases. For example, Americans to the right of center often go from decontextualized outcomes of education in the U.S. to declare federal funding for education, and federal policies related to education (indeed, the Department of Education itself) to be a waste of money and energy at best, and quite often as evidence for how government should be drowned in a bathtub.

IMO, the phenomenon that you're speaking of, where people reverse engineer from decontexualized evidence about beliefs about evolution or climate change, to draw conclusions about the state of STEM instruction in the U.S., or whether Americans "hate science," is pall part of a larger phenomenon of confirmation bias/motivated reasoning.

October 8, 2014 | Unregistered CommenterJoshua

"What is "climate catastrophe?""

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=DSlB1nW4S54
:-)

"You speak of "skeptics" as if they are monolithic in what they "know.""

Just as everybody does. Why pick it up only when I do it, and not when Dan does it or Gaythia does it?

Dan says "One of the ways people do that (strangely, I suppose) is by professing to "believe" or not "believe" in global warming & evolution" as if he could speak for "people". I dispute it for one group of "people", and you pop up to demand how I can know the monolithic opinions and motivations of an entire group?!

"Could you break down, a bit, on what basis "skeptics" as a group, think that climate scientists are "wrong in the science?" Seems to me that most "skeptics," by a long shot, believe that climate scientists are wrong even though they don't know the science well-enough to have a scientific foundation for that belief."

Certainly. Could you break down, a bit, on what basis "believers" as a group, think that climate scientists are "right in the science?" Seems to me that most "believers," by a long shot, believe that climate scientists are right even though they don't know the science well-enough to have a scientific foundation for that belief.
:-)

"You might say that "skeptics" think that climate scientists are wrong in their interpretation of the science (based on some review of the information available) where I would say that "skeptics" believe that scientists are wrong - more or less based on a faith-like confidence that their cultural and social orientation steers them in the direction of scientific truth."

Sceptics think climate scientists are wrong in their interpretation of the science on the basis of:
1. Refusal to release raw data;
2. Refusal to reveal methods;
3. Use of flawed statistical methods;
4. Use of data series upside down;
5. Use of data for the wrong locations - the wrong continent even;
6. 'Extending' data series with made-up numbers to get them included in calculations;
7. Doing experiments showing that results are not robust to the exclusion of a very small number of contributing series, hiding them in a directory labelled 'censored', not reporting them in the paper, and claiming therein that the results are 'robust' to exactly the sort of exclusion just considered;
8. Use of data known not to be correlated to temperature as a thermometer;
9. Publishing temperature reconstructions known not to be correlated to temperature;
10. Publishing reconstructions with huge spikes at the end not originating in any of the data, but caused by the drop-out of some series ending before others;
11. Altering the date calibrations on some of those series so the spike comes out pointing up instead of down, as it would if the original series had been used;
12. Failure to report adverse results from such cross-validation tests;
13. Cherry-picking data series for "climate signal";
14. Dropping series from use when updates reveal the previously seen "climate signal" was spurious;
15. Truncating parts of data series that "don't fit", and splicing in other records to hide the failure of their methods to measure what they're claimed to measure;
16. Use of thermometers located right next to aircon vents, black tarmac parking lots, trash incinerators, jet engines, etc. to report temperature records;
17. Ignoring or dismissing the "urban heat island" effect;
18. Doing so on the basis of Chinese climate data claimed to be from stations that haven't moved, that in fact are now known to have done so, or for which data is not available;
19. The failure of Antarctic ice to decline as predicted;
20; The failure of sea level rise to accelerate as predicted;
21; Claiming the Arctic sea ice decline is related to global warming without evidence, when the evidence actually points to wind pattern changes;
22. Predicting that Arctic ice will be completely gone in 2010, 2013, 2015...
23. Claiming every newsworthy weather event - hot, cold, wet, or dry - is related to global warming;
24. Claiming polar bears are threatened with extinction when in fact we have to shoot about 5% of the global population every year to keep their numbers under control;
25. Claiming polar bear numbers are declining despite having no data for about half the territories in which they live;
26. Claiming several animals have gone extinct because of global warming, and then discovering that no they haven't;
27. Claiming frogs were going extinct because of global warming, and then discovering it was because of a fungal infection likely spread by researchers picking up and handling them.
28. Claiming that global warming is causing crops to fail, despite the records of crop production continually rising;
29. Claiming that warmer, high CO2 conditions will be bad for crop plants despite those being exactly the conditions farmers create in greenhouses to make crop plants grow better;
30. Claiming that a temperature rise equivalent in most parts of the world to moving a couple of hundred miles equatorwards will put human survival at risk;
31. Claiming that humanity could not possibly adapt to a change in climate smaller than what most people experience getting off the plane going on holiday;
32. Flying on fossil fuel-burning jets to climate conferences in exotic locations like Bali;
33. Opposing CO2 emission limits being applied to the developing world;
34. The failure of the global mean surface temperature anomaly to rise as predicted for the last 18 years;
35. The failed prediction of the upper-troposphere hotspot;
36. The failure of the unvalidated climate models to correctly predict the characteristics of ENSO;
37. The failure of climate models to predict the distribution of rainfall intensity;
38. The failure of climate models to model the emergence from ice ages;
39. The failure of climate models to explain the little ice age, medieval warm period, or the 1930s warming period;
40. The refusal to acknowledge the existence of the globally-observed medieval warm period;
41. The inaccuracy and major inconsistencies between different group's estimates of forcings such as aerosols;
42. The correlation of forcing estimates with climate model sensitivity, as if the forcings had been adjusted to get the model to match reality;
43. The acknowledged inability of climate models to correctly model clouds;
44. The failure to produce any empirical evidence of the strong positive feedbacks claimed to cause high climate sensitivity;
45. Ignoring the empirical evidence of low climate sensitivity emerging over the past few years;
46. Use of distorting priors to skew the sensitivity distributions high;
47. Use of incorrect trend+AR(1) model to assign meaningless confidence intervals to trend estimates;
48. Claim that Himalayan glaciers will be gone by 2035;
49. Claim that the Amazon rainforest will be destroyed by drought on the basis of a cartoon in a leaflet put out by an environmentalist campaigning group;
50. Use of "grey" literature in large percentage of the references to the IPCC reports (16% in WG1, 41% in WG2, and 64% in WG3 of AR4), despite claiming that only peer-reviewed references were used;
51. Use of unqualified students, non-experts, and recent graduates as IPCC authors, selected on the basis of nationality, gender, and age quotas;
52. Claiming that global warming will lead to the spread of malaria, despite mosquitoes being common in Alaska and Siberia, and despite the primary factor in their elimination being swamp drainage;
53. Refusing to withdraw that claim despite their own expert saying it was nonsense, and eventually resigning in protest;
54. Use of numerical probabilities to express uncertainty in IPCC reports despite having little quantified evidence for them, not documenting how uncertainties were calculated, and not following their own procedures for reporting uncertainty;
55. Using scruffy, undocumented, bug-ridden code to generate temperature series and climate databases;
56. Making data up, noting in passing that doing this will corrupt climate databases and allow bad data to pass unnoticed, but complaining that nobody "gives a hoot" and this is what they always do;
57. Extrapolating temperature across places where there are no measurements, or using inappropriate algorithms for the type of data resulting in the output being "meaningless";
58. Supporting data being 'lost', unrecorded, undocumented, not backed up, stored on obsolete and now unreadable media, modified without record, adjusted, 'homogenised', infilled, and generally messed about;
59. Threatening to 'delete' data rather than give it up, deleting incriminating emails after getting 'freedom of information' requests for them, resisting legal demands for data using untruthful excuses;
60. Claiming that third parties had refused to allow data to be shared, when in fact they had only refused to allow modified data be published under their name;
61. Claiming a '97% scientific consensus' for global warming despite surveys showing only around 60-85% agreement, about far more limited statements, or using biased samples, tiny sample sizes, or not even surveying scientists opinions at all;
62. Trying to get editors who publish sceptical papers fired;
63. Trying to block the publication of sceptical papers, complaining that "It won't be easy to dismiss out of hand as the math appears to be correct theoretically";
64. Talking about determining "the right balance is between being effective and being honest" when presenting climate science to policy makers and the public;
65. Complaining about critics being funded by the oil industry, despite having no evidence for it in most cases, and being oil industry funded themselves;

etc.

I was originally going for 100, and I'm sure I could, but I got bored.

Of course, you know all that. You've hung around at sceptics sites often enough to be very familiar with all the arguments.

And, of course, all the arguments here are on the basis of evidence. As Dan's correspondent puts it: "These beliefs are the product of my experience and a careful consideration of the alternatives, their predictions, and a comparison of those prediction and the evidence." At no point in reciting that list did I need to rely on my 'cultural identity' to support these beliefs. There's no 'knowing disbelief', where people have to express a belief in one thing while knowing the evidence says something different. Sceptics simply think climate scientists are wrong.

--

"... or where students advance through STEM curricula through a process of rote memorization - with a related effect of difficulty in facing tasks that rely on divergent thinking or independent reasoning."

That's a common misunderstanding. The learning process proceeds in stages. First you memorize. Then you practice by rote until you can do it on 'automatic', and only then do you generalise the methods, spot patterns and relationships, and develop the deeper understanding of why the rote methods work.

Some people have assumed that because the brightest kids tend to use their deeper understanding to shortcut the working and develop their own methods, that getting everybody to do that will make them all as good as the brightest kids. What they fail to realise is that the bright kids started with memorization.

It's like any technically difficult skill - a baseball player starts by learning to hit the ball. Only when he has the basic mechanics pat can he start thinking about advanced strategy - about where to hit it to. A piano player starts with using the right fingers and playing scales, reading the notes - only later does she progress to the right way to play Mozart, putting the 'emotion' into it.

You need to know the basics to be able to improvise. And the only way to learn the basics is lots of rote memorization and practice.

October 8, 2014 | Unregistered CommenterNiV

==> "That's a common misunderstanding. The learning process proceeds in stages. First you memorize. Then you practice by rote until you can do it on 'automatic', and only then do you generalise the methods, spot patterns and relationships, and develop the deeper understanding of why the rote methods work."

NiV - I wonder how much you have studied epistimology, developmental psychology, and educational methodology.

Having done so myself, and having worked, intensively, with the students of the sort of which I spoke, I am quite convinced of my view based on long experience. A slightly different, and parallel but related phenomonon can be seen with Korean students who in particular (I taught in Korea) are quite remarkable (as a generality) in their rote memorization abilities. Accordingly they can memorize grammar rules very well to the point where they can ace grammar questions on TOEFL tests, or vocabulary sections, but then can't converse real-time using grammatically correct constructions or functionally utilize a wide vocabulary conversationally.

Your idea of a scaffolded sequence of first rote memorization and then genrealizing of rules is actually counter to how most people learn. Take, for example, young kids learning how to square a trinomial. One method, of the type more typically employed, is to have them memorize a sequential formula. They learn the formula out of context, and w/o deep meaning attached. Largely as a result of being tested and judged on the basis of their ability to memorize something that has no true meaning to them, they never get to the stage of applying the memorized formula into context. Another method is to give them a physical representation of a trinomial cube.

http://tinyurl.com/p9jwx8t

First they just play with it like blocks - putting like colored faces of the cubes and rectangular cuboids. Then you introduce the idea that one dimension is A, another is B, and another is C. In other words, after first establishing meaning in physical and concrete terms, you then move on to the abstract. You then introduce one cuboid as an A² B and another as B² C, etc. You label the different cuboids and string them out and put like shapes together and examine how many there are of each. You look at how they all fit together to make a cube.

In such a manner, you first explore the formula in concrete terms, and then you work on memorizing the overall formula. When you use such an approach, you never forget the formula. I worked with teachers who trained in such a manner, and suddenly discovered that they "understood" math - which previously thought they didn't understand because of the misperception such as yours about the sequence in how math should be taught.

Of course, the effectiveness of various methodologies vary to some degree based on individual students, teachers, and related cultural context, but I have worked extensively with foreign graduate students in the sciences, who are expert in studying through rote memorization but who have not made the transition that you describe from moving from material that they've memorized to being able to apply that knowledge in real-world contexts. I am not suggesting that the process is a simple one. There are certainly some strengths to educational methodoogies that employ mastery through memorization, but your notion of some fixed sequence where the first step is necessarily rote memorization is just flat out false, IMO, and counter to basically the attained wisdom of contemporary research into educational practices.

==> "What they fail to realise is that the bright kids started with memorization."

I love your lack of respect for uncertainty.

Some kids are effective at intuiting the conceptual underpinnings of what they've memorized. Other kids don't particularly care about understanding the meaning of what they've been asked to memorize - perhaps because they're just inclined to follow instructions or perhaps because they have a kind of long-term view that enables them to accept a kind of delayed gratification (of a sort that correlates well with being an effective learner). But many others quickly feel disconnected from a learning process where they're being asked to assimilate abstract concepts (and being judged on that ability) when they don't understand the deeper meaning to those concepts or why they're being asked to memorize them. Because a particular method works for a small minority of the students (your "bright kids" who start with memorization - which I would point out is only a fraction of the "bright kids" and which creates a rather tautological definition of who is or isn't a "bright kid" - i.e., "bright kids" are those that are well-suited to your preferred methodology) does not mean that will work for the rest of kids, or that we should generalize that if they followed that recipe they would learn better than they would by using other recipes...

==> "It's like any technically difficult skill - a baseball player starts by learning to hit the ball. "

What's amusing about that is that it is close to an analogy I use to explain the exact opposite methodology than what you're advocating. After I graduated high school (barely), I began working as a carpenter. During that time, I learned much about the concrete context for different aspects of physics - say which angle might be best to hold a saw when cutting a board, or whether it is more effective to use my strength when pushing or pulling depending on the type of saw, or which kind of saw teeth worked best when going with the grain as opposed to against the grain. I learned how to square a room by "pulling a 3,4,5" triangle. When I went back to school after working as a carpenter, I was able to establish meaning to more abstract physics concepts that might explain why a saw worked better one way or another. I learned the Pythagorean theorem in a way that made sense to me because I was able to attach it meaningfully to my life experiences of the physical environment around me.

Imagine trying to learn how to hit a baseball by rote memorization of abstracted formulas.

The best approach is to connect theory and practice in a ongoing dialog with each other, and moving in one direction or the other based on very individualized aspects of how information is being assimilated. IMO, based on my study of education and my years of experience - working with students who are notable for their ability to excel under the kind of methodology you prescribe as well as those who are notable for the inappropriateness of your recipe for "stages" of learning, your notion of some fixed sequence is wrong - as it would be if someone tried to utilized a fixed sequence moving in the other direction.

I might suggest that you pick up something by PIaget where he describes the developmental stages of learning and how that might apply to designing educational methodology.


==> "A piano player starts with using the right fingers and playing scales, reading the notes - only later does she progress to the right way to play Mozart, putting the 'emotion' into it.

Again, your notion of a sequence for learning to play music - in this case (presumably?) a belief that someone only learns music by delaying an emotional dialog with creating music until after they've mastered abstracted scales, and that through such a process one learns "the right way to play Mozart" seems excessively rigid.

I do find your certainty about education, and your lack of respect for the uncertainties in how people learn, to be quite amusing.

October 8, 2014 | Unregistered CommenterJoshua

Sorry - obviously, that should have been 'how to cube a trinomial"

There is also a similar material to use when working with students learning how to square a trinomial.

http://tinyurl.com/kcb6tcx

October 8, 2014 | Unregistered CommenterJoshua

==> "Just as everybody does. Why pick it up only when I do it, and not when Dan does it or Gaythia does it?"

Yes, everyone does it - to varying degrees. I find it more interesting when you do it then when they do it - but I do call Dan on similar issues when I think they apply. In fact, I did with Dan w/r/t a similar issue (IMO) in the "Pat" post downstairs. But whether I criticize them for doing so has no direct bearing on your habit of generalizing about "skeptics" from your own perspective, in that soft-focus way that you do, that makes all "skeptics" appear to be actually, quite different than how most "skeptics' are.

==> ". I dispute it for one group of "people", and you pop up to demand how I can know the monolithic opinions and motivations of an entire group?!"

First, I didn't "demand" anything. Demanding something through blog comments would be rather silly, wouldn't you agree? Well, anyway, I think so, so I am not trying to "demand" anything. I'm pointing out a lack of precision in your language - in a way that I think promotes a mischaracterization of how most "skeptics" approach the debate about climate science.

==> "Could you break down, a bit, on what basis "skeptics" as a group, think that climate scientists are "wrong in the science?" Seems to me that most "skeptics," by a long shot, believe that climate scientists are wrong even though they don't know the science well-enough to have a scientific foundation for that belief."

I'd say that most "skeptics" are likely completely unaware of most of the issues you listed, and probably only slightly aware of the rest. I asked you to describe "skeptics" as a group. Your answer failed to do so, and in fact, IMO, just repeated the same fundamental error of conflating the "thinking" of a small minority of "skeptics" with the "beliefs" of the majority

==> "Certainly. Could you break down, a bit, on what basis "believers" as a group, think that climate scientists are "right in the science?" Seems to me that most "believers," by a long shot, believe that climate scientists are right even though they don't know the science well-enough to have a scientific foundation for that belief.
:-)"

I think that most "realists" have formulated their beliefs about climate change in ways that are consistent with the outlines of cultural cognition - just have most "skeptics." I could generate a list of issues that a small minority of "realists" would say determine their "thinking" related to climate change just as you did for "skeptics" - but that wouldn't mean that the list would be applicable to most "realists."

==> ".Just as everybody does. Why pick it up only when I do it, and not when Dan does it or Gaythia does it?"

I like tweaking you about it. Partially, but not only, because you are so resistant to acknowledging your own biases. I am more interested in tweaking "skeptics" about such selective argumentation than I am in tweaking "realists" about it - although I do it with "realists" from time to time also.,


==> "Dan says "One of the ways people do that (strangely, I suppose) is by professing to "believe" or not "believe" in global warming & evolution" as if he could speak for "people". I dispute it for one group of "people", and you pop up to demand how I can know the monolithic opinions and motivations of an entire group?!"

You mis-labeled that group of people, IMO. That was my point. Also note the use of conditional in Dan's phrasing, and the lack of conditionals in yours.

You wrote:

Climate sceptics are well aware that most climate scientists believe in climate catastrophe, but think they're wrong in the scientific, factual sense.

A monolithic characterization of climate "skeptics" in a fashion that IMO, only applies to a small minority, and without any conditionals.

==> "At no point in reciting that list did I need to rely on my 'cultural identity' to support these beliefs."

I doubt that you are as immune to the biasing influences of cultural cognition as you seem to think that you are.

October 8, 2014 | Unregistered CommenterJoshua

"Take, for example, young kids learning how to square a trinomial. One method, of the type more typically employed, is to have them memorize a sequential formula."

The first thing you learn is multiplying out brackets. Take the first term in the first bracket and multiply it by each term in the second bracket, then take the second term, and so on. Draw it out as a table if it helps keep things straight at first, but after a while you should be able to multiply out brackets 'automatically'. It's easy to explain why it works by dissecting a rectangle, but the routine is simple enough that children can understand what to do even without knowing why they're doing it.

Then the exercises used to practice it will include things like squaring and cubing trinomials, and later on, students can start to observe the patterns that arise when they look at sequences, which leads on to binomial and multinomial coefficients, and so on.

Playing with coloured blocks?! Tch! How would you explain (x+y)^5 with coloured blocks?

October 9, 2014 | Unregistered CommenterNiV

==> "How would you explain (x+y)^5 with coloured blocks?"

Unfortunately, you rather typically moved right past the point I was making. You don't just play with colored blocks as an end unto itself.

You work with concrete models in the initial stages to help students transition from the concrete to the abstract. You help them build their own conceptual understanding as a foundation for further abstract thinking. Once you'e helped them bridge that gap, and to feel comfortable with working with abstractions, you don't need to create a physical model to form that bridge for each and every concept. But the point is that the direction the methodology takes is from the concrete to the abstract - the reason being that methodology is in line with cognitive development. Again, you might benefit from reading some Piaget.

One of the obstacles not dealt with well by a traditional paradigm for teaching alegbra - such as the one consistent with your "stages" - is that you're trying to get students to reason abstractly when they aren't yet abstract thinkers. This might help you to understand.

http://www.algebra.org/news/2012/12/06/ap-curriculum-author-ed-dubinsky-advising-international-colleagues/

https://education.uw.edu/cme/algebra

http://www.algebra.org/


Your notion of the sequence of how to teach math is antiquated and simplistic. I've always found it amusing how teachers try to teach the division of fractions over and over with students, because they've marched through a preset sequence that embraces the idea that at a certain age, you first team addition of fractions, then subtraction then multiplication and finally division. The problem is that addition, subtraction, and multiplication of fractions are easily represented concretely through models, but the division of fractions is not. Students are then taught a simple formula, "You just invert and multiply." They aren't taught the conceptual framework for understanding that formula, they are just taught the formula because the model is that you just need to get the right answer and move on. The model of math is to get the correct answer to the questions posed. The problem, however, is that many students are not developmentally ready to intuit the conceptual basis for "invert and multiply," and so they just forget the formula because they haven't developed mental schema that help them to attach that learning to existing mental frameworks (I like to refer to the velcro theory of learning, where the storing of and and subsequent access to information is facilitated by how much it sticks to other mental networks. Information that just sits in some isolated and abstracted memorized form is not easy to store and there aren't many links to other stored information that form multiple means of access).

As a consequence, students are taught the division of fractions year after year, often for five of six years. And even once they remember it, they might remember "invert and multiply" but have absolutely no idea i why you invert and multiply.

Better, is to use models to show students the relationship between multiplication and division so that they have built a concrete understanding. Then they have some links to help them connect to the reason why inverting and multiplying works.

It's hubristic to think that we know some easy and obvious lockstep sequence of concepts for teaching math. I'll use a clear analogy that occurs with teaching English as a second language, where people start with that they think are the simple basics, for example differentiating between when to use the direct or indirect article. These are concepts that are thought to be fundamental and conceived of as something that should be mastered early on - yet you will find people speaking English as a second language who are quite skilled and and who can discuss very sophisticated concepts in English, yet still make those simple errors. But trying to teach when to use the definite and indefinite articles through a conceptual process is also very complicated. Try diagramming a flow chart if if yes then "the" if no then "a"

Here's a very simplified form I found online:

http://tinyurl.com/ouyd9kp

Try asking students to apply that flow chart in real time, extemporaneously in mid-conversation. You'd get 10 minutes of pause to think it through multiple times with every sentence. So there needs to be some ability to build schemata that can be be relied and called on reflexively - by helping the speaker understand instinctively what "sounds right" - akin to a kind of rote memorization that builds a kind of muscle memory, but that takes years and it doesn't happen as some fundamental stage on some fixed sequence of cognitive tasks.

We build these simplified sequential models - for how to teach math, or how to teach English, because we want to think that there is some fixed sequence that can be universally applied. We want to simplify the teaching task, as if by building simplistic models we can do so. So we build simplified models that don't actually model the task and then limit our focus to enforcing that sequence and then judging students negatively when they don't conform to that model. You'd think that being a climate "skeptic," you would be more concerned about falling into that fallacious way of thinking: :-)

October 9, 2014 | Unregistered CommenterJoshua

"Unfortunately, you rather typically moved right past the point I was making. You don't just play with colored blocks as an end unto itself."

Yes, my point was that you wouldn't teach the cubing of trinomials with rote formula, or directly, with building blocks. You teach multiplying out brackets, first concretely and then abstractly, and then cubing trinomials is just one of many things you can do with that abstract tool.

"But the point is that the direction the methodology takes is from the concrete to the abstract - the reason being that methodology is in line with cognitive development."

Yes, I know. That's why you start with concrete memorisation, and move on to abstract pattern recognition.

"One of the obstacles not dealt with well by a traditional paradigm for teaching alegbra - such as the one consistent with your "stages" - is that you're trying to get students to reason abstractly when they aren't yet abstract thinkers."

That's what I was saying. It's a concrete thing to follow a procedure. First you do this. Then you do that. It's not hard to recognise - for example - the top and bottom part of a fraction and do specific things to them. It's not conceptually difficult to follow the steps blindly. Abstraction is required to understand why it works. That comes later, when you know what the procedures are and have the easy facility with them to be able to experiment.

"The problem is that addition, subtraction, and multiplication of fractions are easily represented concretely through models, but the division of fractions is not."

I disagree. Division is no different. All you need to show is the "multiplying top and bottom by the same thing doesn't change anything" rule. Then you multiply top and bottom by both denominators.
(3/7) / (2/5) = [(3/7)x7x5] / [(2/5)x7x5] = (3x5) / (2x7)

The rule can be shown using whatever concrete representation for fractions you've chosen.

"and so they just forget the formula because they haven't developed mental schema that help them to attach that learning to existing mental frameworks"

They forget the formula because they don't practice enough.

The thing about this whole issue that drives everybody wild is that back in the old days everybody did remember how to do it. Now, with the new methods, they don't. We wouldn't mind educators changing methods if the result was that young adults were even better at arithmetic than we were. But they're not, they're worse. And when you compare them against those foreign educational systems that still use rote learning, they're not miles better as you would expect if the theory was correct, they're worse! Something's wrong.

I know that there are better ways than the way we used to do it at school, I've learnt some of them since, but they don't seem to teach those. I've seen kids coming out of university with good mathematics degrees who struggle to do stuff that I was proficient in 5 years earlier. They can't add and subtract mentally. One lad was unable to subtract 60 from 180. I watched one girl spend about two minutes trying to multiply 50x50. It's horrific! And we're supposed to employ them in ever more technically demanding jobs? You'd have to spend the first year just undoing the damage the state education system has done to them.

October 9, 2014 | Unregistered CommenterNiV

I'm not disputing the above... but as a student I found it difficult to lean and apply memorized rules until I had some grasp of the theoretical foundations. The rules just didn't "stick". Afterwards, it was smooth sailing. Clearly this isn't a problem for most people - but I suspect for many "math-challenged" kids this is an issue.

October 9, 2014 | Unregistered CommenterGLinet

==> " You teach multiplying out brackets, first concretely and then abstractly, and then cubing trinomials is just one of many things you can do with that abstract tool."

Teaching about "multiplying out brackets" is a stage of the process I described. But it isn't the first stage. Not close. It comes further out down the line, as the student is ready to deal with that abstracted stage. "Multiplying out brackets" has no inherent meaning. You can teach someone to memorize the algorithm, but if they don't attach meaning to it the learning that takes place is more shallow. By teaching with a concrete physical representation, you can help the student to see what they're doing when they "multiply out brackets." You label the cuboids as you arrange them. Once a clear scheme is built, then you're ready to take away the blocks and deal with only the written labels, and then you're ready to work only with a pencil and paper. The point is to scaffold the learning. To build concepts developmentally, in ways that reflect the developmental stages of learning. You want to jump in the middle. It works for some students, and it leaves many behind. The point is that you build knowledge through successive stages of mastery. You build mastery through the developmental stages.

I would suggest that you try reading some Piaget.

==> "That's why you start with concrete memorisation, and move on to abstract pattern recognition."

Memorization of abstractions is not starting with the concrete. There is absolutely no inherent reason why you should start with that. None. At a later point, once a linkage to to the concrete is established, then you can move on to memorizing the algorithms of the abstraction as you wish.

Another good example would be when students are taught an algorithm to memorize for multiplying two, 2-digit numbers. At the first stage they are told, when trying to apply the algorithm to multiplying 13 x 16, "Six times 3 is 8 is 16, so you write the six down here and you carry the one." And so they go on their merry way, memorizing an algorithm. A more sound approach is to have them use concrete materials to learn about how multiplication is essentially repeated addition, and that when you take three units six times, you can exchange 10 of those units for one 10, with three units left over. They can do that for a long time to gain complete mastery of that process. The learn the meaning of place value. Once they do that, then you move them by stages into an abstract process of carrying out the algorithm, so that they can have rooted sense of the fundamentals of what they're doing.

It's interesting how people who haven't studied epistemology, educational psychology, pedagogy, developmental psychology, etc., consider themselves qualified to know how to educate people. It's a common thing to find - because everyone has some experience in teaching someone something, and everyone has experience in learning, they think that they understand the process without studying the process.


==> "They forget the formula because they don't practice enough."

They forget the formula because they have no way of accessing the information. It is isolated and meaningless memorized formula that floats around in their head. They forget it after practicing am great dea; year on year - to the point where they begin to think that learning is boring and that there must be something wrong with them because they haven't mastered the process. There is absolutely no reason why they have to start with memorizing abstracted algorithm. None.

==> The thing about this whole issue that drives everybody wild is that back in the old days everybody did remember how to do it.

Yeah, right, "back in the old days" "everybody" remembered how to cube trinomials, or multiply two, 2-digit numbers for that matter. Actually, "back in the old day" many people didn't remember how to do it, but they were selected out by the system along the way, or they never even entered the system to begin with.

==> "Now, with the new methods, they don't. We wouldn't mind educators changing methods if the result was that young adults were even better at arithmetic than we were. But they're not, they're worse"

Really? What's your evidence for that? How do you control for the fact that we now try to educate the entire populace, including students who lack the requisite language skills, who come from homes where their parents aren't math literate, etc.
"
==> And when you compare them against those foreign educational systems that still use rote learning, they're not miles better as you would expect if the theory was correct, they're worse! Something's wrong."

First, the method I'm suggesting is far from the dominant paradigm. In fact, the method I'm saying is sub-optimal is the dominant paradigm. Second, in many of the countries that have better outcomes from testing on math skills, they employ the types of concepts I'm talking about. Read about how they teach math in Finland, or in Japan. Third, in countries that rely heavily on rote memorization, you will read a great deal about how they realize the weaknesses of such a reliance. Fourth, cross-cultural comparisons of educational outcomes can not be done scientifically in the manner you've just done. To get a meaningful comparison, you need to control for any variety of related variables, such as whether kids are selected out, whether teachers are respected by their surrounding culture, how teachers are trained, what kinds of teaching schedules teachers have and how much time they have for planning and sharing with their colleagues, etc. The kind of simplistic cause-and-effect analysis you just employed is simply a product of confirmation bias. You have to study education to understand how to even approach understanding the cause-and-effect of different methodologies employed with different cultural norms. But if you talk to teachers of graduate students about the relative strengths and weakness of students from various countries, you will see that the problems with a reliance on a top-down, rote memorization methodology has drawbacks w.r.t. the creativity and skills in divergent thinking among their students. I am not proclaiming that one cultural paradigm is superior to the other. Different paradigms have different strengths and weaknesses. I'm just pointing out the weaknesses in your facile assumptions.

October 9, 2014 | Unregistered CommenterJoshua

NiV -

BTW, I have no idea about England...but for the U.S., schools with less than 20% of the students below the poverty line do OK (not great - I think it might be the middle of the pack) by the standard of international comparisons of standardized testing. If you want to improve schools, don't waste your time hand-wringing about how students don't spend their time memorizing like they used to, and instead use your brains to end poverty.

October 9, 2014 | Unregistered CommenterJoshua

GLinet -

==> "Clearly this isn't a problem for most people ..."

On what basis do you make that statement?

October 9, 2014 | Unregistered CommenterJoshua

And one more comment, NiV -

==> "I disagree. Division is no different. All you need to show is the "multiplying top and bottom by the same thing doesn't change anything" rule. Then you multiply top and bottom by both denominators.
(3/7) / (2/5) = [(3/7)x7x5] / [(2/5)x7x5] = (3x5) / (2x7)"

Dude, it really helps to have a convo if you actually read and respond to what I wrote.

""The problem is that addition, subtraction, and multiplication of fractions are easily represented concretely through models, but the division of fractions is not.""

You didn't even describe a concrete model.

Here's a little test you can perform. Go up to a few randomly selected people who aren't freakishly proficient in math, and ask them to describe a real-world example where they might add to fractions, subtract one
fraction from another, or multiply a fraction.

Then ask them to give a real-world example of where they might be dividing one fraction by another.

See if they find it equally easy to give an example for dividing fractions as they did with adding, subtracting. or multiplying. Then get back to me about whether it is more difficult to represent dividing fractions through concrete models.

October 9, 2014 | Unregistered CommenterJoshua

Oy.

Sorry - as usual, I should have been more careful in what I wrote.

I should have been clear that I was talking about comparing teaching adding two fractions, subtracting one fraction from another, multiplying two fractions, or dividing one fraction by another.

There is a reason why the division of two fractions has to be taught year after year where as students have an easier time remembering the other processes - and it's because it is hard to teach as any means other than rote memorization of an abstract process. Each of the others is easier to model and it they are easier concepts for the students to model through their own schemata.

Ok. I'm done now. It's wasted time anyway - it's not like you accept any uncertainty in your i>belief that the problem with kids to day is that they just don't memorize enough. Your thinking on the issue is based in your deep understanding of the scientific process, and is not influenced by your cultural identifications. Right?

October 9, 2014 | Unregistered CommenterJoshua

According to the Online Etymology Dictionary, for whatever that's worth:

http://www.etymonline.com/index.php?term=believe

http://www.etymonline.com/index.php?allowed_in_frame=0&search=think&searchmode=none

"Old English þencan "imagine, conceive in the mind; consider, meditate, remember; intend, wish, desire" (past tense þohte, past participle geþoht), probably originally "cause to appear to oneself," from Proto-Germanic *thankjan (cognates: Old Frisian thinka, Old Saxon thenkian, Old High German denchen, German denken, Old Norse þekkja, Gothic þagkjan).

Old English þencan is the causative form of the distinct Old English verb þyncan "to seem, to appear" (past tense þuhte, past participle geþuht), from Proto-Germanic *thunkjan (cognates: German dünken, däuchte). Both are from PIE *tong- "to think, feel" which also is the root of thought and thank.

The two Old English words converged in Middle English and þyncan "to seem" was absorbed, except for its preservation in archaic methinks "it seems to me." As a noun, "act of prolonged thinking," from 1834. The figurative thinking cap is attested from 1839."

vs.

"Old English belyfan "to believe," earlier geleafa (Mercian), gelefa (Northumbrian), gelyfan (West Saxon) "believe," from Proto-Germanic *ga-laubjan "to believe," perhaps literally "hold dear, love" (cognates: Old Saxon gilobian "believe," Dutch geloven, Old High German gilouben, German glauben), ultimately a compound based on PIE *leubh- "to care, desire, love" (see belief).

Spelling beleeve is common till 17c.; then altered, perhaps by influence of relieve, etc. To believe on instead of in was more common in 16c. but now is a peculiarity of theology; believe of also sometimes was used in 17c. Related: Believed (formerly occasionally beleft); believing. Expression believe it or not attested by 1874; Robert Ripley's newspaper cartoon of the same name is from 1918. Emphatic you better believe attested from 1854."

So "think" originated from the concept of basically, "what's floating about my head at this moment." While believe originated from proto-german for "to hold dear."

On those grounds I'm going to vote using "I think" to refer to I think I had pho for lunch last thursday and "I believe" for I believe in popular government.

October 9, 2014 | Unregistered CommenterRyan

"Teaching about "multiplying out brackets" is a stage of the process I described. But it isn't the first stage. Not close."

I agree. I'm just saying it comes before cubing trinomials.

"You can teach someone to memorize the algorithm, but if they don't attach meaning to it the learning that takes place is more shallow."

Yes. memorization is more shallow than abstract thinking. But you've got to do the concrete memorization first.

"By teaching with a concrete physical representation, you can help the student to see what they're doing when they "multiply out brackets.""

Only if they know what you mean by "multiply out brackets". It's no good at all if at the end of the process they can't actually do it.

"Memorization of abstractions is not starting with the concrete. There is absolutely no inherent reason why you should start with that. None."

'Memorization' as such is not specific to either abstract or concrete. You can memorize abstractions, and you can memorize concrete facts. Memorizing multiplication tables, for example, is not abstract. Six times nine is fifty four. That's not representing anything else. (Except in the sense that all numbers are abstractions.) It's as concrete as mathematics gets.

"A more sound approach is to..."

Why is that a more sound approach? The question is: 'can they multiply?' Somebody who knows that multiplication is repeated addition (and it takes all of 5 seconds to tell them so) but who cannot actually multiply is of no use at all.

Multiplication is repeated addition and if you follow these steps precisely, you will get the result of that repeated addition. To do 13 times 16 you do:
13
16
---
..78
13
---
208

Why does it work? I don't care. The point is that I know what to do at every stage, and if I follow the steps I'll get the answer I want. When I put my foot on the accelerator pedal, the car goes faster. I don't need to know how it does it. I don't want to know. Just tell me what to do to get the effect I want.

"It's interesting how people who haven't studied epistemology, educational psychology, pedagogy, developmental psychology, etc., consider themselves qualified to know how to educate people."

Ah! Experts!

What makes you think people who have studied pedagogy know how to educate people?

"They forget the formula because they have no way of accessing the information. It is isolated and meaningless memorized formula that floats around in their head."

No it isn't. First, it's connected to 'dividing fractions'. "You want to divide fractions? Do this."

Second, as I said originally, first you learn the method, then you learn the generalisations, patterns, relationships, and strategies. I'm not saying you only do the rote memorisation bit and then stop. So it will get connected to the full meaning.

"Yeah, right, "back in the old days" "everybody" remembered how to cube trinomials, or multiply two, 2-digit numbers for that matter."

Yes. A lot of people did. I'd certainly expect university graduates to have done so.

"How do you control for the fact that we now try to educate the entire populace, including students who lack the requisite language skills, who come from homes where their parents aren't math literate, etc."

We've been educating the entire populace for a long time - at least as far as basic arithmetic goes. In England since 1696 and in the USA since 1852-1918, depending on state. And I've known several older people who came from math-illiterate backgrounds who were excellent at at. For that matter, I was way ahead of my parents in mathematics from a very early age. I certainly didn't get it from my school teachers, either!

Parental attitude to learning does have a big effect, though - often larger than the quality of the school. Although I'd be inclined to think of that as support for the effectiveness of amateur education efforts over the professional ones.

"To get a meaningful comparison, you need to control for any variety of related variables, such as whether kids are selected out, whether teachers are respected by their surrounding culture, how teachers are trained, what kinds of teaching schedules teachers have and how much time they have for planning and sharing with their colleagues, etc."

No. You just have to test whether the kids can do mathematics.

If the kids can't do mathematics, you have a problem. If it turns out that this is because teachers don't spend enough time "sharing with their colleagues" (heh!) then by all means fix it. But don't pretend it can excuse an inability to do arithmetic.

"But if you talk to teachers of graduate students about the relative strengths and weakness of students from various countries, you will see that the problems with a reliance on a top-down, rote memorization methodology has drawbacks w.r.t. the creativity and skills in divergent thinking among their students."

How can you do arithmetic creatively if you can't do arithmetic?!

Like I said, first memorization, then creativity. You can't just do creativity on its own.

"If you want to improve schools, don't waste your time hand-wringing about how students don't spend their time memorizing like they used to, and instead use your brains to end poverty."

Giving poor people useful skills like the ability to do arithmetic would be a useful start! The way to end poverty is to teach people to earn wealth.

"You didn't even describe a concrete model."

I didn't need to. As I said, it's easy to prove the "multiply top and bottom..." rule, whatever concrete realisation you use.

"Here's a little test you can perform. Go up to a few randomly selected people who aren't freakishly proficient in math, and ask them to describe a real-world example where they might add to fractions, subtract one fraction from another, or multiply a fraction. Then ask them to give a real-world example of where they might be dividing one fraction by another."

Here's a harder problem - give an example of multiplying or dividing weights, lengths, volumes, etc. that couldn't be applied to fractions.

October 9, 2014 | Unregistered CommenterNiV

@Ryan:

You said "for what it's worth," so likely you find the notion that this is about semantics as unhelpful as I do.

The issue here is about (a) social meaning & (b) psychometric properties of response to question of form of NSF science indicator one on Evolution.

I don't think *anything* turns on semantics of "belief" or "knowledge." Indeed, the sorts of "belief in" items that I have in mind don't use the word "belief"; NSF indicators says, "Human beings, as we know them, evolved from earlier species of animals -- true or false?"

I really think it's confused & confusing to treat "belief" as some special or problematic intentional state w/ regard to "facts" that admit of empirical inquiry. I think that way of talking is a product of popular debate in which people say things like "that's just a theory!" & "it's not a belief-- it's a fact!" -- bad bumper stickers rather than arguments w/ meaningfjul content.

The issue here is what to make of the total lack of connection between items like the NSF one on Evolution or similar ones on climate change & various measures of comprehension of relevant scientific evidence. It's not plausible to say "some people get the evidence but aren't persuaded"-- the "belief in" items (as I've characterized them) have no connection at all to anything measuring knowledge & turn instead on identity.

October 10, 2014 | Registered CommenterDan Kahan

@Glinet -- I agree, I think. Consider discussion of teaching Bayes's theorem here & here. People learn to *think* quantitatively -- to *see* quantatively -- when they learn why the various heuristics that they are taught so that they can nimbly perform computation work

October 10, 2014 | Registered CommenterDan Kahan

NiV -

==> "Ah! Experts!

What makes you think people who have studied pedagogy know how to educate people?"

What a silly argument. Obviously, not everyone who studies pedagogy "knows how to educate people." No, simply studying pedagogy will not make someone a good teacher (is it really necessary for you to argue at such a banal level?) But all things being equal, I would think that someone interested in knowing how to do something well would study and compare the outcomes of various methodologies rather than pontificate based on their anecdotal experience, draw conclusions from comparing unlike entities, conclude causality w/o controlling for variables, etc.


==> "We've been educating the entire populace for a long time - at least as far as basic arithmetic goes. In England since 1696 and in the USA since 1852-1918, depending on state. And I've known several older people who came from math-illiterate backgrounds who were excellent at at. "

Well now, you've known several older people who were math literate. I'm impressed:

In the nineteenth century, colleges welcomed middle-class students, and the
growing number of private academies and public ‘Latin’ high schools in larger
cities gave college-preparatory instruction that caused the age of freshman to rise
to today’s 18 years. The admission requirements in mathematics also rose over
the century to Euclidean geometry and a year of algebra.

http://www.maa.org/sites/default/files/pdf/CUPM/pdf/MAAUndergradHistory.pdf

In 1820, 20 percent of the entire adult population was illiterate

http://nces.ed.gov/pubs93/93442.pdf


As for this, where I said: ". If it turns out that this is because teachers don't spend enough time "sharing with their colleagues" and you responded with " (heh!) "


Here's an article that touches on a number of issues we discussed,

http://www.nytimes.com/2014/07/27/magazine/why-do-americans-stink-at-math.html?_r=0


in particular, since you seem to think that they have better educational outcomes (particularly in math) in places like Japan because in those countries they make their kids spend more time with rote memorization...and scoff at the notion that teachers sharing with their colleagues is an important component of effective math education, search for the string "When Akihiko Takahashi " and read the article from beyond that point...


Check out this little tidbit - first, the definition of jugyokenkyu " “lesson study,” a set of practices that Japanese teachers use to hone their craft. A teacher first plans lessons, then teaches in front of an audience of students and other teachers along with at least one university observer. Then the observers talk with the teacher about what has just taken place. Each public lesson poses a hypothesis, a new idea about how to help children learn. And each discussion offers a chance to determine whether it worked. ":

Now the relevant excerpt:

And other countries now inching ahead of Japan imitate the jugyokenkyu appraoch. Some, like China, do this by drawing on their own native jugyokenkyu-style traditions (zuanyan jiaocai, or “studying teaching materials intensively,” Chinese teachers call it). Others, including Singapore, adopt lesson study as a deliberate matter of government policy. Finland, meanwhile, made the shift by carving out time for teachers to spend learning. There, as in Japan, teachers teach for 600 or fewer hours each school year, leaving them ample time to prepare, revise and learn. By contrast, American teachers spend nearly 1,100 hours with little feedback.

Oh, and as for your lockstep conclusion of how "practice" of rote memorization is the causal variable that controls educational outcomes, " consider this from the article:

"Similarly, 96 percent of American students’ work fell into the category of “practice,” while Japanese students spent only 41 percent of their time practicing. "


Consider controlling for variables before drawing conclusions from cross-cultural comparisons of the outcomes of educational practice, NiV.

October 10, 2014 | Unregistered CommenterJoshua

"Here's an article that touches on a number of issues we discussed,"

Indeed. That was an interesting article, thank you. I agree with most of it. Particularly how it notes that the experts have tried to reform American education several times, and in every case they failed.

Of course, they go on to say this was because they didn't implement the intended reforms properly, but still, the article recognises that they did fail, and that's the empirical evidence most people see when coming to judgements about educational reform. The more they try to reform it, the worse it gets. And the more dogmatic the system gets about enforcing the new methods on the unwilling, and suppressing criticism.

I saw some of it myself at school. The worst was music lessons, which consisted of the teacher handing out a bunch of random musical instruments, the kids going off to exercise their 'creativity' by composing some piece, exploring some sort of 'emotional expression' or something, before returning to the group to perform it. It was widely seen, of course, as an opportunity to Muck About for an hour, before having to endure the cringing embarrassment of the public performance. We didn't learn anything, and for a long time I regarded music as a waste of time. It obviously had no connection to real music, which I assumed was some sort of natural talent that most people didn't have.

It was only years later that I found out there was a huge body of theory to it. Scales, chords, polyphony, harmony, a huge number of different constructions, styles, traditions, and techniques. A lot of it was deeply mathematical, which I would have loved as a kid. It was so damn frustrating that I had missed out on all that. I came out of school as a "musical illiterate". I couldn't play a single recognisable tune on any instrument. Had the subject been maths or English, it would have been catastrophic, but because it was just music it 'didn't matter'.

In retrospect it was obvious what the problem was. Traditional music lessons consisted of a lot of drill, of memorisation of the notes, the chord combinations, the major and minor scales, reading the notation, and developing the muscle-memory dexterity to be able to play them fast and precisely. Until you had done a lot of work already on the basics, you couldn't produce anything but a horrible cacophony. It was hard work, and it was boring. So somebody obviously tried to short-cut all that, to try to first get kids interested and engaged in music, in the hopes that would lead them to go on and do the boring bits. It no doubt sounded like a good idea at the time.

But what gets kids interested and engaged in acquiring a skill is achievement; of becoming good at something they recognise is difficult and worthy, and it requires a lot of work first to get there.

And more importantly, it requires a whole lot of already-developed theory to be able to do so. While the idea of discovering mathematics for yourself sounds great, a bunch of 8-year-olds is not going to recapitulate the development of 6000 years worth of mathematics on their own. You have to tell them how to do it. You have to give them the mental tool kit. You have to teach them how to use the tools competently. Once they can do so, then you can let them loose solving their own problems, developing their own methods, discovering their own deep connections. Composing their own tunes.

I have every sympathy with the idea that there are better ways of doing things than the traditional method. There are mnemonic methods that enable long lists to be rapidly memorized. There are rapid mental arithmetic methods that enable people to do monster calculations - multiplying 20-digit numbers in their heads, taking square roots and cube roots, calculating trigonometric, exponential, and logarithmic functions. Their are anecdotal cases of failing students being taught these methods and turning into 'mathematical geniuses'. The 'technology' clearly exists. So why don't we seem to use it?

If a child came home and said "Mom, today at school we learnt to multiply 20-digit numbers in our heads!", the reaction would be "Wow! Can you show me how?" There wouldn't be all these complaints. But that's not what you get. As the comedian said: "It’s like, Bill has three goldfish. He buys two more. How many dogs live in London?" The kids are mystified, the parents confused and angry, the teachers frustrated. But you're not allowed to criticise, and you're not allowed to dissent. The pedagogues have spoken.

"and scoff at the notion that teachers sharing with their colleagues is an important component of effective math education"

The problem is that "sharing with your colleagues" emphasises the "sharing" and doesn't mention what it is you're sharing and whether it is worth anything. It reminded me of those class exercises where the teacher assigns a topic for the class to "explore on their own" by sharing with one another. If the class have the tools to solve the problem, this can be valuable. But if, as is more often the case, they don't have the right tools, they're not going to acquire them by 'sharing'. If it is a case of the blind leading the blind, then sharing one's cluelessness is not going to help.

In the Japanese case, what they're doing is a critical review of technique, and that's very different. I'm all in favour of organised constructive criticism.

"Oh, and as for your lockstep conclusion of how "practice" of rote memorization is the causal variable that controls educational outcomes, " consider this from the article:"

I agree with the article. First you memorize, then you practice until it becomes automatic, and then you use the mental tools you have acquired to be able to explore the deeper understanding their use enables. I'm not saying that you have to spend *all* your time on rote memorization. I'm not even saying you have to start the lesson with a list of things for them to memorize without explaining what the basic concepts mean and what they're for, with connections to concrete familiar concepts and motivations. I'm saying you can't do anything useful with it until you've actually acquired the skill, and an education system that teaches the meaning without the ability to do it is even worse than one that teaches the ability to do it without the meaning. Ideally you need both.

I would expect a properly functioning education system to spend most of its time on other things besides rote memorization. But one that doesn't do any at all will fail.

October 10, 2014 | Unregistered CommenterNiV

Thanks for the post and all the comments. I have to reread them and think about them in more detail. While I am doing that, enjoy this.
http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=DfCJgC2zezw

October 11, 2014 | Unregistered CommenterEric Fairfield

@Dan

I hope I understand your point and that this clarifies my position.

Consider Hume's notion of is vs. ought in these 4 examples:

- The radius of the Earth is approximately 3,959 miles. True of false?

- The pH of liquid water is 6. True or false?

- A doctor should never perform an abortion on a healthy pregnant woman? True or false?

- When the principle is the same, a bank should charge the same interest rate on a mortgage to a black family in a black neighborhood as it does to a white family in a white neighborhood. True or false?

In each scenario we can use think and believe interchangeably and make sense to a listener. I think/I believe the pH of water is actually 7. I think/I believe the bank should charge the same interest rate.

But there is a totally different meaning for believe which is not interchangeable with think. "I believe in Jesus Christ my lord and savior." "I believe in equality." You can't think in Jesus or think equality. And the concepts are perfectly cromulent. A belief in Jesus will almost guarantee a true response to the question about abortion, and a belief in equality will just as much guarantee a true response about the mortgage.

I assert that there exists belief in environmentalism. For shorthand, the blues of America believe in environmentalism and this accounts for their common responses regarding risks of climate change. The reds do not believe in environmentalism, and this in general accounts for their common low perception of risk.

You said, " It's not plausible to say "some people get the evidence but aren't persuaded"-- the "belief in" items (as I've characterized them) have no connection at all to anything measuring knowledge & turn instead on identity." I think what you're saying here is that if someone lacks belief in environmentalism, you are highly suspicious that they have authentically evaluated the evidence and not been persuaded by it.

Your interloper said, "I believe that the Earth is warming due largely to human caused CO2 emissions. These beliefs are the product of my experience and a careful consideration of the alternatives, their predictions, and a comparison of those prediction and the evidence." Well, assuming (very safely in my opinion) that he is a blue and believes in environmentalism, his claim that he's evaluated and been convinced by the evidence is suspect as well.

There is one final serious potential pitfall: what can be true of groups in general is not necessarily true of each individual in particular. We cannot write off completely the existence of blues actually convinced by the evidence and reds actually unconvinced, both in a very authentic way.

October 15, 2014 | Unregistered CommenterRyan

"In each scenario we can use think and believe interchangeably and make sense to a listener. I think/I believe the pH of water is actually 7. I think/I believe the bank should charge the same interest rate."

The issue is that the world is complicated, evidence and definitions are ambiguous, and different people can validly interpret them in different ways.

For example, the pH of rainwater is about 6. Is rainwater not "water"? The approximation to the radius of the Earth is true to one degree of approximation but false to another. ("To the nearest centimetre" is still "approximately".) It's not even strictly true that the Earth has a "radius" - that's a property of a perfect sphere, which the Earth is not. And of course, the question about interest rates depends on what principle you apply. From an economic point of view, the interest rate is the sum of the earnings you could get on the same sum of money invested elsewhere, plus the expected (probability-weighted) cost should the debtor default on the loan, and be unable to pay, plus administration overhead. It's not necessarily the case that the probability of default is the same in both cases, and even the administrative costs might vary, depending on what background checks have to be done, or even the cost of renting office space in rich versus poor neighbourhoods.

If you ask the question "What do most people think is..." about one of these topics, you may get a different answer to asking "What is..." But there is not necessarily any difference in their "comprehension of relevant scientific evidence" as Dan put it. I knew perfectly well what you meant saying the pH of water was 7, and as regards pure water at STP, we agree. But I can interpret the word "water" more broadly, and I might well choose to do so if it suits my purposes. In some circumstances those purposes depend on politics.

Similarly, the principles on which you operate a bank - whether economic or humanitarian - are a choice affected by politics. Do you regard it as a business or a charity? If you regard the free market prices, which minimizes the total cost to society, as uncharitable, should you pay more to fix that? And who do you think should pay the extra? Will you? Or will you make somebody else do so? Both sides may agree on the economic and social facts, but disagree on what is most important.

They may start with different priors, set different thresholds of evidence, prioritize different scientific principles, use different definitions, insist on different levels of quality and care, make different assumptions, use different physical and statistical models, and so on. They agree on the facts - the observations - but disagree on how to interpret them. And even for those who cannot evaluate the evidence for themselves and must rely on "experts", they differ in who they regard as an expert.

As a paper Dan cited on a previous occasion put it: some people ask themselves "Can I believe this?" while others ask "Must I believe this?" They reach different conclusions as a result.

The point of Dan's result is that our conclusions, even our scientific ones, are not solely a function of the facts and evidence. They are a function of our prior model of the world, in the context of which the evidence is interpreted. It's not even just the is/ought distinction, it's also about the is-certainly/is-plausibly distinction. Dan's correspondent may well have genuinely evaluated and been convinced by the 'evidence', but he's applying different standards.

"It's not plausible to say "some people get the evidence but aren't persuaded"-- the "belief in" items (as I've characterized them) have no connection at all to anything measuring knowledge & turn instead on identity."

it's not true to say that belief has no connection to knowledge - belief polarization increases with knowledge. If it had nothing to do with it and was purely due to identity, the red and blue lines would be horizontal and parallel.

October 15, 2014 | Unregistered CommenterNiV

@Niv:

First in a general level, I wonder what you think of my hypothesis about the correlation of belief polarization and knowledge. I suspect there is a common cause in intelligence, that the smartest people tend both towards polarization in belief and in habits like seeking out knowledge which justifies their polarized viewpoint.

So for example, I have some family members, quite religious, who know far more about the ins and outs of evolution than I do. My personal experience of the why is that I have no qualms with the theory, "yep, checks out," and thus haven't put much effort into learning the gritty details. Whereas my family members have reason and motivation to learn facts which justify their disagreement. Had my parents been extremely religious, and I had a bad fallout when I eventually told them "this Jesus story, sorry, doesn't check out," then I can see why I might be motivated to start to learn the details of evolution to justify my leaving the faith.

There was a post on the blog a few days ago where someone asked how polarization vs. knowledge evolved over time and no one had a very good solution for how to test it. There were ideas like take two groups and give them the survey questions, then give one group a lecture on the basics of the scientific method, the second a lecture on whatever, then ask again. Sort of disappointing. And I don't have anything better. But my suspicion remains that any issue which becomes culturally or politically important, one in which the tribes will naturally take to polarization, then the knowledge of the smartest members of both tribes will increase over time as they seek out facts to justify their position.

On the more specific discussion:

My hypothesis is that belief is a real thing, that it's a hardwired part of human existence, ontic if you will, and that belief in religious values or moral ideals are precisely the backdrop you're talking about when you say "The point of Dan's result is that our conclusions, even our scientific ones, are not solely a function of the facts and evidence. They are a function of our prior model of the world, in the context of which the evidence is interpreted." What one believes in will determine what side of the polarized debate they will be on, and the depth of their conviction combined with their innate ability to learn will determine how knowledgeable they end up on the issue over time.

October 15, 2014 | Unregistered CommenterRyan

==> "But there is a totally different meaning for believe which is not interchangeable with think. "I believe in Jesus Christ my lord and savior." "I believe in equality." You can't think in Jesus or think equality.

Seems to me like a semantic/syntactic distinction - not one of much importance.

Consider "I believe that Jesus is my lord and savior" and "I think that Jesus is my lord and savior" and "I believe in Jesus my lord and savior." I don't see any meaningful difference between those three statements.

October 15, 2014 | Unregistered CommenterJoshua

@Joshua

From what I can tell from conversations with religious people, I think he's my lord and savior doesn't get the actual experience across. They don't merely think that man has fallen from grace, needing to be redeemed of original sin, and that the blood sacrifice of the son of god on the cross provided that redemption. From a factual standpoint, yes, they do think that is a fact about the world. But that doesn't correspond to the actual meaning of "I believe in Christ," the values and ideals they cherish, the morals they expect to live by, etc. The fact is a small thing compared to the second.

October 15, 2014 | Unregistered CommenterRyan

I agree with Ryan. The belief is much more complex than the simple statement. Also 'belief' is very personal. So each person has a different meaning, which they will tell you if you ask and listen with respect. Averaging over all believers wipes out a lot of important nuance.
Locally, we have been exploring the nuance of both believers and unbelievers. In part we were trying to get a conversation among both over the lessons of science. We had 35 people a week participating openly in this discussion, for about 2 hours every Wednesday night.

October 15, 2014 | Unregistered CommenterEric Fairfield

Ryan and Eric -

You make interesting points, but I'm not yet convinced that there's such a strong difference of kind between thinking something is true (perhaps thinking it is extremely likely to be true or thinking that it is definitely true) and believing in something.

For example:

==> "A belief in Jesus will almost guarantee a true response to the question about abortion, and a belief in equality will just as much guarantee a true response about the mortgage."

If someone says that they think that Jesus is their lord and savior, they are probably just as likely to give the same answer w/r/t abortion. If someone says that they think that equality is extremely important, they are probably just as likely to give the same response about the mortgage.

I will say that I think that belief often involves a explicit acknowledgement of faith - in other words explicit acknowledgement that the final conclusion is not the sum total of rational thought processes based on direct (or subjective) evidence. I think that speaks to your comment about faith being personal, Eric.

But I will often say something on the order of: "I believe that my dog is 8 years old" - to purposefully connote some uncertainty. So yes, to say that I believe in a doctrine does usually convey some deeper sense of commitment than saying that I think that a doctrine is true, but I also think (believe?) the differences are not absolute, and very subtle, variable, and subject to context.

October 15, 2014 | Unregistered CommenterJoshua

Two examples.
I probably know 2,000 people in my small town who say that they believe in Jesus as their lord and savior. About a third of them are against abortion, about a third view abortion as acceptable, and the rest view abortion as mostly unacceptable except in certain situations.
At one point, I needed a definition of 'genome'. I asked 20 Ph.D. biologists who all believed in 'genomes.' I got 20 different and partly incompatible answers.
As we have discussed many times before, different listeners hear questions very differently.

October 15, 2014 | Unregistered CommenterEric Fairfield

Dan -

Watching the hype among Republicans about Ebola, it occurred to me that a great context for for studying the influence of cultural cognition on risk assessment would be to compare the attitudes of Dems and Repubs towards the Avian Flue during the Bush administration and Ebola under Obama's administration, respectively.

October 20, 2014 | Unregistered CommenterJoshua

Since early October, worries about Ebola exposure have increased across most demographic and partisan groups. But the rise in concern has been particularly striking among Republicans.

In early October, 33% of Republicans were at least somewhat worried that they themselves or a family member would be exposed to the Ebola virus (7% very worried, 26% somewhat worried). Today, nearly half of Republicans (49%) are worried, with 16% saying they are very worried and 33% somewhat worried.

There has been less change among Democrats – 36% now have at least some concern about personal exposure to Ebola, compared with 30% in early October. The partisan gap in Ebola worries, which was negligible two weeks ago (three points), has increased to 13 points in the current survey.

My guess is that if we compared these numbers to numbers on Avian flue when Bush was president, we might see the opposite effect. My guess is that evaluating risk in the face of uncertainty is largely related to who is in the executive office. Funny how that works, ain’t it?

http://www.people-press.org/2014/10/21/ebola-worries-rise-but-most-are-fairly-confident-in-government-hospitals-to-deal-with-disease/

October 21, 2014 | Unregistered CommenterJoshua

There are political gains and tribal gains to be made by having different 'beliefs.' These gains will have no effect on the development of the Ebola infections since Ebola does not care about politics.
Also, saying that Klain does not have the competence to be an Ebola czar has few political consequences unless more cases of Ebola show up in the US. If there are more cases, especially before the election, then the Democrats lose big. But there is no point to either side to say these things out loud.

October 21, 2014 | Unregistered CommenterEric Fairfield

Slate Star Codex has a very relevant blog post on Ebola:

http://slatestarcodex.com/2014/10/16/five-case-studies-on-politicization/

"How did this happen? How did both major political tribes decide, within a month of the virus becoming widely known in the States, not only exactly what their position should be but what insults they should call the other tribe for not agreeing with their position? There are a lot of complicated and well-funded programs in West Africa to disseminate information about the symptoms of Ebola in West Africa, and all I can think of right now is that if the Africans could disseminate useful medical information half as quickly as Americans seem to have disseminated tribal-affiliation-related information, the epidemic would be over tomorrow."

I think it's a testament to Dan's success that his ideas are cropping up everywhere. I have read quite a lot of STC and SA has never mentioned culturalcognition or otherwise indicated he's a reader, but the blog post I linked above absolutely channels the ideas.

October 22, 2014 | Unregistered CommenterRyan

Ryan -

Can you tell me something about that website? Seems to have a very large readership...i have never seen it before.

October 22, 2014 | Unregistered CommenterJoshua

http://forwardintothepast-eric.blogspot.com/2014/10/zuckerberg-and-chan-donate-25000000-to.html

Here is a link to science and medicine of Ebola.

Could the rapid reaction by political parties be dependent on the seriousness of the threat. If Ebola started to kill hundreds of Americans, would the political posturing disappear?

October 22, 2014 | Unregistered CommenterEric Fairfield

==> " If Ebola started to kill hundreds of Americans, would the political posturing disappear?"

I doubt it. In my estimation, it would only be amplified. Like most other issues, it becomes weaponry used to serve a partisan agenda. The more deaths, the more powerful the weapon. Look at the certainty with which Republican politicians - with no study of public health policy - advocate that closing our borders to flights from Ebola-affected countries is a necessary precaution. Go to comments sections of political blogs, and you will find comments such as this:

Mtown_Quaker • 19 days ago
Unreal...This serially lying POTUS issues executive orders left and right for his pet political causes. But somehow cannot issue an executive order to ban entry to people from ebola affected areas. What a piece of work this chump is.

[...]

What I said to MMan was what we can and should do immediately is ban entry to people from Liberia, Guinea, Senegal, Nigeria and Sierra Leone. These are the worst affected areas. Doing that protects the populace, the people this serially lying POTUS is supposed to protect.

Not enacting a travel ban = not protecting Americans. Why would more deaths do anything other than make the implications of a failure to "protect" just that much more serious?

October 22, 2014 | Unregistered CommenterJoshua

There is an election coming up.
If you are a politician and do not protect your constituents from a perceived scary threat, you are a former politician.

October 22, 2014 | Unregistered CommenterEric Fairfield

BTW -

Despite how often his extremist libertarian beliefs steer him in odd directions, Ron Paul does actually rise above the political expediency on this one (particularly interesting since his son is exploiting fear of Ebola for political gain).

==> "“So right now, I would say a travel ban is politically motivated more than something done for medical purposes,”"


http://www.salon.com/2014/10/21/paul_vs_paul_ron_trashes_rands_politically_motivated_ebola_travel_ban/

October 23, 2014 | Unregistered CommenterJoshua

Heh. Avian flue...chimney's in bird's nests?

October 23, 2014 | Unregistered CommenterJoshua

Oy. Chimneys.

October 23, 2014 | Unregistered CommenterJoshua

@ Joshua:

Slate Star Codex is the blog of (pseudonym) Scott Alexander. It's mostly politics and social issues. He seems to work as either a doctor or nurse at a mental hospital, so medicine is a common focus. He's been on a bent as of late on how tribal affiliations seem to function in US society. Another post I think is very relevant to cultural cognition would be the following:

http://slatestarcodex.com/2014/09/30/i-can-tolerate-anything-except-the-outgroup/

The interesting thing to me is the contrast between how one arrives at cultural/tribal distinctions. Dan uses surveys about social and economic leanings. Scott more uses intuition and his own personal experience. But they both seem to get to exactly the same outcome.

October 23, 2014 | Unregistered CommenterRyan

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