« Freakonomics Radio

50. The Truth Is Out There…Isn’t It?

2011-11-22 | 🔗
There’s a nasty secret about hot-button topics like global warming: knowledge is not always power.
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was pretty good until I got a phone call from my broker Stephen Greenspan he's an american professor of psychology at the University of Connecticut. I can take in this Catherine, well she's, one of the producers and show high Catherine. I Stephen so you are here today with a story for us. Yes, great story about Stephen Greenspan. He has an interesting specialty, he's an expert in what he calls social incompetent which I now that we all feel what he means that these studies, why people do dumb thanks Presumably that means Weiss. Smart people do something great that included and when he told you there that life was pretty.
good. What do you mean? What was so good exactly that his life? Well, it was December two thousand and eight, and he had a book coming out called annals of gullibility. The other thing that seems pretty good was his financial situation. About a year earlier, he had invested in a hedge fund that was doing pretty well, so he's getting nicely set up for retirement too. So one day in December, he gets dispersed pre release copy of the book, the gullibility book and too he's later his broker calls. I should. How are you so terrible lives were saved. My life ass, a man who had lost the sun so well, when you see the worst thing in my life, and I got my attention and I so why is it well burner made off just admitted years running appliances, responded? Who is Bernard made off and once it has to do with me? So can I think we can can smell where this is added right? This fantastic hedge fund that Greenspan had invested in turned out to be a feeder for made ops ponzi scheme.
and Greenspan had no idea? He didn't even remember, having heard made off snake, oh man, so the gullibility expert has been gold bright gold in a big ironic way. He lost four hundred thousand dollars now. This was just about a third of a saving, so wasn't the total end of the world and he should get some money back eventually from settlements, but he seventy now, yes to college aged kids and he'd, really hope to be retired. By now. And you know he certainly didn't wanna- be remembered in this way. There was a column is official colonists and Canada who, in his blog, wrote the first Greenspan on will be remembered as economists, who didn't see it coming while the other Greenspan Stephen, will be remembered as these psychologist hoof. to read his unbroken gullibility outright or guy. I mean it's ironic, because Greenspan's own research shows that even the smartest people can
It duped I'm in a good example of that would be here. Sir Isaac Newton, the greatest scientist of all time, who was still remain dollars in modern dollars. And they saucy bubble, and so he rode I can calculate the orbit of heavenly body is, but I cannot fathom the madness of men France to losing from under, in reference to his own foolishness in putting all of his fortune a risk and something that he wasn't really spite of his credible brilliance, able to really understand Could we calculate the risk of thrown away when enjoying kind of an elite club of brilliant informed educated people who, who can be fooled. I join the human race, basically
like Sir Isaac Newton, the South Sea bubble, I knew nothing about made up and just basically went along with the crowd and that's powerful. We tend to take our cues from other people. especially in situations where we don't quite know what to do. So it may no longer surprised to learn that smart people sometimes make them decisions right. It's like Greenspan says it's the instinct to go along with the crowd and to take our kids from other people, and that's really well, Today's show is about ray, and I want to talk about something else. Greenspan said and even more elemental issue, which is how we make decisions about a risk that we just aren't equipped to calculate. But here's the thing if it can't be calculated in May
it's not exactly risk, but a hundred years ago the economist Frank night argued that risk and uncertainty are nearly identical, but for one key difference, risk can be measured. Uncertainty by its nature cannot. But what happens when you can't tell the two of them apart from W N Y, see an ATM american public media. This is Reaganomics radio. Today the truth is out there. Isn't it here's. Your house even that nerve to Steve
Greenspan, the gullibility expert loses a third of his life's savings in what turns out to be a ponzi scheme. Now, even if you feel sympathetic towards him, you might say hey, you know he's just one person, bad things happen to people every day list world demand. But what if we were worried about something that might in the world know I'm not talking out an attack by alien nations? Not yet at least that will come later in the programme, I'm talking about climate change. How are people like you, and me supposed to calculate the threats from something like climate change, there's so much complexity, so much uncertainty to most of us do what Stephen Greenspan did when he was looking to invest. We take our cues mother people
it's not a question of debate is like gravity. It exists. The reason that you know you're right is that you know things they don't know everything. They don't even have that baseline of knowledge to chat with you. They can't even understand where you're coming from can that's exact. What how I feel talking to people believe is global warming. Crap. The science is solid. According to a vast majority of researchers, with hotter temperatures, melting glaciers right sea level, providing the proof when the University of Madison Wisconsin comes out with our definitive study. Do I believe that no, wouldn't leave scientist. No. They lie jewels about global warming, Who do you believe? What are you both? Those blend back by the way before him, from the top you heard out,
or that in Russia Limbaugh end in a b C World NEWS report when it comes to something like climate change. As fraud as it is with risk and uncertainty in emotion who do you both and more why you know my personal perceptions that I dont know enough about it, believe it or not. This is an issue that I think, Could you just say that again, so everyone in the world can hear and honest patents that so rare forum for some version of them? I'm not quite sure I dont know so.
sorry, say it again and then proceed. What are we saying? I'm not sure exactly what I believe on it in terms of the reception of climate change is something that I dont think I am personally educated on enough to have a really firm opinion about that. There was Ellen Peters. She teaches in psychology department at Ohio State University. She is part of a research group called the Cultural Cognition project. They look at how the public feels about certain hot button issues like nuclear power and gun control, and then they try to figure out how much those views are shaped by people's cultural values. That is
not empirical evidence but people's what they call cultural cognition, so they recently did a study on climate change. How was it they wanted to know that the vast majority of scientists think the earth is getting warmer because of human activity, but only about half the general public thinks the same. Could it be perhaps that people just dont trust scientists, here's Dan Kahan he's another cultural cognition. Searcher in a professor at Yale LAW School. Well, in fact, scientists are the most trusted hum people in our society that the Pew Foundation does research on this. It has been a consistent finding overtime. Okay. So there goes that theory, the bat explanation, what workforce and correct all right? So maybe people just don't understand the science
Surveys have found that fewer than thirty percent of Americans are scientifically literate. Ellen Peters again. People have the belief that the reason that people don't believe the risks of climate change or high enough is because they're not- but enough there not educated enough. They dont understand the facts like the scientists do. really interested in that idea and whether that is that that's really What was going on or whether something else might matter so Peter is Kahan started out their climate change study by testing people on their scientific literacy and new. See how well they knew math and the items are things like it is the fathers gene that decides whether the baby is a boy or a girl, true or false truth, simple, is it true, you know actually Positive on that one think it's that come! Oh, no, it has to be the father. I put my money and father. True thought father is true. There that's ok, second question antibiotics, kill viruses, as well as bacteria negative of negative, that one is absolutely false.
You can see why they wanted to know how people did on these kind of questions before asking them about climate change, numeracy and What it should do. Is it should help you to better understand information first of all, and that kind of comprehension is sort of a basic building block of good decisions across a variety of domain right, but numeracy should also do other things that should also help you just simply process the information more systematically. It should, in general, help you to get to better decisions that are more in line with the facts. Are that makes perfect sense, but you have found something that
the flies in the face of that haven't you. We have it's the idea that people who are highly numerous and highly scientifically literate. They seem to actually rely on preexisting beliefs on these sort of underlying cultural cognitions. They have about how the world should be structured more than people who are less scientifically literate or less numerous. So if I wanted to be while we were ducked, if I might say that the more education, a culture gets, the more likely we are to have intense polarization, at least among the educated classes. Is that right, based on our data? That's what it looks like it's so interesting and so disturbing at the same time, It is interesting, isn't it I mean Peters and Kahan found that high scientific literacy and numeracy we're not correlated with a greater fear of climate change,
instead, the more you knew, the more likely word to hold an extreme view in one direction or the other. That is to be either very, very worried about the risks of climate change. Bore me almost none worried at all. In this case, more knowledge lead to more extremism. Now why on earth would that be damned Kahan has a theory. He thinks that our the visual beliefs on hot button issues like this have less to do with what we know them with who we know my activities as a consumer activities. Is voter they're just not consequential enough to come, but my views on climate change will
have an impact on me in my life. If I go out of the studio you overtook campus at Yale, and I start telling people that climate change is a hoax. These colleagues of mine on the people in my community, that's gonna, have an impact on me. They form a certain kind of view of me because of the yet because of climate change in our society, probably a negative one. Now, if I live I once Europeans, Alaska, there's something. I take the position that climate change is real and I start saying that I can have the same problem, my life Go as well. People who are science, literate, or even better, at figuring that out even better at finding it nation, it's gonna help them one maintain a view, its consistent with the one that's dominant within their culture, so you're saying that if I believe that climate change is a very serious issue,
and I want to align my life with that belief- that is actually more important that I align my life with that believe, not because of anything I can do, but because it helps me fit in better in my circle, there's more currency. To that my belief. There what about you, you're in New Haven Kinetic, at Yale. I guess very you haven't, walked into a classroom and publicly declared that you believe. Climate change and global warming is a hoax you know I haven't done that this makes sense. Doesn't it, but it's also humbly we to think that we make up our minds about important issues based on our ash annul, unbiased assessment of the available facts but the evidence assembled by Kahan and Peters shows that our beliefs
in about something is scientifically oriented, is climate change are driven psychological need to fit in, and so we create strategies for doing this. Here's my free economic, friend and co author, Steve Levin, one of the issues with information gathering is that when people go to the trouble to learn about a topic, they tend not to learn about a topic in an open minded way. They tend to seek out exactly those sources which will confirm but they like to believe in the first place, and so the more you learn about a topic. and learn in a very particular way that tends to reinforce what you believe before you ever started. Aha, so if you're, already scared of something you tend to read more about how scary it is, and
you're not worried. Then you don't worry right. So if there's one thing that human beings are terrible at its assessing risk and knowing what to really fear versus the things we actually do, fear and the kind of things that tend to scares are things that evolution has bred into a so my wife is terrifying snakes, mice flies. You know, butterflies. Everything, small, that fly or their runs she's terrified of what are the change any of those are going to do her any harm in the modern world, virtually nothing in the thing that, should be afraid of a french fries and double cheeseburgers and getting to my son for skin cancer. Those are the kind of things that that really end up killing us in the modern world.
coming up since we're so bad at figuring out, what's really dangerous, let's bring in the professionals Joey, I'm MR sceptic anything that can be analyzed critically in sceptically. That's what we do and a cautionary tale about siding with the conspiracy theorists. I think somebody actually thought I was an alien myself. thanks to Pennsylvania, lottery, scratch, ass, pennsylvanians or scratching their way to fine and with new every month, big top rises and second chance, drawings, excitements, always in order
so try, Pennsylvania, lottery scratch, offer your ticket to fund and get yours. Did I keep on scratch? It must be eighteen or older. Please pay responsibly benefits older pennsylvanians. Every day economics, radio, sponsored by wonder, is business movers podcast when Kosovo, Allah changed their recipe to what they called new Coke in nineteen. five. The backlash was swift and severe, and yet the man who drove the change Chairman Robert Goya's wetter, pulled new coke from the shelves. In a matter of months. Wonder is business movers explores boys what is controversial decision and the public response, but the real story of new Coke is far or human and complex list, To wonder. Is business movers podcast on Apple, podcast, Amazon, music or add free in the wondering at present This radios brought to you by square. If you run a business
Oh, how important it is to have a healthy cashflow. That's. Why will you take payments with square either in person or online, you get your money fast access, it instantly vs where card a free business debit card or transfer it to your bank. Account on you reschedule see all the ways Square can health at square dot com slash, go slash! Freak though nonsense from W and my c and eight p M american public media. This is free economics, radio, here's your house still, and Abner. So, as Steve Levitt sees it, we seek out information that confirms our pre existing biases and work.
Generally bad at assessing risk. So how are people so as to figure out what to be afraid of here's? Let it again can no one to be afraid of you need to go through an in depth data collection processing. You d, be properly reformed and people too busy, rightfully too busy meeting their lives instead of dwelling on what the exact almost infinitesimal probability is that any particular thing will kill them, and so it sensible for people. gun informed, and it sensible to rely on the media. It just turned out. The media is not a very good source of information. If you really want to make sure that every one of your beliefs was worth holding, you'd have to spend so much time gathering primary data that you'd have no time for anything else in life in feed practically have to become a professional sceptic. It's not a job. Is it
Mr Sceptic anything that can be analyzed critically in and sceptically. That's what we do. Anything from The foes and alien objections to Bigfoot conspiracy theories, all the way up to things like global warming and climate change and autism and vaccinations, and we cover Michael Shermer, Professor Clare, University has a masters in experimental psychology and a phd in the history of science, he's also the publisher of Sceptic Magazine and he writes books. His latest is called the believing brain now as a professional sceptic. I'm guessing alot of people. Look at your here about a guy like you were read a book by you and think. Oh man, that's like the dream job. You know people think well, I'm a sceptic gonna believe anything. So what you have to do to be you Michael
Well, we actually do believe all sorts of things and you have to have all sorts of leaves just to get out of bed in the morning, and so the question becomes will which of your post of beliefs are the ones that are really support by evidence are questionable or probably not true and which are the that we base on instinct and intuition and in which are we base him on a solid evidence and That's where the rubber meets Throwed is is not. Do you believe something you're, not, of course, we all believe all sorts of things questions are they true and what's the evidence in with the quality of its top, to me about how we end up believing what we believe in I was gonna say how we choose to believe what we believe, but something is not really a choice. Right, isn't really a choice. Now our brains are designed by evolution to constantly be forming connections, patterns, learning things about the environment and all animals do you think is connected to be, and sometimes it is sometimes it isn't, but we just assume it is my thought. Experiment is imagine your hominid on the plane
of Africa three and a half million years ago. Your name is Lucy and you hear Russell and the grass is it. A dangerous predators adjust the wind, but if you think that the rustle on the grass is a dangerous predator and it turns out it's just the win, you ve made a type one error in cognition, a false positive. You thought I was connected to be, but it wasn't but no big deal, that's a low cost air to make you just become a little more. cautious and vigilant, but that's it. On the other hand, if you think the rustling, the grass is just the wind and turns out it's a dangerous predator, your lunch. Congratulations! You ve just been given a Darwin award for taking yourself out of the gene pool before reproduce. So we are the descendants of those who were most likely to find patterns that are real and we tend to just believe all rustles in the grass or dangerous predators, just in case they are, and so that the basis of superstition, a magical thing, but then and we get to something like climate change, which is theoretically an arena bound entirely by science right
in general, I mean yeah, you would think myself. So what do we find? The earth is getting warmer, it's not right, and it is the data question. Well, because It also has ideological baggage connected to it in a left wing or right wing politics and so the data goes out the window, Diana whatever the data is, I don't know, but I'm, be against it. Now I can't you say I am against it because my party is or I just do it. Other people tell me nobody says What you do is you make the decision. I am sceptical of that or I don't believe it, and then you have have arguments are then you go in search of the argument. It doesn't Sally get surprise. This is U at all, then that education level of education doesn't sadly have a big impact on whether year protocol, something correct, that's right, it doesn't in giving some people more information doesn't help, it actually does have uses islands, it is is the more opportunity to pick out the ones that sport with they already believe so
an agitated and intelligent you're, even better, at picking out the confirming data to support your beliefs after the fact, let's talk now prevent about conspiracy theories, which were nibbling around the edges of how it Describe if you can generalise the type of person whose most likely to engage in a conspiracy theory, that's so whether they're not their pattern, seeking modules is wide open and the net has, you knows, is in discriminatory. They think everything's a pattern if you think everything's a pattern, and near the kind of a nut. I suppose I'm best known for having had a job at the government where my duties were investigating ufos. That's Nick Pope, until two thousand six he worked for the British, Ministry of Defence and in the early nineties, he headed up the office that handled reports of ufos meetings flying saucer, sightings ass, they were called then his job was to figure out if
if these sightings had merit and if perhaps there were extra terrestrial visit to satisfy ourselves that there was no threat to the defence of the UK. Pope came into the job as a sceptic, but some UFO reports, especially from pilots and police officers, caught I'm wondering if perhaps we being visited by aliens now mind you'd there there was no hard core confirmatory evidence, but Pope started talking in the media about the possibility. You say thank you believe with ninety nine percent, certainty that were not alone. So tell us what you
discovered? Why think it's inconceivable in this infinite universe, where alone, and then that begs the question: if we're not alone, all weeping visited it's a related. Quite when I started speaking out on this issue, I think some people in the- U S, o community, thought that I might be some sort of standard bearer for them, meaning one of them. Yes, absolutely that I could be a spokesman, since for the movement of course, I had the huge advantage that, whilst everyone else had done this is a hobby done. It is a job. Did that make you a bit of a hero in the? U S, o community, it did and a lot of people still holds the view they want me to come out and say: yes, it's all real and yes, I was part of a cover up. Their fantasy is what they called disclosure with a capital d, as if there's going to be some magical parting of the curtains and a moment where a crash spaceship is revealed,
RO the will to say, because I say you know what I dont think that spaceship exists. so in a sense, I managed to upset everyone. I go too far for a lot of the sceptics by being open to the possibility, but I dont go far enough for the believers, particularly the conspiracy theorists and I get cold things like she'll and that's one of them have more polite things. I've been called yeah. I've looked at some of the comments on you too. From a speech you gave our read you a bit of it. We will have to employer or leaping technician later Nick what, if spastic he works. He quote: works for the government, while constantly constantly on every bloody UFO a programme on every channel? He talks enough both to keep the UFO netters happy, we'll, never actually saying anything important. Let's unpack that, when a little vague x it says you quote, work for the government do store
government. No, I doubt this is in itself. One of the great conspiracy theories that in two thousand six I didn't really late. If I just went on the deep cover that their passing me what's of banknotes in a brown paper bag or something but here's, my favorite there's one claim on it- you have a blog that you, Nick Pope have been abducted by aliens yourself and now lie about it? Will? Yes, I've heard that one? I've even seen, one which I think you might amidst. I think somebody actually thought I was an alien myself, ah that would explain, allow winner Nick Pope discovered a sad truth them, or a transparent. He tried to be the more information he released about himself and his work. The more worked up. His attackers became they. They took facts there.
Plainly seem to work in his favor and they somehow made these facts fit their conspiracies instead, but before we judge consider how good we all are deciding first, what we want to believe and then finding evidence for it. So what's the solution, what what can we do to keep ourselves headed down the road, albeit slowly and clumsily a more rational reasons, civilization, here's Ellen Peters again from the Cultural Cognition project. So I guess the depressing conclusion one might reach from hearing you speak. Is that ideology trumps rationalism? I think that we are seeing some evidence for that in this study, but I dont think that that has to be the final answer. I think that policy makers communicators need to start paying attention to some of these
use that deepen cultural polarization so, for example, telling the other side that their scientifically inept, probably about idea, probably not the best way to continue people coming together on what the basic science really does say, or coming up only with solutions that are in tag initiative to one side, and you know it if you are listening to them, that those are just integrity, stick solutions again, probably not the best idea. It's a sign or a signal that we're not listening, maybe as well two to beliefs. On the other side, damn Kahan agrees that, whatever the solution. None of us are able to go it alone. What is clear is that our body to acquire knowledge, is linked up with our ability to figure out who to trust about what an ordinary people have to do that and making sense of the word challenges a database, but the amount that we know far exceeds the amount that any one of us is able to establish through.
efforts. Maybe you know that the motto for the royal society is nowhere in Burma, which means don't take anybody's word for it and it's kind of admirable and charming, but obviously file savary practical as carefully right, I mean what would I do. I would say your daughter, what Newton said in the Principia. I'm gonna try to figure out how gravity works. On my own, Devising Newton remember what Stephen Greenspan told us earlier health: how Newton was suckered into this terrible investment, its heartening to learn that even Newton The scientific siege was able to acknowledge the flaws in its own thinking, the shortcomings in his own thinking, and he left behind some advice that might be helpful for us all. He wrote to
plain all nature is too difficult task for any one man or even for anyone. Age is much better to do a little with certainty and leave the rest for others. It come after. You, then, to explain all things by conjecture. Without making sure of anything. In other words, don't get too costly. FR economics radios, new, spanked, W and Y see a PM american public media and debonair productions? This episode was produced by Catherine Wells. Our staff include Susie, Lichtenberg Diana Win, Bray Land, calling Campbell increase ban in our interns, our enchant and Jacob Bastion
David Herman is our engineer special thanks to John DOE. More. If you want more for economics, radio, you can subscribe to our podcast on Itunes or go to free Now its outcome or you'll find lots of radio, a blog, the books and more If you thought you had to travel far over the patio banker, it's. The pastries of parents, to take another look with two times total points, a grocery stores, your same kitchen can come with more cuisines, sapphire preferred from Chase make more, it's yours, the one doesn't hours and purchases per month from November. First one twenty three twenty one. I want to concentrate credit approval, carnation budgetary monitoring is being a member of the icy.
Transcript generated on 2021-03-16.