not be reading this.
This post is an extension of a previous one, Addition by Subtraction, and the idea arose from my consciousness bubble bouncing off of Clif’s in our recent podcast. We live in the age of information abundance and here is a Cognitive Filter I’ve downloaded for processing “scientific” information on the interwebs.
The Three Bugs
The internet is oceanic. Ye shall find what ye search’th for. Confirmation Bias leads your search. This psychological phenomena is not extinguishable, so at least understand it and understand that it courses through you.
Our brains consume a significant proportion of our daily glucose. The sometimes graceful, sometimes curious hand of evolution has seen to it that we monkeys evolved the tendency to choose that which requires the least amount of energy while returning the least amount of suffering. We are lazy thinkers by default.
The websites are not managed by evil people trying to misinform you (this is mostly true.) The economics of most websites are massively dependent on page views. So, the the over-worked writers are heavily incentivized to write headlines that will get you to click. Studies show that which gets clicked on most or titles that spark intense emotions.
So the science that tends to get picked up is the kind of science that can, through the shattered soul of a talented but unfulfilled corporate writer, spark emotion in the laymen. And we are the laymens and laywomens.
These three bugs set the stage for our poor understanding of the science that we encounter on the internet. We are headline skimming ADHD monkeys remembering only what confirms our bias. There are some simple ways to bypass this faulty programming but it requires some glucose redistribution.
For the monkeys that would like to dedicate a little glucose to changing this habit, here are 4 principles I, sometimes…okay, rarely, follow unless it is a topic I’m interested in.
4 Debugging Techniques
Don’t read only the headline
If you read a headline that interests you, you don’t need to read the article, but if you plan on sharing this interesting headline, you owe it to the poor soul who is going to listen to you spew unverified webish to at least read the fucking article.
I think it is a good indication of how you value your friendships if you’re willing to tell Ben that his pants can cause cancer and that people named Ben on average have micro penises. Don’t be the friend who tells people Ben probably has a micro penis without reading the facking article.
Learn how to read Scientific Papers
You could learn this in college or a quick google search brought me this, and this. Spend an hour one day to pick up a skill that will benefit you the rest of your life. And to prepare you for the inevitable encounter with Fuckboy 539 at the party next week when he starts talking about the paper he saw that said that drunks tend to have a higher IQ than your Mom.
Ask Fuckboy 539 what the sample size was. Ask Mr. FB what the statistical significance was. What was the population sampled? Has the study been verified? Ask him to google the research paper. Watch Fuckboy 539’s cognitive dissonance start short-circuiting.
Understand Experimental Methods
This is a little harder skill to pick up. I’d recommend this to people who are interested in science as a profession or serious hobby. You’ll have to read a couple books or take a couple classes. If you’re lucky you could find a great teacher. But the purpose here is, when you ask the questions in the last section, it is not to be rude or dismissive.
Your understanding is the only understanding that matters to your subjective life. Maybe Mr. Fuckboy is at the cutting edge of the newest research being done on the relative stupidity of your mother. The only way to really know is to know how to scientifically measure the structure and results of the study. Maybe, maybe, your mom is stupid.
Explore the Philosophy of Science
A little tour down this reality tunnel can do a good job at shaking off the dogmatic adherence to science as a measure of truth. Science is probably the best tool we have ever created to understand life, but it is not the only. Explore this on your own and come to your own conclusions.