Facts Don’t Win Fights: Here’s How to Cut Through Confirmation Bias | Tali Sharot

Posted By on August 19, 2019


So most of us think that information is the
best way to convince people of our truth, and in fact it doesn’t work that well.We
see that all the time. We see it with climate change, where there’s
tons of data suggesting that climate change is man-made but about 50 percent of the population
doesn’t believe it, or with people arguing about things like how many people were in
the presidential inauguration. So we have facts but people decide which facts
they want to listen to, which facts they want to take and change their opinions, and which
they want to disregard. And one of the reasons for this is when something
doesn’t conform to what I already believe, what people tend to do is either disregard
it or rationalize it away; because information doesn’t take into account what makes us
human, which is our emotions, our desires, our motives and our prior beliefs. So for example, in one study my colleagues
and I tried it to see whether we could use science to change people’s opinions about
climate change. The first thing we did was ask people, “Do
you believe in man-made climate change? Do you support the Paris Agreement?” And based on their answers we divided them
into the strong believers and the weak believers. And then we gave them information. For some people we said that scientists have
reevaluated the data and now conclude that things are actually much worse than they thought
before, that the temperature would rise by about seven degrees to ten degrees. For some people we said the scientists have
reevaluated the data and they now believe that actually this situation is not as bad
as they thought, it’s much better, and the rise in temperature would be quite small. And what we found is that people who did not
believe in climate change, when they heard that the scientists are saying, “Actually
it’s not that bad,” they changed their beliefs even more in that direction, so they
became more extremist in that direction, but when they heard that the scientists think
it’s much worse they didn’t nudge. And the people who already believe that climate
change is man-made, when they heard that scientists are saying things are much worse than they
said before, they moved more in that direction, so they became more polarized, but when they
heard scientists are saying it’s not that bad they didn’t nudge much. So we gave people information and as a result
it caused polarization, it didn’t cause people to come together. So the question is, what’s happening inside
our brain that causes this? And in one study my colleagues and I scanned
brain activity of two people who were interacting, and what we found was when those two people
agreed on a question that we gave them, the brain was really encoding what the other person
was saying, the details that they gave; but when the two people disagreed it looked metaphorically
as if the brain was switching off and not encoding what the other person was saying.And
as a result when the two agreed they became even more confident, but when they disagreed
there wasn’t as much of a change in their confidence in their own view. What has been shown by Kahan and colleagues
from Yale University is that the more intelligent you are the more likely you are to change
data at will. So what they did is they first gave participants
in their experiment analytical and math questions to solve, and then they gave them data about
gun control: is gun control actually reducing violence? And they found that more “intelligent”
people actually were more likely to twist data at will to make it conform to what they
already believed.So it seems that people are using their intelligence not necessarily to
find the truth, but to take in the information and change it to conform to what they already
believe. So that suggests that just giving people information
without considering first where they’re coming from may backfire at us, but we don’t
always need to go against someone’s conviction in order to change their behavior, and let
me give you an example. So this is a study that was conducted at UCLA
where what they wanted to do is convince parents to vaccinate their kids. And some of the parents didn’t want to vaccinate
their kids because they were afraid of the link with autism.So they had two approaches,
first they said, “Well the link with autism is actually not real, here’s all the data
suggesting there isn’t a link between vaccines and autism.” And it didn’t really work that well. But instead they used another approach. So instead of going that way they used another
approach, which was: let’s not talk about autism, we don’t necessarily need to talk
about autism to convince you to vaccinate your kids. Instead they said, “Well look, these vaccines
protect kids from deadly diseases, from the measles,” and they showed them pictures
of what the measles are. Because in this argument about vaccines people
actually forgot what the vaccines are for, what are they protecting us from. And they highlighted that and didn’t necessarily
go on to discuss autism. That had a much better outcome. The parents were much more likely to say,
“Yes we are going to vaccinate our kids.” So the lesson here is that we need to find
the common motive. The common motive in this case was the health
of the children, not necessarily going back to the thing that they were arguing about,
that they disagreed about.

Posted by Lewis Heart

This article has 100 comments

  1. I also think the phrase “scientists have found” has been so over used that people no longer trust it, especially with different conclusions tied to the a positive answer for the finder of the study.

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  2. Wow, I thought this video was about techniques to pursuade people in a debate…turns out, its really about unintended irony. The speaker is infested with confirmation bias.

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  3. This video is proof that people do not listen to "facts." It also shows how the "scientific" community can generate whatever "facts" it needs to support the orthodoxy. Climate change is a great example of this. Science is not about coalitions. It should be a real search for the truth. When I read that 97% of all scientists agree (which they don't) that climate change is man made, it doesn't do anything for me, because I know how diluted CO2 really is, and that ice core borings show that a rise in CO2 levels lags behind rising temperatures, not leading ahead as it would be if it were causal. Long story short, the people in charge of feeding us this garbage have an agenda, not a serious scientific program.

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  4. Hey, "Big Think" –let's get a bit more thoughtful, shall we? (Suggestion: Extend the time at least for a few more minutes' worth, to allow for mention of qualifications). Here are my (three relatively brief) rejoinders to Tali Sharot:

    a.) In the main, her practical and evidence-based suggestion to shift to appeals to common interests, as opposed to factual disputes CAN, in certain cases, offer a chance for common ground. The problem though, is to what extent? Logically, Sharot is putting the cart before the horse, because our interests typically characterize our inferences which themselves are derived from our evidential (or factual) claims–so we're back to square one then, arguing over facts.

    b.) I realize though that psychologically, the order is reversed–i.e. our interests/implicit biases tinge or color or delimit the very way we rate or even pay attention to evidence, i.e. what we mean by the "facts." This is precisely why we're prone to commit so many errors or fallacies in inference–the "quick and dirty heuristics" contexts designed by evolutionary selective pressures giving contours to our implicit biases seldom favored formal consistency let alone informal coherence–to name one example ingroup favoritism, with all its inconsistencies, incoherence, nevertheless is quintessential for the survival of the fragile community–characteristic of course of our deeply tribalistic tendencies in our emotional and practical lives. So having given cognitive psychology/decision theory the credit it's due, I still consider Shalit's focus on confirmation bias (CB) too one-sided: She should have at least mentioned a few more implicit biases that present themselves as co-morbidities to CB, which include: a.) survivorship bias, b.) availability heuristic, c.) anchoring, d.) loss aversion. Appealing to common interests alone may not work as antidotes or even as workarounds to these–hence my skepticism to the scope of her claims.

    c.) OK, I'm going to quibble here about the ethics of her global warming experiment–what sort of "facts" is she sharing with the skeptical group from "scientists" who deny, deflate, or belittle the issue? Yes I realize there are always a few heretical voices in the scientific community and fence-sitters (I recently posted a panel discussion which included UW bioengineer Gerald Pollack who is agnostic about the causal connection between human activity and the rises of global mean temperatures, though he doesn't deny that the Earth is heating up!) but these are EXTREME exceptions! She might as well have designed her experiment to include Flat Earth Society sympathizers, and fed them with such "facts." I have a problem with the ethics of this, because it equivocates and diffuses the concept of shared objective reality to social reality, to borrow these distinctions from sociology. The latter are strongly socially constructed, the former clearly aren't.

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  5. Manipulation of the variables at 01:40 is a flaw inherent with this type of research in that false data in both directions is presented to participants. I was a psych major undergrad and they used psych major undergrads to do the social psychology research at colleges. We had studied the famous research studies. I was aware of the concept of "confederates" and of "priming." I was required to participate in some study for my department as a subject. If I had been in the research described, I would want to know the source of their data that flew in the face of all I have seen reported. That is not the same thing as confirmation bias. Control for that variable of skepticism in research.

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  6. I would think that when people have bias and won't change their thinking is due to ego. "I have to be right" clouded judgement.

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  7. The problem with "facts", is lying, misrepresentation, fraud etc.
    When someone doesn't believe a "fact", they are not saying the "fact" is incorrect. They are saying, "I think you are a lying fraud attempting to manipulate me for your own benefit.". or. "I think you're most likely a fool who listens to lying frauds who are trying to manipulate you. The credibility of you and your "fact" is low."
    Hope This Helps.

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  8. People select what facts they will believe that fortifies their posture 
    people became more polarized after getting new information 
    Smart people change the data at will

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  9. 10 seconds in she says "our truth" instead of "the truth". but if the facts are true, isn't it THE truth? "Our truth" seems like sloppy thinking, which is what she seems to be against. what am I missing?

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  10. You should not want to fight or argue… you should want to know truth. If others want to fight or argue, let them do it on their own time.

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  11. Logic doesn't work on stupid people. One of the most famous quotes in the new testament is Jesus saying not to cast your pearls before Swine. He was calling stupid people pigs.

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  12. Not all sets of facts are equal. It's the salesman telling you to believe their facts, which aren't actually facts at all, just what they want you to believe. Witness the MSM. Anybody can make things up and sell it. Much harder, and way more work than people are willing to do, just to find what the facts actually are. Research and study, with some knowledge and history, can provide enough facts to come to some general conclusions. But a Ph. D doesn't green light knowledge on everything.

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  13. Fact, environment scientists have been caught lying about data and results. Now this is the point where you insult me and tell me I have a low IQ because I disagree

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  14. You'll change my mind when your answers don't included giving you more power or money. When your answers to stopping "Climate Change" are giving me more power or money, then I'll believe that "Climate Change" is something other than a big fat fing con.

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  15. Logic is the mathematics of correct thinking developed by the ancient Greeks. The scientific method requires that "facts" can be replicated. Put the two together and you get pretty damn close to the "Truth". People who base their opinions on belief use neither of these tools. Some intelligent people have never been exposed to these tools and these may be the examples used in this study. Type of education should be the foundation of the grouping not strong believers and weak believers but tool users and non tool users. Tools being Logic and Scientific Method.

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  16. Tell that to all these progressive dipshits when they go on ranting about how were 'all identical' and that IQ disparity is a fantasy. Zounds of data from the sciences counter their bullshit… yet they go on and on about their 'feelings' and their agenda.

    The Trump fanatics are bad, but these progressives are just as bad. Too bad all these channels are leftist biased and never talk about their own failings.

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  17. What about the other side?
    I identify as something means it is now?
    I identify as a horse so you must bend really because I’m a horse now?
    Also that more whites are killed by far by police than blacks.
    And on and on
    And on and on

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  18. What she misses is the fact people are so tired of the media, politicians and law enforcement lieing to us. Look at Trump, what a lieing POS. And the medical community lieing about birth defects in birth control medications. Our information streem is polluted. And so dought your "facts".

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  19. A willingness to change your mind when confronted with new evidence is one of the single most admirable traits I can think of. I’m always trying to catch myself when I see bias in my thought patterns. I’m always willing to hear your argument and give you the chance to change my mind as long as you’re using valid evidence of some kind.

    People need to beware the biases instilled by their parents/teachers/idols. We should always come to terms with the fact that the people who brought us up were humans too, and they don’t have all the answers either. This is what makes science so so valuable. Science is the personification of a person constantly trying to improve their opinion, and prove their self wrong. Science thrives on proving other science wrong or outdated. That’s what makes it the opposite of religion.

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  20. Interesting that she didn't spend much time talking about the underlying concerns of Anti-Climaters. Most of the us are concerned more with the ideological baggage and draconian "solutions" that sound like medieval serfdom. Non-solutions like surreptitious and forced population control and bug burgers that the environmentalist and climate change movement suggest that by nature affect our liberty and livelihoods. As well as the government's misapplication of laws on the books to harass people who simply want to live quiet, productive lives in contentment. Until you show me how our specific lives will be better by next week; that the cost of living is going to go down, the standard of living is going to go up, that Bill Gates and GM Foods aren't going to try to reduce my testosterone levels and sperm count, and that the EPA won't take people's stuff and livelihoods over the good faith actions of "little fish" that don't have the money and political clout to fight back like egregious polluters often do, you won't find many people changing their minds.

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  21. There are simply too many beliefs that can never be substantiated and humans tend to mistaken their opinions with fact. This allows many to create their own facts about heavily studied and research subjects.

    This is simply another factor in an endless evaluation of universal balance. Nobody can ever be 100% correct about everything they possess knowledge of.

    All we can do is strive to be better and more knowledgeable with each day…or not. Choice is our greatest gift.

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  22. When I look into the "facts" of climate change, I notice that there are tons of projections going back in time and forward in time with very little data to base it off of. This troubles me and annoys me. Facts and projections are two different things.

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  23. Leftist bias again. Many conservatives believe in climate change, however they don’t believe that dumping loads of money into government programs to solve the problem.

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  24. Yet you don’t hear the Big Think discuss biological sex with respect to transgenderism, or data showing tax payer funded reduction of global warming hasn’t reduced CO2 emissions or slowed climate change, or that more gun control laws haven’t reduced gun violence. 👌 thanks Big Think you’ve exposed your own confirmation bias.

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  25. The problem in climate change doubt is the delivery. 85% of the mainstream media self admit partisan leftism. Affinity, and confirmation bias in the media undermine science and facts.
    Similar to having Bernie Madoff give a lecture on business ethics or like Hillary telling the voting public to trust her to do what’s best for you etc.

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  26. Actually: sadly you just work for groups that fund studies designed to manipulate the masses to be predictable when needed.

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  27. Information is more nuanced than just Facts. Information has varying levels of certainty. The lowest level of certainty is being just told something once. You'd have to have pretty poor critical faculties if you accepted something you were told once, as certain enough to change your mind on something important. Kind of shows the experimenters complete lack of common sense, and/or contempt for the people they were studying.

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  28. Of course if you give people an extreme view of their position it will make them dig in more. They needed a study for this??

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  29. Here I thought the video topic was argumentative technique. Turns out the vid's thinly-cloaked propaganda for the global elite.

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  30. Arguing that we can trust vaccines is easy. Arguing that we should trust the corrupt governments that push them and the greedy pharmaceutical companies that manufacture them is almost impossible.

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  31. This sounds so incredibly condescending and enabling.

    "Hey vaccines cause autism so I'm not vaccinating my child."
    "Well in that case I'm totally deflecting this point which indicates that you're correct, ma'am. But here take a gander at this measles pic. Measles bad, vaccines good."

    What's next?

    "Yes you're totally right, Nazism was a leftist movement as you noted the socialist in their very name, but you see, violent, ultranationalist movements are more typical of the right wing so that's what we should fight instead."

    "I mean of course this book you worship is correct and I'm in the wrong for not believing in it, but hey how about we still go against it and just don't enforce your holy laws on everybody else?"

    This just sounds like the Imperiatus curse with extra steps. Where I come from we don't fight stupid with cheap manipulation — we fight stupid with skepticism, demonstration, and fact-checking.

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  32. As a self proclaimed smart guy I doubt it. I think there is something else at work. people are usually pretty bad at persuading you, even if they are right. I expect smart people to have a certain week point in there views which mostly can't be addressed sufficiently. Let's say a smart guy is for the death penalty. You might show him some studies how it is more costly and so on. However his notions of right or wrong may be different, or perhaps not quite the right ones. While stupid people might be more fusy with feelings and going with feelings

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  33. It’s called framing the debate. It never works if you use the language of the person you need to convince. It’s the difference between arguing against something using the terminology the opposite side is uses vs arguing for something using your own set of terms. It doesn’t have to be a different subject, just the way you decide to frame the information. This is the mindful way of debating. It also helps to be grounded in reality and have your facts straight.

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  34. Confirmation bias arises when people attach themselves to an identity, an ego, a side. And they feel personally affected if new information conflicts with the side they've attached themselves to. The problems are to do with ego and emotional attachment

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  35. This is hogwash.

    So what’s she’s saying is that people who are intelligent are far more inclined to manipulate data to help them achieve their goal. That’s the very definition of adaptation – they are adapting the data to their needs/desires.

    That is merely an example of evolutional intelligence, not mental or social intelligence. Mental and social intelligence rely on pattern recognition. The reason why someone who is highly mentally intelligent is more likely to be a loner or only have a few friends is because they’re more likely to be able to see the redundancies and hypocrisies in most basic forms of human interaction and decision-making, and mentally intelligent people try to AVOID redundancy.

    What she’s talking about is nothing more than a basic survival mode of intelligence; one where the adaptation of the data/yourself will allow you to get ahead. Every human can do it, some are just less inclined to do it because they’re perhaps sympathetic of the moral complexity/repercussions of doing so or they can find other means/areas with which to extrapolate the results they desire.

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  36. It's really simple, and really obvious to anyone who has bothered to observe themselves with some degree of objectivity. If your hormonal "brain" doesn't like it, your neural (electrical) brain won't believe it. How do your hormones relate to that statement? Don't like it? Then you won't believe it.

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  37. Ma'am, you're kind of ignoring the fact that the same set of facts can, in reality, be interpreted in different ways to arrive at different conclusions.

    Case in point: a human being with a male body thinks he should have a female body. Some would say that's a problem with his body; that his body needs fixed so it matches his mind. Others would say that's a problem with his mind; that his mind needs fixed so it matches his body.

    Same facts but different interpretations, leading to different conclusions.

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  38. 3:39 So… what she's saying is that the "more intelligent" Democrats (at least, they claim themselves to be) are, in fact, more likely to twist the facts while the "less intelligent" Republicans are more likely to accurately interpret the facts.

    If I said I agreed with that, is that just confirmation bias…?

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  39. 4:24 Having had an adverse reaction to a vaccination myself (thankfully not resulting in autism, but a very unpleasant experience nonetheless) I can tell you with certainty that the ONE debunked study often set up as a straw man is NOT the only reason, nor the primary reason, nor any reason at all for the vast majority of non-vaccinating parents.

    To clear it up, here's just a few of the REAL reasons:
    1. Vaccinations can cause adverse reactions, including serious ones, as admitted by the information inserts they are required to have by law. Many of these have gone (and continue to go) unreported because many of those who experience them shrug them off or do not "connect the dots" until later.

    2. Vaccinations did NOT cause the rapid decline in infectious disease in the 20th century. By the time the vaccine for measles (for example) was released, the measles rate had already dropped significantly. Likewise for polio, etc. What was the cause for the decline, then, if not the vaccines? Better sanitation, medical care, and nutrition.
    3. Many vaccines still use aborted fetal cells, and many people object to benefiting from the murder of innocents.
    4. What vaccine safety studies that DO exist were not conducted by the FDA, CDC, or other government agency, but by the vaccine manufacturers themselves; and we're seeing right now how drug companies cover things up. These studies, furthermore, were NOT scientific double-blind studies using a true placebo.

    IMHO, just these alone are more than enough evidence to cast sufficient "reasonable doubt" on the argument that vaccines should be mandatory. Available, yes, certainly, but not mandatory.

    But what do I know? I'm just a science teacher who spent years carefully examining all available evidence and gradually changed his mind from being a hard-core pro-mandatory-vaccine guy to an "I demand more evidence" guy.

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  40. Not to negate the psychological argument here, but climate change is a terrible example. Obviously climate change was already happening before the first signs of life on this planet, hence climate change existed already way before there were humans, hence to speak of 'manmade climate change' as if that is the only climate change happening is rather confusing to people who don't know that much about it. So a question like "do you believe in manmade climate change" could be interpret in two total different ways: 1 ' do you believe that all climate change is manmade?' clearly people aware of the climate change before humans came into existence would disagree with such and interpretation, 2 'do you believe part of the climate change is manmade', which is obvious to any scientist, since even if the part is neglectable small, it is obvious that by just breathing in O2 and breathing out CO2 as all humans do, humans do change the ratio O2 and CO2 in the atmosphere, and since it has been demonstrated that CO2 insulates better than O2, it will have it's effect on climate no matter how neglectable small the effect.
    Most people I know of have no problem saying 'none' or 'nothing' when they mean 'neglectable small', especially in common daily conversation.
    I so wished you would have picked another example.

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  41. Because "climate change" is the gold standard this argument? I've looked into this pretty heavily and it's fair to say the verdict is far from being in.

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  42. My background is medical research. Manipulating and excluding data is quite common for researchers to support their hypothesis. As such, findings that despute what the researcher is looking for “dispear”.

    So, for example, how would you support/deny gender pay the “pink tax” based on faulty data?

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  43. YOU gave people information. Have them listen to the scientists say it themselves any you will get a much different result. That is wey hearsay testimony is not allowed. It lies.

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  44. In other words, emotion wins arguments, not logic. People only agreed to vaccinate their kids after they are shown horrific images of people with diseases. Intriguing…

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  45. I didn’t even watch the video I’m just responding to the question as posed. Faith is greatly characterized by moments of faithlessness, why do you think we even need priests, churches.

    I suppose the modern world offers more avenues for reassuring the faithful than ever before, echo chambers abound, but there is no reason to say that the boundary put up by faith is impenetrable it simply has to want to be penetrated.

    I’m imagining some formula where the length of timescale to completely changing your mind on a subject is factored by a number of variables. Hey, anyone whose mind is sufficiently open should be familiar enough with having it changed to populate a list or two of variables. Statistical study will tell you which ones are convincing. Try out your new super power on the masses.

    🙂

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  46. About 50 percent of the people in the US, where climate change has been made a party political issue don't believe it's real because it's the Republican Party line. The rest of the world listen to the evidence in greater numbers.

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  47. I wouldn't even say its a matter of intelligence or lack thereof. It's a matter of people who are willing to shove aside petty distastes of certain claims that conflict with their deeply held world-views and those who aren't so willing. "Not so willing" could be any number of reasons: They could benefit from a widespread belief in that belief somehow (social Darwinism "dog-eat-dog" power-over-all-else + basebrain kneejerk contempt for weakness is a prime example. So is economics, social status, aesthetics, and the fact that not all popular traits are actually good for the species. The list is potentially endless).

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  48. Not really. If you use belief to overpower logic without a proper foundation then it’s just nonsense. In your head you won in reality you just come off as stupid. If there’s no foundation then one can hardly consider it an argument.

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  49. So when the people who were initially convinced that vaccines cause autism were shown the benefits of vaccines, they simply abandoned their conviction that they cause autism?? Wouldn't they have said, "Well, those benefits are all well and good, but since autism is worse I'll take my chances with measles?" If not, they must be really wishy-washy people. They probably have no time to do anything but constantly change their mind about things.

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  50. This presenter has concluded man made climate change is proven fact without testing that fact. This is a very clever argument with the same kind of assumption and faulty belief system she is claiming others have. Can we not make the argument that TRUTH should prevail and that truth begins with real evidence and proof?

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  51. To be all honest? One of my main things is, if you show me respect and validate my feelings on a subject, I’ll listen to you and you might change my opinion with facts

    But if you call me stupid? Or evil? Or say anything else to attack ME rather than trying to rationalize with my beliefs on something? I won’t listen to you

    I may go back later of my own accord and look at the facts, but even if I eventually change my mind, I’m still not going to respect the person who called me names, even if I agree with what they’re saying

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  52. And what's the common motive in the debate of climate change. The ones are trying to save the world, while others their pockets.

    Btw: The fact that intelligent people skew evidence even more, gives a practical example of the difference between a merely smart and a wise individual.

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