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Thread: Think about what we say before we say it?

  1. #1

    Think about what we say before we say it?

    This is a very interesting post in a blog site that speaks to scientists and what happens when we have trouble communicating with lay audiences or even with other scientists. It is particularly interesting because it explains the huge commnication gap that occurred by Sarah Palin and scientists. She was clearly speaking form a different ancestral background knowledge base. We were not willing to accept her inference that living in Alaska means that she is next door to Russia and therefore an expert on that country. Likewise, we were not able to deal with the concept that she could not name a single Supreme Court decision that she liked or disagreed with, because this suggested a level of ignorance that we could not comprehend.

    At the same time, it suggests to me certain things that I have learned not to say on this site. For example, I use to say that "there is no evidence that xxx is true". To me this statement means that, no more or less. It means that I think we should suspend judgment until more evidence is available. However, to many people on this web site, they get the impression that I mean the xxx is false, i.e. there is a mountain of evidence and none of it supports xxx, meaning that we should dismiss the statement. This misinterpretation occurs in part because I know how thin scientific knowledge is concerning many subjects whereas most people assume that scientists must know a lot about everything.

    We must not assume too much of our audience and we should think about the implications of what we say before we say it.

    Wise.



    http://www.overcomingbias.com/2007/1...ntial-dis.html
    Expecting Short Inferential Distances

    Homo sapiens' environment of evolutionary adaptedness (aka EEA or "ancestral environment") consisted of hunter-gatherer bands of at most 200 people, with no writing. All inherited knowledge was passed down by speech and memory.

    In a world like that, all background knowledge is universal knowledge. All information not strictly private is public, period.

    In the ancestral environment, you were unlikely to end up more than one inferential step away from anyone else. When you discover a new oasis, you don't have to explain to your fellow tribe members what an oasis is, or why it's a good idea to drink water, or how to walk. Only you know where the oasis lies; this is private knowledge. But everyone has the background to understand your description of the oasis, the concepts needed to think about water; this is universal knowledge. When you explain things in an ancestral environment, you almost never have to explain your concepts. At most you have to explain one new concept, not two or more simultaneously.

    In the ancestral environment there were no abstract disciplines with vast bodies of carefully gathered evidence generalized into elegant theories transmitted by written books whose conclusions are a hundred inferential steps removed from universally shared background premises.

    In the ancestral environment, anyone who says something with no obvious support, is a liar or an idiot. You're not likely to think, "Hey, maybe this guy has well-supported background knowledge that no one in my band has even heard of," because it was a reliable invariant of the ancestral environment that this didn't happen.

    Conversely, if you say something blatantly obvious and the other person doesn't see it, they're the idiot, or they're being deliberately obstinate to annoy you.

    And to top it off, if someone says something with no obvious support and expects you to believe it - acting all indignant when you don't - then they must be crazy.

    Combined with the illusion of transparency and self-anchoring, I think this explains a lot about the legendary difficulty most scientists have in communicating with a lay audience - or even communicating with scientists from other disciplines. When I observe failures of explanation, I usually see the explainer taking one step back, when they need to take two or more steps back. Or listeners, assuming that things should be visible in one step, when they take two or more steps to explain. Both sides act as if they expect very short inferential distances from universal knowledge to any new knowledge.

    <more>

  2. #2
    People don't cope well with ambiguity. When folks encounter concepts that are difficult to understand, they immediately try to squeeze them into existing cognitive schemata. I think that's what makes misunderstandings between professionals and non-professionals so problematic. But I think the misunderstandings go both ways. Often professionals don't take the time to actively listen to the questions that are posed to them by non-professionals. With misunderstandings between professionals, it's really the same concept...each discipline has it's own set of schemata about how things work.

    I hope this makes a little bit of sense...I'm getting sleepy...lol
    Last edited by Danine; 11-29-2008 at 02:11 AM.
    "The truth will set you free. But first, it will piss you off." -Gloria Steinem

  3. #3
    Senior Member ChipS's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by Wise Young View Post
    This is a very interesting post in a blog site that speaks to scientists and what happens when we have trouble communicating with lay audiences or even with other scientists. It is particularly interesting because it explains the huge commnication gap that occurred by Sarah Palin and scientists. She was clearly speaking form a different ancestral background knowledge base. We were not willing to accept her inference that living in Alaska means that she is next door to Russia and therefore an expert on that country. Likewise, we were not able to deal with the concept that she could not name a single Supreme Court decision that she liked or disagreed with, because this suggested a level of ignorance that we could not comprehend.

    At the same time, it suggests to me certain things that I have learned not to say on this site. For example, I use to say that "there is no evidence that xxx is true". To me this statement means that, no more or less. It means that I think we should suspend judgment until more evidence is available. However, to many people on this web site, they get the impression that I mean the xxx is false, i.e. there is a mountain of evidence and none of it supports xxx, meaning that we should dismiss the statement. This misinterpretation occurs in part because I know how thin scientific knowledge is concerning many subjects whereas most people assume that scientists must know a lot about everything.

    We must not assume too much of our audience and we should think about the implications of what we say before we say it.

    Wise.



    http://www.overcomingbias.com/2007/1...ntial-dis.html
    People are quick to judge. I have always tried to give statements such as " there is no evidence to support this conclusion" as just that...There is no evidence at this time to support a particular conclusion. I guess it is what we are accustomed to hearing.

  4. #4
    Quote Originally Posted by Danine View Post
    People don't cope well with ambiguity. When folks encounter concepts that are difficult to understand, they immediately try to squeeze them into existing cognitive schemata. I think that's what makes misunderstandings between professionals and non-professionals so problematic. But I think the misunderstandings go both ways. Often professionals don't take the time to actively listen to the questions that are posed to them by non-professionals. With misunderstandings between professionals, it's really the same concept...each discipline has it's own set of schemata about how things work.

    I hope this makes a little bit of sense...I'm getting sleepy...lol
    Great avatar. You make a lot of sense to me. We all try to squeeze what we see and hear into existing cognitive schemata. In many ways, I think that the best doctors are ones who have been patients. They learn the cognitive schemata of patients and are better doctors for having had the experience. In the same way, I think that everybody should have been poor and non-white for a while, to see what it feels like.

    Wise.

  5. #5
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    Quote Originally Posted by Wise Young View Post
    In the same way, I think that everybody should have been poor and non-white for a while, to see what it feels like.

    Wise.
    I agree, it a pity there isnt some sort of virtual reality technology that could accomplish this but then I think many would not be able to cope anyway as what they experience would conflict with deeply held personal beliefs.

  6. #6
    Hays (1996) developed an ADRESSING Model (slightly mis-spelled acronym) for developing multicultural knowledge, awareness, and skills. According to this model, helping professionals should develop empathy in all of the following areas to practice in a multiculturally sensitive way:

    A - Age
    D - Disability
    R - Race
    E - Ethnicity
    S - Sexual Orientation
    S - Socioeconomic Status
    I - Indigenous Cultural Heritage
    N - National Origin
    G - Gender

    I love this model because it is so inclusive of all minority/marginalized groups and speaks of the complex interactions of myriad factors that make up a person's multicultural identity.
    "The truth will set you free. But first, it will piss you off." -Gloria Steinem

  7. #7
    Quote Originally Posted by IanTPoulter View Post
    I agree, it a pity there isnt some sort of virtual reality technology that could accomplish this but then I think many would not be able to cope anyway as what they experience would conflict with deeply held personal beliefs.
    With the development of knowledge and emphaty, deeply held beliefs can be modified. It's difficult, no doubt, but really only requires an open heart and mind.
    Last edited by Danine; 11-29-2008 at 06:16 PM. Reason: spelling
    "The truth will set you free. But first, it will piss you off." -Gloria Steinem

  8. #8
    Senior Member rdf's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by IanTPoulter View Post
    I agree, it a pity there isnt some sort of virtual reality technology that could accomplish this but then I think many would not be able to cope anyway as what they experience would conflict with deeply held personal beliefs.
    As a kid I read a book about a white guy who underwent some kind of chemical treatment to his skin to turn it dark. He'd been blind, but somehow regained his sight. I don't know if this gift of having his sight returned prompted him to want to experience how it was to be black in the South during the bad old days of Jim Crow, or not, but he went and did it. I can't remember the name of the book or the author, but it was an enlightening read to a young boy. If only we all could experience such a thing, who knows what the outcome would be.
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  9. #9
    Senior Member rdf's Avatar
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    Here it is:



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  10. #10
    National Lampoon did a parody of that book in the 1970s.

    It was "Stacked Like Me."

    Darn! I promised to clean up my act.

    For starters, I'm going to write a blog so I have no time left for risque YouTube videos.

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