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What you think is right may actually be wrong – here’s why

We like to think that we reach conclusions by reviewing facts, weighing evidence and analysing arguments. But this is not how humans usually operate, particularly when decisions are important or need to…

I think, but am I wrong? Flickr/seatbelt67

We like to think that we reach conclusions by reviewing facts, weighing evidence and analysing arguments. But this is not how humans usually operate, particularly when decisions are important or need to be made quickly.

What we usually do is arrive at a conclusion independently of conscious reasoning and then, and only if required, search for reasons as to why we might be right.

The first process, drawing a conclusion from evidence or facts, is called inferring; the second process, searching for reasons as to why we might believe something to be true, is called rationalising.

Rationalise vs infer

That we rationalise more than we infer seems counter-intuitive, or at least uncomfortable, to a species that prides itself on its ability to reason, but it is borne out by the work of many researchers, including the US psychologist and Nobel Laureate Daniel Kahneman (most recently in his book Thinking Fast and Slow).

We tend to prefer conclusions that fit our existing world-view, and that don’t require us to change a pleasant and familiar narrative. We are also more inclined to accept these conclusions, intuitively leaping to them when they are presented, and to offer resistance to conclusions that require us to change or seriously examine existing beliefs.

There are many ways in which our brains help us to do this.

Consider global warming

Is global warming too difficult to understand? Your brain makes a substitution for you: what do you think of environmentalists? It then transfers that (often emotional) impression, positive or negative, to the issue of global warming and presents a conclusion to you in sync with your existing views.

Your brain also helps to make sense of situations in which it has minimal data to work with by creating associations between pieces of information.

If we hear the words “refugee” and “welfare” together, we cannot help but weave a narrative that makes some sort of coherent story (what Kahneman calls associative coherence). The more we hear this, the more familiar and ingrained the narrative. Indeed, the process of creating a coherent narrative has been shown to be more convincing to people than facts, even when the facts behind the narrative are shown to be wrong (understood as the perseverance of social theories and involved in the Backfire Effect).

Now, if you are a politician or a political advisor, knowing this sort of thing can give you a powerful tool. It is far more effective to create, modify or reinforce particular narratives that fit particular world-views, and then give people reasons as to why they may be true, than it is to provide evidence and ask people to come to their own conclusions.

It is easier to help people rationalise than it is to ask them to infer. More plainly, it is easier to lay down a path for people to follow than it is to allow them to find their own. Happily for politicians, this is what our brains like doing.

How politicians frame issues

This can be done in two steps. The first is to frame an issue in a way that reinforces or modifies a particular perspective. The cognitive scientist George Lakoff highlighted the use of the phrase “tax relief” by the American political right in the 1990s.

Consider how this positions any debate around taxation levels. Rather than taxes being a “community contribution” the word “relief” suggests a burden that should be lifted, an unfair load that we carry, perhaps beyond our ability to bear.

The secret, and success, of this campaign was to get both the opposing parties and the media to use this language, hence immediately biasing any discussion.

Interestingly, it was also an initiative of the American Republican party to rephrase the issue of “global warming” into one of “climate change”, which seemed more benign at the time.

Immigration becomes security

In recent years we have seen immigration as an issue disappear, it is now framed almost exclusively as an issue of “national security”. All parties and the media now talk about it in this language.

Once the issue is appropriately framed, substitution and associations can be made for us. Talk of national security allows us to talk about borders, which may be porous, or even crumbling. This evokes emotional reactions that can be suitably manipulated.

Budgets can be “in crisis” or in “emergency” conditions, suggesting the need for urgent intervention, or rescue missions. Once such positions are established, all that is needed are some reasons to believe them.

The great thing about rationalisation is that we get to select the reasons we want – that is, those that will support our existing conclusions. Our confirmation bias, a tendency to notice more easily those reasons or examples that confirm our existing ideas, selects just those reasons that suit our purpose. The job of the politician, of course, is to provide them.

Kahneman notes that the more familiar a statement or image, the more it is accepted. It is the reason that messages are repeated ad nauseam, and themes are paraphrased and recycled in every media appearance. Pretty soon, they seem like our own.

How to think differently

So what does this mean for a democracy in which citizens need to be independent thinkers and autonomous actors? Well, it shows that the onus is not just on politicians to change their behaviour (after all, one can hardly blame them for doing what works), but also on us to continually question our own positions and judgements, to test ourselves by examining our beliefs and recognising rationalisation when we engage in it.

More than this, it means public debate, through the media in particular, needs to challenge preconceptions and resist the trend to simple assertion. We are what we are, but that doesn’t mean we can’t work better with it.

Join the conversation

62 Comments sorted by

    1. Michael Shand

      Software Tester

      In reply to Trevor Kerr

      The definition of free media is free of influence by government or corporate interests.

      Unfortunately for the conversation they often let biased articles with clear agenda's through from either think tanks, lobby groups, corporations and government - see some of the early NSA articles or Australian spying articles where authors assure us, that the state knows exactly what they are doing and they are doing it to keep us safe....laugh along with me

      and as such does not count as independent media, in my books at least, it is establishment media for the most part

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    2. Andy Cameron

      Care giver

      In reply to Trevor Kerr

      All of it except the ABC and SBS.

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    3. Michael Wilbur-Ham (MWH)

      Writer (ex telecommunications engineer)

      In reply to Trevor Kerr

      The ABC has been very biased for several years now.

      Though groups to the right of the Liberals, such as the IPA, are heard often, it is very rare to hear views to the progressive side of Labor.

      And when such views are aired it almost always presented as "if only Labor would do better" and so it is very rare to hear somethign in support of the Greens.

      Note that Melbourne Age has an even strong bias against the Greens - though they often push a progressive agenda most articles or opinion pieces that do so will not mention the Greens.

      A democracy requires an informed electorate - neither the ABC nor the Age are properly informing it's viewers/readers.

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  1. Damien Westacott

    Programmer

    Disclaimer: I'm no expert, and my knowledge of personality types tops out with MBTI, which is a bit out of date.

    However, it makes sense to me to expect that there are different personality types making up our population, and a sizeable percentage of the population falls into type categories that are more predisposed toward rationalising rather than inferring.

    It's an uphill battle to convince someone who falls into one of these personality types to switch from one method to the other. Not…

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    1. Michael Shand

      Software Tester

      In reply to Damien Westacott

      Some interesting thoughts there, I suspect the key is to teach kids fundamental epistemology like

      Beliefs should be apportioned to evidence
      Do not make claims to knowledge you either do not or could not possibly know
      etc

      that will clear up most of it, at the moment we teach children it doesn't matter what you believe but having faith (Believe without evidence) is a virtue

      We should not be surprised at the results

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    2. Sue Ieraci

      Public hospital clinician

      In reply to Damien Westacott

      Hi, Damien - thanks for that insighjtful post.

      As well as personality types, psychologists can classify people by problem-solving style. Some people prefer to consider lots of evidence and made a considered decision over time, others gather key points of information and head towards a decision quickly. We see these different styles in the professional world - and different styles work best for different situations.

      The point is that, with awareness of one's individual style, we can combine in teams to complement each other. So, in analysing the performance of a government, or the achievements or attributes of a particular candidate, we can benefit from both the fine-detail thinkers and the wide-overview thinkers to collaborate to develop a rich picture - and hopefully bypass the spin and gloss.

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    3. Andy Cameron

      Care giver

      In reply to Damien Westacott

      As pop psychology it probably is, I have found even the Myer Briggs to be remarkably insightful.

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    4. Andy Cameron

      Care giver

      In reply to Damien Westacott

      Damian, in my professional experience the benefit of the MBTI was not to try to change people, but to use each person's individual style to advantage for the group's performance.

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    1. Sue Ieraci

      Public hospital clinician

      In reply to Michael Wilbur-Ham (MWH)

      Hi, Michael. The same could be said for various health and nutrition topics - but I think you might be missing something: for every commenter, there must be thousands of readers.

      Most people involved in any degree of activism would agree that you don't aim to convert zealots: as they say - if you didn't reach a position through logic, you can;t be argued out of it by logic. There is always the opportunity, however, to engage interested readers do try to evaluate the logic and evidence presented, and who probably recognise that people trained and experienced in a particular area are likely to understand it better than those who are not.

      Meanwhile, the climate sceptics, fructose-is-poison zealots and anti-vaccinationists can keep weighing in, but the rest of us learn from the articles and comments that provide rational, supported information.

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    2. David Arthur

      resistance gnome

      In reply to Michael Wilbur-Ham (MWH)

      Gday Mr Wilbur-Ham

      "This is a great article because is makes clear why I believe that the Conversation has not been effective in educating people about climate change." That's as may be, I'm not so sure as yourself on this point.

      My view is that The Conversation has been effective in forcing Denialists to see that their views are fallacious. I agree, this won't make them change their views (is false pride a particularly masculine trait?), that's something for them to do in the privacy of their own homes, perhaps at the ends of their lives when seeking forgiveness for their wrongs and the damage thus wrought.

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    3. Michael Pulsford

      Lecturer, RMIT School Of Art

      In reply to Michael Wilbur-Ham (MWH)

      The other effect is to get people to think the whole area of climate change is toxic to discuss and best avoided in conversation. They've done well at that.

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    4. Michael Wilbur-Ham (MWH)

      Writer (ex telecommunications engineer)

      In reply to Michael Wilbur-Ham (MWH)

      Yes. And climate change is now viewed as being political. Hence the 7pm ABC TV news never mentions climate change in any of their reports on heat, fire, flood, or drought.

      And when someone from the BoM was interviewed on 7:30 you could tell how scared he was of sounding political when he very softly mentioned climate change.

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    5. rory robertson

      logged in via email @gmail.com

      In reply to Michael Wilbur-Ham (MWH)

      Dr Sue,

      I note that you group "fructose-is-poison" public-health advocates with "anti-vaccinationists" and "climate sceptics" (I assume you mean "climate-change sceptics").

      That seems rather unreasonable. Surely you agree that added fructose - and so added sugar - is a menace to public health? https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=xDaYa0AB8TQ&feature=youtu.be

      After all, that's why the World Health Organisation is trying to recommend that we stop eating and drinking it: http://www.abc.net.au/news/2013-12-31/who-may-recommend-adults-cut-sugar-intake-by-half/5179714

      And I assume you are appalled by the lack of competence and integrity in science at the University of Sydney? http://www.australianparadox.com/pdf/AFR-report-investigation.pdf

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    6. Doug Hutcheson

      Poet

      In reply to Michael Wilbur-Ham (MWH)

      Michael, I share your frustration at the endless to-and-fro in comments, but it is a slippery slope to start blocking comments on an article. That smacks of totalitarianism: "You will believe what we tell you, because we are always right". Unpleasant though it may be, the know-nothings and disinformers must be allowed their platform - that is the freedom my Dad fought for in the war.

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    7. Michael Wilbur-Ham (MWH)

      Writer (ex telecommunications engineer)

      In reply to Michael Wilbur-Ham (MWH)

      Doug,

      This site exists to promote academic rigour and evidence based discourse. You are confusing healthy discussion with what I'm sure is sometimes paid lobbists.

      We all know that your Dad thought in the war so that our flag would never change :) But when it comes to real freedoms you are confusing freedom of speech with the right to take over other people's forums. Freedom of speech doesn't mean that every letter sent to a newspaper must be published. Freedom of speech doesn't mean that those who believe that having sex with young children have the right to promote this view on websites about raising children.

      As you know there are plenty of platforms on the internet filled with deniers. Plenty of those sites would delete comments from 'warmists'.

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    8. Michael Pulsford

      Lecturer, RMIT School Of Art

      In reply to Michael Wilbur-Ham (MWH)

      I think climate change is political. Talking about climate change at any length inevitably leads to some fundamental political questions about what kind of society we will live in, who gets to decide that and why they get to decide and not other people. We've become a culture that changes climate by arranging ourselves in certain ways and making certain political decisions (though almost none of these decisions were explicitly made to change climate; climate change is an unintended consequence of them.)

      If we want to become a culture which keeps climate stable, now that there are so many of us, we will need to make other political decisions. I don't see a way around that.

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    9. Doug Hutcheson

      Poet

      In reply to Michael Wilbur-Ham (MWH)

      Michael, "climate change is an unintended consequence of [those decisions", but current decisions are being make in a world where we know about the risks posed by continuing business as usual, so we cannot say increased global warming is an unintended consequence of today's choices. Damage caused from now on is wilful, not accidental.
      What is alarming is the number of people who are still being fooled by the powers-that-be calmly saying "everything will be alright, trust us". What the misinformed think is right is actually wrong, and dangerously so.

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    10. Michael Wilbur-Ham (MWH)

      Writer (ex telecommunications engineer)

      In reply to Michael Wilbur-Ham (MWH)

      Michael Polsford - What we decide to do, or not do, about climate change is highly political.

      (What upsets me with the ABC is that they have decided that reporting the science of climate change is now political.)

      Someone on Crikey once said to me something like "you may think me evil, but I don't see why I should make any changes to my life just because of what will happen in the future to others". His values were very different to mine, but he is being honest.

      Because 80% of the comments to any article on climate change are the endless and repetitive back and forth between deniers and those who accept the science, any proper political discussion on how to handle climate change gets swamped by the rest and ignored.

      So the reason I would delete all the posts by obvious deniers is so that we would be able to properly discuss the politics.

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    11. Michael Wilbur-Ham (MWH)

      Writer (ex telecommunications engineer)

      In reply to Michael Wilbur-Ham (MWH)

      Imagine if some of our political and business leaders were saying that king hits are on the whole safe, and if someone is accidentally killed from this then you can't blame the attacker for this unintended consequence.

      The big difference between denying the risk of king hits and denying the risk of climate change is that it is true that most king hits will not kill the victim, whilst some very bad consequences from climate change are certain.

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    12. Chris Saunders

      retired

      In reply to Michael Wilbur-Ham (MWH)

      I fully agree that the absurdity of anthropogenic climate change denial is something very hard to entertain. But you can see for yourself just on this little thread that labels such as zealots are used by the ‘good guys’. The question then becomes who are these zealots and what are they truly about. Climate change sceptics, and anti vaccinationers are then linked with anti-fructose ‘zealots’. The first two I can go along with, the third is an unreasonable construct when the WHO has halved the…

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    13. Michael Wilbur-Ham (MWH)

      Writer (ex telecommunications engineer)

      In reply to Michael Wilbur-Ham (MWH)

      I've no wish to ban real discussion from the Conversation.

      But I also don't think that a website which aims to promote academic rigour should have its discussions heavily influenced by lobbyists who are here to disrupt and confuse.

      A conversation is just as much about listening as talking. Even if you don't agree with what I'm saying now you can tell that I've read your post and are responding mindfully. One clear mark of a troll (either for or against something) is that they are not listening.

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    14. Chris Saunders

      retired

      In reply to Michael Wilbur-Ham (MWH)

      No, I understood that you had no wish to ban real discussion. I was just pondering how best avoiding trolls could be achieved. I think you have just explained to me a good basic criterion for deciding who is trolling and who is not. The non-listener characteristic is definitely an attribute that trolls hold in common, but then we can all claim on occasion to be at fault here. Other characteristics observed here on The Conversation include name calling, negativity, numerous posts on one thread…

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    15. Chris Saunders

      retired

      In reply to Michael Wilbur-Ham (MWH)

      Some other common tactic of trolls, abuse, sarcasm, misrepresentation of what you have said, cherry picking one aspect of your answer to comment on, and using loaded terms to reframe. I guess a lot of it gets down to bullying and deception.

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    16. Jenna Cowie

      Dietitian

      In reply to Michael Wilbur-Ham (MWH)

      Rory, it also seems rather unreasonable of you to accuse Sue of this by moving her comment of 'fructose' automatically to 'added fructose' and then to 'added sugar', which are not by definition the same thing, just to prove your point which is completely unrelated to the article. Can we have at least one Conversation not about fructose?

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    17. rory robertson

      logged in via email @gmail.com

      In reply to Michael Wilbur-Ham (MWH)

      Jenna,

      I'm not sure why you mistakenly think any of what I wrote above is unreasonable. I was responding to Dr Sue, who for her own reasons brought up the fructose-is-poison topic. On your main complaint above, you should know that added fructose dominates total fructose in modern Australian diets, via added sugar (sucrose).

      Jenna, it's the added fructose/sugar that is a disaster for Australian public health, in particular being a major driver – alongside alcohol and tobacco – of the unacceptable…

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  2. Alice Kelly
    Alice Kelly is a Friend of The Conversation.

    sole parent

    Yes, "Once the issue is appropriately framed, substitution and associations can be made for us".
    The Abbot Government relies on the so called monetary crisis, for many hysterical claims about debt. The carbon tax has been thrown in to imply some sort of impending monetary armageddon. Australia does have long-term fiscal problems which will get worse. But really they're going to add to the inherent problems of the last couple governments. Being deeply conservative, they'll further increase wealth for wealthy, and not strip entitlements, tax breaks. and middle-class welfare for those who should not be entitled to it. The poor will pay.
    I wonder if the media will as you say, "needs to challenge preconceptions", and actually be a part of publicly initiating some frank realistic conversations about this whole mess. Or take their "dark forces" warnings at face value, and not question the presumptions "they", want to con us with.

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  3. Sue Ieraci

    Public hospital clinician

    Thanks you for an interesting and relevant article.

    Apart from political manipulation, we see rationalisation all over the place in a post-modernist society where individual opinion is valued and there is a degree of distrust for authority and ''experts''.

    One prime example is seen in health - where individuals are willing to believe implausible ''cures'' and be blind to the benefits of vaccination. There is confusion of association and causation: a self-limited illness gets better, we believe that an implausible ''remedy'' has worked.

    The same thing has driven the desire for some parents of disabled children to blame vaccinations for cognitive of developmental features that become apparent at around the same time that children are being vaccinated.

    The entire area of cognitive error is a fascinating one. Clinicians who have to make diagnostic and treatment decisions rapidly, and with minimal information, have to understand and avoid cognitive error at every step.

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    1. Chris Saunders

      retired

      In reply to Sue Ieraci

      Sue I would just like to add that there are other motives for some people who do not get their children vaccinated. There are the people who are the 'smarties' who figure with the herd doing it, they need not have their children done. One up on the rest of you type of thinking, for what it's worth. And in the US there is compensation available to children who are disabled concurrently with vaccination. I am not denying what you and this article have said I have read both Kahneman and Lakoff and think they are spot on, but I don't think it is just down to the way we think and process problems but includes who we are (wider than our habitual thinking process and propaganda).

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    2. Sue Ieraci

      Public hospital clinician

      In reply to Sue Ieraci

      Sure, Chris, there are vested interests influencing behaviour - but I think the majority of deniers are influenced by a genuine need to find an external explanation and locus of blame for phenomena that are distressing.

      The sad thing is when these vulnerable people are taken advantage of by those with other vested interests - be they power or financial or both.

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    3. Chris Saunders

      retired

      In reply to Sue Ieraci

      Yes that is very sad. The point is probably that we live in a society that pushes for enlightened self interest. That is how people are supposed to act. Every now and again we have mass movements where people do not act in their own best self interests e.g. the builders' labourers and their green bans, or where they work quite happily in their own self interest together the Anti Vietnam war moratoriums and anti war in Iraq marches where the vested self interest has more to do with trying to relieve…

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  4. David Arthur

    resistance gnome

    Rationalisation has immediate survival value -
    "something is making that bush move, it could be a saber-toothed cat, let's runaway".

    Inference takes a bit longer.
    "something is making that bush move, it isn't a saber-toothed cat, ...

    ... it must be a spirit"
    ... it isn't a spirit, it must be a god"
    ... it isn't a god, it must be the One True God"
    ... oh, it's a windy day"

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  5. Sam Douglas

    PhD student (Philosophy) at University of Newcastle

    Thanks Peter, great article.
    This is the sort of thing that needs to be discussed more often. Learning to tell the difference between valid and invalid arguments is a truly worthwhile skill. But it's hard to understand that your inferences are unsound if you cannot even get to the point of realizing that you are rationalizing rather than inferring in the first place. The ability to make inferences rather than rationalizations about politics or advertising entails a measure of self-knowledge or self-awareness; one can be a master of deductive logic and never apply it in everyday life.

    Teaching logic - this I understand :) . Motivating people to stop, examine what they are thinking and (more importantly) why they are thinking it; this is a different and sometimes more difficult task.

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  6. Paul Prociv

    ex medical academic; botanical engineer at University of Queensland

    The article ends with “So what does this mean for a democracy in which citizens need to be independent thinkers and autonomous actors?” Sadly, most of us do not want to be either of those, and therein lies the problem – we ant to have someone else tell us what to believe, and we’re much happier following charismatic, authoritarian leaders, the social dominators. Perhaps the best exposition of this that I have ever encountered is provided by a book that, sadly, was never published, although it is available gratis on a website:
    http://members.shaw.ca/jeanaltemeyer/drbob/TheAuthoritarians.pdf
    Because our actions are driven first by instincts, reflexes and emotions, rationalisation is used mainly to account for our behaviour after the fact. One of the unique advantages of mathematics is that it allows for a completely unemotional analysis of the natural world, although even there, maths can be subverted in support of unsavoury beliefs (as with climate modelling?).

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  7. George Michaelson

    Person

    I deal constantly with people who have a couple of linguistic behaviours.

    One is to start any sentence in answer to one of mine with "no..." Even when agreeing, or re-stating my statement.

    The other is to say "correct" when they agree with what has been said.

    Both tend to reinforce a certain kind of dialogue. One, which I suspect, buttresses their sense of being right, irrespective of what has ACTUALLY BEEN SAID, BY WHOM.

    I realize there is a difference between what we think and what we say, but there is also a sense in my mind that what people say is the only exposure of what others can understand they think, and its clear many peoples verbalization reinforces a sense they are right, and we are wrong.

    I do hope somebody replies, the first word of their comment being either no... or correct.

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  8. James Hulse

    health professional

    Pretty unfortunate if the media is tasked with assisting the hoi polloi develop rational thinking!

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    1. James Hulse

      health professional

      In reply to James Hulse

      Sorry - my ambiguity. It was a shot at the mainstream media, not at its readership.

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  9. Andrew Smith

    Education Consultant at Australian & International Education Centre

    Does 'clear thinking' still exist on state education curricula like it used to be in Victorian HSC English Expression in late 70s?

    One cannot help but notice in Australia the shift to a less diversified media and neo con like media strategies exemplified by stating a conclusion, cherry picking data, shouting it from the rooftops continually and smearing anyone who disagrees or is contrarian.

    Working in international education one keeps an eye on related news plus immigration, visas and 'population…

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    1. Michael Wilbur-Ham (MWH)

      Writer (ex telecommunications engineer)

      In reply to Andrew Smith

      Whether you or I, or the majority of people, get the answers to the questions in the 'ignorance test' right or wrong says absolutely nothing about whether or not population is a problem.

      And when the advice on how to deal with more people is "Let´s be bold, determined and stick to the best of values." you can tell that the TV expert isn't.

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    2. Andrew Smith

      Education Consultant at Australian & International Education Centre

      In reply to Andrew Smith

      Maybe you don't understand? The so called "TV expert' is an expert in statistics, health and development who uses the high end estimate of population (which according to more recent research is well beyond what many demographers predict).

      Conversely, would you prefer Dick Smith, Birrell et al using 'population' data which relies upon conflation, inflation and confusion of definitions (in Australia's case) for more alarming impact?

      If population is such an issue in Australia, why does the data…

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    3. Michael Wilbur-Ham (MWH)

      Writer (ex telecommunications engineer)

      In reply to Andrew Smith

      I think a discussion of whether or not population is of concern is off-topic for this article.

      But it seems to me that you are rationalising your wish that population is of no concern. After all, whether or not Dick Smith has some figures wrong, and whether or not John Tanton has links to whomever, this only tells us about these people, and says nothing about the issue.

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    4. Andrew Smith

      Education Consultant at Australian & International Education Centre

      In reply to Andrew Smith

      It is directly related to this article about clear thinking, and analysing how 'arguments' are presented and supported in the public sphere.

      There is no empirical evidence proving a causal link between 'population growth' and the smorgasboard of negative 'claims' or subjective correlations that are made by the above people, and others.

      Further, for similar reasons they avoid scrutiny of both 'data' and 'evidence' they present, and their underlying philosophy or aims that drives this.

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    5. Michael Wilbur-Ham (MWH)

      Writer (ex telecommunications engineer)

      In reply to Andrew Smith

      Debating the evidence associated with any issue, be it climate change, vaccination, or population, is not what this article is about.

      Your claim that "there is no empirical evidence ..."shows that you have made up your mind and are rationalising. The real-world is far too complex for things to be that simple.

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  10. Andy Cameron

    Care giver

    "In recent years we have seen immigration as an issue disappear, it is now framed almost exclusively as an issue of “national security”."
    No it hasn't. You are conflating immigration and boat people. Immigration has been at record highs for over 15 years with barely a hiccup.

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    1. Michael Leonard Furtado

      Doctor at University of Queensland

      In reply to Andy Cameron

      Well; yes and no, Andy. The overarching argument of the Coalition was to maintain a policy hardline on 'boatpeople', which like the term 'back-door' and 'illegals', was framed in highly emotionally charged, vilifying and demeaning terms for refugees and asylum seekers so as not to officially and ostensibly jeopardise Australia's high immigration intake.

      Many people bought into this narrative, without understanding that our most porous borders in terms of refugee numbers are at our front door…

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  11. Michael Pulsford

    Lecturer, RMIT School Of Art

    '..it is easier to lay down a path for people to follow than it is to allow them to find their own.'

    I think of this more like paving dirt tracks than laying down a path. You're making it easier to travel down an existing pathway - and to travel further down it - rather than creating a new one.

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  12. Doug Hutcheson

    Poet

    It's all tied back to that wonder of our consumer society: marketing. Business and politics are similar in that they both want us to believe a certain set of statements and act on that belief. 'Every vote counts' is one meme and 'One person's vote cannot change things' is another.
    At the end of the day, we get the life we choose through our beliefs and actions, whether it be buying the latest gizmo, or collectively choosing who will lead us. Marketing departments are very adept at pushing the right buttons to influence our choices. Nice to know our alleged free will is being manipulated, isn't it?

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  13. Tony Austin

    CEO at Asia/Pacific Computer Services

    Thanks for the insights, Peter, very well put together.

    I just added a well-deserved reference in one of my blogs, where Ive been trying trying to do my little bit to promote clear/critical thinking ... basicquestions.blogspot.com

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  14. Chris Richardson

    Doctor

    I enjoyed much of this article although I though you drifted off the initial track about how we form beliefs, onto how words can be used, specifically by politicians, to create shortcuts to our cognitive biases. I find that almost every disagreement boils down to "what we mean when we use a certain word" i.e. semantics. Which is a bit boring when there actual issues to discuss.

    I noticed that the article includes several examples of how politicians use words to supposedly manipulate the populace…

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    1. Michael Wilbur-Ham (MWH)

      Writer (ex telecommunications engineer)

      In reply to Chris Richardson

      I think that the tactics of spin, deliberate distortion, and ignoring evidence is much more the preserve of the political right than of the progressives.

      Overall the Labor party is now a party of the right - and one of their greatest spins is that this isn't the case.

      Now not everyone agrees with the values of the Greens, so many won't agree with what they say. But whilst it is common for the major parties to say things which we know that they know are bullshit, I'm pressed to find an example where the Greens are putting a view that isn't what they really think.

      I think that the Greens also do far far better in matching what they say with the evidence of what is really happening. It is said that nature has a liberal bias (liberal in the USA sense of progressive).

      So, certainly in Australian politics, I think the public has rightly decided that both major parties lack integrity. But I think that the Greens have done an amazing job in overall maintaining their integrity.

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  15. Firozali A Mulla

    logged in via LinkedIn

    Snowden’s latest statements come just days after President Barack Obama responded to public outcry by announcing changes to how the US government conducts electronic surveillance.

    Although Obama did not talk in length about Snowden in a speech that remained largely unapologetic for the activities of the NSA and others, he did say that “If any individual who objects to government policy can take it into their own hands to publicly disclose classified information, then we will not be able to keep…

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    1. Michael Wilbur-Ham (MWH)

      Writer (ex telecommunications engineer)

      In reply to Firozali A Mulla

      Julie Bishop has called Snowdon a traitor.

      Obama has talked about cutting back surveillance of US citizens and (obviously just friendly) foreign leaders, which makes clear that the US has no intention of stopping surveillance of every Australian.

      And though this would such comprehensive surveillance of every Australian would be illegal for our government, both Labor and Liberal seem very happy that our spies can log in to the US and look at whatever they want.

      Before Snowdon many would say that I was paranoid if I said that I believed my internet traffic was monitored. Since Snowdon we now know that it's not just me, but everyone.

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