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Bad Ideas That Won't Go Away Can they ever be eradicated?

#1 User is offline   FM75 

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Posted 2013-July-22, 16:44

Common sense abounds in the world - much of it is just plain wrong. Yet it won't go away.

Buy local - either to save fuel, or to keep the money in your community. All sorts of crazy ideas to prevent the spread of infection by toilet seats. Static stretching before exercise to prevent injury and improve athletic performance.

The World Health Organization decided in 1988 that it could eliminate polio from the planet. Within 11 years they were mostly successful. The last of one type has not been seen since 1999. Yes, just because it has not been diagnosed since, does not mean that it has not existed, or does not exist. But 11 years is a pretty short time to achieve such a global result.

This topic is not about any particular fallacy, but rather about how they arise, why they are not successfully refuted, and whether elimination of fallacies might be harder or easier with communications using the internet, social media, etc.

  • Are these fallacies simply beliefs (approaching religious conviction strength) which will be believed regardless of contrary evidence?
  • Does the durability of a false belief depend upon what age it it learned? For example, can you unlearn things taught in "potty training" age, elementary school, college, etc.
  • Does it depend on who taught it?
  • Can fallacies be successfully purged from "common sense" like we are able to do with certain types of disease?
  • Does the news media's pandering to the lowest common denominator make them more or less likely to play a role in spreading fallacies rather than eliminating them?
  • How much of the population is sufficiently intelligent to be able to unlearn what they have learned?
  • Are social media more likely to create or spread a fallacy than identify and eliminate one?
  • What are successful approaches to eliminating fallacies?
  • What role do governments or religious institutions play in originating or spreading them?
  • Is it politically or socially desirable for wide-spread belief in fallacies?


Please, offer any ideas, research findings, or additional questions on this topic. Please do not introduce your own pet peeve fallacy, or offer refutations of any that might be introduced in the discussion. Those could all rightly have their own topic.
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#2 User is offline   kenberg 

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Posted 2013-July-22, 19:08

View PostFM75, on 2013-July-22, 16:44, said:

Common sense abounds in the world - much of it is just plain wrong. Yet it won't go away.


I believe that it was Einstein who described common sense as a collection of beliefs that you learned before the age of ten. But I think he was talking about Relativity, and there he had a point. In many situations I have learned that my instincts are far superior to my logical analysis. Instinct is not exactly the same as common sense, but they are cousins.

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Buy local - either to save fuel, or to keep the money in your community.


It varies. I buy at the local Dairy Queen because I like the people and I hope to keep them in business. Same with a number of other places.

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All sorts of crazy ideas to prevent the spread of infection by toilet seats.

I have never paid much attention to this. I can recall taking my two year old daughter (she is 51 now) into the ladies' restroom in a park because the men's was just too disgusting to contemplate, but generally I have happily ignored this.


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Static stretching before exercise to prevent injury and improve athletic performance.


I rarely stretch before or after, I just don't seem to need it. My wife needs it and does it. Different strokes.

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The World Health Organization decided in 1988 that it could eliminate polio from the planet. Within 11 years they were mostly successful. The last of one type has not been seen since 1999. Yes, just because it has not been diagnosed since, does not mean that it has not existed, or does not exist. But 11 years is a pretty short time to achieve such a global result.


Glad to hear it.

Quote

This topic is not about any particular fallacy, but rather about how they arise, why they are not successfully refuted, and whether elimination of fallacies might be harder or easier with communications using the internet, social media, etc.

  • Are these fallacies simply beliefs (approaching religious conviction strength) which will be believed regardless of contrary evidence?
  • Does the durability of a false belief depend upon what age it it learned? For example, can you unlearn things taught in "potty training" age, elementary school, college, etc.
  • Does it depend on who taught it?
  • Can fallacies be successfully purged from "common sense" like we are able to do with certain types of disease?
  • Does the news media's pandering to the lowest common denominator make them more or less likely to play a role in spreading fallacies rather than eliminating them?
  • How much of the population is sufficiently intelligent to be able to unlearn what they have learned?
  • Are social media more likely to create or spread a fallacy than identify and eliminate one?
  • What are successful approaches to eliminating fallacies?
  • What role do governments or religious institutions play in originating or spreading them?
  • Is it politically or socially desirable for wide-spread belief in fallacies?



We must begin by identifying what is important to us. I suspect that I have a number of beliefs that are false but harmless. I will probably never confront these fallacies. We must confront the fallacies that prevent us from tackling life effectively. As to your number 6, I think this ability is only weakly dependent on intelligence. I have known very intelligent people, intelligent in the sense of IQ, who are quite blind. Knowing crap when you see it often requires attention and an open mind, far more than it requires great intelligence.




Most important: Recognize that it is very unlikely that always I have discovered truth, that everyone else is laboring under a fallacy. One of the regular features of the Washington Post is a weekly guest column called Five Myths About X (X, of course, is a variable). I find the concept pompous and I frequently find the guest columnist to be an arrogant schmuck.
Ken
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#3 User is offline   Vampyr 

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Posted 2013-July-22, 19:53

The examples you give are unlikely to do any harm. Why are you concerned about such things?
I know not with what weapons World War III will be fought, but World War IV will be fought with sticks and stones -- Albert Einstein
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#4 User is offline   Antrax 

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Posted 2013-July-22, 21:34

I don't think they'll ever go away. Many old ideas that were already disproven and ridiculed are coming back: I've had people explain to me that disease is caused by toxins from the food you eat (believed in the middle ages until we discovered germs), Homeopathy (17th century) has never been stronger despite contradicting known physics, I've even seen an interview with a CEO that uses that technique where you measure the ratio of distances between facial features to determine character - don't remember the "scientific" name for it.

I read a good article once hypothesizing that because there's so much information available to us that it's very difficult to be well-educated about many topics, people use the shortcut of finding some pet idea that goes against the grain, giving them the much-needed feeling of superiority over others. These misconceptions (or conspiracy theories: 9/11, moon landing hoax, etc) are usually simple to learn, they're presented in a way that lets you just learn a list of arguments persuasive enough to anyone who hasn't dedicated the 10 minutes of research, so it's an instant cheat to feel smart.
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#5 User is offline   blackshoe 

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Posted 2013-July-22, 21:56

Phrenology.
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#6 User is offline   Antrax 

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Posted 2013-July-22, 22:35

No, that's what I thought too, but Wiki says it's only about lumps in the skull, not distance from nose to ear etc.
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#7 User is offline   Winstonm 

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Posted 2013-July-23, 05:55

Bar none, homeopathy.
"Injustice anywhere is a threat to justice everywhere." Black Lives Matter. / "I need ammunition, not a ride." Zelensky
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#8 User is offline   blackshoe 

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Posted 2013-July-23, 06:48

View PostAntrax, on 2013-July-22, 22:35, said:

No, that's what I thought too, but Wiki says it's only about lumps in the skull, not distance from nose to ear etc.

I'll take the Oxford American Dictionary over wikipedia:

phrenology

noun; the detailed study of the shape and size of the cranium as a supposed indication of character and mental abilities.
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#9 User is offline   helene_t 

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Posted 2013-July-23, 06:56

I might be missing something but I don't recognize any seriously irrational ideas in the OP. "Buy local" may not always be the most environment friendly option but given limited information I think it's ok to tacitly "believe" in local products. Same with fair trade, vegetarian diet, reusable packaging. Some would add organic and gmo-free to the list, I am personally skeptic but that's just me.

Do I "believe" that polio has been eradicated? What do I know. If I have heard from a reliable source that it is then maybe I believe tacitly that it has. Future evidence of the opposite would not schock me.

Stretching excercises might or might not work. Different studies report different findings. As so often in the medical world.

I find it somewhat disturbing that so many people believe in astrology, the loch ness monster, ghosts, various religious creation myths etc. But I suppose it is all nonsurprising. I remember how strong the social pressure was, when I was young, to believe that nuclear power was bad. It is probably an anomaly to give priority to scientific evidence over such social pressure. It is also an anomaly to have much knowledge about which kind of questions can be answered on the basis of scientific evidence. And to default to the agnostic position, facing a lack of evidence.

There is also something psychological satisfying by believing in weird things just for the sake of it. I had a colleague (an epidemiologist) who believed in astrology, arguing that it is "too boring" not to believe in anything. At least he was conscient about the psychological mechanism. I used to have the feeling that I would like to believe in extra-terristrial intelligence and reincarnation.

Maybe, if we want an enlightening discussion about this, it would be better to focus on something we all have a lot of experience with, namely irrational beliefs at the bridge table. The otherwise brilliant book by Mollo/Gardener: "Card play techniques" is full of probability falacies. Culbertson's "mirrored distribution" was believed by experts until a few decades ago. And we still get posts on these forums from decent bridge players who seriously believe that their pet methods are superior in some absolute (!) sense. Or that the BBO hand generator is seriously biased.

Cognitive disonance makes us round a probability of 51% of to 100% and 49% of to 0%: suppose the probability that UDCA is better than standard, given the information presented to me, is 51%, and that I therefore decide to play UDCA. To defend that decision for myself I need to convince myself that there is strong evidence in favor of UDCA.

As an academic I take great pride in being agnostic about almost everything. But that is just the position I take when I am inside the ivory tower. Out in the real life I have to believe tacitly in all kind of arbitrary things, simply to be able to make everyday decisions. I chose to cycle to the local shops without a helmet. Do I have an unconscious desire to have my brain damaged in a trafic accident? More likely I just have a strong belief that I won't be hit by a car.
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#10 User is offline   Antrax 

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Posted 2013-July-23, 07:11

Shape and size of the cranium != distance/proportion between facial features.
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#11 User is offline   blackshoe 

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Posted 2013-July-23, 07:13

View PostAntrax, on 2013-July-23, 07:11, said:

Shape and size of the cranium != distance/proportion between facial features.

Well, you go your way, and I'll go mine. B-)
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#12 User is offline   diana_eva 

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Posted 2013-July-23, 07:23

The most frustrating situation IMO is when social beliefs force you to do things against your will because other people are involved. Romania still is a deeply superstitious country and I had to do a lot of irrational thing while raising my kids just because "Would you risk your children's life/safety/soul just because you're stubborn? That's so selfish and irresponsible!!!" I have to admit that unless that particular superstitious thing was potentially harmful for the kids I just sighed and did whatever the elderly relatives around me wanted. Example: baby hiccups - someone cast the bad eye on him. Give him a drop of lemon or water or whatever but also, you MUST do the cross sign on his forehead and say a prayer, else the bad eye wont go away. It cost me nothing to do the stupid sign and say the prayer but I was bleeding on the inside :)

Edit: To get back to OP, perhaps many of these fallacies survive because they manage to induce either a sense of guilt, or the pride to be able to contribute to the well being of the country/world/society.

This post has been edited by diana_eva: 2013-July-23, 07:36


#13 User is offline   blackshoe 

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Posted 2013-July-23, 07:34

View Posthelene_t, on 2013-July-23, 06:56, said:

[snip]

Stretching excercises might or might not work. Different studies report different findings. As so often in the medical world.

I find it somewhat disturbing that so many people believe in astrology, the loch ness monster, ghosts, various religious creation myths etc. But I suppose it is all nonsurprising. I remember how strong the social pressure was, when I was long, to believe that nuclear power was bad. It is probably an anomaly to give priority to scientific evidence over such social pressure. It is also an anomaly to have much knowledge about which kind of questions can be answered on the basis of scientific evidence. And to default to the agnostic position, facing a lack of evidence.

[snip]

As an academic I take great pride in being agnostic about almost everything. But that is just the position I take when I am inside the ivory tower. Out in the real life I have to believe tacitly in all kind of arbitrary things, simply to be able to make everyday decisions. I chose to cycle to the local shops without a helmet. Do I have an unconscious desire to have my brain damaged in a trafic accident? More likely I just have a strong belief that I won't be hit by a car.

I can only report my own recent experience regarding stretching exercises. For many years after I retired from the Navy, I exercised hardly at all. Then my doctor started hounding me to do some. So I took up walking. Got shin splits regularly. He suggested a simple stretching exercise before each walk. That helped a little. Then I took up Taiji Quan (formerly spelled Tai Chi Chuan), which builds up the leg muscles a lot. It also involves a series of stretching exercises which address specific muscle groups. I don't have shin splints any more. Correlation is not cause, of course, but in this case it seems likely that the fact I no longer have shin splits is a direct result of either the stretching exercises or the Taiji itself, or more likely both.

Heinlein said "A touchstone to determine the actual worth of an 'intellectual' -- find out how he feels about astrology." I think you'd agree with him. B-)

Most people believe that bad things can't happen to them. The younger they are, the more likely they are to believe this, and the stronger the belief is. That's just an observation, not a scientific study. Still, I believe it's true. When I lived in England, I cycled to and from work, and to and from the shops nearby. No helmet. When I bought a new bike after I got back to the US, I let the dealer talk me into a helmet. When I ride, I wear it. Not because I believe I'll get hit by a car, but because I believe the potential consequences can be mitigated by a simple and inexpensive solution, so why not? Same with seatbelts. Law or no law, when I was young I didn't wear 'em. Now I do. The intensified campaign to ticket people who aren't wearing 'em is part of that, but so is my consideration of the possible consequences of an accident. I guess what I'm saying is that young people rarely consider consequences before acting, and as they get older, some never do. B-)
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#14 User is offline   PassedOut 

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Posted 2013-July-23, 07:53

View Postblackshoe, on 2013-July-23, 07:34, said:

When I bought a new bike after I got back to the US, I let the dealer talk me into a helmet. When I ride, I wear it. Not because I believe I'll get hit by a car, but because I believe the potential consequences can be mitigated by a simple and inexpensive solution, so why not? Same with seatbelts.

Same here. Many, many years ago I saw a photo of an Indiana state patrol car that had hit a bridge abutment during a car chase. The trooper, who suffered only minor injuries, credited the seat belts for saving his life. That made enough of an impression on me that I've always buckled up since. Not so with a high school classmate who was thrown from a colliding car which then rolled over him.

Last weekend we saw a helmetless motorcyclist on I-80 darting from lane to lane in heavy traffic...
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#15 User is offline   ArtK78 

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Posted 2013-July-23, 08:02

I was involved in a serious car accident about 10 years ago. If it were not for my seat belt and shoulder harness along with the air bag I probably would not be here today. As it was, I escaped the accident with a few minor bruises. My car, not so much.
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#16 User is offline   kenberg 

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Posted 2013-July-23, 08:21

View Postblackshoe, on 2013-July-23, 07:34, said:

I can only report my own recent experience regarding stretching exercises. For many years after I retired from the Navy, I exercised hardly at all. Then my doctor started hounding me to do some. So I took up walking. Got shin splits regularly. He suggested a simple stretching exercise before each walk. That helped a little. Then I took up Taiji Quan (formerly spelled Tai Chi Chuan), which builds up the leg muscles a lot. It also involves a series of stretching exercises which address specific muscle groups. I don't have shin splints any more. Correlation is not cause, of course, but in this case it seems likely that the fact I no longer have shin splits is a direct result of either the stretching exercises or the Taiji itself, or more likely both.

I often walk on the (springy surface) race track at the high school or the marked out naturally giving dirt surfacecross-country trail. I sometimes walk on the pavement. I can definitely tell the difference. Walking is a great exercise, but older knees need a little consideration.

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Heinlein said "A touchstone to determine the actual worth of an 'intellectual' -- find out how he feels about astrology." I think you'd agree with him. B-)


I have heard this quote before. In fact it occurred to me that astrology would indeed be a "touchstone". My thoughts on astrology are roughly the same as a view I saw attributed to Asimov about the existence of God. Something along the lines of "I can't prove that it is false but it seems so unlikely that I don't plan on wasting time thinking about it". I don't know if Heinlein would have approved. I also don't waste tiem worrying about whether Heinlein would have approved. Or Asimov.

Quote

Most people believe that bad things can't happen to them. The younger they are, the more likely they are to believe this, and the stronger the belief is. That's just an observation, not a scientific study. Still, I believe it's true. When I lived in England, I cycled to and from work, and to and from the shops nearby. No helmet. When I bought a new bike after I got back to the US, I let the dealer talk me into a helmet. When I ride, I wear it. Not because I believe I'll get hit by a car, but because I believe the potential consequences can be mitigated by a simple and inexpensive solution, so why not? Same with seatbelts. Law or no law, when I was young I didn't wear 'em. Now I do. The intensified campaign to ticket people who aren't wearing 'em is part of that, but so is my consideration of the possible consequences of an accident. I guess what I'm saying is that young people rarely consider consequences before acting, and as they get older, some never do. B-)



I have not always worn a helmet either bicycling or motorcycling. Times change, I change, I wear a helmet. And I long, long ago gave up the motorcycle.
Ken
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#17 User is offline   PassedOut 

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Posted 2013-July-23, 08:34

View Postdiana_eva, on 2013-July-23, 07:23, said:

The most frustrating situation IMO is when social beliefs force you to do things against your will because other people are involved.

Not so bad as that here, but Constance and I took some flak now and then because we answered our boys honestly when they asked questions like, "Is Santa Claus real?" (It's fun to pretend that he is!") and when they asked about religion, death, sex, and so on.

Once we were called to a conference by an elementary school teacher who had gotten complaints from parents about our Nicholas, who, it turned out, had emphatically contradicted some sexual misinformation that their child had heard at home and was conveying to the other kids.

On the other hand, we've definitely attended religious ceremonies for social reasons out of deference to the beliefs of relatives, in-laws, and so on. Once we even considered taking our sons regularly to some less superstitious church like the Unitarians so they could gain some experience in that area, but just could not bring ourselves to do it.

Lots of tough problems parenting, and few easy answers...
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#18 User is offline   kenberg 

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Posted 2013-July-23, 09:08

View PostPassedOut, on 2013-July-23, 08:34, said:



On the other hand, we've definitely attended religious ceremonies for social reasons out of deference to the beliefs of relatives, in-laws, and so on. Once we even considered taking our sons regularly to some less superstitious church like the Unitarians so they could gain some experience in that area, but just could not bring ourselves to do it.



This is my practice as well. Sometimes, as Eva remarked, it is a strain. I think I have told this story before:

Shortly before my father died I had attended a funeral church service where the minister went on at length about what a wonderful thing it was that the deceased had ended this life on Earth and was now in the arms of Jesus. I arranged the funeral services, including a religous service, for my father. I had a very frank discussion with the minister that there would be no reference to how lucky my father was to be dead. People can believe what they want, but not on my time.


Mostly I don't challenge others' beliefs unless I have to. I have plenty of my own confusion to address.

As to Santa, I figured it out, checked with my mother who owned up to reality, and then I started telling the other kids. A big sister came around and told me there definitely was a Santa and that if i again told my playmate that their wasn't she would beat the crap out of me.
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#19 User is offline   barmar 

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Posted 2013-July-23, 09:25

View Postkenberg, on 2013-July-23, 09:08, said:

As to Santa, I figured it out, checked with my mother who owned up to reality, and then I started telling the other kids. A big sister came around and told me there definitely was a Santa and that if i again told my playmate that their wasn't she would beat the crap out of me.

Why is it that it's so easy for kids to figure out eventually that Santa Claus is not real, and parents are willing to confirm this, but the same thing doesn't happen with angels and other religious beliefs?

#20 User is offline   Vampyr 

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Posted 2013-July-23, 09:45

View Postbarmar, on 2013-July-23, 09:25, said:

Why is it that it's so easy for kids to figure out eventually that Santa Claus is not real, and parents are willing to confirm this, but the same thing doesn't happen with angels and other religious beliefs?


Well, there is strong negative evidence about Santa Clause, ie that Mommy and Daddy put the presents under the tree. Also children might start to wonder how he gets all round the world in one night with all the presents etc.

Angels and gods and whatnot are invisible and aren't expected to "do" anything specific, so there is not similar evidence that they don't or can't do what they are supposed to do. Children hear all sorts of fanciful-sounding ideas from their parents, such as that there are bugs too small to see on various surfaces that can make us ill; that the little pinpricks of stars are actually unimaginable large, hot and far away; that enormous beasts once walked the earth but are all gone now, etc. So angels and gods probably do not seem too far-fetched.
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