Thursday, August 18, 2016

A Legitimately Sinister Figure?


Why has former KKK grand wizard David Duke decided to get back into politics? Because he sees something in Donald Trump that excites him.

It's not a common thing for Sempringham to refer you to a "conservative" web site, but Ben Shapiro, former editor-at-large for the Breitbart web site knows Steve Bannon, Donald Trump's new campaign manager.  He thinks we should be concerned about the next couple of months.

Under Bannon's leadership, Shapiro says, Breitbart "has become the alt-right go-to website, with Yiannopoulos pushing white ethno-nationalism as a legitimate response to political correctness, and the comment section turning into a cesspool for white supremacist mememakers."

I don't think Breitbart OR Ben Shapiro are usually worth reading, but this and this are exceptions.


Friday, August 05, 2016

Why People Who Disagree with Us Won't Listen to the Facts


Here at Sempringham we've been trying to figure out how to enlighten people who are clearly misguided on policy issues.

In Feelings vs Facts, we looked at the insights of cognitive scientist George Lakoff, who believes people can be usefully categorized by their attitudes concerning child rearing. Conservatives, in his model, are people who instinctively adhere to a family structure with a strict father. Liberals, on the other hand, believe in a "nurturant" [hate that word – why not just say "nurturing"?] parent for whom discipline is not a critical focus.

Lakoff believes we see events through these "frames", and, to put words in his mouth, this explains why liberals are more likely to see Black Lives Matter as people who who are seeking justice while conservatives are more likely to see them as people who are misbehaving.

David Ignatius brings another dish to the party in this morning's Washington Post.  Ignatius cites the work of some social scientists who have demonstrated "that attempts to refute false information often backfire and lead people to hold on to their misperceptions even more strongly."

Trying to correct misperceptions can actually reinforce them .... [Researchers] documented what they called a “backfire effect” by showing the persistence of the belief that Iraq had weapons of mass destruction in 2005 and 2006, after the United States had publicly admitted that they didn’t exist. “The results show that direct factual contradictions can actually strengthen ideologically grounded factual belief,” they wrote.
...[A]ttempts to debunk myths can reinforce them, simply by repeating the untruth. [Researcher Christopher Graves] cited a 2005 study in the Journal of Consumer Research on “How Warnings about False Claims Become Recommendations.” It seems that people remember the assertion and forget whether it’s a lie. The authors wrote: “The more often older adults were told that a given claim was false, the more likely they were to accept it as true after several days have passed.”
When critics challenge false assertions — say, Trump’s claim that thousands of Muslims cheered in New Jersey when the twin towers fell on Sept. 11, 2001 — their refutations can threaten people, rather than convince them. Graves noted that if people feel attacked, they resist the facts all the more.

...The study showed two interesting things: People are more likely to accept information if it’s presented unemotionally, in graphs; and they’re even more accepting if the factual presentation is accompanied by “affirmation” that asks respondents to recall an experience that made them feel good about themselves.

...The final point that emerged from Graves’s survey is that people will resist abandoning a false belief unless they have a compelling alternative explanation. That point was made in an article called “The Debunking Handbook,” by Australian researchers John Cook and Stephan Lewandowsky. They wrote: “Unless great care is taken, any effort to debunk misinformation can inadvertently reinforce the very myths one seeks to correct.” 
It seems a shame that you have to be so manipulative in order to help someone understand what the Kochs are doing to him.

Monday, August 01, 2016

Trump's Success Explained, Part 2


As we learned last week, 99 percent of new jobs created since 2010 have been filled by people with college degrees or at least some college, and Donald Trump is more popular with non-college-educated voters than with college-educated voters.

If you've been paying attention during the campaign, you know that another profile of Trump supporters is that they're white men. That being the case, consider this chart from Kevin Drum:


White men, alone among the ethnic groups and genders charted, have had a net loss in income over the past 40 years.

For years, all the smart guys have been saying that education is the key to "getting ahead" during the technological revolution. And they've been right. So our efforts have concentrated on education: Common Core, charter schools, and the like. And the smart guys have sat back and patted themselves on the back for being so right.

But there's a problem they didn't address: a huge part of the population ain't good at book larnin'. They're smart, but not in that way. Emily's late father-in-law didn't finish high school, but he could take an automobile apart and put it back together when he was a teenager. In World War II, he kept his Army unit's trucks on the road. When the war was over he took classes in electricity and got a job at a plant where he learned about something called metal spinning, a high-skill industry that shapes metal into Weber grills and rocket nose cones. He moved from shop to shop to learn the secrets of the metal spinning masters, and they did keep secrets.

Finally, he started his own business which he and his wife grew into a shop with 60 employees and millions of dollars worth of specialized machinery.

The business is still operating today, but many of its competitors have closed their doors and sold their machinery to China, where much of the metal spun products we buy are now made.

We have shipped our no-college-needed jobs overseas. What's going to happen to these guys?

One thing that's going to happen is that some are going to get angry about it, and look for someone to blame. And they'll look for a leader who will focus their anger. Like Donald Trump.

Or worse.

Lyin' Hillary


Via Kevin Drum, who writes, "Hillary is one of America's most honest politicians".


Sunday, July 31, 2016

Feelings vs Facts


Last week John Oliver did a hilarious take-down of speakers at the Republican Convention who expressed their "feelings" that things were awful in the country. If you haven't seen it, go there now, then come back.

I bring it up because of the segment with Newt Gingrich:



Gingrich says, "The current view is that liberals have a whole set of statistics which theoretically may be right, but it's not where human beings are."

And despite our laughter and disdain, Gingrich is probably right.

The reason this is so is explained by cognitive scientist George Lakoff in his book, Don't Think of an Elephant! : Know Your Values and Frame the Debate, who speaks of "a set of myths believed by liberals and progressives:"
These myths come from a good source, but they end up hurting [progressives] badly.

The myths began with the Enlightenment, and the first one goes like this:

... If we just tell people the facts, since people are basically rational beings, they'll all reach the right conclusions.

But we know from cognitive science that people do not think like that. People think in frames. The strict father [conservative] and nurturant parent [progressive] frames each force a certain logic. To be accepted, the truth must fit people's frames. If the facts do not fit a frame, the frame stays and the facts bounce off. Why?

Neuroscience tells us that each of the concepts we have – the long term concepts that structure how we think – is instantiated in the synapses of our brains. Concepts are not things that can be changed just by telling us a fact. We may be presented with facts, but for us to make sense of them, they have to fit what is already in the synapses of the brain. Otherwise facts go in and then they go right back out. They are not heard, or they are not accepted as facts, or they mystify us. Why would anyone have said that? Then we label the fact as irrational, crazy, or stupid. That's what happens when progressives "just confront conservatives with the facts." It has little or no effect, unless the conservatives have a frame that makes sense of the facts.

Similarly, a lot of progressives hear conservatives talk and do not understand them because they do not have the conservatives' frames. They assume that conservatives are stupid.

Saturday, July 23, 2016

Trump's Success Explained in Two Sentences


I spotted this as a "Noted" comment at the bottom of page 16 in the July 15 This Week magazine. It seemed so ridiculous I couldn't believe it, so I went looking for verification elsewhere. I found it at Bloomberg:
Of the 11.6 million jobs added since the rebound took hold in 2010,  about 99 percent — or 11.5 million jobs — were filled by people with either at least some college education, a bachelor's degree or better, according to a study by Georgetown University's Center on Education and the Workforce. Only 80,000 spots went to workers with a high school diploma or less ....

That's amazing, and I'm still having trouble believing the numbers, if not the direction the statistics are pointing.

Although we saw plenty of articles claim that the median income of Trump supporters was as high as any of his primary opponents, that did not tell the whole story.

According to Politico in March:
[V]oters without a college education are Trump’s core base of support. More non-college-educated voters than ones with college degrees have supported Trump in every single primary and caucus so far, according to exit polls. In those states, voters without degrees were over 11 percentage points more likely to support Trump, on average.
Our failure to create a balanced economy – one in which there are employment opportunities for everyone – is the cause of this threat to the Republic named Trump. We've got work to do.