Map of life expectancy at birth from Global Education Project.

Tuesday, December 27, 2011

People are Stupid

That was the opening line of a talk I heard by Isaac Asimov back when I was in college. He was predicting the kind of world we would have in the 21st Century and no, it wasn't about intelligent robots and space travel. It was about how we would have equality for women and limits on population and resource depletion and stuff because if we didn't, we'd be well and truly screwed.

He was right of course but unfortunately we're leaning more toward the latter alternative. "People are stupid" is also what I take to be the core message of this useful handbook on debunking BS from Skeptical Science. (It's a PDF but not huge.)

The basic problem we face in going up against the Limbaughs and Hannitys of this world and their devil-spawn in the Republican primary field is that you don't beat liars by trying to stuff people's heads with more and better facts. If your headline is "It's a myth that climate scientists don't agree about human-caused global warming," the phrase "climate scientists don't agree about human caused global warming" actually has a more powerful effect than the phrase "it's a myth." If you provide 7 arguments as to why you should believe that burning fossil fuels does cause global warming, that's too many, because people don't want to think that hard. If you tell them that the Vulgar Pigboy doesn't know what he's talking about, that's just going to make them hate you because they know and trust the Vulgar Pigboy. (VP=Rush, BTW.) Also, words - too hard to follow. Show them a picture.

And so on. It's well worth a read if a bit depressing, not least because the liars already know all of the above and are highly skilled in implementing it. But the authors hope that if real experts can learn these lessons, the truth can win on a more level field. I hope so.

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