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Our problem is we don’t listen (and many of us don’t really want to)

By January 31, 2010Uncategorized

If you want to disturb someone, and provoke a highly irrational reaction, challenge one of their deeply held assumptions.  Galileo discovered this, shortly after he started adovocating the Copernican notion that the Sun was the center of the Solar System, not the Earth.

I thought about this as I read this article in the New York Times today, which is about a scientist who studied trauma and then wrote a book about it called 'The Trauma Myth.'  Susan Clancy set about to study victims of traumatic child abuse and expected to find one thing, but then discovered something else that surprised her.  She set about trying to explain what she found, but instead of having people listen to her findings and think about them, she found that many (if not most) people were violently opposed to her findings.  Many people wound up accusing her being a friend of pedophiles.

Of course, if people had listened to what she was saying they would have been in a better position to actually help people who suffered traumatic abuse.  But what people say they're doing, and what they actually do are two very different things.  People say they're listening, but they're really just monitoring for code words, and then when they hear them their assumptions kick in and they react.  

If we knew how to listen to other people, then many silly disagreements would go away. Because if we listened better we'd realize that in many cases we don't disagree.  But, as long as we live in a world where people with limited information demonize scientists who gather extensive information under rigorous conditions, we will continue to have these pointless discussions.  

I have a new term for these reactionary responses: "viewpoint spam."  It's similar to, but more insidious than, marketing spam.  'Viewpoint spam' is propagated by those who blare ill-considered criticism, even if those to whom the criticism is directed have been thoughtful and rigorous in forming their views.

This attempted law is an example of the insanity I'm talking about.

Oh, and I won't be surprised if someone tries to leave a comment here harshly criticizing Ms. Clancy without even bothering to click on the NY times article link, much less read it.

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  • Miguel says:

    Ernie, just dropping by to say congratulations to New Orleans on the Super Bowl win! I do not follow american football, yet was happy to cheer for them Saints.

    Take care,


  • Ted says:

    Ernie, are you just picking on Indiana in anticipation of the Super Bowl beating that the Colts are going to give your beloved Aints?

  • This recent Wired article, which discusses confirmation bias and its impact on the scientific process, makes an nice companion to your thoughts.

    Our mind is powerful and it’s scary how unaware we are of the extents it goes to protect our existing beliefs.

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