About Rationally Speaking

Rationally Speaking is a blog maintained by Prof. Massimo Pigliucci, a philosopher at the City University of New York. The blog reflects the Enlightenment figure Marquis de Condorcet's idea of what a public intellectual (yes, we know, that's such a bad word) ought to be: someone who devotes himself to "the tracking down of prejudices in the hiding places where priests, the schools, the government, and all long-established institutions had gathered and protected them." You're welcome. Please notice that the contents of this blog can be reprinted under the standard Creative Commons license.

Monday, July 25, 2011

Lena's Picks

by Lena Groeger

* “
In the same way that we decide to watch Fox or MSNBC, we decide to listen to Lady Gaga or The Beatles.” Samuel McNerney on how confirmation bias explains our aesthetic judgments
* Something go wrong? Don't blame the process. Why even optimal processes can lead to bad outcomes.
* “Most scientists will assure you that ethical rules never hinder good research … but they’ll confess that the dark side does have its appeal.” Seven experiments that might advance science — if we threw our morals out the window. 
* Francis Fukuyama — author of the The End of History and the Last Man — turns to Darwin as his new guide in The Origins of Political Order. 
* Two new books, on Scientology and the Catholic Church, explore a central foundation of religion past and present: money.  
* After spending years investigating the science of morality, Harvard psychologist Marc Hauser was found guilty of scientific misconduct. Now he is leaving research altogether. 
* Got stereotypes? Yes. On a map.
* The newest issue of Social Psychology is all about how space affects our cognition — from spatial distance and friendship, to verticality and power, to drawing size and country attitudes. 
* Brad Jones explores how politicians use moral rhetoric, based on data from State of the Union addresses. 
* Justice Breyer, dissenting from a recent decision to overturn a California ban on selling violent video games to minors, invokes “cutting edge neuroscience” to defend his claim that video games cause aggression. Just the latest instance of neuroscience’s (problematic?) march into the courtroom. 


  1. Lena, nice link on aesthetics and confirmation bias. That said, as in other things, we can transcend it.

    Twenty-five years ago, I thought of Rachmaninov as the far end of "liberalism" in classical music to which I would listen.

    I now have in my music library not just Stravinsky but late-life serialist Stravinsky, Alf Schnittke, Penderecki and many others.

  2. "if we threw our morals out" - surely animal experimentation is an example of already having thrown morals out - or, perhaps, never having let them in: and look what it does to your brain: read this appallingly argued excuse: http://www.opposingviews.com/i/society/animal-rights/setting-record-straight-our-work-reply-hansen - would you like to let someone like this loose on even more dodgy experiments?

  3. The aesthetics and confirmation bias article is too simplistic that it is wrong. Novelty is also an important component of art, and this conflicts with the confirmation bias described. That is why predictable movies and stories are panned, and why we don't listen to nursery rhymes (too often or voluntarily) as adults. There needs to be a balance of both, among other things. There is some comfort to confirmation bias, but it can also be quite boring.

  4. Opening paragraph of the Samuel McNerney article on confirmation bias:

    "By now, our overwhelming tendency to look for what confirms our beliefs and ignore what contradicts our beliefs is well documented. Psychologists refer to this as confirmation bias, and its ubiquity is observed in both academia and in our everyday lives: Republicans watch Fox while Democrats watch MSNB; creationists see fossils as evidence of God, evolutionary biologists see fossils as evidence of evolution; doomsayers see signs of the end of the world, and the rest of us see just another day. Simply put, our ideologies and personal dogmas dictate our realities."

    Apparently evolutionary biologists' understanding of the current fossil evidence and its confirmation of evolution is an instance of confirmation bias? I thought evolutionary biologists and paleontologists had systemic means by which to mitigate confirmation bias?

    I suspect this is an honest slip up on Mr. McNerney's part, but it is a glaringly sloppy one.

  5. "Apparently evolutionary biologists' understanding of the current fossil evidence and its confirmation of evolution is an instance of confirmation bias? "

    Wow you are right, and I completely missed that on first skim. Big time error of false balance.

    The more that I think about it, the more the confirmation bias article completely incorrect and almost opposite of what is true. To me, the familiar in art is used to "set up" the novel aspect which makes the art worthwhile. Similar to how leading someone to a surprise party benefits from taking the person on a mundane errand beforehand in order to add to the feeling of surprise.

    Conformation bias occurs for someone to feel comfort. e.g. listening to music from a certain time in your life in order to reminisce. However when you were originally listening to it, you were more likely appreciating its novel aspect and its artistic value


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