Tuesday, July 19, 2011

Book Report Blog Post

Book Report Blog Post
I chose to do my book report blog post on Thomas Gilovich’s, How We Know What Isn’t So. This was a well written and concise presentation of the numerous ways that society can go against evidence and reasoning to form beliefs that just aren’t scientifically sound, or reasonable. Gilovich points to several common errors in reasoning and how they cause many misconceptions, superstitions, misrepresentations, and other leaps of faith that range from whimsical to downright irresponsible and dangerous.
Gilovich identifies these common errors in reasoning caused by several cognitive factors. Concerning the misinterpretation of data, be it too random, incomplete, unrepresentative, ambiguous, or inconsistent we have a tendency to look for things that aren't there by making something out of nothing, or too much from too little, or seeing what we expect to see in order to make sense of things. Another explanation is that we misinterpret things in order to fit them more easily in with our preconceived notions, where affirmation is more easily acceptable than contradiction causing us to overlook or disregard evidence to the contrary.
Gilovich then examines the motivational and social determinants of these unscientific beliefs. Many distortions in thought are caused by how the evidence or information is presented by others and how we present distorted information to ourselves and others.
Next, Gilovich gives examples of a few common questionable and erroneous beliefs such as holistic medicine, interpersonal strategies, and the belief in ESP. He then sets forth some ways in which we can counter these common failures of reasoning. Finally the author emphasizes the value of science education and the ways to properly evaluate evidence so as not to fall victim to developing erroneous, ridiculous, and even dangerous beliefs.
Favorite Part
My favorite part of this book was a section about how many times the information or evidence that we get and come to hold true is second hand. The author uses a well known (especially to psych majors) experiment on classical conditioning conducted on poor “little Albert.” Most of us are probably familiar with the experiment, but here is a comical overview. Psychologist John Watson basically tortured this 8 month old baby by letting him play with rats and banging a big ass pipe loudly behind his little baby head to see if the fear response could be conditioned, and thus elicited when seeing only the rat. So, obviously traumatized, little Albert began to fear anything white and furry like rabbits, Watson’s white hair, cotton balls, or Santa’s beard. But, as it turns out, and what few psychology textbooks fail to mention, is that the conditioning didn’t quite happen so automatically. It turns out this conditioned fear only lasted about 10 days, at which point that sick bastard Watson decided to “freshen up” the fear this time using a rabbit and a dog paired up with the crazy loud pipe banging. 31 days later little Albert was still scared of these items also, but not quite scared enough to not touch them, since he initiated contact with them readily.
The little Albert experiment is something that is kind of burnt into psych majors minds from day one as a cut and dry story of classical conditioning, but as it turns out it was a load of crap given to us second hand by lazy textbook authors who likely never read the study themselves. Thankfully little Albert’s mother came to her senses and took her guinea pig...uh I mean son away from the sadists at Johns Hopkins and we will never know if little Albert became big Albert, who despised all things furry and harboured a deep seated fear of jolly old St. Nick, but I’d like to think that her got over it........ after years of therapy.
I found this clip speculating on what became of little Albert amusing.

Many of the concepts in How We Know What Isn’t So are related to the pseudoscience and paranormal topics that we discussed in class. One in particular is the belief in “hot hands.” This is a term used in basketball where shooters who make a few baskets, “get in a groove” and experience fewer subsequent misses. This is debunked by the author by citing a study conducted on the shooting habits of the ‘80, ‘81 Philadelphia 76ers. It turned out that they were slightly more likely to make a shot after a miss 54%, compared to 51% after making a shot. The study also showed that streaks of making 4,5, or 6 shots in a row were no more statistically probable than flipping a coin to heads 4, 5, or 6 times in a row. The results showed that their performance on any given shot was independent of their performance on their previous shots. “Hot hands,” or being “in the groove” is a common held belief amongst fans, players, and coaches, in fact 8 of the 76ers in this study believed that they shot in streaks! Gilovich showed that “hot hands” is just another way that reasoning can fail us causing us to know what isn’t so.
This is an important book and an informative class that should be a requirement just like taking a logic class. In today's fast paced and rapidly changing technology based world, we are bombarded with information from an innumerable amount of sources, each one more unreliable and unaccredited as the next. It is important to learn and understand how to logically interpret and understand the never ending stream of crap that is unloaded upon us daily in order to evaluate its validity and impact on our lives.
The term “don’t believe everything that you read or hear” has never been more pertinent, because we have never had so many things to read, hear, or watch available to us. In the words of P.T. Barnum, “There’s a sucker born every minute,” and quack, hacks, schemers, and scamers have never had access to suckers as they do now. Being able to step back and not be misled by others or by our own errors in reasoning can help save our happiness, our bank accounts, and even our lives.

No comments:

Post a Comment