Thursday, February 21, 2013

Recursive Conspiracy Theories

From Justin Gills at the New York Times (via):
Dr. Lewandowsky’s survey results suggested that people who rejected climate science were more likely than other respondents to reject other scientific or official findings and buy into assorted fringe theories: that NASA faked the moon landing, that the Central Intelligence Agency killed Martin Luther King Jr., that the AIDS virus was unleashed by the government, and so forth.

This piece of research appeared in a specialized journal in psychological science, but it did not take long to find its way onto climate skeptics’ blogs, setting off howls of derision.

A theory quickly emerged: that believers in climate science had been the main people taking Dr. Lewandowsky’s survey, but instead of answering honestly, had decided en masse to impersonate climate contrarians, giving the craziest possible answers so as to make the contrarians look like whack jobs.

So, a paper about a tendency among this group to believe in conspiracy theories was met by … a conspiracy theory.
Words fail me.

But one further wrinkle occurs to me.  This is all a secondary finding of the initial study.  The primary finding was "that ideological belief in an unregulated free market tended to be a predictor of someone’s willingness to reject the findings of mainstream climate research." As Gills says, "no surprises there"; after all, that's a straightforward ideological pairing in a country where beliefs are more and more partisan (and the right has an echo-chamber devoted to spreading falsehoods).

But how do other conspiracy theories fit in?  Are they part of the right-wing nonsense machine somehow?  Does getting one's news from that machine simply predispose one to believing other conspiracy theories?  Are they somehow in sync with right wing beliefs?  Or are these two different groups -- a big group that deny climate science because of right wing beliefs, and another group that denies them because they believe other conspiracy theories?

Damn. Now maybe I'll need to read the #$%^& papers.  (Oh, and by the way: here's a link to the first paper, which spawned the conspiracy theories, and here's a link to (a preliminary draft of) a second paper, written about the response to the first one.)

Tuesday, February 19, 2013

Sentences One Finds Oneself Saying During Class

Federalist 10 is about dealing with threats from the left; Federalist 51 is about dealing with threats from the right.

(PS: Yes, I know that this terminology is anachronistic.  Don't hock me a chonic.)

Monday, February 18, 2013

Sometimes a Silence is Just a Silence

Been quiet around here lately.  It doesn't mean anything: I've just been busy with work.  I'll be back when I have something to say.

In the meantime, I have once again replaced my motto above (and created a page listing all my former mottoes, since I guess it's now a thing).  This quote is, I must admit, slightly inaccurate; the full exchange goes like this:
Overall, what did you think of the professor?
good, could dress better
-- but I thought the above was pithier for these purposes.  But it is a real comment from one of the course evaluations for one of the courses I taught last fall.

Now, if you'll excuse me, I have to go iron my socks grade papers.

Monday, February 11, 2013

Good Reading on College Pedagogy (and a few other matters)

I came across these two essays by Adam Kotsko, and wanted to commend them to anyone working as a teacher in a college-or-later setting as rich food for pedagogical thought.  They repeat themselves somewhat -- he reuses some paragraphs -- but they both add something to his overall picture.  And while they start in a direction I would have said I disagree with, he makes some pretty compelling points.  Anyway, check them out:
Kotsko, by the way, is an interesting guy all around.  Until now I've known him mostly from his blogging, but poking around after reading these essays his main work looks pretty interesting too.  (Indeed, a few pieces of it I'd already read and liked -- e.g. his review of Red Plenty -- without remembering who wrote them.)  Here's an excerpt from one of his books, on Zizek and theology; here's an excerpt from another one, on sociopaths in contemporary TV shows.    I found both more interesting than I thought I would based on their announced subjects.  Kotsko was also kind enough to point out that Orson Welles's The Trial is available for free online. (He teaches at a pretty interesting looking college too -- an interesting variant on the St. John's College model.)

* If there was ever a follow-up 'Immersion Method II' essay, I couldn't find it.

Sunday, February 03, 2013

Out of Context Quote for the Day

...I've never seen the Icarus story as a lesson about the limitations of humans. I see it as a lesson about the limitations of wax as an adhesive.

-- Randall Munroe