Thursday, March 17, 2022

Confirmation Bias

A new study has come out confirming all my previously held beliefs!  Oh, wait....

A recent click-bait article online posits that people who believe in populism are also very gullible.  Imagine that - a Trump supporter or a Qanonsense believer being gullible!  They are probably into an MLM scheme, too!  (Sadly, many are, which is why they are so angry all the time).  It sounds entirely plausible, until you read further into the article:
In Study 1, researchers surveyed a total of 70,882 participants from 13 different countries in the European Union for political ideology, conspiracy mentality, and populist attitudes. Results showed that stronger populist attitudes were associated with increased conspiracy mentality for all 13 countries. Study 1 results also showed that increased conspiracy mentality is more likely in women (vs. men), older people (vs. younger people), those with lower education levels (vs. those with higher education), and people on the political right (vs. political left).

In Study 2, researchers expanded their scope to include other measures of gullibility such as bullshit receptivity, or the tendency for people to perceive nonsense statements as profound (e.g., “Hidden meaning transforms unparalleled abstract beauty), and belief in the supernatural. They also expanded to assess participants’ readiness to believe news, as previous research shows populist attitudes are associated with the tendency to believe news regardless of the source or plausibility of that news.

Unlike Study 1, Study 2 was comprised of only U.S. participants with a total sample size of 308. Participants in Study 2 were assessed for populist attitudes, political ideology, and cognition reflection (analytical thinking). Participants then read five politically neutral news articles that researchers manipulated to either come from a mainstream news site (e.g., CBS, CNN) or an alternative, unknown news site (e.g., “Your news,” “”). All participants then rated the articles for how much they thought the information was accurate, credible, and true.

Results of Study 2 show that stronger populist attitudes are associated with increased gullibility of news (regardless of the source), increased conspiracy mentality, increased belief in the supernatural, increased belief in conspiracy theories, and higher bullshit receptivity.
Bullshit receptivity?  Is that a scientific term?  I have so much trouble keeping up with technology these days. I didn't realize that "bullshit" was now a scientific term.  I guess Penn & Teller are scientists now.

It is not that the conclusions are wrong here, only that I suspect that they came up with the conclusions first, and then created a "survey" to "prove" these conclusions - much like our doctorate lady with her surveys about turtles and trees.  Or perhaps the kids at Cornell who decided that sitting in the bar and drinking beer and people-watching was "science".

Surveys are not "science" and never will be.  Yet, I saw this article posted in the "science" section of Reddit - but that doesn't make it science.  Surveys are self-filtering.  Only people inclined to answer surveys get surveyed - so it filters out the opinions of most rational people.  Moreover, even people who answer surveys tend to lie a lot, particularly when the real answers to the surveys would make them look foolish or bad.  I wasn't about to answer the lady's survey with answers like, "I enjoy cutting down trees" or "I intentionally try to run over turtles" - not that I do either.  The point is, we all try to make ourselves look better than we are, and this is a form of a lie.  And lies don't make for hard data.  Self-reported data is always suspect.

The first "study" at least had a fairly decent sample size.  The second?  308 people?  What was the point of that?  That's hardly indicative of the views and attitudes of a significant portion of the population.

Quite frankly, I think the entire thing is pointless. Trying to "prove" that people who believe in nonsense are gullible is stupid.  You already know they are gullible - as they believe in nonsense.  It's like trying to "prove" someone who believes in Qanonsense is mentally ill.  Real hard to do!   The thing proves itself - res ipsa loquitur- if they are a Qanonsense believer they are ipso facto deranged.

Because only a deranged person would believe that JFK and JFK, Jr. are coming back to life in Dealey plaza because someone said so on the Internet.  Only a deranged person would believe that these two icons of the Democratic party would endorse Donald Trump, whose values are completely out of line with what the Kennedy dynasty stood for (with RFK, Jr. being the exception, but then again, he is one of the "Gullible").

People who believe in timeshares, MLM schemes, conspiracy theories and so on and so forth are mentally imbalanced.  They live in a dream world where up is down and left is right and you can make money by praying or believing it to be so. These are the kind of people who follow politicians as though they were rock stars.  These are the kind of people who idolize celebrities.  Inevitably, their fantasy world crashes into the real world, and they flip out - like the Southwest pilot who was selling "cake shakes" on the side as part of an MLM scheme.   By the way, what's the deal with Southwest Airlines?  They are the MyPillowGuy of airlines it seems.

OK, well believing in irrational things means you are irrational.  But what about populism?  Isn't that a rational philosophy of life or politics?  Well, again, not really.  Some define populism as "a political approach that strives to appeal to ordinary people who feel that their concerns are disregarded by established elite groups."  There are various other definitions, but they all fall along the same lines.  The common denominator is that most of these folks believe that somehow the elites "took away" their money and if the pie was "divided equally" they would all be fantastically rich.  Of course, if you took away all of Jeff Bezos money (or Elon Musk or whoever) it works out to a one-time payment of $493.92 per person in the United States.  I am not sure that is changing anyone's life very much.

But it is a siren song as old as time.  Huey Long used it to argue that "every man should be a king!" in order to get elected.  No one ended up king except perhaps the Kingfish himself.  Populist politicians promise to make the ordinary man rich, but somehow never follow through on those promises - because they can't physically do so.  It is just a ploy to get votes - to get stupid people riled up - and there are a lot of stupid people in the world today.  Don't be one of them.

I found that the biggest obstacle to success in my life wasn't Nancy Pelosi or the lizard-people "taking all my money away" but rather myself.  I gave away my money to the banks, the financial institutions, the car dealers, the merchants, and other folks, convinced that happiness lay in owning "things" even if I couldn't afford them. I begged them to take my money - as if getting a loan was a privilege!  If there is a dichotomy between the "elites" and the "common man" it is that the elites loan money to the common man, who mortgages his soul to have today and pay tomorrow.

Some people claim this is inevitable.  With an average home selling for $1M in the bay area, how can you possibly get ahead in life?  With student loan debt in six-figures, how can you possibly dig yourself out from under that?   Of course, people love to use outliers and claim they are common.  You scratch the surface on these stories and find that while indeed we are in the middle of yet another housing bubble, once you get away from high-cost places to live, housing is still affordable.  And the average student loan debt isn't $100,000 but a quite affordable $30,000 or so.

What is funny to me is that when I read these complaints online, the same people complaining about debt are also complaining that the meal they ordered to be delivered to their home came late and was cold and that their "Starbucks" wasn't prepared properly.   They then go on to whine that "everyone else" has these things so why should they not have them too?  Why should they have to sacrifice to get ahead when they can have it all now and pay later?  It is irrational thinking on its face - and yes, I engaged in that form of self-pity when I was in my 20's.

Act rationally in an irrational world - it is the mantra of my blog.  A reader recently wrote to me about my posting about how little it costs to live, once you get off the debt bandwagon.   Most folks in America pay 1/3 of their income in Federal, State, and local taxes (if not more, if you factor in sales taxes) and then another 1/3 in interest payments to banks.  Most mortgage payments are 90% interest, particularly in the early years.   Interest payments can add 50% to the cost of buying a car.  And then there is Americans' dirty little secret - intractable credit card debt.  That Starbucks or Avocado Toast won't bankrupt you right away - paying revolving interest on it for a decade or more, will.  Besides, coffee and avocado toast are ridiculously cheap and easy to make at home!   Spending two hour's take-home pay on a restaurant meal makes no sense at all, but I've seen people do it - the poorest people in the world, too!

Of course, this isn't easy to do - it requires effort, sacrifice, and making smarter choices.  It may mean finding new friends to hang out with.  It may mean forgoing drug and alcohol abuse.   It may mean - it will mean - doing without things you want now in order to own them outright later.  But of course, that is hard, and it is easier to just posit that your life situation is impossible and that the only solution is a revolution and a structural change in society.  Sadly, that rarely occurs and when it does, well, the revolutionaries are the first ones lined up against the wall, as their Populist leader no longer has need of them.

But of course, you can't convince a Populist of that - or indeed anything.  They want the sweet sounds of cotton-candy fantasy, not the hard bitter reality of cold coffee in a Styrofoam cup.  They will dismiss anything that conflicts with their world-view as propaganda from the elites.  "Oh, sure, you say that, you're rich!" they will say.  But I'm not, I just learned - after decades of hard experience - to spend less than I earn.  It didn't happen overnight, but as I noted before, I went from dirt-poor (negative net worth) to millionaire in about a decade, not by joining the Masons or becoming a lizard person, but by going to night school, working hard, and taking advantage of opportunities that came my way.

Let me give you an example.  When I was at the Patent Office, they had a program that would pay for part of my tuition in Law School.  Mark said, "Well, I guess you're going to Law School!" and that settled that.  Yet, I knew friends of mine at  the Patent Office who "couldn't be bothered" with the "hassle" of getting a free (or heavily subsidized) law degree.  They were content to work as an Examiner and work their way up the ladder at the Patent Office.

There is nothing wrong with either approach, but if you chose the latter, you can't sit around and bitch and complain about how "all those greedy lawyers" are "making all that money" because quite frankly, the money wasn't all that great and you had a chance to do that, but chose not to.   And you can't argue the system is "unfair" if you turned away opportunities.

But like I said, you can't explain that to people - it is like trying to teach calculus to a dog.  So just give up.

Which is why I say, I write this blog for me, not for you.  If you get something out of it, fine.  But I don't give advice and I am not trying to "change your mind" about anything.  As anyone in a 12-step program will tell you, you can't change people's minds - they have to reach rock-bottom and realize things for themselves.

And a lot of Qanonsense believers are having this revelation - but only after losing jobs, careers, their families, and their freedoms, after being arrested for their attempts at insurrection.   But even then, some continue to "believe" - to the bitter end - that Trump will become king, and they will be the next Goebbels or Himmler.

They forget about the night of the long knives!