Jamie Hale

Jamie Hale

Saturday, June 18, 2011

Improving Your Cognitive Toolbox


"The term 'scientific"is to be understood in a broad sense as the most reliable way of gaining knowledge about anything, whether it be the human spirit, the role of great people in history, or the structure of DNA. A "scientific concept" may come from philosophy, logic, economics, jurisprudence, or other analytic enterprises, as long as it is a rigorous conceptual tool that may be summed up succinctly (or "in a phrase") but has broad application to understanding the world." Read Full entries

One hundred and sixty four individuals commented on the question. A few of my favorites:

From Richard Dawkins:
"If all schools taught their pupils how to do a double-blind control experiment, our cognitive toolkits would be improved in the following ways:

1. We would learn not to generalise from anecdotes.

2. We would learn how to assess the likelihood that an apparently important effect might have happened by chance alone.

3. We would learn how extremely difficult it is to eliminate subjective bias, and that subjective bias does not imply dishonesty or venality of any kind. This lesson goes deeper. It has the salutary effect of undermining respect for authority, and respect for personal opinion.

4. We would learn not to be seduced by homeopaths and other quacks and charlatans, who would consequently be put out of business.

5. We would learn critical and sceptical habits of thought more generally, which not only would improve our cognitive toolkit but might save the world." more

From Paul Bloom:

We are powerfully influenced by irrational processes such as unconscious priming, conformity, groupthink, and self-serving biases. These affect the most trivial aspects of our lives, such as how quickly we walk down a city street, and the most important, such as who we choose to marry. The political and moral realms are particularly vulnerable to such influences. While many of us would like to think that our views on climate change or torture or foreign policy are the result of rational deliberation, we are more affected than we would like to admit by considerations that have nothing to do with reason." more

From PZ Meyers:

"I'm going to recommend the mediocrity principle. It's fundamental to science, and it's also one of the most contentious, difficult concepts for many people to grasp — and opposition to the mediocrity principle is one of the major linchpins of religion and creationism and jingoism and failed social policies. There are a lot of cognitive ills that would be neatly wrapped up and easily disposed of if only everyone understood this one simple idea.

The mediocrity principle simply states that you aren't special. The universe does not revolve around you, this planet isn't privileged in any unique way, your country is not the perfect product of divine destiny, your existence isn't the product of directed, intentional fate, and that tuna sandwich you had for lunch was not plotting to give you indigestion. Most of what happens in the world is just a consequence of natural, universal laws — laws that apply everywhere and to everything, with no special exemptions or amplifications for your benefit — given variety by the input of chance." more

From Sue Blackmore:

"Correlation is not a cause
The phrase "correlation is not a cause" (CINAC) may be familiar to every scientist but has not found its way into everyday language, even though critical thinking and scientific understanding would improve if more people had this simple reminder in their mental toolkit.

One reason for this lack is that CINAC can be surprisingly difficult to grasp. I learned just how difficult when teaching experimental design to nurses, physiotherapists and other assorted groups. They usually understood my favourite example: imagine you are watching at a railway station. More and more people arrive until the platform is crowded, and then — hey presto — along comes a train. Did the people cause the train to arrive (A causes B)? Did the train cause the people to arrive (B causes A)? No, they both depended on a railway timetable (C caused both A and B)." more

My answer to this question is- accepting the idea that all beliefs, claims, doctrines, and ideas should be subject to critical analysis. Why should some ideas be put under the analytical microscope while others shouldn't? Why should we espouse scientific inquiry in so many important areas of life, yet turn away when scientific evidence refutes our cherished beliefs? Faith based beliefs, dogma, they-say, over-reliance on experts, and other non-evidence based claims are dangerous, as they promote the dissemination of contaminated mindware. I recently wrote an article-Identifying and Avoiding Contaminated Mindware - that sheds light on contaminated mindware, and how it is spread and how it contributes to irrationality. Lose the idea that some beliefs have a special privilege- are immune to critical analysis- and you will radically improve your cognitive toolbox.

Wednesday, June 8, 2011

Let's Talk Psychology

Interview with Psych Central Publisher John Grohol

Dr. Grohol currently publishes the 16-year-old Psych Central (www.psychcentral.com)
one of the leading mental health social networks online offering consumers professionally-reviewed mental health information, resources, news, various information related to health sciences, research briefs, the popular World of Psychology blog (and many other popular blogs), social networking tools, and dozens of safe, secure support communities.

Dr. Grohol regularly writes and blogs on Psych Central, reporting on the latest science in mental health psychology, dissecting bad research, and adding his personal thoughts on the world of psychology

Psych Central is not the typical pseudoscientific self-help psychology site. Psych Central promotes evidence-based information.

Let’s talk psychology with John Grohol.

Briefly, can you take me through a day in the life of John Grohol?

What is helpful to understand first about what I see as my professional role is as an important guide and filter to what's going on in the world of mental health and psychology. I do that through reading original research, filtered research (other people's news stories), writing, editing and publishing. So a lot of what my day consists of are those kinds of activities, often in no particular order or priority once I get through my morning.

Every day starts pretty much the same way, whether it's a weekday or weekend. After a quick morning check of email for any outstanding site issues, I walk through the articles needing review and publication first. Usually this includes the news, which was written in put into our system the night before, and edited overnight. My review includes reading every article we publish, checking grammar and editing the article for clarity and understanding. I may also change or tweak the headline.

After hitting the news, I go to our largest blog, World of Psychology, and publish an entry for the morning there. Then I'll check the news headlines and work on my blog entry for the day. Alternatively, I may look for another blog article to publish from one of our regular contributors if my day is going to be busy with other projects or what-not.

Those projects range from things like getting a new Psych Central Blog or quiz online, to working on a particularly lengthy or in-depth piece that requires doing a fair amount of PsycINFO research and reading. It may be surprising, but to get to the heart of an issue often means digesting and summarizing a great deal of research into something that can be written under 1,200 words. Less is more, and getting to that point sometimes takes a fair amount of work.

Being your own boss also means the day never really officially ends. I regularly check the news throughout the day to ensure we're covering breaking news and research findings too. I want to ensure our readers are always getting up-to-date information and that they can rely on us for that objective, independent reporting.

Psych Central publishes new articles daily. I have often tried to guess how many new articles you publish per day. Approximately, how many new articles are published daily at the site?

I can't give you a specific average, but including everything that gets published on the PsychCentral.com, you're probably looking at anywhere from 10 to 20 articles a day. Once you dive into our self-help support communities, however, you're looking at anywhere from 1,200 to 2,000 new posts/day.

Where do you see Psych Central in five years?

Right now, we've hit a milestone of over 2 million international unique visitors. In 5 years, I'd really like to see us breaking the 5 million mark, because that would mean we're reaching more people with our mental health information. And if we're reaching that many people, I've got to believe that stigma will also be reduced and treatment rates will increase.

You have to keep in mind, when I was the first person to publish the symptom criteria for the major mental disorders online on a single website in 1995, that information simply wasn't available to most consumers. This information was previously available largely only to professionals, and so I see this kind of transparency thing did a lot of help break down the barriers of stigma associated with mental health concerns.

In 5 years, I hope we've made even more strides, so talking about your depression or bipolar disorder is as simple and easy as talking about your diabetes or other disease diagnosis. I see Psych Central doing that through reaching people wherever they are -- on their smartphone or iPad -- in whatever stage of treatment they're at.

Other than Psych Central, what are some of your other current projects?

As an entrepreneur, Psych Central is my primary love and project. Everything I do revolves around helping to build Psych Central, to ensure we're doing the best job possible, and to find ways to help get our information in the hands of more people.

So a couple of years ago, I devised the Sanity Score to help people understand mental health issues in a way that didn't invoke mental health and all the baggage of that term. People throw around the phrases, "You're crazy" or "You're insane," so I thought, "Hey, we can test for that." With all of the interactive quizzes we've designed over the years, it seemed natural to pull them all together and create a single, simple mental health-screening tool. So that's what we did, and it has helped get the word out to a different audience than Psych Central reaches.

I'm also very interested in online mental health interventions, like the Australian MoodGYM program (http://moodgym.anu.edu.au/welcome), as well as person-based mental health treatments online, such as e-therapy. People-based stuff doesn't scale very well when it's one-on-one with a trained mental health professional, so something needs to be done to address that problem if we have more and more people seeking mental health treatment.

Last, I want to do more for suicide interventions online. I believe there's a lot of good stuff being done online for people who are suicidal, including more suicide chat services, but the need is so great and so much more could and needs to be done.

Favorite book? Favorite writer?

I like to read, but I prefer fiction to psychology and similar nonfiction books. My reading tastes are, quite frankly, all over the map. I prefer older John Grisham and Stephen King, as well as more classical authors like Flannery O'Connor, Henry James, and Charles Bukowski. I just got done reading the Memory Palace by Mira Bartók, which was okay. I'm also working my way through Sherry Turkle's "Alone Together."

What is the most common psychology myth you encounter on a regular basis? I know it is hard to pick one, but, assuming you can name one, what would it be?

The myth that there's often a simple explanation or set of characteristics that explain someone's behavior. I look at things like the Myers-Briggs Indicator personality test that help popularize this myth -- that by putting people into one of 16 fairly arbitrary categories, we then better understand that person. It's such a simple but ultimately simplistic, hollow idea.

And that's true of so much of what passes for science today. Health news stories so often confuse a correlational finding with something that has some causal meaning. I find that infuriating, because rarely is it explained in the article and it contributes to the dumbing down of research. And rarely is a single research finding put into any kind of context about what the broader research shows in that area. It's lazy journalism and it's what passes for a lot of news writing today.

But it's a chicken and egg problem. We're becoming a society of lazy information consumers, looking for quick, easy-to-digest pieces of information that fit into our common wisdom schemas (which are often wrong). Which do you think would get more traffic, a news article with the headline, "Scientists Create a Computer with Schizophrenia" or "Schizophrenia simulated on a computer"? Of course computers can't have schizophrenia, but you miss that fact in the first headline, because it's sexier to suggest that a computer can be "given" schizophrenia. But it's just wrong.