Interview with Agnes Vishnevkin, MBA — Co-Founder & Vice President of Intentional Insights and Pro-Truth Pledge
Scott Douglas Jacobsen: You are part of two important initiatives. One, you are the co-founder and vice president of Intentional Insights. Two, you are the co-founder of the Pro-Truth Pledge. There are important, along with others around the world, of critical thinking and science and evidence-based thinking.
When it comes to young people and keeping an eye out for things that seem as if based on evidence, where there is the use of the language of science and evidence but aren’t actually based on any, what are some hints or clues that they should keep in mind, whether in the presentation of the information or in the language used?
Agnes Vishnevkin: That is a fantastic question, Scott. If folks want to know about the initiatives, they can check out protruthpledge.org or intentionalinsights.org. We talk about behavioral sciences and psychology, how they impact daily life and how they, sometimes, cause us to make decisions and have inaccurate beliefs.
When you are reading or hearing information, one thing to think, “Does it already play to your beliefs?” If I think, hypothetically, it is terrible to eat meat, and then someone says, “It is fine. Animals don’t suffer.” I say, “You’re wrong. I am opposed to it.” You are saying something opposed to my beliefs.
This involves something called Confirmation Bias. If something goes against my beliefs, I would be disinclined to believe it. It is important to guard against that. Do we have reasons? We should be prepared if it is only something comfortable to my current beliefs. That is one thing to be mindful of.
Jacobsen: I do not mean this as a question to impugn any organization as a whole. However, are there common societal institutions or organizations in which non-evidence-based propositions or statements about the world are put forth to young people more often than others — when, in fact, there is little to no support for some of those claims
put forth to young people?
Vishnevkin: Yes, I think that young people. This can happen in a different variety of ways. I am not going to make guesses about all the different places. I would say to consider something that, for example, there are groups in which we are or are not a member of.
It is human to form ourselves into groups. The sense of belonging is deeply wired into our minds. Humans first evolved in the savannah. We lived in groups of 100–150 people. It was a simple world. We still have these in our brains and minds.
This strong desire to belong and a strong fear of rejection. It is a matter of life and death. That is why it is painful when we imagine being rejected. I think there are places in which we belong to certain organizations or to our family, or to any kind of group — where we would find it hard if we were rejected.
I would say that is one place to stay tuned. I am not saying the family is necessarily pushing any misinformation, but I would stay cautious in that case. Because it is hard for us to take information and say, “I do not agree with you. It is not according to science.” It is hard for us to do. Our emotions do not want to disagree with the groups with which we agree.
People who we like. We really tend to agree with them compared to people we dislike. We need to mindful if our emotions are for or against someone. If it is for someone, we might believe something not science or evidence-based. These are some of the ways in which to protect ourselves. Our website at intentionalinsights.org has multiple blogs written, actually with young people in mind. We want to make sure this scientific knowledge is available for anyone.
I hope your readers find a bit of information at our blog.
Jacobsen: Thank you for the opportunity and your time, Agnes.