Interview with Bruce Gleason — Director, LogiCal-LA
Scott Douglas Jacobsen: So, with respect to a skeptical outlook on the world, this is a groundwork. Why is it important in functioning in adult life?
Bruce Gleason: I think everybody wonders at one point in their lives “what is the purpose of life?” and “how can I make this life better for me as well as everybody else?”. I believe that everybody has altruism and narcissism built in them.
There is a balance between the two. What can I do to help others? But I also, need have my own security, security for my own family, and my own position in life. So, the idea of skepticism is to find out what is true, why we behave as we do, and why do we think the way we do.
Why do people do the things they do? This obviously comes from what they think and how they think the world should be. So, the skeptical outlook on life is part life examination and part curiosity.
One thing that you’ll find almost all scientific skeptics saying is that they could be wrong about anything, even of the things that they strongly believe are true now. The reason skeptics do this is because once we find scientific evidence to prove that this one issue that you might be concerned about is more likely true, like climate change for instance; skeptics believe that new evidence may come up in the future to prove that those particular truths are offset by new evidence.
We accept a new evidence as long as it’s stronger than the evidence that we currently believe. Of course, with climate change, that’s not going to happen. Obviously the climate will change for the worse during next few centuries, but suppose that it starts getting better for some new reason. That would offset beliefs that we have right now. That’s an example of a provisional, or temporary truth — meaning we only believe things that are true are based on the current evidence.
We can’t tell what is going to be coming up in the future, but if different evidence does come up that’s stronger than the evidence we have, as scientific skeptics, no matter how much our confirmation bias says that can’t be true, we have to accept it’s true if it has stronger evidence than the evidence than we had before.
Jacobsen: We have evolved brains and they have crummy aspects to them and then some of those include a long list of cognitive biases. What are some of the more prominent ones that come into play in the belief of pseudo-scientific claims for example?
Bruce: That’s a great question. I’m starting to formulate a pretty good theory on confirmation bias and it has to deal with environment. It has to deal with selection pressures, especially when you’re younger.
So, my current theory of confirmation bias is that if you start leaning in one direction for any particular issue that you’re more likely to listen to media reports, friends, or associations that confirm your confirmation bias, even if it’s a little bit, then you start building up a stronger and stronger confirmation bias over time. So, it becomes more and more difficult for you to change your mind even if there’s more science or more proof that comes along. The major mantra of scientific skeptics is we could be wrong, so automatically we they and examine our own bias to make sure if follow the evidence.
Let’s take climate change for instance again. There are 1752 climate scientists in the world right now, this is excluding other scientists who are not related directly to climate change. You might be an oceanographer, for instance, but not an actual climatologist. 1752 climate scientists; all of them believe that there is climate change going on and 98% of them believe that it is man-made and the other two percent believe it’s happening but would like more evidence that it’s man made..
The point I’m trying to make is that if you have a confirmation bias that climate change is real, and you have the support of 98% of the people who spend their entire lives working on this problem and working on this issue the chances of you being wrong are much less than someone who reject the consensus of a particular scientific field. So, that is a huge boost in our confidence level that we are on the correct path. There’s another side note there. And that is for those people who don’t believe in the science, let’s take GMOs, for instance.
Do you think Big Pharma has been paying off all of these scientists? First of all, you have to ask, “What are the chances that Big Pharma is paying off every single scientist in favor of producing GMOs?” You have to admit that is much less likely.
If there was evidence of Big Pharma paying off every single scientist and your reject the consensus, what is left? If science is wrong what is left to determine the truth? What is left is to believe in hearsay. What is left is people barking their own opinion on a particular issue with no science fact to back them up. You’re left with nothing solid because once you go down that rabbit hole of conspiracy theories (that all scientists were in on it), then you’ll lose the ability to tell what is true.
Right now, science is the best thing we have until something else comes along. What are the chances of the majority of scientists in any particular field of study are going to be wrong?
Her’s another example. Let’s take paleontology over the past 80 years. A vast majority of paleontologists agree that all the things that have been discovered through paleontology are true. Almost all of the public believe the facts the paleontologists say are true based on the evidence presented Who are we to challenge any of these scientists? We’d have to be a paleontologist to have a professional opinion. GMO food is bad for you, climate change is not man-made, vaccines cause autism, all of the ‘woo’ that is going around amount to ridiculous non-scientific claims. Who are we to challenge these experts who spend their entire lives working on a small slice of knowledge? They study their profession and come up with a conclusion based on evidence.
Jacobsen: What are some resources the Nones can look into to provide a buffer against or protection from pseudo-scientific claims that abound throughout their lives?
Bruce: I think the number one resource is Snopes. Snopes covers not only non-scientific claims, but also political claims as well. So, Snopes is unique, www.snopes.com. It’s unique because if they find out the source of a rumor or a false claim and then they look at the progression of that false claim over time. You can see the development of it. If there’s a false claim that people pick it up, or that Fox News picks it up, and then the president picks it up; you can see the progression of that false claim as it goes through its motions.
Another good resource is almost any skeptical website that is science-based. One of the best podcasts is Skeptical Guide to the Universe or SGU. The hosts of SGU might come back and say, “There’s new evidence and we were wrong about this,” but almost all the time since their entire podcast was based on evidence they are spot on of the different issues at hand: homeopathy, chiropractory, healing Touch therapy, or GMOs. So happens, one of the co-hosts will be at our conference at LogiCal-LA.com
There’s a slew, probably hundreds of different medical procedures and untrue-based claims that are out there. Richard Saunders runs a website from Australia called www.whatstheharm.net . This is another interesting website that will explain what the harm is if someone does not trust science-based medicine.
An example on non-science based medicine is cupping. Cupping is what athletes do to improve their ability to perform. Is there science is behind cupping? Or chiropractors, homeopathy, or naturopathy? All of these procedures have no scientific proof that they work better than a placebo. You might say — so what? No harm can come of this. But there is harm, especially if you have a disease that you don’t know about and you go to any of these non-science professions for two months, and your condition has not improved, you could have a much worst advanced case of your disease. You could have gone to a Western medicine doctor that provides real medicine and find out that, “Oh, we need a blood test right away.” Now, you haven’t wasted the time to go from stage 1 cancer to stage 2 cancer. Now, you KNOW you’re at stage 1 and you can start fighting it right away. If you make the former decision you have just wasted time while doing all of these other unproven and non-scientific procedures and escalated your disease into the next stage.
Jacobsen: Thank you for the opportunity, Bruce.