Jun 01 2017

Confirmation Bias vs Desirability Bias

donald-trump-vs-hillary-clinton-top-issuesThe human brain is plagued with cognitive biases – flaws in how we process information that cause our conclusions to deviate from the most accurate description of reality possible with available evidence. This should be obvious to anyone who interacts with other human beings, especially on hot topics such as politics or religion. You will see such biases at work if you peruse the comments to this blog, which is rather a tame corner of the social media world.

Of course most people assume that they are correct and everyone who disagrees with them is crazy, but that is just another bias.

The ruler of all cognitive biases, in my opinion, is confirmation bias. This is a tendency to notice, accept, and remember information which appears to support an existing belief and to ignore, distort, explain away, or forget information which seems to disconfirm an existing belief. This process works undetected in the background to create the powerful illusion that the facts support our beliefs.

If you are not aware of confirmation bias and do not take active steps to avoid it, it will have a dramatic effect on your perception of reality. 

Desirability Bias

Ready for a new cognitive bias? Actually, I think this one is closely related to confirmation bias and just shows how complicated it is to think about how humans think. Our minds are noisy committees with multiple factors interacting in chaotic ways. Teasing apart specific mental phenomena can be tricky, and it is best to assume that no one psychological study can ever definitively do so. We need to look at any psychological question from multiple angles and triangulate to the consensus.

In a new study, psychologists Ben Tappin, Leslie Van Der Leer, and Ryan McKay tried to separate out confirmation bias from desirability bias. They defined confirmation bias as a bias toward a belief we already hold, while desirability bias is a bias toward a belief we want to be true. These are not always the same thing. I may want to believe that George Lucas is a talented and skilled director, but reluctantly have to accept evidence to the contrary.

In their study the authors surveyed 900 people prior to the 2016 presidential election about which candidate they want to win the election, and which candidate they think will win the election. The survey was conducted at a time when the polling data was ambiguous and did not show a clear winner. About half of the participants believed their preferred candidate would win based on the polls.

That in itself is interesting. I would have thought the number would be higher. That was just one point in time during a particularly volatile election, however. I also wonder how a prediction differs from a belief – the question is not what people believe to be true, but what they predict is likely to happen. There are other factors involved, such as whether or not people are more optimistic or pessimistic.

In any case, they then exposed the subjects to new polling data and again asked them who they thought was most likely to win. The new polling data either confirmed or opposed their pre-existing belief and their desired outcome. What the researchers found was that people would change their prediction if the new poll confirmed what they wanted to be true more than if it disconfirmed their desire. However, prior belief did not predict how subjects would react to the new data.

The authors conclude that their data supports a desirability bias, but not a confirmation bias. While this is a reasonable conclusion, I don’t think we can generalize much from this one study (and the authors do not suggest that we can).

As I stated above, human thinking is complicated with many possible factors to consider. I don’t think we can make any general statements about how people treat “beliefs” – we need to at least identify different kinds of beliefs. We already know that people treat emotionally-held beliefs differently from emotionally neutral beliefs. We happily update the latter when we receive new information, but we cling tightly to the former and may even tighten our grip in the face of disconfirming information (a backfire effect). This phenomenon is referred to as motivated reasoning.

So, in this study, some of the subjects may have believed that their candidate would win as an emotional belief. Fewer people probably had an emotional attachment to the belief their candidate would lose. This would mean as new data came in people would cling to the notion their candidate would win, but not that they would lose.

Even this conclusion, however, is too simple. If you recall, Trump was claiming that the election was rigged. It is therefore possible that some Trump supporters believed Hillary would win because the election would be rigged. When new polling showed Trump might actual win, they could easily shift to the conclusion that Trump was popular enough to beat even a rigged election.

I also find that people can moderate or even change their opinion in the face of overwhelming evidence, if it is sufficient to overcome their motivated reasoning. For example, many times I have engaged with people who deny global warming. When confronted with the solid evidence that the Earth is, in fact, warming some deniers will still cling to denial that the warming is real, but others will retreat to the position that even though the Earth may be warming, we don’t know if humans are causing it. Or, even if we know humans are causing it, we don’t know that the consequences will be bad. Or, even if the consequences will be bad, there is nothing we can do about it.

These softer positions, however, are held reluctantly. They may technically constitute a prior belief, but I doubt that confirmation bias would support them. Rather, the denier jumps on any evidence that seems to support what they want to believe, and will quickly revert to – global warming is not even happening – when given the chance.

The same is true for evolution deniers. They may, at some point, reluctantly acknowledge there is evidence for common descent, but always have one eye out for evidence they can use to cast doubt on even that.

In short, I think that desirability bias and confirmation bias are two sides of the same coin, and not easily disentangled. In reality there will often be a complex web of competing beliefs and desires. Further, not all beliefs are the same, as there is a spectrum of emotional and identify implications for specific beliefs. Further still, predictions about what will happen also introduce new biases, such as a potential optimist or pessimist bias.

What the current study mostly accomplishes is reminding us of this complexity.

 

48 responses so far

48 Responses to “Confirmation Bias vs Desirability Bias”

  1. Steve Crosson 01 Jun 2017 at 10:01 am

    Obviously, you are correct about Confirmation Bias being the ruler of all cognitive biases. I realized that long ago, and your agreement just further proves my point. 😉 😉 😉

  2. BaSon 01 Jun 2017 at 10:14 am

    I’ve never thought of confirmation bias as strictly as “confirming what you already believe”, more like a congruency bias, aligning the way you are already aligned.

  3. MosBenon 01 Jun 2017 at 12:23 pm

    My favorite recently-learned fallacy is the “Motte and Bailey” fallacy, which seems close to Steve’s example of people grudgingly accepting a fallback position to what they want to be true, but then returning to their original position as soon as possible.

  4. Sarahon 01 Jun 2017 at 12:52 pm

    I may want to believe that George Lucas is a talented and skilled director, but reluctantly have to accept evidence to the contrary.

    I think we were all blinded by the fantastic editing in A New Hope. Also, listening to his ideas, I’ve come to realize that he’s one of those people who’s great at coming up with raw material, but can’t polish it for the life of him.

    I hit the desirability bias every time a racist rears their ugly head. They will take even the faintest, crappiest evidence to assert that white people are the most wonderful, intelligent things in the universe (and all other races are violent barbarians or sneaky Asians.)

  5. Steven Novellaon 01 Jun 2017 at 1:51 pm

    MosBen – very similar to Motte and Bailey fallacy. The end result is the same, but the difference is that the Motte and Bailey fallacy is more of a strategic change – defend a moderate position when confronted by a strong opposition, then emerge with the more extreme position when all is clear. In this case the change in position is the same but is in response to evidence. But this is a subtle difference and the two things do overlap.

  6. Jasonon 01 Jun 2017 at 2:54 pm

    Steve I’m curious to see what sort of rationalization biases on your part would emerge if CT changed its solar net metering laws from retail to wholesale remuneration, thereby exposing what a scam you’ve been participating in.

  7. michaelegnoron 01 Jun 2017 at 4:25 pm

    These “bias” studies and the commentary on materialist blogs follow a remarkably consistent pattern:

    1) Publish some marginal psychological study purporting to show irrational bias a population.

    2) Either the study or (most commonly) the commentary then proclaims this “science” as providing (at last!) a solid explanation for all of the irrational deniers who disagree with the prevailing materialism, atheism, scientism, etc.

    This is pseudoscience–ideology dressed up as science. I note the the two examples of “bias” Steven provides are… wait for it… things he disagrees with! (ID and AGW skepticism). “See”, Steven proclaims, “now there’s scientific proof that people who disagree with me are… irrationally biased.”

    The fact is that we are all biased, in the sense that we try to understand the world from our own perspective. Materialist/atheist/Darwinist bias is massive, just as dualist/Christian/ID bias is massive. Furthermore, the charge of “bias” presumes that there is an incontestable rational truth that can be dispassionately gleaned from the evidence we have, and that the “bias researchers” know what that truth is and are investigating just how it is that the unwashed masses don’t see it as rationally as they do. What nonsense.

    We all have bias, because we all have a perspective–a lens through we try to make sense of things. Bias is a good thing; after all, a perspective is inevitable if a person thinks at all carefully about life, and a denial of a particular perspective is really an admission of self-ignorance or is dishonest.

  8. bachfiendon 01 Jun 2017 at 5:10 pm

    Jason,

    Care to expand on your comment? I can’t for the life of me work out what you’re referring to. I wondered if it was a reference to the smart-meter thread, but it doesn’t appear to be so.

    Trust Michael Egnor to appear, and prove the argument about confirmation bias. Egnor has the conviction that the conscious mind makes completely rational decisions, whereas actually the unconscious mind makes almost all of the decisions, for unconscious reasons, and then the conscious mind rationalises the decisions already made.

    ‘A perspective is inevitable if a person thinks at all carefully about life’. LOL – Egnor has NEVER thought carefully about life.

  9. BillyJoe7on 01 Jun 2017 at 5:27 pm

    Michael Egnor said:
    “These “bias” studies and the commentary on materialist blogs follow a remarkably consistent pattern…Either the study or (most commonly) the commentary then proclaims this “science” as providing (at last!) a solid explanation for all of the irrational deniers who disagree with the prevailing materialism, atheism, scientism, etc.”

    Firstly, this has nothing to do with “materialism, atheism, scientism”
    And what SN actually said was this:

    “Teasing apart specific mental phenomena can be tricky, and it is best to assume that no one psychological study can ever definitively do so. We need to look at any psychological question from multiple angles and triangulate to the consensus”

    And this:

    “The authors conclude that their data supports a desirability bias, but not a confirmation bias. While this is a reasonable conclusion, I don’t think we can generalize much from this one study (and the authors do not suggest that we can)”

    Michael Egnor said:
    “Bias is a good thing”

    Bias is defined as “flaws in how we process information that cause our conclusions to deviate from the most accurate description of reality possible with available evidence”
    Apparently this is a good thing!

    Michael Egnor said:
    “Furthermore, the charge of “bias” presumes that there is an incontestable rational truth that can be dispassionately gleaned from the evidence we have, and that the “bias researchers” know what that truth is and are investigating just how it is that the unwashed masses don’t see it as rationally as they do. What nonsense”

    What nonsense.
    And a strawman: Incontestable truth??? Researchers know what the truth is??? Unwashed masses???
    We are ALL susceptible to cognitive biases. Researchers accumulate evidence and come to tentative conclusions based on the accumulated evidence. Scientific evidence-based conclusions have varying degrees of confidence and can change when the evidence accumulates that those tentative conclusions are wrong.

  10. DickKon 01 Jun 2017 at 5:39 pm

    Decades ago I was their research assistant when Danny Khaneman and Amos Tversky visited the University of Oregon while on sabbatical and exposed me to their thinking. I have never really recovered from it over the years. Richard Thaler, too. Recently I was exposed to Dan Sperber and his take on reason and rationality. I think we are getting somewhere interesting now, and recommend you take a look at his work. Here is a quote: “So our argument was that reasoning evolved to produce arguments in order to convince others”. He speaks of two systems, one intuitive (a la Kahneman and Tversky) and one based on logic rules. The former being the more frequently used, which leads to judgments deviating from actuarial results. Happy reading.

  11. bachfiendon 01 Jun 2017 at 6:14 pm

    DickK,

    I think I’ve read somewhere or another that the person you first need to convince with arguments is yourself. If you can’t convince yourself, then you can’t convince others (it’s a corollary to the observation that the easiest person to fool is yourself).

  12. DickKon 01 Jun 2017 at 6:54 pm

    Thank you, bachfiend. I’ve never been trolled by an Egnoron before, so you just made my day.

  13. bachfiendon 01 Jun 2017 at 7:02 pm

    DickK,

    I’m not ‘trolling’ you. I’m fascinated by the processes of thinking and decision making. ‘Fast’ (intuitive) and ‘slow’ (logical, reasoned) thinking.

    Egnor of course manages to convince himself with arguments. The trouble is that the arguments he manages to convince himself aren’t good enough to convince us.

  14. Lightnotheaton 02 Jun 2017 at 1:42 am

    Wow, Egnor has outdone himself with the quantity of straw men he has packed into his latest post. He even uses quotation marks to make it look like Steven said something he didn’t say. I know strawmanning is one of Michael’s go-to techniques, but, just wow.

  15. bachfiendon 02 Jun 2017 at 2:58 am

    Lightnotheat,

    You have to understand how Egnor lies. He uses single inverted commas when he’s directly quoting someone. He uses double inverted commas when he’s paraphrasing something someone said into something he wishes the other person had actually said, the better to be able to criticise the other person.

    It’s just another one of Egnor’s peculiarities, going along with his ignorance concerning science, history, logic, philosophy… well, virtually everything.

  16. Leslie van der Leeron 02 Jun 2017 at 4:46 am

    Hi Steven,

    I’m one of the authors of the article you’re describing. Thanks for your interest and coverage. We appreciate the tentativeness of your conclusions and the highlight of how complex the mind is with various biases working at the same time.

    One comment of yours stood out to us, and we just wanted to shed light on the reality of the situation. You mentioned:

    “… About half of the participants believed their preferred candidate would win based on the polls.
    That in itself is interesting. I would have thought the number would be higher. …”

    In fact, we deliberately balanced the groups of participants with congruent and incongruent beliefs and desires for analysis reasons. This means we only collected matching prior belief-desire people up to a point. The pre-screening (where we established if people held the same desires and beliefs) showed matching responses significantly outnumbered responses that did not match. So indeed, the number was higher. This might illustrate and emphasize the extent to which the two phenomena (prior beliefs and preferences) are frequently aligned.

    Thanks again for the interest and coverage!

  17. MikeBon 02 Jun 2017 at 7:11 am

    Steve says: “… many times I have engaged with people who deny global warming. When confronted with the solid evidence that the Earth is, in fact, warming some deniers will still cling to denial that the warming is real….”

    then:

    “Or, even if the consequences will be bad, [deniers will say] there is nothing we can do about it.’

    I do not understand the conflation of these two positions. They have nothing to do with one another.

    I have been a “believer” in anthropogenic global climate change” (I despise the word “believe” and use it colloquially) since I began studying earth sciences in high school in the 1970s. I went on to study geology in college, and took courses in climatology and energy use. Although I ended up getting degrees in English and writing, I continued to read mostly science for pleasure.

    My current view is that we are witnessing an instance of ecological succession. “Global warming” is the consequence of a single species’ evolutionary success on the planet, and, no, there is nothing you or anyone else can do about it.

    I evolved into this point of view gradually. I trace its inception to the moment in 1984, as I lay on my futon listening to the radio on my cinderblock-and-plank bookcase. The announcement came on that Ronald Reagan had won re-election to the presidency. I understood that business as usual is our legacy. Economic growth is the mother of all religions. It is virtually encoded in our genes. All my sunny Earth Day visions were mortally wounded.

    Darwin said in Origin of Species, “There is no exception to the rule that every organic being naturally increases at so high a rate, that, if not destroyed, the earth would soon be covered by the progeny of a single pair.” The idea that we have the wherewithal, even the capacity to “check” ourselves is an sad delusion.

    Global warming is the natural consequence of our existence. That judgment is neither good, nor bad, nor does it pretend to know what the future holds. The denial on the right, and the parrying on the left, looks like theater from my point of view.

  18. bachfiendon 02 Jun 2017 at 8:09 am

    MikeB,

    ‘The idea that we have the wherewithal, even the capacity to ‘check’ ourselves is a sad delusion. Global warming is the natural consequence of our existence’.

    That’s a rather negative opinion. We do have the intelligence to ‘check’ ourselves (whether we will is another matter). And burning tens of billions tonnes of fossil fuels per year is hardly ‘natural’.

  19. MikeBon 02 Jun 2017 at 8:43 am

    Well, it doesn’t matter how “negative” my “opinions” are. “Natural” is a useless word. What’s “natural”? That which exists. And it is perfectly natural for humans to use fire for our propagation:

    The energy expansions of nature

  20. MikeBon 02 Jun 2017 at 8:45 am

    I bungled the link:

    The energy expansions of evolution.

  21. Steven Novellaon 02 Jun 2017 at 12:07 pm

    Leslie,

    Thanks for the comment and the clarification. That makes sense.

    Steve

  22. Sarahon 02 Jun 2017 at 12:26 pm

    MikeB

    That sounds like a pack of nonsense, unless your argument is “we will continue polluting because there’s a lot of incentive to do so and not a lot of incentive not to do so,” in which case, sure? It’s unlikely we’ll push back against the “drill baby drill” mentality for the time being, but your story of figuring this out in a magical moment strikes me as so much airy motivated reasoning.

    If you haven’t updated your opinion significantly since the Reagan administration, you may not be doing proper science.

  23. michaelegnoron 02 Jun 2017 at 12:55 pm

    MikeB:

    [All my sunny Earth Day visions were mortally wounded.]

    Let’s review the “Earth Day visions” from 1970 and see how they turned out:

    http://www.aei.org/publication/18-spectacularly-wrong-predictions-made-around-the-time-of-first-earth-day-in-1970-expect-more-this-year/

    Don’t you have any shame? How could a seemingly intelligent honest person align himself with this crap?

    There is no ideological fad that has been as thouroughly proven wrong as the environmentalist movement. I’m astonished that anyone takes you guys seriously any more.

  24. MikeBon 02 Jun 2017 at 1:01 pm

    “Don’t you have any shame? ”

    Oh, it’s much worse than you think, Mr. Egnor.

    I became a homosexual atheist.

    I even stayed at home, and started growing much of my own food.

  25. RickKon 02 Jun 2017 at 1:40 pm

    “There is no ideological fad that has been as thouroughly proven wrong as the environmentalist movement.”

    What total BS. Clean water, clean air, wilderness protection, endangered species recovery, ozone recovery… the list goes on and on.

    The differing environmental policies and related impact on development are major drivers of the environmental differences between China and the U.S., or between Costa Rica and other Central American countries.

    I never realized how many of your views would be so at home in China, Michael.

  26. michaelegnoron 02 Jun 2017 at 1:46 pm

    [I even stayed at home, and started growing much of my own food.]

    Still waiting for the end of the world…

    When this AGW hoax crashes to earth, you’ll just hop on the next crazy bus.

    Ocean Acidification!!! Run! Run!! The world is ending!

  27. michaelegnoron 02 Jun 2017 at 1:51 pm

    RickK:

    Sensible policies to protect our common spaces is perfectly reasonable, and has the consent of nearly all Americans.

    The environmentalist movement is another matter–it is heavily invested in various permutations of Gaia Worship–DDT hysteria, Overpopulation hysteria, AGW hysteria.

    Environmentalism is a discredit to the genuinely good work that has been done on cleaning up rivers, protecting forests, etc.

    How can you defend crazy sh*t like the predictions of catastrophe that have been part-and-parcel of the Green Religion for a half-century? Aren’t you embarassed?

  28. michaelegnoron 02 Jun 2017 at 1:53 pm

    [major drivers of the environmental differences between China and the U.S]

    If my memory serves me right, Ricky, you’re a man of the Left. I note that the economic system most closely associated with environmental destruction is socialism, like China.

  29. BillyJoe7on 02 Jun 2017 at 3:17 pm

    ^ when you’ve lost the argument you simply change topics and kid yourself nothing has happened

  30. bachfiendon 02 Jun 2017 at 6:20 pm

    Michael,

    ‘Still waiting for the end of the world…’

    And we’re still waiting for the Second Coming and the End of Days. It’s been promised for almost 2,000 years.

    Malthus wrote his pamphlet at the end of the 18th century, when the Earth’s population was around 1 billion. During the 19th century, industrial level mining of natural fertiliser in the form of guano on oceanic islands allowed the Earth’s population to potentially increase to around 3 billion, which was reached around 1950.

    In the meantime, the Haber process was invented, allowing the industrial production of ammonia and synthetic fertilisers, allowing the Earth’s population to increase to over 7 billion. The Green Revolution also helped considerably.

    The Earth’s population is predicted to increase to 9 billion by 2050. So where is the extra food going to be coming from?

    It’s not impossible that there won’t be some technological fix which delay the day of reckoning yet again, but it’s not guaranteed. The threat of a Malthusian crisis does have its benefits in concentrating people’s attention.

    People have been working very hard for over 200 years to prevent the prediction of a Malthusian crisis.

  31. Sarahon 02 Jun 2017 at 7:26 pm

    It’s scientific consensus that the overpopulation problem isn’t going to cripple us. 11 billion is the more reasonable upper limit for human population growth, after which will follow the long decline.

  32. michaelegnoron 02 Jun 2017 at 8:13 pm

    [People have been working very hard for over 200 years to prevent the prediction of a Malthusian crisis.]

    Malthus’ theory is that the crisis is not preventable. That’s the whole point of Malthusianism. It’s the reason the British let the Irish starve in the 1840’s, and let millions of Indians starve in the late 19th century. Malthusian theory predicted that the famines were unavoidable, and any effort to ameliorate them would actually cause more deaths in the future, because food aid would interfere with the natural process of population control.

    So you’ve got a batsh*t scientific theory that’s been proven wrong by every shred of evidence for 200 years. Policies based on the theory have killed tens of millions of people.

    Quite an accomplishment–the worst science in modern times, and the deadliest.

  33. bachfiendon 02 Jun 2017 at 9:47 pm

    Sarah,

    Even if the world’s population stabilises at 11 billion, that’s still food for an extra 4 billion we’ll have to provide.

    Michael,

    The Irish famine had nothing to do a Malthusian crisis. It was caused by the potato blight and the regressive social policies of the British. There was no Malthusian crisis. There was plenty of food available.

    Your ignorance of history is amazing. Where do you get your figure of ‘tens of millions people’?

    Malthusian crises are inevitable – unless we do something to avoid them happening, which we’ve done successfully for over 200 years.

    Malthusian crises are historical fact. The collapse of the Ming dynasty in the 17th century was caused by a Malthusian crisis. China had had centuries of peace, and the population had steadily increased to the limit imposed by the amount of arable land and the technology available at the time. And then everything went to pieces, there were two insurgencies, the last Ming emperor committed suicide, and the Qing (Manchu) dynasty was allowed to take control.

    Someone who doesn’t learn from history is condemned to relive history.

  34. michaelegnoron 02 Jun 2017 at 10:12 pm

    bach:

    [Malthusian crises are inevitable – unless we do something to avoid them happening, which we’ve done successfully for over 200 years.]

    You’re missing the whole point of Malthus’ theory.

    Everyone knew that famines happen, and that population generally increased with time. That was obvious.

    Malthus’ theory was that population increase would (in short order, after Malthus published his theory in the late 18th century) outstrip food production, causing famine and a corresponding “reset” of population and resources. This was Malthus’ paradigm: 1) Population increase 2) food scarcity 3) famine 4) population decrease 5) Repeat… 6) Repeat… 7) Repeat…

    We’ve had 200 years of testing Malthus theory. Here’s the data:

    1) Population increase 2) food production increase that outstrips population increase 3) Obesity/diabetes epidemic 4) population stabilization/decrease associated with rising living standards, birth control, etc

    Note the divergence between the Malthusian theory and the data. Malthusianism is bullish*t.

    The few famines we have had over the past 200 years (Irish, Indian (several), China (Great Leap Forward), Ethiopia, Sudan, etc) have been primarily caused by political malfeasance, in several instances greatly exacerbated by Malthusianism–a policy of neglect due to the belief in the inevitability of famine and population increase.

    The fact is that the world food production is greatly outstripping population growth, and obesity, not famine, is afflicting many poor nations today.

    Malthusianism is the most thoroughly discredited scientific theory of modern times.

    Why do you persist in ascribing to it?

  35. michaelegnoron 02 Jun 2017 at 10:17 pm

    bach:

    [The Irish famine had nothing to do a Malthusian crisis. It was caused by the potato blight and the regressive social policies of the British. There was no Malthusian crisis. There was plenty of food available.]

    That’s exactly my point. The British did nothing to ameliorate the Irish famine–in fact they exported food from Ireland– because they believed that Irish population growth was unsustainable, and that (by Malthus’ theory) helping avert the famine would only set the Irish up for greater famine due to Malthusian dynamics. The British believed that Ireland was doomed, from a Malthusian perspective, and that it wasn’t worth intervening to avert the famine

    They used the same reasoning in not helping with the Indian famines during the last decades of the 19th century.

  36. bachfiendon 02 Jun 2017 at 10:50 pm

    Michael,

    The famine due to the ‘Great Leap Forward’ wasn’t due to Malthusianism and the belief that the population was larger than could be supported. Mao had been actively encouraging population growth and had also developed the delusion that he’d found the way of increasing the food supply too – which he hadn’t. If anything, his policies caused food production to drop disastrously.

    It’s left the Chine psychologically scarred at the thought of a real Malthusian crisis so they’re buying up agricultural land in Africa. And Australia. To ensure their food supply.

    You’re committing the ecological fallacy in asserting that just because there are fat people in poor countries that there’s plenty of food available, and that food supplies are outstripping requirements, and always will. The problem is the imbalance in food supply. At least 500 million, perhaps a billion, people are marginal for food supply.

    I continue to ascribe to Malthusianism and the idea that food supply can’t be increased indefinitely because of the lessons from history (such as the collapse of the Ming dynasty) – unless we continue to hunt for solutions.

  37. Sarahon 03 Jun 2017 at 11:53 am

    I’ve never heard a serious scientist state that we will be unable to feed that many people. We will need to make sacrifices in land, certainly.

    I’m certainly not saying that increased food production can be sustained indefinitely, but I’ve not yet heard that we can’t feed another 4 billion, which is like to be the maximum the human population ever reaches.

  38. Lightnotheaton 03 Jun 2017 at 3:28 pm

    Here is a great demolition of Egnorish claims about environmentalist alarmism:

    http://m.motherjones.com/kevin-drum/2017/06/waste-time-climate-change-yahooism

    After reading an article citing “spectacularly wrong” alarmist predictions by environmentalist, Kevin Drum made the effort to actually examine the predictions, and sure enough, straw men (such as calling descriptions of worst-case scenarios if we do nothing “predictions” of what will actually happen) and cherry picking (such as citing outlier Pail Ehrlich six times in a list of 18 predictions) abound.

    Climate scientists need not be ashamed. Michael Egnor sure should be, for how he over and over and over and over and over again strawmans and cherry picks and ignores confounding variables (using North Korea and Sweden to compare state-sponsored atheism and Christianity???) and in general, distorts and misleads on a massive scale.

    But of course we can ignore Kevin Drum, a hopelessly biased atheist “man of the left”, who should be very troubled and examining his moral compass because China, which is after all “left wing” in just the same way Drum is, has a poor environmental record..

  39. bachfiendon 03 Jun 2017 at 4:05 pm

    Sarah,

    Well, hopefully we’ll be able to feed another 4 billion people, but it will take a lot of effort. And I think that it will be difficult with little room for errors.

    ‘We will need to make sacrifices in land, certainly’. I’m not certain what you mean by this. We’re already using all the arable land available, and doesn’t allow for the loss of arable land due to global warming.

    ‘I’ve never heard a serious scientist state we will be unable to feed that many people’. No true Scotsman?

  40. michaelegnoron 03 Jun 2017 at 6:16 pm

    [Climate scientists need not be ashamed. ]

    Let’s see:

    https://wattsupwiththat.com/2014/04/02/the-big-list-of-failed-climate-predictions/

    Anthony Watts lists 107 batsh*t false predictions by climate “scientists”. At what point would you be ashamed, Lightnotheat?

    108 batsh*t predictions? Or do you have to break 200 unhinged claims to cross the shame threshold?

    Eco-Apocalypses are immune to data, reason, and shame. From eugenics, to pesticide hysteria, to Malthusian hysteria, mass extinctions, to AGW/Climate Change hysteria, greenies make batch*t claims unmoored from anything resembling good science, and when their crazy doomsday scenarios fail to materialize, they just move on to the next batch*t apocalypse (Ocean Acidification!!!).

    Eco-warriors are a Doomsday Cult. They have the same credibility as the Heaven’s Gate nuts, except the Heaven’s Gate nuts didn’t use public money to pay for their cult and they killed fewer-a lot fewer- people.

  41. michaelegnoron 03 Jun 2017 at 6:27 pm

    [After reading an article citing “spectacularly wrong” alarmist predictions by environmentalist, Kevin Drum made the effort to actually examine the predictions, and sure enough, straw men (such as calling descriptions of worst-case scenarios if we do nothing “predictions” of what will actually happen) and cherry picking (such as citing outlier Pail Ehrlich six times in a list of 18 predictions) abound.]

    Your claim, Light, is that I am picking on outliers–fringe scientists and other nuts who don’t really represent mainstream environmental (or population) science.

    I ask you: where, then, is the condemnation of all of these frankly crazy predictions and just plain junk science from the “mainstream” scientific community? After all, there have been deafening shouts of condemnation of ID, climate skeptics and a host of people who ask critical questions about the received wisdom in biology and climate science. Condemnation abound, from the NAS to the AAAS to a host of organizations and prominent individual scientists.

    Where are the condemnations of the junk climate science? The condemnations of the junk population science?

    I leave you with this factoid: Paul Ehrich, who predicted mass famine in the 1980’s in the US and around the world, who predicted the disappearance of England by 2000, who said that the Population Bomb was inevitable and could not be stopped, remains a highly respected biologist at Stanford and a member of the National Academy of Sciences, the AAAS, and the American Philosophical Society.

    Here is a list of his awards and honors:

    The John Muir Award of the Sierra Club
    The Gold Medal Award of the World Wildlife Fund International
    A MacArthur Prize Fellowship
    The Crafoord Prize, awarded by the Royal Swedish Academy of Sciences and considered the highest award given in the field of ecology
    ECI Prize winner in terrestrial ecology, 1993
    A World Ecology Award from the International Center for Tropical Ecology, University of Missouri, 1993
    The Volvo Environmental Prize, 1993
    The United Nations Sasakawa Environment Prize, 1994
    The 1st Annual Heinz Award in the Environment (with Anne Ehrlich), 1995[41]
    The Tyler Prize for Environmental Achievement, 1998
    The Dr A.H. Heineken Prize for Environmental Sciences, 1998
    The Blue Planet Prize, 1999
    The Eminent Ecologist Award of the Ecological Society of America, 2001
    The Distinguished Scientist Award of the American Institute of Biological Sciences, 2001
    Ramon Margalef Prize in Ecology and Environmental Sciences of the Generalitat of Catalonia, 2009.
    Fellow of the Royal Society of London 2012 [1]
    2013 BBVA Foundation Frontiers of Knowledge Award in Ecology and Conservation Biology

    When I highlight Ehrlich’s work, I’m not cherry-picking.

  42. bachfiendon 03 Jun 2017 at 9:06 pm

    Michael,

    ‘Failed predictions?’ Which universe are you living in? I had a look at the list, and many of the predictions (actually projections as to what would happen if the current trends regarding CO2 emissions continue) are for future years – 2025, 2050, even 2085.

    It’s not a failed prediction if the prediction is for future years.

    And some of the ‘predictions’ are from politicians.

    We’re still waiting for the Second Coming and the End of Days which was predicted as coming very soon almost 2,000 years ago.

  43. EmbraceWisdomon 03 Jun 2017 at 10:28 pm

    I have studied critical thinking and learned the common fallacies. Additionally I’m a religious person, I think there is tremendous beauty in The Bible, and plenty of good life lessons. I just choose to believe that there is more to the nature of the universe then can be explained by science. I have also had deeply spiritual experiences in my life that cannot be adequately explained by modern science.

    There is so much there that automatically prevents me from writing comments on this blog. I will just be dismissed as a theist troll. People will label me as Egnor. As frequently happens on this blog.

    # bachfiend on 01 Jun 2017 at 3:14 pm

    DickK,

    I think I’ve read somewhere or another that the person you first need to convince with arguments is yourself. If you can’t convince yourself, then you can’t convince others (it’s a corollary to the observation that the easiest person to fool is yourself).

    # DickK on 01 Jun 2017 at 3:54 pm

    Thank you, bachfiend. I’ve never been trolled by an Egnoron before, so you just made my day.

    This is someone who is new/unaware, accusing a pretty legendary poster of being like Egnor. Egnor is a longtime troll of this blog; one who is regularly eviscerated by bachfiend. It’s laughable that someone would see a resemblance between the two.

    I only bring this up because it’s not just new people like DickK who do this, it’s also quite common behaviour among some of the other people who frequent this blog. In the early May post, “Free Speech Bias,” there was a fierce debate over the identity of one of the authors. This author provided strong arguments for their independence and unique identity; while a couple people kept claiming she was in fact someone else. She even found one of her accusers making the exact same flawed arguments about someone else months previously. Her familiarity with the previous discussion was just illogically taken as evidence that she really was a fake account for someone else. Even though she previously had explained that the older “Is The Santa Myth Immoral?” blog post, including some of the comments were specifically mentioned on the SGU podcast, therefore bringing that specific post to the attention of hundreds of thousands of weekly listeners… Her attempts to defend herself from the accusations were also taken as evidence of her guilt…

    Honestly I didn’t read the entire thing. I do remember her patient and consistent pulverizing of Egnor’s nonsense, expressions of frustration with the identity situation, statements about leaving this community, and that she posted multiple times a day and now there is no activity. Congratulations, some ‘skeptic’ posters on a witch-hunt pushed away someone who was clearly also a skeptic/critical thinker/atheist. Ever hear of common ground?

    What I’m trying to express is that this is a waste of time. Accusing people of being like Egnor, instead of actually challenging what they have to say is not how you argue. Defending yourself from accusations like this is also not how you argue. This blog is so much like the rest of the internet, people throwing around labels, instead of having an actual conversation.

    There are a lot of really amazing mainstream topics to be discussed right now, that need good skeptics to analyze them. For example, Politico ran a story entitled “The Media Bubble Is Worse Than You Think” about the very real liberal bias in the media. It had things expressed in it like “As of 2013, only 7 percent of [journalists] identified as Republicans.”

    However if I tried to explain how the mainstream media is biased I would be laughed at on this blog. I would be ridiculed for saying something that is based on solid factual information, because the enemies of this community so often say “MSM is biased” and other similar things. They are partially right, MSM is actually biased, and there are many different explanations for why this is, some of which are outlined in that Politico article.

  44. JJ Borgmanon 04 Jun 2017 at 6:56 am

    God is hidden “.”

  45. Lightnotheaton 04 Jun 2017 at 10:15 pm

    EmbraceWisdom,
    I agree the msm is biased; there is plenty of good evidence that it is. It’s not possible to completely avoid bias. Skeptics don’t try to do that so much as they try to be very aware of it, both in themseves and others, ground their views on evidence and reason as much as possible, and avoid the logical fallacies that bias encourages.

  46. bachfiendon 04 Jun 2017 at 10:32 pm

    EmbraceWisdom,

    Thank you.

    I wonder whether the reason DickK took offence at what I thought was an innocuous comment was my use of the impersonal ‘yourself’. Perhaps he thought the comment was directed at him instead of being a comment applying to everyone generally? And that I was disagreeing with what he was saying (I wasn’t).

  47. tb29607on 05 Jun 2017 at 12:09 am

    bachfiend,

    If it helps, I was following as the exchange mentioned by EmbraceWisdom took place and surprised by the response you received. I thought your comment was supportive and had to reread multiple times to see what triggered the response. Like you, I thought it most likely that he took your last comment personally.

  48. BillyJoe7on 05 Jun 2017 at 8:42 am

    EW,

    “I have studied critical thinking and learned the common fallacies. Additionally I’m a religious person, I think there is tremendous beauty in The Bible, and plenty of good life lessons. I just choose to believe that there is more to the nature of the universe then can be explained by science. I have also had deeply spiritual experiences in my life that cannot be adequately explained by modern science”

    If you “just choose to believe” what was the point of you studying critical thinking and logical fallacies?
    And how do you know your “deeply spiritual experiences” cannot be adequately explained by science?

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