Mother Jones on Research In Cognitive Bias: and Vermont E-Waste?

"The Science of Why We Don't Believe Science"

"[Yale Pschology Research] undercuts the standard notion that the way to persuade people is via evidence and argument. In fact, head-on attempts to persuade can sometimes trigger a backfire effect, where people not only fail to change their minds when confronted with the facts—they may hold their wrong views more tenaciously than ever."
This is an excerpt from an article in Mother Jones, by correspondent Chris Mooney, who has been reading some of the same research on cognitive bias that I've been interested in for the past 4 years.   Neurological level research can detect brain stimuli which indicate a response (to risk) that acts faster than reason (also detected).   If an idea is a threat, either to a long held belief, or to ones self interest, brain radar can see it coming in a nanosecond.

Helena Bonham Carter channelling Elizabeth 1st as the Red Queen
What's a "convincing argument"?
This creates a real problem if your business is already in a bind.... outnumbered, overruled, the deck stacked against you.  Research indicates that "arguing convincingly" is an oxymoron.   If you are arguing with an entrenched authority who might be embarrassed by a reversal, you are statistically more likely to fail.  "You can't fight city hall..."

This is why the western legal system has evolved legal representation.  An attorney or lobbyist can be more skilled in making arguments indirectly, more nuanced, and avoid making the authority feel "risk impulses" which spell doom for the client. If the case has to be made, the legal counsel hopes the backlash befalls them, rather than the client.  It's also why we triangulate our justice system, with prosecutors, defenders, judge and jury.

People like John Adams, Ben Franklin, and Thomas Jefferson were anti-authority, and they were smart and argumentative and completely outgunned by the British monarchy.   The British Colonial game was rigged.  When the USA's founding fathers succeeded, the freshness of their experience led to a constitutional system which has made it less likely that an authority figure can run roughshod over a little guy.  We also have the fourth estate, journalism and free speech.

But how is it good business?

This was just intended as a short blog to tell my supporters that we tried, really tried, to resolve the Vermont E-Waste trainwreck behind the scenes. Good Point Recycling paid approximately $80,000, not including paid staff time, to negotiate an "out" for ANR staff.   We could have been a downstream, or transporter, to their selected replacement (Casella Waste Systems, a $500M Vermont based behemoth without much previous experience or capacity in managing e-waste).  We could have accepted the Waste Management Program's decisions being reviewed by a third party - BGS Contracting, Attorney General, Vermont Solid Waste Districts (clients).  We tried approaching them quietly through legislators.  But trying to get ANR to change a decision triggers risk neurons that convince the Agency it's being attacked.

What's the right thing to do?

To be fair, the Vermont Agency of Natural Resources split internally... there are some folks inside who are rational enough to know that overpaying a bully to club a small Vermont recycling company like a baby harp seal was not going to turn out well.   But others in the agency have really been responding on a neuroscience level, reacting illogically and angrily.  Queen of Hearts style.
The Queen turned crimson with fury, and, after glaring at her for a moment like a wild beast, screamed `Off with her head! Off--'
The entire CRT e-waste thing is a declining business, and ANR's decision to trade horses midstream was dumb and clumbsy.  They could have just waited for e-waste to run its course, and if I didn't behave nicely I'd lose opportunities in paint recycling, organics, carpets, etc.  ANR reacted as if this moment, negotiating a 2014 TV recycling contract, was til death do us part... and death was on the table.

But now I'm tarred as a fighter.  People close to it understand that we are fighting for friends, for co-workers, and for $3M annual sales brought to Addison County.  But at a certain point, we will all tire of another man's battle.

It is time to evolve.  The Agency probably knows it had a better thing with Good Point than Good Point had with ANR.  The CRT tubes were sour anyway.

It hurts like bloody heck that the years my business investment was finally starting to pay off.  Paying the new vendor $0.42 per pound just rubs salt in my eyes.  The same years my twins go to college, punishing Vermont Payroll became a bloodsport to the Queen of Hearts.    If I'd  been nice, maybe she would have paid ME $488,000 more?

"where do trolls come from?"
But in the big picture, I have this faith that if I do the right thing, am honest, and argue my case well, that attracting public attention to injustice pays a larger dividend.  I want my kids to grow up in a world where the people who have integrity do not regret it.

That may be my own cognitive bias, my own belief system at risk?  Inception!  From Chris Mooney at Mother Jones:

"A key question—and one that's difficult to answer—is how "irrational" all this is. On the one hand, it doesn't make sense to discard an entire belief system, built up over a lifetime, because of some new snippet of information. "It is quite possible to say, 'I reached this pro-capital-punishment decision based on real information that I arrived at over my life,'" explains Stanford social psychologist Jon Krosnick. Indeed, there's a sense in which science denial could be considered keenly "rational." In certain conservative communities, explains Yale's Kahan, "People who say, 'I think there's something to climate change,' that's going to mark them out as a certain kind of person, and their life is going to go less well."

The business of e-waste, the international policy of tinkerer's blessing, my long held belief that racial profiling and bias is primitive.  These different things all collide in the blog.  I'm advised not to write truthful blogs and emails if I want to promote my business interests.  I was told yesterday "yeah, I know, but don't you want to make money?" by a big-shred company advocate.
"I'm good at what I do.  I'm not very good at what people think I am trying to do.  That's part of being good at what I'm actually trying to do. ". - Robin Ingenthron (2012)
Those of us who are "agents of conscience" may be labelled ego maniacs, or attention seekers, or inartful communicators.   But if you have faith that honesty and effort should succeed, that the truth is always the best investment, you'll make it, and leave your loved ones something better than cash.

We don't want to be wrong, even though we don't want to lose our savings being right.   In the long run, going with the wrong tide for monetary gain becomes a habit.   Like a bad piece of code to a hacker, or a weak chink in a competitors armour, "wrong" is weak, even when the majority believes in it.  Integrity will pay, in the long run.  Society will reward agents of conscience somehow, with some kind of moral bitcoin.  Red Queens come and go.

In the national picture, our FTR strategy is to bring the geeks of color themselves more into the equation - and am working on an article with Eric Prempeh, our head tech who we sponsored to revisit his homeland in Ghana last month.   This is a derivative, where I believe that anti-export believers/crusaders are less likely to respond to my reasoning than to reasoning from someone more representative of the people their brains tell them they are trying to protect.   MJ Chris Mooney covers that, too:
"This may help explain a curious pattern Nyhan and his colleagues found when they tried to test the fallacy (PDF) that President Obama is a Muslim. When a nonwhite researcher was administering their study, research subjects were amenable to changing their minds about the president's religion and updating incorrect views. But when only white researchers were present, GOP survey subjects in particular were more likely to believe the Obama Muslim myth than before. The subjects were using "social desirabililty" to tailor their beliefs (or stated beliefs, anyway) to whoever was listening."
My first course in psychology was a business class about sales and marketing.  I loathed what I was reading, but was fascinated enough to make cognitive dissonance decisions a part of philosophical puzzle.

For other blogs on risk and belief and cognitive bias, see:

E-Waste Cell Phone Cancer (2011)

Ducking the Dunning Kruger Effect (2014)

State Hate 2:  Marshmallow Test, Cognitive Risk Tea Party (2014)

Agreeableness and Cognitive Enhancement vs Heroic Compassion (2012)

E-Waste Soccer and the Accidental Racist (2010)

And finally,  Ayatollah of E-Waste Apology (2012)

The trick is to find people in life who are also agents of conscience, and to spend your time with them and around them.  Friends and colleagues with integrity are invaluable.

"I'm good at what I do.  I'm not very good at what people think I am trying to do.  That's part of being good at what I'm actually trying to do. ". - Robin Ingenthron (2012)

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