Beware of Common Sense

People place a lot of value on their “common sense.” And while common sense is great for many things, at a certain level of complexity, it begins to break down. In fact, common sense can sometimes trick us in to being wrong when by all appearances, it looks like we’re exactly right!

My favorite example of this is relativity.

Our common sense tells us we are stationary and the moon, sun, and stars are forever swirling around us, but through greater analysis, we know that is completely incorrect. By trusting reason and evidence as opposed to trusting our common sense, we know we are on a planet that is spinning at 1,040 miles per hour. We are orbiting the sun at about 67,000 miles per hour. We also know that our entire solar system is orbiting the center of the Milky Way Galaxy at about 514,000 miles per hour! In fact, we are never in the same place from one moment to the next!

Our common sense is not to be trusted and good critical thinkers know this.

I was having one of the most bizarre Facebook chats I’ve ever had, with a woman who is a conspiracy theorist and who of course does not believe vaccines are effective. She keep citing her “common sense.”

Watch how I steered the conversation toward her “method” for determining what is true, rather than devolving in to the pissing contest of whose evidence was better. It was exhausting and upon reflection, I began to really worry about her mental state, given the depths of her conspiratorial beliefs. Here are some of the highlights of the chat with names redacted of course:

Here she did a deep dive in to an anti-vaxxer on YouTube – a nutter who believes you can drink bleach to cure cancer (among other things). Again I was trying to pull the conversation out of specific claims and get it back to epistemology.She never responded to my final question. Whenever someone tells you that giving them evidence would change their minds, make sure to ask them to give you a specific example. My guess is you’ll get what I got…silence.

Happy critical thinking!

A brief note on scientific literacy

Just a brief note on scientific literacy that was prompted by the following ridiculous video that showed up on my Facebook feed.

I don’t know who the person speaking in this video is but he is clearly a crackpot. And while ad hominem arguments are normally just lazy, on this I don’t know what else to say. The science is clear. While not all vaccines are 100% effective, and while all medical procedures, including receiving a vaccine, carry a risk, there is no doubt that vaccines are among the most important and impactful public health inventions of human history.

And in general, I hope it’s also clear this is what I mean when I talk about scientific literacy.

I’m neither an MD, a climate scientist, nor a biologist for example, but I trust doctors on vaccines because I understand at a high level how vaccines work and I know their efficacy has the overwhelming consensus of the medical community…just like I trust climate scientists on climate because I know at a high level what is happening with greenhouse gas emissions and I know man made global warming has the overwhelming consensus of the climate science community and just like I trust biologists on evolution, etc. I don’t have to do the experiments or publish in peer-reviewed journals to be able to weigh the plausibility of evidence-based scientific truth claims.

This is what it means to be scientifically literate. The video below is a dangerous example of what it means to be scientifically illiterate.
https://www.facebook.com/LarryCook333/videos/10153748329093589/