64 thoughts on “Why facts don’t change our minds

  1. William:

    The only things I accept as facts are those things which I personally experience.

    It that were actually true, it would be extremely dumb. But we’ve had this conversation before, and it’s clear that your claim is not true.

    However, I don’t consider information coming from 2nd or 3rd party sources facts, but rather simply information.

    In practice, “facts” are just propositions that are regarded as having an extremely high probability of being true. There’s no reason that they can’t come from other people.

    I have no personal experience of measuring the density of lead, but I consider it to be a fact that it is 11.34 grams per cubic centimeter, based on the scientific consensus.

    Would you dispute that the consensus density of lead is a scientific fact? If so, why?

  2. walto,

    I have the sense that even if there were always “nothing to be gained from winning arguments” there would still be this incredible reluctance to admitting errors.

    I agree. In my OP on the subject, I argued that often the aim is to preserve one’s self-image rather than one’s social standing:

    While many instances of mistake denial fit with this social cost model, there are glaring exceptions. We’ve all seen people deny mistakes that are completely obvious to their audiences. What are they getting out of this apparently self-defeating behavior? What is the point of the charade if no one is being fooled?

    And what about people who are widely perceived as competent and have little to lose from admitting an occasional mistake? Why will they risk being seen as childish and dishonest when the cost of simply acknowledging their error is comparatively small, and no one is being fooled by the denial anyway?

    The answer, I think, is that someone is being fooled — the denier him or herself. The denier is fighting to preserve a self-image which would be threatened by admitting the mistake. Even if no one else buys it, the denier — if they’re able to pull off the self-deception — has avoided facing an uncomfortable truth: they aren’t as competent as they’d like to believe.

    Mistake denial, then, is not just about social standing. It’s also about defending one’s self-image against an uncomfortable reality. When you see someone denying an obvious mistake, look for a disparity between their self-image and their actual level of competence, seen objectively. If you keep this in mind, you can often make sense of cases of mistake denial that are otherwise baffling.


    Once they have made their choice, a change means THEY WERE WRONG. Just participating in sites like this for a couple months ought to show that such admissions are nearly impossible to come by. keiths has done two (I think) OPs on this, and certainly recognizes its force……except of course in his own case. Because almost nobody is immune to that ego-defense.

    I haven’t claimed to be immune, but it’s clear that some folks are better at admitting mistakes than… ahem… others.

    *Looks squarely at walto*

    In my own case, I think that having lots of practice helped.

  3. AhmedKiaan:
    I’ve never personally experienced the lack of atmosphere on the moon.

    Nevertheless, it is a fact.

    No one’s been to the moon. They shot that footage in a studio. You can tell by the FAKE SHADOWS.

  4. Tom English:

    Mung: I can ask Patrick to provide you with a character reference for me.

    MathGrrl, you mean?

    I was raised to be respectful of women, so I won’t opine about which one of us is the real person and which one is fake.

  5. keiths,

    If you were really looking squarely, you’d have to admit that there’s likely nobody on this board who admits more errors than I do–either on a count or percentage basis.

    So, I’m going to say that you’re not looking that squarely.

  6. walto,

    If you were really looking squarely, you’d have to admit that there’s likely nobody on this board who admits more errors than I do–either on a count or percentage basis.

    Um, no.

    And while you’re better than Alan and Neil, you give them a run for their money when it comes to denying obvious mistakes.

  7. walto: You’re actually the worst here, keiths, closely followed by my buddy patrick.

    I used to think the same thing walto, but the facts changed my mind. Patrick is #1 with keiths coming in a close second.

  8. W: The reason he’s pullin’ our pants down.
    M: Gonna paddle a little behind.
    W: Ain’t gonna paddle it. Gonna kick it — real hard.
    M: No, I believe he’s gonna paddle it.
    W: I don’t believe that’s a proper characterization.
    M: Well, that’s how I’d characterize it.
    P: I believe it’s more of a kickin’ sitcheyation.

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