Confirmation Bias: Fanboys, Fundamentalists, Conspiracy Theorists and our Tribal Nature

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Fanboys, Fundamentalists, and Conspiracy theorists are the prime users of Confirmation Bias.

In fact, everyone at some point has operated using confirmation bias based on their cognitive biases, but in most circumstances, you could drop them in to one of the above categories.

So let’s start with some definitions of the terminology shall we? We don’t want any Conflated or Misunderstood terms, do we?

Definitions

Fanboy/Fangirl

Someone who is obsessive, enthusiastic, and passionate over a topic/brand/toy etc. Generally, the thing the fan is obsessed with can do no wrong and are the best in their eyes, be they a fan of the PlayStation, DC comics, Star Trek, or Apple.

Fundamentalist

Usually applied to religious folk,  a “fanboy” of their faith. Essentially being a fundamentalist means they have a strict belief in a literal interpretation of their religious texts.

Conspiracy Theorist

A Conspiracy Theorist is a person who holds an idea that explains an event or situation as the result of a secret plan by usually powerful people or groups.

Confirmation Bias

The tendency to interpret new evidence as confirmation of one’s existing beliefs or theories. Essentially only listening to evidence/papers/ideas that back up ones preconceived notions.

Cognitive Bias

A cognitive bias is a mistake in reasoning, evaluating, remembering, or other cognitive process, often occurring as a result of holding onto one’s preferences and beliefs regardless of contrary information.

Cognitive Bias is perfectly natural and it would be almost impossible for humans to function if they had none in place. We would have to re-evaluate an analyse everything constantly. You know how you like your cup of tea, if you like it dark you will instantly assume a milky tea is disgusting. This is a cognitive bias. They are sometimes correct but can lead us down the wrong path.

For example assuming that because one person from one ethnicity did something bad to you in the past, that every person of that ethnicity would do it again. From here things like racism are born.

Conspiracy Theorists

The conspiracy theorist, as already described, holds an idea that explains an event as the result of a secret plan by powerful people.

Some current conspiracy theories (that won’t just go away)

  • Lee Harvey Oswald didn’t act alone (or possibly at all). …
  • Princess Diana was killed on purpose. …
  • AIDS is a man-made disease. …
  • The government was involved in 9/11. …
  • Elvis never really left the building. …
  • The 1969 Apollo moon landing didn’t happen. …
  • A UFO crashed in Roswell, New Mexico. …
  • Global warming is a hoax.
  • Shakespeare didn’t write all those plays.
  • Reptilian humanoids control all of us.

Consider how many of those seem ridiculous to you, now consider that the others might be just as ridiculous.

The issue with a conspiracy theorist is that their confirmation bias is so intertwined with mental loops and circular reason that you can NEVER get through to them. Any evidence, anecdotes, or hearsay that backs up their claim is evidence they are right. Any evidence to the contrary is clearly falsely placed by “the man” or “them”. It is an endless loop of confirming ones own bias and rejecting everything else.

The most dangerous current conspiracy theorist (at least in my opinion) is the Antivaxxer. Someone who is against vaccines saying they are dangerous and no one should use them.

This has lead to preventable diseases spreading, and in fact those that had all but been eliminated returning with a vengeance.

David Wolfe

Alternative Scientist David Wolfe Confirmation Bias
I recently had a conversation with David ‘Avocado’ Wolfe. I imagine the Avocado is linked to it being a “superfood” and how he goes on about the Nutribullet (which does happen to be quite a good juicer if that’s what you’re into, but I digress).

I knew David to be a bit of a new age hippy spreading peace and love. I thought him harmless till a last year I noticed him on the Antivax band wagon.

Then on Twitter I see him going on about the earth being flat. Outside of fundamentalist Christian and Muslims I had not heard of anyone thinking the earth is genuinely flat. At least not in modern culture.

I contested both his ‘Anti Vaccination’ and ‘Flat Earth’ stance. He quickly became irate throwing out insults, unable to answer most of my questions like “how thick is this flat earth” and made up terms like “Scientism” calling it a religion.

Essentially a conversation transpired that the earth is flat, we are being lied to about it because they are hiding land in/over Antarctica, and the earth is also hollow filled with giants and Germans. How the earth could both be hollow AND flat, how deep it was, what happens when one reaches the edge, how no one had seen this during expeditions… all unanswered.

Here are a few examples of the conversations I had with David Wolfe.

Eventually he stopped responding because he couldn’t answer my questions. I tried for a while to reengage him but didn’t have any luck.  He didn’t support his claims, and when questioned either insulted or ignored.

Although a few days ago I did get this response from him:

And again no further response. Perhaps my misspelling of believe annoyed him. Or perhaps the fact I actually provided ways to prove the flat earth myth is false scared him off.

Here are some links to them on twitter:
Flat Hollow Earth: https://twitter.com/answersinreason/status/798825019396587521
Fake Science: https://twitter.com/DavidWolfe/status/824414274374291456
ISS is fake: https://twitter.com/answersinreason/status/798880354237083648
Or in fact here are my tweets to him: https://twitter.com/search?q=from%3Aanswersinreason%20to%3Adavidwolfe%20&src=typd
Or his to me: https://twitter.com/search?f=tweets&q=from%3ADavidwolfe%20to%3Aanswersinreason&src=typd

The interesting thing with the conspiracy theorist is, other than the fact they are more likely to believe in a multitude of conspiracies, is that occasionally they will have one they find ridiculous. “That’s not possible and there is no supporting evidence” – when that happens my jaw drops. You can say “you understand that you think the same way about this conspiracy as others do yours. You don’t have any evidence either, just claims that “they” are out to get you” – but they don’t budge.

This happens with the religious too. How many religions believe their god is the true god and the other god claims are ridiculous? Yeah, most of them. Some are more accepting and just think your god is another aspect of theirs, but most have a “true god” “true religion” “everyone else is stupid” mentality.

Tactical Maneuvers

Mr Wolfe is either; a fantastic conman, or even scarier, truly believes what he is saying. Either way he generates money from selling his products and advertising on his site. Like him or not he is pretty successful, but how exactly does he do it?

I hypothesize he has a very particular formula that works really well for him.

  1. Normalisation – He posts some fantastic “positive vibe” memes.
  2. Sharing – Like a virus, his normalisation is shared on the web from those who like the positive messages.
  3. Trust – People start to trust him. There is a large number of people following and sharing his stuff. Friends you trust. Perhaps friends you think of as skeptical and science literate. You trust your friends, and your trust is passed on to Wolfe.
  4. Escalation – He then posts something slightly out there, perhaps about solar panels absorbing the sun’s energy.
    By this point, your brain has already built a cognitive bias. You find yourself agreeing without taking the time to think about it.
  5. Acceptance – Once you’re “in” to some of the minor pseudoscientific nonsense, it is easier to to buy in to the rest. Before you know it you’ll be engaging in the common vaccination arguments, flat earth nonsense, and all manner of fallacies.

Fundamentalists

Fundamentalists generally operate on confirmation bias and circular reasoning.

Religious fundamentalists tend to be literalists and inerrantists.

Literalist

Someone who believes their holy book is the literal word of their god

Inerrantist

Someone who believes their holy book is without error

Circular reasoning confirmation bias bibleThe above are quite circular. For example the Bible is the literal word of God. God is perfect, so the Bible is without error. We know the Bible is the word of God because it says so in the Bible and God is perfect so the Bible is without error.

That sort of logic is very frustrating, but is expected of many theists. They use the same sort of confirmation bias as conspiracy theorists. Anything that agrees with the Bible (or particular holy book) validates their claim and anything that disagrees can be rejected.

Claims, Evidence, and Primary Sources

There is a lack of understanding about claims and evidence.  The Bible is not the evidence. The Bible is the claim. The Bible, or at least some of its chapters, is/are the “Primary Source” of its information. When examining primary sources it is worth doing proper analysis.

For example Luke:

  1. Fails the time test – it is written after the fact.
  2. Fails the bias test – emotional involvement/desire to set up a faith.
  3. Passes the audience test – at least in the sense it probably wouldn’t be written differently for another audience.
  4. Fails the metaphor/symbolism test – it also contains reference to a Jewish prophesy.
  5. Fails evaluation – apart from failing 3/4 above it also fails to match up with any other historical documentation at the time. Check this expose on Jesus.

At best the Bible is a poor primary source. The Bible is mostly a secondary source.  If examined critically, without confirmation bias, you can see errors in the Bible. This doesn’t necessarily negate God’s existence but does cast doubt on the validity of the Bible. This is often why you find many theists reject any evidence that contradicts a biblical claim.

What would change your mind fudamentalist confirmation bias vs science

Fundamental atheism

Whilst atheism is not a religion; it is just the lack of belief in gods, there are many who take a very rigid or gnostic approach to every theistic claim. The atheist will take the approach that the theist is an idiot and wrong with whatever they are talking about. This is not the case at all. There are plenty of bright theists, and plenty of stupid atheists. Yes, I understand that in general theistic belief correlates with less intelligence, but to assume that every theist is stupid or wrong about everything just shows your own ignorance and stupidity.

Fanboys

It is so easy to become a “Fanboy/Fangirl”. All it takes is passion and bias. The first will be a cognitive bias (often wrapped in circular reasoning), eg “Apple phones are the best because they are made by Apple and Apple is the best”.

Any news that comes out that sheds positive light on your passion is a win. Every article where the “opponent” gets slammed is a win. Any article that poses any negativity about your passion is either false, a rare occasion, or not worthy of note.

I was an Android fanboy at one point. My fanboyism was actually born out of a hate for Apple fanboys. I was so sick of the attitude that “Apple is the best cos it’s Apple” – whilst the devices were well built I didn’t like how they operated. The way you were locked into their environment, the bloatware that is iTunes, the inability to just drag and drop music and have it playable… all things I didn’t like in the device and I saw most of the people who had them at the time had them more as fashion statements rather than actually having the savvy for a smart phone.

I found myself on a side, was very passionate, flamed those on the Apple side as “idiots” and other unnecessary insults. I was much younger at the time, less travelled, and far more arrogant.

Perhaps it is arrogance that is at the core of fanboyism and confirmation bias. I know best, therefore what I think is right, therefore anyone who disagrees with me is an idiot.

I grew up, I grew out of it. I am able to examine the positives and negatives of any device without the emotional angst. It taught me a lot. Not just about myself but about how people can be so blindsided by emotion. I’ve since tried to help people see when they are being biased but unfortunately it is a tangled web that one needs to want to untangle. I am still not a fan of Apple but I do see their merits, and they tend to have a fantastic build quality. They are right for some people, but not for me.

I recently had a conversation with a friend about fitness trackers.

We were in his car on the way to work with another friend and he mentioned wanting to get an Apple watch. I asked if it was primarily the fitness features or smart features he was after and he stated the fitness tracking.

I enquired as to if he had considered dedicated fitness trackers rather than an Apple watch. This simple statement started an argument. The driver is an Apple fan boy.

“Why would he want a different watch? The Apple watch is the best fitness tracker”

I enquired as to what he was basing that on, informed him the Apple Watch was more of a smart watch with fitness features and there were plenty of fitness trackers that would fit the bill.

I went on to explain all the research I did for my fitness tracker, how that there were some fitness trackers dedicated to specific activity, eg the Triathlon trackers focus on triathlon activity (running, swimming, and cycling) would be much better than an all round tracker. The reason I chose my Garmin Vivoactive HR is because I do a wide range of activity and one of the activities is swimming. There were not many all round trackers that did swimming, and less that did it well.

I explained the extensive research I did on it, noted its negatives like the poor sleep tracking and simple smart features, but based on all the reviews and features I found important it was right for me.

Unfortunately it descended in to him pretty much repetitively saying the Apple Watch is the best because it was Apple and they spend a lot of money making their devices the best. I stated that it was a fantastic smart watch but noted a few flaws with the smart features, e.g. inaccurate text to speech, all day heart rate, lack of GPS on gen 1, not transferring data to MyFitnessPal (but receiving it). We moved on to Gen 2 which is largely just a refinement with GPS, waterproofing and improved performance. If you think about how Apple release their phones the Apple watch 2 is the S version.

This fell on deaf ears. All he could hear me saying was “Apple is shit” – which was far from the truth. I had stated it was a good smart watch but was found wanting as a fitness tracker, just as dedicated fitness trackers with smart features are better at the fitness stuff. I said that people should examine their needs and look in to what suites their situation. A basic fitness tracker without swimming would be much much cheaper than an Apple watch, the fitness tracking would be better, and the battery would last much longer.

Eventually he said “Ugh lets end this, this is getting boring.” – I found that ironic as he was the one saying the same thing endlessly. Either “The Apple watch is the best” or “Everything I have read says the Apple watch is the best” – well yes, when you only look at Apple sites about Apple stuff it is going to say that…

But as you can see, when a cognitive bias is in place, reaffirmed with confirmation bias there is little you can do to sway the person. No matter how rationally you act, no matter how you admit the flaws of your point of view and acknowledge the benefits of their they wont shift in the slightest. They even take it as a personal attack, as my friend did. You could see how irate he was getting that I wasn’t saying it was the best.

You’ll also have to understand that this is my version of the story. Whilst I try to be as even and honest as I can there is every chance I am applying my own bias to this.

In a way, it is all fanboyism. Be it a fundamentalist fanboying over his inerrant faith, or a conspiracy theorist fanboying over his conspiracies. It is passion. Passion is great, but misguided passion can be dangerous, and at the very least leaves you ignorant.

I am prone to this kind of passion, so I have learned to be a bit more sceptical and fact check. I also lean on my critical friends to give me the appropriate kick when I need it. Unfortunately if you cannot let go of your ego, and be open to being wrong, you can’t grow as a person.

In fact when I say it is all fanboyism, a better way to describe it would be Tribalism.

Tribalism

Humans are prone to a tribalistic nature. It is how we survived the ages. We gathered together with those who were like us. Those that were different were often dangerous. This created an intrinsic xenophobia within us. “Those that are different to us are bad”.

You can see this anywhere you look too. Consider at school; how many were picked on for their music taste, hair cut, dress sense or sporting ability?
Look at the tribalistic nature of sports fans. Every team has a very “Us vs Them” attitude.
Look at religions, they are often opposed to each other, and most religions seem opposed to those without religion. There are still countries where atheism is illegal and punishable by death!
Gangs, politics, companies, brands and all the aforementioned are guilty of encouraging our inherent tribalistic behaviours.

There is no middle of the road!

Unfortunately those in a tribe, and of extreme point of view, don’t allow for people to have a middle of the road view.

I’m an analyst (and developer) by trade. I look at every situation and really struggle making decisions when I don’t have enough info, or can tell that there is lots of misinformation on both sides.

When it comes to politics I quite often protest vote (spoil my ballot) because I feel none of the candidates are up to the challenge. I want to be heard, but I want the system to change.

I also get pushed away by extreme points of view. You often see the various political tribes mocking the others. They don’t listen to each other, they don’t acknowledge the positives from each others parties. All that happens is insults and confirmation bias.

Unfortunately reasoning with an extremist is very difficult. The mentality is “If you are not with us, you are against us”. Whilst I understand this might have had an evolutionary benefit, it no longer fits in with our society.

I’ve spoken to some Republicans and questioned gun safety. I’ve said, “I think there should be more checks on people before they get their guns.” and in return have been called “A gun fearing libtard”. I actually quite like guns, I think they are cool, but I also think there are people that shouldn’t have them. They make killing too easy, too impersonal, and many are too unstable or vacant to handle the responsibility.

Similarly I have discussed employment with friends here in the UK. I’ve said the system should be changed to one that encourages people that can work, to work. That people should be helped find jobs rather than just filling in a piece of paper stating they have at the job centre. That even short term if the only thing available is a couple of days in Macdonalds the person should do it, the government makes up the deficit but they are contributing to society. That they and the job centre will still help them find appropriate work but it is a stop gap in the meantime.

Suddenly I am called a “Tory scumbag”. I have a family. If I lost my job, as much as I wouldn’t want to, I have no qualms taking a job that is “beneath” my technical expertise so that they, and I, can survive.

I don’t feel the system works. I know people that work the minimum they can because they earn more in benefit than they would if they had a full time job (at least until they had been in the job for a few years and earned the appropriate pay rises) and feel like “Why should I be miserable all week when I can work for two days and earn the same”.

I agree. Why should they? I am not saying to take away people’s benefit. There are many that need more benefit than they are getting, and there have been a few occasions where I have been out of work and was very grateful for the assistance. The point I was trying to get across is that there is a better way to go about unemployment. A way to encourage people to work. A way that people don’t feel like they are losing out by working. Perhaps this topic is moving too far from the point and I should expand on it in another article, or in our facebook debate group.

I don’t claim to have all the answers. I just think we should look at doing things differently  because the current approaches don’t seem to work. Neither does the all or nothing attitude. In fact when I raise these points in might inspire a better idea from someone else. Some of my views might be considered conservative, others liberal, and for the most part they are somewhere in between because I think we should strive for balance.

From the couple of examples I provided above, you can see what I mean about tribal nature. The “With us or against us” mentality.

So what can we do to ascend the tribe?

Unfortunately very little. It seems that even when we try and break off and do something original, there will be some that follow and others that ostracise. Until we learn to accept people for their personality and actions instead of our cognitive bias and fear we can’t really move forward as a people.

The entire time one tribe is mocking another, no progress will be made. We need to do our best to be understanding, patient, and empathetic. Acknowledge positives in your “oppositions” point of view, and maybe they will soften. Perhaps they will see points from your side too. Instead of opponents maybe you will become friends that hold some different points of view instead of being the enemies you perceive each other to be now.

ALWAYS FACT CHECK

The last piece of advice can give anyone is to fact check. Be it a meme, an article, and definitely anything that comes out of a politicians mouth.David Wolfe Confirmation Bias Solar Power

Always use multiple and reputable sources. .EDU links are generally quite reliable. Scientific articles with links to the peer reviewed studies are also a great resources. Don’t just accept any article claiming to be scientific. Fact check everything, even what we share.

Question too. I often see articles claiming X cures cancer. Ask them how. Ask them by what mechanism. Ask people what evidence they have to support their claim. If someone cannot provide any evidence then there is a good chance there isn’t any. Their claim is unsupported or baseless. Just like pretty much everything shared by David Wolfe.

sci-gasm podcast is not confirmation bias

^The Wolfe image above is a genuine quote from the longevity intensive. If you haven’t checked out the Sci-Gasm Podcast you should. It is brilliant.

Bonus Content

Whilst writing this article I shared a few of the images  of David Wolfe’s to our Facebook Page. The one that caught the most attention was the one about the ISS.

One of our fans took a picture of the ISS with his telescope. A Newtonian 200/1000 with DSLR mounted in prime focus.  He sent it to us and I got his permission to put it in the article because I wanted you all to see how easy it was to detect the ISS from earth.

He did say that there were many better amateur pictures out there that I should use but I wanted to use some content from our readers.

If you are interested in seeing the ISS for yourself check this article on how to spot the ISS. Let me know if you see any strings, balloons, or evidence it is a hologram!

The below Photo of the International Space Station taken from the space shuttle Endeavour on May 30, 2011. Image via NASA.
Also, notice the curvature of the earth!

Photo of the International Space Station taken from the space shuttle Endeavour on May 30, 2011. Image via NASA.

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2 Responses to Confirmation Bias: Fanboys, Fundamentalists, Conspiracy Theorists and our Tribal Nature

  1. J cold says:

    I agree it’s all about different cognitive bias. Number 1 cognitive dissonance then confirmation bias. You see the world as you are and not how it is. But the world just is you decide how you see it, we create reality. You can intellectualize things and hunt down evidence all you want but you still have to decide how you “feel” about things and that the dilemma. Just like a scientist can only say we haven’t found any evidence that God exist, but he cannot say as a scientist that God doesn’t exist.

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