Archive | March, 2012

Peace One Day

31 Mar

– The Impact of A Day of Peace

September 20th, 2011 by guest

Tim Wright is Director and Co-Founder of twintangibles, our city partner for Social Media Week Glasgow. Tim has worked as a consultant, practitioner and senior manager with a number of global commercial organisations including Egon Zehnder International and McKinsey & Co. His understanding of the Social Media Mindset as an enabler for radical and innovative change in both business and society inspired him to set up twintangibles in 2010.

World peace.

Simple phrase, big ambition and something pretty much all of us would aspire to.

But how many of us actually try to make it happen, I mean really try. Well, yesterday Social Media Week Glasgow was privileged to welcome a man who knows what it means to really, really, really try as Jeremy Gilley was its keynote opening speaker.
Astonishing, riveting, inspiring all part of the mix as Jeremy gave us a whistle stop account of how his 11 year campaign has brought us to the point of beginning the 1 year countdown to the first ever UN recognised World Peace Day on 21st September 2012

It’s easy to forget that a day of peace is not just a day when there is the chance of no conflict but it is a window that enables so much other social good to be done. Vaccination, education and relief. Jeremy eloquently explained to a rapt group of delegates in Glasgow, and an international audience via the streamed channels, just how profound the impact even a single day of peace can be.

You might ask why Social Media Week. What has social media and mobile communications got to do with this? Well when we began pulling together the schedule of events for Social Media Week months ago now we could not have imagined a better opening speaker because some of our key themes were communication, engagement and connection and Jeremy demonstrated how these are the sort of values that have allowed him to forge invaluable links bonds and trust that have made the process of achieving a day of peace from the Taliban possible. It’s also about the aggregation together of many small acts that will make this initiative succeed that is central to the power of social media that is so ably demonstrated by Peace One Day.

Whilst I can’t be in London for the event at the O2, Jeremy was wonderfully inventive and giving of his time to help us understand how we can all help make Peace One Day happen. We now have plans at Social Media Week Glasgow of how we can celebrate and join in on 21st September 2012, and you can learn how you can, too, here.

Over and above the streamed content that can be seen here, Jeremy also recorded a podcast that can be found here, and it almost goes with out saying that it is a well worth a listen.

On behalf of twintangibles, New Media Corp and all involved with making Social Media Week take place, I would like to thanks Jeremy for coming to Glasgow and kicking Social Media Week off in the best possible way, and thanks to Nokia for helping make that happen.

Hope you like the T-Shirt, Jeremy, you were definitely part of Team Glasgow!

No Logo

31 Mar

There’s a bad mood rising against the corporate brands.No Logo is the warning on the label.

In the last decade, No Logo has become a cultural manifesto for the critics of unfettered capitalism worldwide. As the world faces a second economic depression, No Logo’sanalysis of our corporate and branded world is as timely and powerful as ever.Equal parts cultural analysis, political manifesto, mall-rat memoir, and journalistic exposé, No Logo is the first book to put the new resistance into pop-historical and clear economic perspective. It tells a story of rebellion and self-determination in the face of our new branded world.

Is War Natural ?

30 Mar
It has a long history, is it caused by competition over limited resources with growing populations or plain greed ?

is eugenics or a solution to war ?

over a year ago · Report 

  • you ask several different questions there jason..

    is war natural?
    ‘natural’ is quite an ambiguous term – a quick look on lists over 30 definitions for the word.. i will therefore assume that you mean to ask whether war is a natural instinct of humankind.. to me, such a question is irrelevant to the present question.. whilst we have resorted to war in the past to resolve dispute, with our current level of culture – where we can level a city with a single bomb – is it not time that we ceased such destructive practices and resolved our affairs in a more dignified manner?

    is war caused by competition over limited resources with growing populations or plain greed?
    war does indeed have a long and unfortunate history.. some have been fought for resources, others for assets that could be construed as greed and yet others over differences in ideologies.. essentially one can see the problem as a failure to work with one’s neighbours.. if resources were shared and differing ideologies tolerated, we would have little need to kill each other in war.. that’s where the idea of peace kinda transcends into other movements really – the ideal is for everyone to live in harmony and so the only way to achieve that is to remove the barriers to equality, healthcare, education and democracy for everyone on the planet..

    is eugenics or a solution to war?
    eugenics and the ‘self-extinction’ philosophy suggested by are only methods of population control and are in no way solutions to war.. it doesn’t matter what the population size is, if they can’t get along there will be conflict.. it is only by learning to accept one another and by contributing to a common economy on an equal footing that we can hope to achieve a peaceful tomorrow for all..

    peace not war..

    over a year ago · Report 

  • war is conflict
    conflict is relieving stress
    stress is living with tooo many one this earth
    living with to many on this earth is us reproducing without a limit
    the limit that disappeared , is the cause for war
    the limit that used to be was natural
    the limit was a natural enemy
    the natural enemy was every animal that hunts

    when humans evolved , they became the hunters , with none to hunt for humans , we have become bored and out of control , thats why there was only 1 natural choice left: if there is no one above you , you only have something that is on the same level as you.

    so yes , for us humans , or every other specie that comes down the same path as us , war IS natural

    over a year ago · Report 

  • an interesting article on the subject from new scientist magazine titled ‘Wining the ultimate battle: how humans could end war’:    

    of which the conclusion states:
    ‘Is this all just idealistic pie-in-the-sky? Well, there is no doubt that any announcement of the end of warfare would be premature. At the very least, though, we can confidently reject the fatalistic belief that it is innate. That assumes “we’re some kind of automata where aggressive genes force us to pick up knives and guns like zombies and attack each other without any thoughts going through our heads”, says Pinker. War is not in our DNA. And if warfare is not innate then, surely, neither is it inevitable.’

    over a year ago · Report 

  • Alright, subjects, studies and papers aside.
    Conflict is a natural thing. Although war isn’t conflict on small scale. You also have to take into consideration that people are really not that natural anymore. We don’t complete our lives by attributing to the natural process, just you on the computer proves this. Now that I’ve ascertained that people are not really apart of nature with their actions anymore. What does that make us? Some scientists and general people who think have often described people as the planet’s cancer, unless you study this subject, or are a scientist, you probably do not understand what they are saying.

    Cancer is a rapidly evolving set of cells, exposed to a natural mutagen found within the human body, these cells, excel soooo rapidly that the human body is put into a state of shock and overcompensates. These cells are soo new and different to the body, because the body is in general “Fighting itself” That it cannot build up a natural immunity, this fact eventually kills the host.

    Human beings are creatures of Want, and of change.
    Want being that, we don’t take what is needed, or what is best for the planet, we take whatever we want without thinking about the consequences or just plainly disregarding them for profit. These kinds of decisions lead to Greed based wars, causing the planet more harm, by resource harvesting, and over producing.

    Creatures of Change meaning, that we are open to our own interpretation, we know better, although we pretend not to, as to continue our destructive and want based lifestyle.

    So what those educated individuals are saying is.
    The Earth is a living organism and every organism on it is apart of its strictly balanced circulatory system, to wit we are the invading, cell that is an evolved form of a natural cell.

    We are the only organism on this planet that seems to have no other purpose than to take from it.

    over a year ago · Report 


    War is not innate, any more than a whole range of ‘learned’ or ‘conditioned’ behaviour patterns. Fashion is not innate. Neither is low self-esteem. War is a function of Civilisation.

    Derrick Jensen defines Civilisation as any human habitation that, exceeding the carrying capacity of its land base, requires the importation of ‘resources’ from other peoples land bases and /or the destruction of habitat for that purpose. Civilisation is inherently unsustainable. War is a FUNCTION of Civilisation, a core method of acquiring ‘resources’.

    Peace therefore is as much a question of ecologically sustainable living as it is of violence. Most cultures that are non-civilised are sustainable.

    The problem for Peace activists is this : because most of us have internalised the values of the system of resource exploitation, (or have internalised the values of the abusers) we fail to see the connections between the way we live (stealing ‘resources’) and the wars fought (abuse) to maintain that way of living.

    In essence, the movement lacks any real purchase on the problem because the discourse is limited to ‘War and Peace’ within Civilisation; and folk are looking for a peaceful civilisation, which is an oxymoron. It ain’t gonna happen.

    The Peace Movement must expand the discussion to include the conditioning of children, through Compulsion Schooling, which is seen as essential by the drivers of Civilisation; it must include also the facts of unsustainable living.

    over a year ago · Report 


    And it must also include a discussion on psychopathology within Civilisation.

    There are arguments that suggest there is a ‘natural’ level of psychopathology, that also show that the practice of Civilisation expands that level beyond natural limitations. Certainly the behaviour of Corporations, Leaders, Soldiers and their counterparts in ‘resistance’ show this to be the case.

    What is often missed though is that psychopathology, ie: acting and abusing without conscience or empathy, is a core product of Compulsion Schooling, Military Training, Corporate Training, Financial Training : in fact a core requirement for success in most ‘career’ paths for middle class managerial types, for police, for many, many people. All of this is learned.

    over a year ago · Report 

  • People over compensate the simple act of stepping back and examining ones self.

Instrumentalización Humana

29 Mar

Por Ignacio G. Barbero

Los productos de la intelección humana no dan suficiente cuenta de la fluidez inherente a lo real. Interesada por un control práctico del entorno, detiene y solidifica el devenir a golpe de concepto, simplificando su complejidad. La reflexión teórica es evidentemente antropocéntrica, a saber:  proyecta categorías propias de la acción personal -como causa o fin- en la definición de cualquier cosa. Entiende que son las características de lo humano las que determinan  y  “fijan” en toda su pureza las propiedades de lo no humano . Con este proceso, sin embargo, nos encerramos más y más en nuestra consciencia, que es tomada por una identidad sólida e indivisible, e instalamos progresivamente una distancia insalvable con los procesos ajenos del mundo.

Los entes (vivos o inertes) son ilimitadamente polifacéticos y, por ello, no podemos reducirlos a nuestra imagen y semejanza.  Hemos de ensayar una filosofía integral que procure exponer todas las caras de los fenómenos, abstrayéndolos de la instrumentalización humana, y concretando todas las posibilidades que esas caras implican.  A partir de ellas, podremos dibujar la red completa de interacciones del mundo conocido. El siguiente paso será aplicar este análisis al ser humano, descomponiendo sus átomos esenciales, sus jerarquías y sus múltiples perfiles. Este desenmascaramiento brindará el honor de conectarnos con el mapamundi de lo real. El “cosmos/caos” de estratos  y vínculos es tan inmenso que apabulla a la mente humana, mas si deseamos una comprensión plena de lo que la realidad -con nosotros- es y puede ser, este proyecto de pensamiento es ineludible.

Despertar a ello indica un cambio de rumbo en la navegación filosófica. Nuevos horizontes de sentido, nuevos mares bravíos. La dificultad de la ruta no es cuestionable, mas creo que su dignidad vale la pena. Desembocaremos en un nuevo ser humano, polimorfo, uno con su entorno y en continuo cambio. Esto implicará una nueva y necesaria ética, que tendrá que abarcar las variables dimensiones y relaciones de un mundo que no es reducible a conceptos, que sólo “deviene”. El hombre aparecerá así como un ente más, integrado en esa constante modificación. Esto implica volver a entender la existencia como radical insistencia y perseverancia en ser -que nunca se termina y siempre se está haciendo.

Nada es completo por sí mismo, no hay naturalezas propias, constantes, sólo un vacío pleno de vínculos increados en continuo movimiento. Una irreductible heterogeneidad. Todo es dependiente de lo demás, forma parte de un mismo gesto. Esta inevitable dependencia tendría que resonar en un corazón “inteligente”, en un ente que no está-siendo sin lo ajeno, cuyas potencias sólo son comprensibles a partir de lo otro. Hay una comunidad con lo extraño que impide, por un lado, pensarlo sin asumir lo propio y, por otro, actuar físicamente contra ello, porque supondría, en primer término, el dolor general. Este dolor es la consecuencia directa de seccionar el mundo en partes indiferentes a las demás- inocuas y escindidas- , haciendo del inteligir y el vivir humanos una legitimación de esta sesgada partición. No podemos volver a este comportamiento si deseamos un entendimiento comprensivo y generoso con la inconmensurable realidad que habitamos . 

What you can’t say

28 Mar

What You Can't Say

January 2004

Have you ever seen an old photo of yourself and been embarrassed at the way you looked? Did we actually dress like that? We did. And we had no idea how silly we looked. It’s the nature of fashion to be invisible, in the same way the movement of the earth is invisible to all of us riding on it.

What scares me is that there are moral fashions too. They’re just as arbitrary, and just as invisible to most people. But they’re much more dangerous. Fashion is mistaken for good design; moral fashion is mistaken for good. Dressing oddly gets you laughed at. Violating moral fashions can get you fired, ostracized, imprisoned, or even killed.

If you could travel back in a time machine, one thing would be true no matter where you went: you’d have to watch what you said. Opinions we consider harmless could have gotten you in big trouble. I’ve already said at least one thing that would have gotten me in big trouble in most of Europe in the seventeenth century, and did get Galileo in big trouble when he said it– that the earth moves. [1]

It seems to be a constant throughout history: In every period, people believed things that were just ridiculous, and believed them so strongly that you would have gotten in terrible trouble for saying otherwise.

Is our time any different? To anyone who has read any amount of history, the answer is almost certainly no. It would be a remarkable coincidence if ours were the first era to get everything just right.

It’s tantalizing to think we believe things that people in the future will find ridiculous. What would someone coming back to visit us in a time machine have to be careful not to say? That’s what I want to study here. But I want to do more than just shock everyone with the heresy du jour. I want to find general recipes for discovering what you can’t say, in any era.

The Conformist Test

Let’s start with a test: Do you have any opinions that you would be reluctant to express in front of a group of your peers?

If the answer is no, you might want to stop and think about that. If everything you believe is something you’re supposed to believe, could that possibly be a coincidence? Odds are it isn’t. Odds are you just think whatever you’re told.

The other alternative would be that you independently considered every question and came up with the exact same answers that are now considered acceptable. That seems unlikely, because you’d also have to make the same mistakes. Mapmakers deliberately put slight mistakes in their maps so they can tell when someone copies them. If another map has the same mistake, that’s very convincing evidence.

Like every other era in history, our moral map almost certainly contains a few mistakes. And anyone who makes the same mistakes probably didn’t do it by accident. It would be like someone claiming they had independently decided in 1972 that bell-bottom jeans were a good idea.

If you believe everything you’re supposed to now, how can you be sure you wouldn’t also have believed everything you were supposed to if you had grown up among the plantation owners of the pre-Civil War South, or in Germany in the 1930s– or among the Mongols in 1200, for that matter? Odds are you would have.

Back in the era of terms like “well-adjusted,” the idea seemed to be that there was something wrong with you if you thought things you didn’t dare say out loud. This seems backward. Almost certainly, there is something wrong with you if you don’t think things you don’t dare say out loud.


What can’t we say? One way to find these ideas is simply to look at things people do say, and get in trouble for. [2]

Of course, we’re not just looking for things we can’t say. We’re looking for things we can’t say that are true, or at least have enough chance of being true that the question should remain open. But many of the things people get in trouble for saying probably do make it over this second, lower threshold. No one gets in trouble for saying that 2 + 2 is 5, or that people in Pittsburgh are ten feet tall. Such obviously false statements might be treated as jokes, or at worst as evidence of insanity, but they are not likely to make anyone mad. The statements that make people mad are the ones they worry might be believed. I suspect the statements that make people maddest are those they worry might be true.

If Galileo had said that people in Padua were ten feet tall, he would have been regarded as a harmless eccentric. Saying the earth orbited the sun was another matter. The church knew this would set people thinking.

Certainly, as we look back on the past, this rule of thumb works well. A lot of the statements people got in trouble for seem harmless now. So it’s likely that visitors from the future would agree with at least some of the statements that get people in trouble today. Do we have no Galileos? Not likely.

To find them, keep track of opinions that get people in trouble, and start asking, could this be true? Ok, it may be heretical (or whatever modern equivalent), but might it also be true?


This won’t get us all the answers, though. What if no one happens to have gotten in trouble for a particular idea yet? What if some idea would be so radioactively controversial that no one would dare express it in public? How can we find these too?

Another approach is to follow that word, heresy. In every period of history, there seem to have been labels that got applied to statements to shoot them down before anyone had a chance to ask if they were true or not. “Blasphemy”, “sacrilege”, and “heresy” were such labels for a good part of western history, as in more recent times “indecent”, “improper”, and “unamerican” have been. By now these labels have lost their sting. They always do. By now they’re mostly used ironically. But in their time, they had real force.

The word “defeatist”, for example, has no particular political connotations now. But in Germany in 1917 it was a weapon, used by Ludendorff in a purge of those who favored a negotiated peace. At the start of World War II it was used extensively by Churchill and his supporters to silence their opponents. In 1940, any argument against Churchill’s aggressive policy was “defeatist”. Was it right or wrong? Ideally, no one got far enough to ask that.

We have such labels today, of course, quite a lot of them, from the all-purpose “inappropriate” to the dreaded “divisive.” In any period, it should be easy to figure out what such labels are, simply by looking at what people call ideas they disagree with besides untrue. When a politician says his opponent is mistaken, that’s a straightforward criticism, but when he attacks a statement as “divisive” or “racially insensitive” instead of arguing that it’s false, we should start paying attention.

So another way to figure out which of our taboos future generations will laugh at is to start with the labels. Take a label– “sexist”, for example– and try to think of some ideas that would be called that. Then for each ask, might this be true?

Just start listing ideas at random? Yes, because they won’t really be random. The ideas that come to mind first will be the most plausible ones. They’ll be things you’ve already noticed but didn’t let yourself think.

In 1989 some clever researchers tracked the eye movements of radiologists as they scanned chest images for signs of lung cancer. [3] They found that even when the radiologists missed a cancerous lesion, their eyes had usually paused at the site of it. Part of their brain knew there was something there; it just didn’t percolate all the way up into conscious knowledge. I think many interesting heretical thoughts are already mostly formed in our minds. If we turn off our self-censorship temporarily, those will be the first to emerge.

Time and Space

If we could look into the future it would be obvious which of our taboos they’d laugh at. We can’t do that, but we can do something almost as good: we can look into the past. Another way to figure out what we’re getting wrong is to look at what used to be acceptable and is now unthinkable.

Changes between the past and the present sometimes do represent progress. In a field like physics, if we disagree with past generations it’s because we’re right and they’re wrong. But this becomes rapidly less true as you move away from the certainty of the hard sciences. By the time you get to social questions, many changes are just fashion. The age of consent fluctuates like hemlines.

We may imagine that we are a great deal smarter and more virtuous than past generations, but the more history you read, the less likely this seems. People in past times were much like us. Not heroes, not barbarians. Whatever their ideas were, they were ideas reasonable people could believe.

So here is another source of interesting heresies. Diff present ideas against those of various past cultures, and see what you get. [4] Some will be shocking by present standards. Ok, fine; but which might also be true?

You don’t have to look into the past to find big differences. In our own time, different societies have wildly varying ideas of what’s ok and what isn’t. So you can try diffing other cultures’ ideas against ours as well. (The best way to do that is to visit them.)

You might find contradictory taboos. In one culture it might seem shocking to think x, while in another it was shocking not to. But I think usually the shock is on one side. In one culture x is ok, and in another it’s considered shocking. My hypothesis is that the side that’s shocked is most likely to be the mistaken one. [5]

I suspect the only taboos that are more than taboos are the ones that are universal, or nearly so. Murder for example. But any idea that’s considered harmless in a significant percentage of times and places, and yet is taboo in ours, is a good candidate for something we’re mistaken about.

For example, at the high water mark of political correctness in the early 1990s, Harvard distributed to its faculty and staff a brochure saying, among other things, that it was inappropriate to compliment a colleague or student’s clothes. No more “nice shirt.” I think this principle is rare among the world’s cultures, past or present. There are probably more where it’s considered especially polite to compliment someone’s clothing than where it’s considered improper. So odds are this is, in a mild form, an example of one of the taboos a visitor from the future would have to be careful to avoid if he happened to set his time machine for Cambridge, Massachusetts, 1992.


Of course, if they have time machines in the future they’ll probably have a separate reference manual just for Cambridge. This has always been a fussy place, a town of i dotters and t crossers, where you’re liable to get both your grammar and your ideas corrected in the same conversation. And that suggests another way to find taboos. Look for prigs, and see what’s inside their heads.

Kids’ heads are repositories of all our taboos. It seems fitting to us that kids’ ideas should be bright and clean. The picture we give them of the world is not merely simplified, to suit their developing minds, but sanitized as well, to suit our ideas of what kids ought to think. [6]

You can see this on a small scale in the matter of dirty words. A lot of my friends are starting to have children now, and they’re all trying not to use words like “fuck” and “shit” within baby’s hearing, lest baby start using these words too. But these words are part of the language, and adults use them all the time. So parents are giving their kids an inaccurate idea of the language by not using them. Why do they do this? Because they don’t think it’s fitting that kids should use the whole language. We like children to seem innocent. [7]

Most adults, likewise, deliberately give kids a misleading view of the world. One of the most obvious examples is Santa Claus. We think it’s cute for little kids to believe in Santa Claus. I myself think it’s cute for little kids to believe in Santa Claus. But one wonders, do we tell them this stuff for their sake, or for ours?

I’m not arguing for or against this idea here. It is probably inevitable that parents should want to dress up their kids’ minds in cute little baby outfits. I’ll probably do it myself. The important thing for our purposes is that, as a result, a well brought-up teenage kid’s brain is a more or less complete collection of all our taboos– and in mint condition, because they’re untainted by experience. Whatever we think that will later turn out to be ridiculous, it’s almost certainly inside that head.

How do we get at these ideas? By the following thought experiment. Imagine a kind of latter-day Conrad character who has worked for a time as a mercenary in Africa, for a time as a doctor in Nepal, for a time as the manager of a nightclub in Miami. The specifics don’t matter– just someone who has seen a lot. Now imagine comparing what’s inside this guy’s head with what’s inside the head of a well-behaved sixteen year old girl from the suburbs. What does he think that would shock her? He knows the world; she knows, or at least embodies, present taboos. Subtract one from the other, and the result is what we can’t say.


I can think of one more way to figure out what we can’t say: to look at how taboos are created. How do moral fashions arise, and why are they adopted? If we can understand this mechanism, we may be able to see it at work in our own time.

Moral fashions don’t seem to be created the way ordinary fashions are. Ordinary fashions seem to arise by accident when everyone imitates the whim of some influential person. The fashion for broad-toed shoes in late fifteenth century Europe began because Charles VIII of France had six toes on one foot. The fashion for the name Gary began when the actor Frank Cooper adopted the name of a tough mill town in Indiana. Moral fashions more often seem to be created deliberately. When there’s something we can’t say, it’s often because some group doesn’t want us to.

The prohibition will be strongest when the group is nervous. The irony of Galileo’s situation was that he got in trouble for repeating Copernicus’s ideas. Copernicus himself didn’t. In fact, Copernicus was a canon of a cathedral, and dedicated his book to the pope. But by Galileo’s time the church was in the throes of the Counter-Reformation and was much more worried about unorthodox ideas.

To launch a taboo, a group has to be poised halfway between weakness and power. A confident group doesn’t need taboos to protect it. It’s not considered improper to make disparaging remarks about Americans, or the English. And yet a group has to be powerful enough to enforce a taboo. Coprophiles, as of this writing, don’t seem to be numerous or energetic enough to have had their interests promoted to a lifestyle.

I suspect the biggest source of moral taboos will turn out to be power struggles in which one side only barely has the upper hand. That’s where you’ll find a group powerful enough to enforce taboos, but weak enough to need them.

Most struggles, whatever they’re really about, will be cast as struggles between competing ideas. The English Reformation was at bottom a struggle for wealth and power, but it ended up being cast as a struggle to preserve the souls of Englishmen from the corrupting influence of Rome. It’s easier to get people to fight for an idea. And whichever side wins, their ideas will also be considered to have triumphed, as if God wanted to signal his agreement by selecting that side as the victor.

We often like to think of World War II as a triumph of freedom over totalitarianism. We conveniently forget that the Soviet Union was also one of the winners.

I’m not saying that struggles are never about ideas, just that they will always be made to seem to be about ideas, whether they are or not. And just as there is nothing so unfashionable as the last, discarded fashion, there is nothing so wrong as the principles of the most recently defeated opponent. Representational art is only now recovering from the approval of both Hitler and Stalin. [8]

Although moral fashions tend to arise from different sources than fashions in clothing, the mechanism of their adoption seems much the same. The early adopters will be driven by ambition: self-consciously cool people who want to distinguish themselves from the common herd. As the fashion becomes established they’ll be joined by a second, much larger group, driven by fear. [9] This second group adopt the fashion not because they want to stand out but because they are afraid of standing out.

So if you want to figure out what we can’t say, look at the machinery of fashion and try to predict what it would make unsayable. What groups are powerful but nervous, and what ideas would they like to suppress? What ideas were tarnished by association when they ended up on the losing side of a recent struggle? If a self-consciously cool person wanted to differentiate himself from preceding fashions (e.g. from his parents), which of their ideas would he tend to reject? What are conventional-minded people afraid of saying?

This technique won’t find us all the things we can’t say. I can think of some that aren’t the result of any recent struggle. Many of our taboos are rooted deep in the past. But this approach, combined with the preceding four, will turn up a good number of unthinkable ideas.


Some would ask, why would one want to do this? Why deliberately go poking around among nasty, disreputable ideas? Why look under rocks?

I do it, first of all, for the same reason I did look under rocks as a kid: plain curiosity. And I’m especially curious about anything that’s forbidden. Let me see and decide for myself.

Second, I do it because I don’t like the idea of being mistaken. If, like other eras, we believe things that will later seem ridiculous, I want to know what they are so that I, at least, can avoid believing them.

Third, I do it because it’s good for the brain. To do good work you need a brain that can go anywhere. And you especially need a brain that’s in the habit of going where it’s not supposed to.

Great work tends to grow out of ideas that others have overlooked, and no idea is so overlooked as one that’s unthinkable. Natural selection, for example. It’s so simple. Why didn’t anyone think of it before? Well, that is all too obvious. Darwin himself was careful to tiptoe around the implications of his theory. He wanted to spend his time thinking about biology, not arguing with people who accused him of being an atheist.

In the sciences, especially, it’s a great advantage to be able to question assumptions. The m.o. of scientists, or at least of the good ones, is precisely that: look for places where conventional wisdom is broken, and then try to pry apart the cracks and see what’s underneath. That’s where new theories come from.

A good scientist, in other words, does not merely ignore conventional wisdom, but makes a special effort to break it. Scientists go looking for trouble. This should be the m.o. of any scholar, but scientists seem much more willing to look under rocks. [10]

Why? It could be that the scientists are simply smarter; most physicists could, if necessary, make it through a PhD program in French literature, but few professors of French literature could make it through a PhD program in physics. Or it could be because it’s clearer in the sciences whether theories are true or false, and this makes scientists bolder. (Or it could be that, because it’s clearer in the sciences whether theories are true or false, you have to be smart to get jobs as a scientist, rather than just a good politician.)

Whatever the reason, there seems a clear correlation between intelligence and willingness to consider shocking ideas. This isn’t just because smart people actively work to find holes in conventional thinking. I think conventions also have less hold over them to start with. You can see that in the way they dress.

It’s not only in the sciences that heresy pays off. In any competitive field, you can win big by seeing things that others daren’t. And in every field there are probably heresies few dare utter. Within the US car industry there is a lot of hand-wringing now about declining market share. Yet the cause is so obvious that any observant outsider could explain it in a second: they make bad cars. And they have for so long that by now the US car brands are antibrands– something you’d buy a car despite, not because of. Cadillac stopped being the Cadillac of cars in about 1970. And yet I suspect no one dares say this. [11] Otherwise these companies would have tried to fix the problem.

Training yourself to think unthinkable thoughts has advantages beyond the thoughts themselves. It’s like stretching. When you stretch before running, you put your body into positions much more extreme than any it will assume during the run. If you can think things so outside the box that they’d make people’s hair stand on end, you’ll have no trouble with the small trips outside the box that people call innovative.

Pensieri Stretti

When you find something you can’t say, what do you do with it? My advice is, don’t say it. Or at least, pick your battles.

Suppose in the future there is a movement to ban the color yellow. Proposals to paint anything yellow are denounced as “yellowist”, as is anyone suspected of liking the color. People who like orange are tolerated but viewed with suspicion. Suppose you realize there is nothing wrong with yellow. If you go around saying this, you’ll be denounced as a yellowist too, and you’ll find yourself having a lot of arguments with anti-yellowists. If your aim in life is to rehabilitate the color yellow, that may be what you want. But if you’re mostly interested in other questions, being labelled as a yellowist will just be a distraction. Argue with idiots, and you become an idiot.

The most important thing is to be able to think what you want, not to say what you want. And if you feel you have to say everything you think, it may inhibit you from thinking improper thoughts. I think it’s better to follow the opposite policy. Draw a sharp line between your thoughts and your speech. Inside your head, anything is allowed. Within my head I make a point of encouraging the most outrageous thoughts I can imagine. But, as in a secret society, nothing that happens within the building should be told to outsiders. The first rule of Fight Club is, you do not talk about Fight Club.

When Milton was going to visit Italy in the 1630s, Sir Henry Wootton, who had been ambassador to Venice, told him his motto should be “i pensieri stretti & il viso sciolto.” Closed thoughts and an open face. Smile at everyone, and don’t tell them what you’re thinking. This was wise advice. Milton was an argumentative fellow, and the Inquisition was a bit restive at that time. But I think the difference between Milton’s situation and ours is only a matter of degree. Every era has its heresies, and if you don’t get imprisoned for them you will at least get in enough trouble that it becomes a complete distraction.

I admit it seems cowardly to keep quiet. When I read about the harassment to which the Scientologists subject their critics [12], or that pro-Israel groups are “compiling dossiers” on those who speak out against Israeli human rights abuses [13], or about people being sued for violating the DMCA [14], part of me wants to say, “All right, you bastards, bring it on.” The problem is, there are so many things you can’t say. If you said them all you’d have no time left for your real work. You’d have to turn into Noam Chomsky. [15]

The trouble with keeping your thoughts secret, though, is that you lose the advantages of discussion. Talking about an idea leads to more ideas. So the optimal plan, if you can manage it, is to have a few trusted friends you can speak openly to. This is not just a way to develop ideas; it’s also a good rule of thumb for choosing friends. The people you can say heretical things to without getting jumped on are also the most interesting to know.

Viso Sciolto?

I don’t think we need the viso sciolto so much as the pensieri stretti. Perhaps the best policy is to make it plain that you don’t agree with whatever zealotry is current in your time, but not to be too specific about what you disagree with. Zealots will try to draw you out, but you don’t have to answer them. If they try to force you to treat a question on their terms by asking “are you with us or against us?” you can always just answer “neither”.

Better still, answer “I haven’t decided.” That’s what Larry Summers did when a group tried to put him in this position. Explaining himself later, he said “I don’t do litmus tests.” [16] A lot of the questions people get hot about are actually quite complicated. There is no prize for getting the answer quickly.

If the anti-yellowists seem to be getting out of hand and you want to fight back, there are ways to do it without getting yourself accused of being a yellowist. Like skirmishers in an ancient army, you want to avoid directly engaging the main body of the enemy’s troops. Better to harass them with arrows from a distance.

One way to do this is to ratchet the debate up one level of abstraction. If you argue against censorship in general, you can avoid being accused of whatever heresy is contained in the book or film that someone is trying to censor. You can attack labels with meta-labels: labels that refer to the use of labels to prevent discussion. The spread of the term “political correctness” meant the beginning of the end of political correctness, because it enabled one to attack the phenomenon as a whole without being accused of any of the specific heresies it sought to suppress.

Another way to counterattack is with metaphor. Arthur Miller undermined the House Un-American Activities Committee by writing a play, “The Crucible,” about the Salem witch trials. He never referred directly to the committee and so gave them no way to reply. What could HUAC do, defend the Salem witch trials? And yet Miller’s metaphor stuck so well that to this day the activities of the committee are often described as a “witch-hunt.”

Best of all, probably, is humor. Zealots, whatever their cause, invariably lack a sense of humor. They can’t reply in kind to jokes. They’re as unhappy on the territory of humor as a mounted knight on a skating rink. Victorian prudishness, for example, seems to have been defeated mainly by treating it as a joke. Likewise its reincarnation as political correctness. “I am glad that I managed to write ‘The Crucible,'” Arthur Miller wrote, “but looking back I have often wished I’d had the temperament to do an absurd comedy, which is what the situation deserved.” [17]


A Dutch friend says I should use Holland as an example of a tolerant society. It’s true they have a long tradition of comparative open-mindedness. For centuries the low countries were the place to go to say things you couldn’t say anywhere else, and this helped to make the region a center of scholarship and industry (which have been closely tied for longer than most people realize). Descartes, though claimed by the French, did much of his thinking in Holland.

And yet, I wonder. The Dutch seem to live their lives up to their necks in rules and regulations. There’s so much you can’t do there; is there really nothing you can’t say?

Certainly the fact that they value open-mindedness is no guarantee. Who thinks they’re not open-minded? Our hypothetical prim miss from the suburbs thinks she’s open-minded. Hasn’t she been taught to be? Ask anyone, and they’ll say the same thing: they’re pretty open-minded, though they draw the line at things that are really wrong. (Some tribes may avoid “wrong” as judgemental, and may instead use a more neutral sounding euphemism like “negative” or “destructive”.)

When people are bad at math, they know it, because they get the wrong answers on tests. But when people are bad at open-mindedness they don’t know it. In fact they tend to think the opposite. Remember, it’s the nature of fashion to be invisible. It wouldn’t work otherwise. Fashion doesn’t seem like fashion to someone in the grip of it. It just seems like the right thing to do. It’s only by looking from a distance that we see oscillations in people’s idea of the right thing to do, and can identify them as fashions.

Time gives us such distance for free. Indeed, the arrival of new fashions makes old fashions easy to see, because they seem so ridiculous by contrast. From one end of a pendulum’s swing, the other end seems especially far away.

To see fashion in your own time, though, requires a conscious effort. Without time to give you distance, you have to create distance yourself. Instead of being part of the mob, stand as far away from it as you can and watch what it’s doing. And pay especially close attention whenever an idea is being suppressed. Web filters for children and employees often ban sites containing pornography, violence, and hate speech. What counts as pornography and violence? And what, exactly, is “hate speech?” This sounds like a phrase out of 1984.

Labels like that are probably the biggest external clue. If a statement is false, that’s the worst thing you can say about it. You don’t need to say that it’s heretical. And if it isn’t false, it shouldn’t be suppressed. So when you see statements being attacked as x-ist or y-ic (substitute your current values of x and y), whether in 1630 or 2030, that’s a sure sign that something is wrong. When you hear such labels being used, ask why.

Especially if you hear yourself using them. It’s not just the mob you need to learn to watch from a distance. You need to be able to watch your own thoughts from a distance. That’s not a radical idea, by the way; it’s the main difference between children and adults. When a child gets angry because he’s tired, he doesn’t know what’s happening. An adult can distance himself enough from the situation to say “never mind, I’m just tired.” I don’t see why one couldn’t, by a similar process, learn to recognize and discount the effects of moral fashions.

You have to take that extra step if you want to think clearly. But it’s harder, because now you’re working against social customs instead of with them. Everyone encourages you to grow up to the point where you can discount your own bad moods. Few encourage you to continue to the point where you can discount society’s bad moods.

How can you see the wave, when you’re the water? Always be questioning. That’s the only defence. What can’t you say? And why?


Thanks to Sarah Harlin, Trevor Blackwell, Jessica Livingston, Robert Morris, Eric Raymond and Bob van der Zwaan for reading drafts of this essay, and to Lisa Randall, Jackie McDonough, Ryan Stanley and Joel Rainey for conversations about heresy. Needless to say they bear no blame for opinions expressed in it, and especially for opinions not expressed in it. 

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27 Mar

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En legítima venganza

27 Mar

La cosa iba de niñas, estafadores, impunidades delictivas y cosas así, y alguien dijo: «Lo inadmisible es la justicia entendida como venganza». Luego me miró con la certeza imbatible de quien tiene la Verdad y la Humanidad sentadas en un hombro, como el loro del pirata. No dije nada, pues hace tiempo descubrí lo inútil de las discusiones: cada uno finge escuchar al otro mientras prepara argumentos para la siguiente réplica. Así que, para ahorrar saliva y esfuerzo, suelo dejar que hablen los demás. Después ya me las arreglo para decir lo que tenga que decir, en mis novelas, o aquí mismo. Es cierto que, a veces, ante la demagogia de todo a cien, no me puedo aguantar e imito al conde de Montecristo. Juas, juas, hago. Sin argumentos, razones ni nada. Risa por la cara. Luego doy la vuelta y me largo. A leer, por ejemplo. Dirán algunos que eso es fascismo dialéctico, y que todas las ideas son respetables. Pero se equivocan. Ninguna gilipollez es respetable. Lo único respetable es el derecho de cada cual a expresar cualquier gilipollez. Tan respetable como, acto seguido, el derecho de los otros a llamarlo gilipollas.

Hoy quiero hablarles de justicia y venganza. Punto de vista subjetivo, claro; sometido a error y parcialidades varias. Resultado de cincuenta y siete años de vida, algunos viajes y libros, y no fraguado en el buenismo idiota –y suicida– de quienes creen vivir en el bosquecito de Bambi. La cosa se resume en una pregunta: ¿Qué tiene de malo la venganza?… Ya sé que en la sociedad occidental esa palabra tiene mala prensa. Hay que perdonar a los que ofenden, alumbrar su camino, reinsertarlos pronto y demás. Pero olvidamos algo: el sentimiento de venganza, de reparación personal, está en nuestro instinto. Viene, supongo, del tiempo en que salíamos de la cueva para buscarle una chuleta de mamut a la familia. En mi opinión, la venganza –en sus formas antiguas o modernas– no es mala. Resulta higiénica para la salud mental, y frustra mucho verse privado de ella. Lo que ocurre es que, para que la sociedad no sea un continuo e incómodo navajeo, los hombres resolvimos confiar al Estado el monopolio de nuestros ajustes de cuentas. Ofendidos, queriendo venganza y reparación de quienes nos ofendieron, cedemos ese impulso natural a la institución que nos rige y representa; y a ésta corresponde resarcirnos del daño recibido, alejar o anular el peligro social que el ofensor pueda suponer, y satisfacer, castigando adecuadamente a éste, nuestro lógico, instintivo, atávico deseo de venganza. No es casual que sean precisamente los grupos marginales, que no creen en la sociedad o comparten sus códigos, los que procuran siempre tomarse la venganza por su mano. O que, en las películas, nos guste y tranquilice que al final muera el malo.

Y es que el problema, a mi juicio, surge cuando el Estado se revela incapaz de corresponder al compromiso. De cumplir con su obligación. Viene entonces la frustración de quienes se ven sin reparación, indefensos ante el mal causado. De quienes ven al asesino pasear impune por la calle, al estafador disfrutar de su dinero, al violador salir el fin de semana para repetir exactamente lo que lo puso entre rejas. De quienes ven sus deseos bloqueados en la maraña de incompetencia, burocracia, desidia, demagogia y mala fe que caracteriza a toda sociedad humana. Y además, como guinda, deben tragarse el discurso mascado por quienes ahondan cada vez más, por ignorancia, estupidez o cálculo interesado, el abismo entre la teoría y la realidad. Entre vida real y vida ideal. Y el de los simples que se lo tragan. El de los ciudadanos razonables y civilizados que dicen odiar el delito pero compadecer y ayudar al delincuente: discurso que queda chachi en la tele, en el editorial de periódico o en el café con los amigos, pero que se esfuma cuando sale tu número. Cuando roban en tu casa, asaltan en tu calle o violan a tu hija. Sólo una sociedad firme y segura de sí, dura con los transgresores –e implacable con los vigilantes de los transgresores cuando cruzan la raya– hace innecesaria la venganza personal. Una sociedad capaz de protegerse con justicia y serenidad, pero sin complejos. Sin mariconadas de telediario. Cuando no es así, las leyes hechas para proteger a la gente honrada se vuelven contra ella misma. La atan de manos, convirtiéndose en escudo de sinvergüenzas, depredadores y bestias sin conciencia. Frustran la esperanza de los ofendidos y les hacen lamentar, a veces, verse privados de la posibilidad de satisfacer ellos mismos el ansia legítima de venganza que el Estado timorato, torpe, ineficaz, no resuelve en su nombre. Puestos a eso, uno acaba prefiriendo –y ahí está el verdadero peligro– un calibre doce, posta lobera, dejadme solo y pumba, pumba. Lo demás, en última instancia, es retórica y son milongas. 

Arturo Pérez-Reverte nació en Cartagena en noviembre de 1951 y se dedica desde hace algunos años en exclusiva a la literatura, tras vivir durante más de 20 años (1973-1994) como reportero de prensa, radio y televisión, cubriendo informativamente los conflictos internacionales de ese periodo. Licenciado en Ciencias Políticas y Periodismo, trabajó 12 años como reportero del diario Pueblo y nueve en los servicios informativos de Televisión Española, como especialista en temas de terrorismo, tráficos ilegales y conflictos armados. Fue premio Asturias de Periodismo por su cobertura para TVE de la guerra de la ex Yugoslavia, premio Ondas 1993 por el programa La ley de la calle en Radio Nacional de España (un programa sobre el mundo marginal que se mantuvo en antena cinco años). Como reportero y enviado especial ha cubierto las guerras y conflictos de Chipre, Eritrea, Sáhara, Malvinas, El Salvador, Nicaragua, Chad, Mozambique, Angola, Croacia, Bosnia y la Guerra del Golfo; diversas fases de la guerra del Líbano, la campaña de 1975 en el Sahara, la crisis de Libia, las guerrillas del Sudán y golpes de estado y revoluciones como en Túnez y Rumania. En mayo de 1994 abandonó Televisión Española para dedicarse a la literatura por entero. Con el artículo Doña Julia y el asesino,aparecido en El Semanal del 6 de junio de 1993, comenzó su colaboración con esta revista dominical en la que mantiene un diálogo cómplice y muy personal con los lectores, no exento en ocasiones de polémicas y que a nadie deja indiferente. Arturo Pérez-Reverte ingresó en la Real Academia Española el 12 de junio de 2003, leyendo un discurso titulado El habla de un bravo del siglo XVII. 




Peace or War? How Early Humans Behaved

26 Mar
Heather Whipps
Date: 16 March 2006 Time: 03:14 AM ET

Professor Michael Bisson, archaeologist at Montreal’s McGill University, sits with an actor playing the part of a Neanderthal on the set of the BBC documentary “Walking with Prehistoric Beasts,” shot in 2001.
CREDIT: Michael Bisson

Depending on which journals you’ve picked up in recent months, early humans were either peace-loving softies or war-mongering buffoons.

Which theory is to be believed?

A little bit of both, says one archaeologist, who warns against making generalizations when it comes to our long and varied prehistory.

The newest claim concernsAustralopithecus afarensis, who lived approximately five million years ago and is one of the first hominids that can be linked directly to our lineage with some certainty. Hardly an expert at tearing other animals limb from limb, scientists say the small and furry creature likely spent most of its time avoiding becoming the lunch of those saber-toothed mammals you see in natural history museums today.

That’s a far cry from the spear-wielding image most of the public has of our earliest ancestors, Robert Sussman of Washington University told an audience at the annual meeting of the American Association for the Advancement of Science last month.

“I think that the ‘Man the Hunter’ model is so popular because it fits into Western thought so easily. Western humans (especially men) like to think of themselves as completely in charge of their surroundings,” Sussman told LiveScience.

Other research appearing in current scientific journals, however, paints a different picture of early man.

Groups of humans likely engaged in occasional violent encounters in order to increase their territory, argues Raymond C. Kelly of the University of Michigan in a recent edition of the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences. According to Kelly, this may have continued up until about a million years ago, when distance weapons like the spear were invented and increased the risks of attacking other groups.

How can scientists see things so differently?


Human evolution just isn’t that simple, says Michael Bisson, professor of anthropology at McGill University in Montreal, Canada. People tend to make generalizations about our early ancestors, even though they lived for a period of several million years and include many entirely different species of hominids.

As for the peaceful nature of Australopithecus afarensis, Bisson wholeheartedly agrees with Sussman.

Afarensis was small and completely non-technological. No one has ever argued that they were predatory. They are bipedal, ground-eating apes,” Bisson said in an interview.

Interpretations get trickier, however, as time moves forward and hominids become more prevalent and diverse. When humans began to eat meat and use weapons, around two million years ago, some inter-group killings were almost certainly going on in the cases where individuals encroached on each other’s territory.

Still, at this point hominids are mostly timid scavengers, according to Bisson, notmammoth-hunters.

“The interesting thing about early hominids and meat-eating is that all of the evidence we have for it is little animals that might have been caught and dismembered by hand and big animals that were scavenged,” he said. “It fades in very slowly. After two million [years ago], there’s about a half-million-year transition before you get to hunting of some kind.”

Spear or tooth?

It’s around this time where mistakes can be made in the fossil record, experts say. With humans beginning to hunt animals, weapons in hand, it’s easier to assume they are also killing each other. Puncture wounds in a skull from an animal bite can be mistaken as injuries from a spear attack, for example.

The fossil record is not always an easy thing to read, Bisson explained.

“Cause of death is almost impossible to determine on all of these (fossils),” he said. “They have almost all been subject to scavenging. Since there’s no deliberate burial at that time, the bodies end up part of the food chain, so we simply can’t say what happened.”

A lot can depend on how archaeological remains are interpreted. Sussman calls this the “5 o’clock news” version of history and science, one that applies to today’s humans as easily as those of several million years ago.

“Human groups are much more likely to live in peace than in war,” he explained. “What we usually find is that what is reported or emphasized is any violent encounter that takes place. Thus, instead of using the actual statistics, we emphasize the rare events.”

Context of war

Bisson agrees that the archaeological remains must be put in context depending on who makes the find, even. He pointed to the discovery of some Australopithecus remains in the 1920s, in what is now Botswana. Along with a skull, the material found included tools made from the bones of gazelles, antelopes and wild boar. The archaeologist working there mistakenly interpreted them as a cache of weapons, while later testing would show the points were used simply for digging in termite holes.

“A lot of this stuff was written between the First and Second World War,” he reasoned. “It was very easy to see warfare and violence as inherent in the human condition during a period when humanity was literally trying to exterminate itself.”

Mainstream media can also have a lot to do with what the public believes as fact.

“No archaeologist in the last 40 years has bought the ‘Killer Ape’ interpretation, but it did get ingrained in popular culture in the intro sequence to the famous Stanley Kubrick film [“2001: A Space Odyssey“],” Bisson said. In the movie, ape-like humans are shown having the eureka moment that bones can be used as weapons, thus evolving to become hunters and killers. “It’s a fairly literal dramatization of the hypothesis, complete with leg bones used as clubs.”

Even if early humans were mostly cooperative with each other during the Paleolithic era—a period lasting about two million years—there is plenty of evidence to suggest that (like today), some people were just plain nasty. Cannibalism was clearly practiced in some areas, according to Bisson.

“We know that there is at least one case of Homo erectus with extensive cuts on the cranium indicating that the person was essentially scalped and the eyes gouged out,” he said.

Conservatives’ trust in science has fallen dramatically since mid-1970s

25 Mar

American Sociological Association | March 29, 2012

While trust in science remained stable among people who self-identified as moderates and liberals in the United States between 1974 and 2010, trust in science fell among self-identified conservatives by more than 25 percent during the same period, according to new research from Gordon Gauchat, a postdoctoral fellow at the University of North Carolina-Chapel Hill’s Cecil G. Sheps Center for Health Services Research.

“You can see this distrust in science among conservatives reflected in the current Republican primary campaign,” said Gauchat, whose study appears in the April issue of the American Sociological Review. “When people want to define themselves as conservatives relative to moderates and liberals, you often hear them raising questions about the validity of global warming and evolution and talking about how ‘intellectual elites’ and scientists don’t necessarily have the whole truth.”

Relying on data from the 1974-2010 waves of the nationally representative General Social Survey, the study found that people who self-identified as conservatives began the period with the highest trust in science, relative to self-identified moderates and liberals, and ended the period with the lowest.

In addition to examining how the relationship between political ideology and trust in science changed over almost 40 years, Gauchat also explored how other social and demographic characteristics—including frequency of church attendance—related to trust in science over that same period.

Gauchat found that, while trust in science declined between 1974 and 2010 among those who frequently attended church, there was no statistically significant group-specific change in trust in science over that period among any of the other social or demographic factors he examined, including gender, race/ethnicity, and socioeconomic status.

“This study shows that the public trust in science has not declined since the mid-1970s except among self-identified conservatives and among those who frequently attend church,” Gauchat said. “It also provides evidence that, in the United States, there is a tension between religion and science in some contexts. This tension is evident in public controversies such as that over the teaching of evolution.”


As for why self-identified conservatives were much less likely to trust science in 2010 than they were in the mid-1970s, Gauchat offered several possibilities. One is the conservative movement itself.

“Over the last several decades, there’s been an effort among those who define themselves as conservatives to clearly identify what it means to be a conservative,” Gauchat said. “For whatever reason, this appears to involve opposing science and universities and what is perceived as the ‘liberal culture.’ So, self-identified conservatives seem to lump these groups together and rally around the notion that what makes ‘us’ conservatives is that we don’t agree with ‘them.’”

Another possibility, according to Gauchat, is the changing role of science in the United States. “In the past, the scientific community was viewed as concerned primarily with macro structural matters such as winning the space race,” Gauchat said. “Today, conservatives perceive the scientific community as more focused on regulatory matters such as stopping industry from producing too much carbon dioxide. Conservatives often oppose government regulation, and they increasingly perceive science as on the side of regulation, especially as scientific evidence is used more frequently in the work of government agencies such as the Environmental Protection Agency and in public debates over issues such as climate change.”

The study also found that the declining trust in science among conservatives was not attributable to changes among less educated conservatives, but rather to rising distrust among better educated conservatives. “It is a significant finding and the opposite of what many might expect,” Gauchat said.

As for the study’s implications, Gauchat said it raises important questions about the future role of science in public policy. “In a political climate in which all sides do not share a basic trust in science, scientific evidence no longer is viewed as a politically neutral factor in judging whether a public policy is good or bad,” said Gauchat, who is also concerned that the increasingly politicized view of science could turn people away from careers in the field. “I think this would be very detrimental to an advanced economy where you need people with science and engineering backgrounds.”

Detecting Deception Over the Telephone

24 Mar
Without visual cues, detecting deception is difficult, but not impossible.
Published on January 13, 2012 by Jack Schafer, Ph.D. in Let Their Words Do the Talking 

Detecting Deception over the Telephone

I hear the voice coming through the telephone receiver, but I am not sure the person at the other end is telling the truth. Without visual cues, detecting deception becomes more difficult, but not impossible. Deep budget cuts have forced many companies to use the telephone to conduct business instead of face-to-face meetings. Mastering skills to detect deception over the telephone safeguard against people who intend to lie to you or to take advantage of you. Several techniques will be presented to help determine the veracity of the person at the other end of the telephone. These techniques will be particularly helpful for investigators who have to conduct telephone interviews. Remember, no deception technique is 100 percent reliable. These techniques will only provide you with a probability of deception, not a certainty of deception.

Establish a Baseline

A baseline can be established during the first few minutes of a conversation. A baseline consists of verbal patterns and paralinguistic cues of the person to whom you are talking. The best method to establish a baseline is to engage the person in social pleasantries such as the weather or other neutral topics and catalogue the person’s speech patterns and paralinguistic cues. The baseline is established during the part of the conversation when the person you are talking to has no reason to lie. Later, during the conversation, you can listen for any deviations from the person’s baseline. Deviations from the baseline indicate a degree of anxiety. Various factors can cause anxiety, including deception. One deviation from the baseline does not indicate deception. Look for a cluster of baseline changes before concluding deception. Deviation clusters typically occur during deception.

Response Time

Liars have longer response times than truth tellers. Truthful people simply answer questions; however, liars typically need extra time to formulate their answers to ensure that they appear truthful. A person’s response time to “hot” questions can be compared with the baseline response time established at the beginning of the conversation. If the response time is longer, then deception is possible. Truthful people could take longer to answer a question if the question requires thought. To reduce the possibility of false positives, use the “Well” technique. When you ask someone a direct “yes” or “no” question and they begin their response with the word “well,” it means they are about to give you an answer they know you are not expecting. This technique only works with direct “yes” or “no” questions.

I used this technique recently to determine if the projector problems were resolved for an upcoming speech I was giving. The conversation went something like this.

Me: Hi, my name is Jack Schafer. I am scheduled to speak at the convention tomorrow. I was told that there were some problems with the projector for my slide presentation. Have those problems been resolved?

Event Coordinator: (Slight pause) Well, (Slight pause) they told me that everything has been taken care of.

Based on the event coordinator’s “Well” response to my direct “yes” or “no” question, I was reasonably certain that the problems with the projector had not been resolved. The coordinator knew I was expecting a “yes” answer. Her “well” response indicated that she was going to give me an answer other than “yes.” The coordinator displayed three indicators of deception, speech latency, failing the “Well Technique,” and the answer was evasive. Evasive answers will be discussed later in this blog. This cluster indicated that there was a high probability of deception. Rather than call the coordinator on the deception, I caarried a projector with me just in case.

Word Fillers

Liars need time to construct believable answers. To gain extra time, liars often use Word Fillers such as “umm,” “ah,” and “uh huh” before responding. Another method liars use to gain extra time is to answer a question with a question or ask the speaker to repeat the question. Truthful people seldom need extra time to answer simple questions. Using this technique is less effective in today’s society because cell phone reception can be spotty requiring the need to ask for the question to be repeated. Again, no one technique can detect deception. Look for clusters and clusters or deceptive indicators.

Evasive Answers

Liars have difficulty providing direct answers to direct questions. Liars will use a variety of techniques to avoid answering direct questions. If you suspect deception, ask the person a direct “yes” or “no” question. If the person does not provide you with a direct answer, then the probability of deception increases. If the person pauses before answering the question, probability of deception significantly increases. If the person answers the question with the word “well,” deception is very likely. These responses form a cluster of cues that indicate a high probability of deception.

Additional techniques to detect deception can be found in booklets titledCatch a Liar and Fibs to Facts: A Parental Guide to Effective Communication. An in-depth examination of detecting deception can be found in Psychological Narrative Analysis: A Professional Method to Detect Deception in Oral and Written Communications.

DePaulo, B. M., Lindsay, J. J., Malone, B. E., Muhlenbruck, L., Charlton, K., & Cooper, H. (2003).Cues to deception. Psychological Bulletin, 129, 74-112.

Sporer, S., Schwandt, B. (2006). Paraverbal indicators of deception: A meta-analytic synthesis. Applied Cognitive  Psychology, 20, 421-446. 

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