August 6–9, 2015
Sanctifying the Bogus and Demonizing the Scientific
Skeptics believe that we should accept or reject claims according to scientific evidence. Unfortunately, what persuades most people has little to do with the logical and scientific support for a claim. Most people, including many who call themselves skeptics, become persuaded not by logic or science but by emotional and other non-evidential aspects of arguments. Dramatic examples of such non-scientific and irrational bases for belief can be found in what is called “the framing effect.” Daniel Kahneman (Thinking, Fast and Slow) describes framing as follows: “Different ways of presenting the same information often evoke different emotions.”
An experiment by Amos Tversky at the Harvard Medical School in 1982 provides an example. The participants were physicians. Their task was to decide, on the basis of outcome statistics, whether to recommend either surgery or radiation for their patients with lung cancer. Half of the physicians were told that, “The one-month survival rate for surgery is 90%.” Given this information, 84% of the physicians chose to recommend surgery over radiation.
The other physicans were provided with this information about surgery outcomes: “There is a 10% mortality rate in the first month.” Given this latter information, only 50% of the physicians recommended surgery. As you may have realized, the two statements describe the same outcome. However, when the same outcome statistics are framed in terms of “survival,” substantially more physicans (as well as patients) choose the surgery. But when the outcomes are framed in terms of “mortality” the percentage of physicians who choose surgery drops greatly. Such framing effects have been demonstrated in politics, medicine, food choices, advertising, and all areas in which people make choices. This year, the Skeptic’s Toolbox will examine framing effects in journalism, medicine, politics, and other areas in which people have to choose to believe or reject dubious claims. We will focus not only on how framing changes the acceptability of a claim, but also the backfire effect—which refers to how providing evidence against a claim often strengthens, rather than weakens, the belief in that claim.
University of Oregon
Living Learning Center
1475 East 15th Avenue
Eugene, Oregon 97403
Registration: Living Learning Center Performance Hall
Workshop Sessions: Living Learning Center Performance Hall
Accommodations: Living Learning Center Residence Hall
Meals: Carson Cafeteria (except Saturday dinner, which is at the Living Learning Center Performance Hall)
Registration and Meet and Greet
LLC Performance Hall
Introduction and Overview
Framing the Message: Who (Says) What (to) Whom (in) What Channel (with) What Effect
Cold Reading as Framing
Teams will assemble and begin work.
Hypnotists Re-Framing Themselves: From Entertainer to Therapist
Teams work on assignments.
Framing the Message in Medicine and Alternative Medicine
Framing in Journalism
Teams continue assignments.
Three participants each make a brief presentation.
Teams work on assignments.
Dinner in LLC Performance Hall
“In the Trenches” Award
Magic: Jay Frasier, Ron Friedland, Ray Hyman
Teams make their reports.
Professor emeritus of psychology, University of Oregon; CSI fellow. Ray is the creator of the Skeptic’s Toolbox and the developer of the workshop syllabus. At a 2003 conference, he received CSI’s highest honor with the In Praise of Reason award. To read more about Ray, please visit the transcript of James Alcock’s presentation speech, which appeared in the March/April 2004 issue of the Skeptical Inquirer.
Professor of psychology, York University Toronto, Ontario; CSI fellow.
Harriet Hall, MD
Retired family physician and flight surgeon. Writer on the subjects of quackery, pseudoscience, critical thinking, and alternative medicine, Dr. Hall is also known as The SkepDoc from her regular column in Skeptic magazine. She is a contributing editor to both Skeptic and Skeptical Inquirer magazines, an editor of the Science-Based Medicine blog, and an advisor to Quackwatch. Her website is www.skepdoc.info.
Forensic psychologist, Oregon Health Sciences, University of Oregon; CSI fellow.
Lindsay Beyerstein is an investigative journalist in Brooklyn, New York. Her reporting has appeared in Slate, The Columbia Journalism Review, Newsweek, Al Jazeera America, The New Republic, and other publications. Her photography has appeared The Wall Street Journal, the New York Times' City Blog, and other outlets. She is the co-host of Point of Inquiry, a radio show and podcast produced by the Center for Inquiry. She is the lead writer at the Sidney Hillman Foundation, a non-profit dedicated to honoring excellence in socially conscious journalism.