Do you really want to burst your bubble?

soap-bubbles-1451092_1920

We all live in our bubbles. Our family bubble, our friends bubble, our work bubble. It is interesting to think how much of our life is organized around preferences. We tend to go to certain places, and we tend to meet and interact people that have the share the same preferences than we do. It is easy to get trapped on your own little bubble and not realize there is a whole world outside of it.

One of the past episodes of Invisibilia was about reality bubbles and it told the story of a young man from California that suddenly became aware of the constraints of his life and built an app to do “bubble-hopping” – and get out of his bubble (you can read/listen to it here). Although I think it is an interesting idea, I believe there are more “conventional” ways to try to break out your bubble.

So when it comes to Twitter, things are not different. Even though *in theory* all tweets are public and easily found in the internet, what you are writing is being read only by your own Twitter bubble. Basically, an echo chamber. When it comes to political views, there are basically two very separate Twitter “wings”. And both blue and red Twitter rarely talk to each other. This was the subject from a recent study published in PNAS and you can read a description of its results on this article.

political bubbles
The graph represents a depiction of messages containing moral and emotional language, and their retweet activity, across all political topics (gun control, same-sex marriage, climate change). Nodes represent a user who sent a message, and edges (lines) represent a user retweeting another user. The two large communities were shaded based on the mean ideology of each respective community (blue represents a liberal mean, red represents a conservative mean).
Brady et. al, 2017. Emotion shapes the diffusion of moralized content in social networks. PNAS 114:7313-7318.

On the paper, the authors state that emotions tend to be highly associated with moral judgments. They propose that moral and political messages with a stronger combination of moral and emotional contents would reach more people than messages with a weaker combination of moral and emotional contents. A phenomenon they called “moral contagion“. What they found in the end was that although tweets containing at least one moral-emotional word were largely retweeted, rarely those tweets made to “the other side” of the political bubble.

After I read this, I went to the list of people I follow on Twitter. It’s not as intuitive as it is on Facebook (where you can easily see how many friend in common you have with your contacts), but yes, most of the accounts I follow on Twitter are followed by a great number of “people you know”. So there I am, living in my giant Twitter liberal bubble. Although I agree that one step towards getting out of your bubble would be unfollow people that everyone else follows, the great improvement would be to follow (and engage) with people “from the other side”.

Problem is I have seen how nasty those political discussions can get on Twitter and Facebook. I am not a confrontational person. I even avoid reading convos from others when they start to fight about certain topics. I am also a very passionate person, so engaging in those types of convos would take an enormous emotional effort from my part. In order to try to be aware of my political bias, I started to include conservative news to my daily routine (yes, I read Fox News now…). I am not entirely sure if this helps anyhow, as I am constantly mesmerized by how obnoxious they are.

What I have been trying to do is to engage to the (very few) conservative people I know. I enjoy to hear their arguments and although our debates can become somewhat heated, the friendship that we have makes things easier, and I am more free to simply say “you don’t wanna go there” or simply walk away from a discussion. Yes, I know you can also create friendships on Twitter, but this is much difficult to happen if you’re not alike the other person to begin with.

Despite the fact I truly believe that communication between political bubbles is necessary if we want to live in a better world, I am not sure if I can do it. A compromise I’ve chosen is to create a (private) Twitter list of conservative accounts and read their tweets without following them. To engage with them is a totally different story, though…

What about you, dear reader, do you live in a bubble? You can determine how thick is your bubble by taking this quiz. In the meantime, let me share this post on my Twitter bubble!

Advertisements

On #Resistance fatigue and self-care

The last couple of days have been rough. I feel like the world is turning upside down, and do not know what to think or how to react. By what I see on my TL and Facebook, it seems like a general feeling that a lot of us are going through. Ok, I know that my sample is kind of biased, but you get the point 😉

There is so much going on, and there’s so much information out there! Lately I’ve been doing a somewhat reverse pomodoro. Working for five minutes, and spending 25 minutes on Twitter/news. Of course at some point we are going to feel overwhelmed. Not to mention work that starts piling up…

We cannot forget that politics is a strategy game, and the current strategy is to throw everything at the same time, and wear us out. And that cannot happen, not if we want to keep resisting! Remember, the fight is far from over, and this is a marathon, not a sprint.

Self-care is an important part of the resistance. If you feel overwhelmed, don’t be ashamed to take a break. Try to energize doing something that brings you pleasure and joy, and then come back. If you’re like me, that simply can’t look away, try to taper it down. Make a Twitter list with only a couple of accounts and follow that, instead of your normal feed. Or, focus in only one topic, and read only news about it.

I don’t know you, but it’s becoming somewhat pathological to want to follow everything and fight against everything. With focus, we can resist, better and stronger! It is more important than ever to keep fighting, but we cannot forget to take care of yourselves first.

sanity

And don’t forget: there are always cute puppies pictures!

Why screaming louder about Science might not be enough

Science is being seriously threatened. It is certainly amazing to see the scientific community joining efforts and resisting to it. A March for Science is currently being organized, and a newly formed group called 314 Action is encouraging scientists to run for office. Scientists are all fired up to communicate more their science to the general public. But just screaming louder may not bring optimal results. One must understand that science is political, no matter what field it is (@Hood_Biologist).

Studies show both Democrats and Republicans like the same policy better when they’re told it’s supported by their own party. This is called politically motivated reasoning, and leads people to seek out information that reinforces their ideas (confirmation bias), and counter-argue information that contradicts their ideas (disconfirmation bias). We talked about this topic on our last #DiversityJC, in which we discussed the article The Nature and Origins of Misperceptions.

“In the experiment, participants were randomly assigned to receive a table of outcome data that was labeled as either showing how a skin cream affects a rash or how gun control affects crime. The success of the intervention (i.e., skin cream, gun control) was also randomly varied between respondents.

When the table was presented as data about whether a skin cream helped a rash or not, there were no major differences in how people of different ideological leanings interpreted the data. But when the data were instead presented as evidence about the effectiveness of gun control, people’s interpretation of the results became polarized by ideology.”

So it doesn’t really matter what the facts are actually showing, people’s interpretation will vary, depending if the information reinforces or contradicts directional (party) preferences. In this excellent piece GETTING A SCIENTIFIC MESSAGE ACROSS MEANS TAKING HUMAN NATURE INTO ACCOUNT, @NeuWriteSD discusses how in reality, just knowing facts doesn’t necessarily guarantee that one’s opinions and behaviors will be consistent with them. One must first consider human nature, and overcome cognitive biases.

In fact I believe that most of the people who are anti-vaccines, anti-global warming, anti-GMO are not really anti-science. Those opinions seem to be less related to ideologies but more related to express their emotional beliefs. In other words, they seem to truly BELIEVE that those are actual threats to themselves and their loved ones. In her new book, Strangers in Their Own Land, sociologist Arlie Hochschild says that “while people might vote against their economic needs, they’re actually voting to serve their emotional needs.” (H/T) this week’s episode of the Hidden Brain.

But how can we fight it? A recent study showed that this politically motivated reasoning can be tamped down – with CURIOSITY! You can read The Atlantic’s article about it here or dig into the full paper. In that paper, the authors present evidence that, as science curiosity increases, subjects tend not to polarize in their judgements but rather adjust their opinions of them. The authors demonstrate the utility of the new “science of science communication”, suggesting that it is possible to construct a valid science curiosity
instrument to reach those people, and scientists need to be sufficiently concrete about its focus, avoids social appeal effects, and not rely exclusively on self-report measures.

One other approach that we can keep in mind is brought by the principle of behavioral economics, that states that when it comes to human beings, there is a conflict between the passions and the impartial spectator. The most famous paper published back in 1979 describes that “the ways in which alternatives are framed—not simply their relative value—heavily influence the decisions people make“. So taking those principles into account, we should aim not only to describe Science but frame it in an optimal way for our audience to “buy it”.

Easy? Of course not. But we must use all efforts and strategies to fight for Science and make sure that our message is delivered – and understood – properly.