Episode 6: The Experiment

Episode 6: The Experiment

“Science in everyday life … Conversation with Micheal Brenner and Pia Sörenson … Everyday experiments … Conversation with Antonia Mantonakis … Too much and too little wine … Superstitious belief”
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Summaries

  • Episode 6 - The Experiment > Science in everyday life > Science in everyday life
  • Episode 6 - The Experiment > Conversation with Micheal Brenner and Pia Sörenson > Conversation with Micheal Brenner and Pia Sörenson
  • Episode 6 - The Experiment > Everyday experiments > Everyday experiments
  • Episode 6 - The Experiment > Conversation with Antonia Mantonakis > Conversation with Antonia Mantonakis
  • Episode 6 - The Experiment > Superstitious belief > Superstitious belief

Episode 6 – The Experiment > Science in everyday life > Science in everyday life

  • Hopefully, people will be able to use those skills to be able to help them improve their learning across the board when it comes to learning a new language, a new skill like the guitar, or a sport, or even formal training like calculus or computer programming or everyday thinking.
  • We’re going to continue on that theme today in providing people with skills that they can use in their everyday lives.
  • We’re going to be borrowing something from science, specifically some of the tools that scientists use in the lab that we can use every day.
  • I don’t think there’s anything particularly special about what scientists do in the lab.
  • Can you tell me about the intuitive scientist? Sure.
  • That’s a metaphor that people have used to draw a parallel between what scientists do, which is try to understand the world-and there are some formal tools for doing that-and what scientists try to do professionally and of course we all try to do in our everyday lives: to figure out the world around us.
  • There a lot of similarities between what we do as people in our everyday lives and what scientists do.
  • We’re trying, just like the scientist does, to identify: what are the phenomena out there? Okay, there are the phenomena.
  • That’s what scientists do, and that’s what we do in our daily lives.

Episode 6 – The Experiment > Conversation with Micheal Brenner and Pia Sörenson > Conversation with Micheal Brenner and Pia Sörenson

  • There seems to be a few parallels between the science of everyday thinking and science of cooking.
  • What you’re doing in Science and Cooking is, obviously, trying to bring food and the scientific method to the way that people do things even in their own kitchen.
  • How does science apply to cooking specifically? The point of our course-it sounds like it’s very similar to the point of yours- which is that we wanted confront things that they think about and do every day and realize that there’s science around them, you know, every place and that the scientific ways of thinking are embedded in what they’re doing-just to sort of give a concrete context for learning what science really is.
  • Just as an example, I mean, one of the simple questions that we ask our students is to consider the recipes for cooking pasta.
  • If you go and you take a box of pasta, then it tells you, roughly, that you should boil water, and it tells you to boil a lot of water roughly, if I’m remembering it right, for half a kilogram of pasta, it tells you to put four liters of water, maybe even six liters of water in the pot, bring it to boil, then you pour the pasta in.
  • There’s the notion that you should put salt in the water to sort of affect the boiling properties.
  • You should put oil in the water, and that might-these are just the myths.
  • You can ask yourself: “Does it-if you were to use a small amount of water, could you still cook the pasta? Is it really true that you need so much water?” One of the things that we do in our class is we ask the students to both-you know, as if they understand the scientific basis for what is actually happening in the water when you put the pasta in, you can sort of think through that yourself, like, “Will it make a difference?” Then of course you can always go and do the experiment.
  • You can cook pasta the way it says on the box, and you can cut the amount of water substantially and cook the pasta again.
  • Do you think people’s tastes are kind of shaped by our experience? I think it must be.
  • I wouldn’t be surprised if there are subtleties to this that-I mean, you know how you get your favorite food that you can only get at home that your grandmother cooks for you, how that just tastes so special to you, whereas for an outsider it’s just meatballs or whatever it would be.
  • Do you have any examples of myths in cooking? One great example, which is one of the labs for our Ethics Course, which is to make mac and cheese, and according to cooks, there is four ways to thicken a sauce.
  • One of them is just to reduce the sauce which is just boil off the water.
  • One of them is to use starch, and starch expands when you put it in water and when you heat it, and so this thickens the sauce.

Episode 6 – The Experiment > Everyday experiments > Everyday experiments

  • So what they do as one of the homework assignments is you create a single batch of batter for the cakes, and you cook it at different temperatures, and at different times, and so you can see exactly the right temperature to be able to cook the cake to get that oozing center.
  • What they’re doing in their course is similar to what we are doing in ours: we’re trying to get people to apply the scientific method experimentation not just in the kitchen but everywhere in their lives, so a few of the examples that we have from science that we can apply to cooking is exactly as they are: experimentation.
  • So if you have a recipe, so if you have this cookie recipe, for example, to create the best shortbread, and you tweak a whole bunch of things at the same time-so you adjust the recipe, the amount of time that you whip the thing, butter, sugar, or something-and you get this amazing cookie in the end, you won’t know which of those things actually did it, which of those things were actually effective.
  • If you’re trying to figure out which of these things work like that, you have to do what Michael and Pia did in their course: you have to systematically, formally adjust one thing-temperature-and see what happens as a result of doing that one thing.
  • Once you create this amazing cookie and you’ve figured out what it was that you needed to tweak to get it there, tell other people.
  • Tell other people because people don’t do this very often.
  • People don’t manipulate recipes to see what it is that’s effective.
  • They just kind of blindly follow what other people have done before them.
  • You could, of course you could, blindly follow what people say, any authority about this.
  • That’s really important: to find things out for firsthand.
  • People have the idea that you need to cook a steak, really cook it at a high temperature, and only flip it once, for example, to get the outside nice and caramelized and the inside raw.
  • I don’t think it’s enough to say that people are silly, or people are slaves to authority, or that they’re gullible, or they’ll believe anything, because we’ve seen that that doesn’t quite work.
  • We provided a bunch of examples where we see structure; we see signal; we see things that aren’t actually necessarily there.
  • If you look at a pattern of noise, you see faces in the noise; or in oak, you see the wood paneling and you can kind of see faces looking.
  • I mean, it’s because we do that, because we’re so good at that, at seeing faces that aren’t actually there, that we are so impressive in other domains For example, we talked about the availability heuristic, and we rely on the ease of processing to give us some indication about the size of the category.
  • With representativeness, we rely on similarity and familiarity to be able to pigeonhole people in particular ways.
  • So why do we believe these strange things in the absence of data or evidence to the contrary? Yes.
  • If there was a single answer to it, we could easily teach that to people in school, and then it would be gone, but a whole bunch of things conspire to it.
  • It’s hard to get that job accomplished perfectly, so people look out there for patterns and they’re often going to see things that really aren’t there.
  • If you go on the Internet and type in “Illusions,” you’ll see all sorts of them: people spotting faces in clouds, or faces in a cinnamon bun, or what have you.
  • It’s just like, “There’s a bunch of blue ones over there and a bunch of green ones over there.” We sort of see order where there isn’t any.
  • We organize things into certain clusters that are really the kind of clusters that you’d see by chance.
  • Take, for example, the pretty common belief that things happen in threes-you know, natural disasters, so if two of them have happened in close proximity, people will sometimes tell you, “Oh my god, I wonder what the third one is going to be,” or homicides, or a fatality on the park, fatalities on the park of famous people.
  • If you look at all of those things, they don’t tend to cluster in threes at all, and so why do people believe those kinds of things? There’s a belief in the sports world and something called the “Sports Illustrated” jinx.
  • You get your picture on the cover of “Sports Illustrated,” uh oh, that’s a terrible thing.
  • If you’re looking at this as one observation, this little chunk of the world, you can see whether it’s sufficiently weird, whether it’s sufficiently lumpy or fishy to be able to say that something systematic is happening, something non-random is going on.

Episode 6 – The Experiment > Conversation with Antonia Mantonakis > Conversation with Antonia Mantonakis

  • Are there wine experts? Are there people who claim to be better at tasting and appreciating wine than, say, you and me? Well, there are certainly experts out there in terms of the level of training that they might have or being a sommelier.
  • A lot of our students who are in that program know quite a lot about wine, and when we have them come in as part of our participant pool, sometimes those students come and participate, and it’s very easy to say, “Well, I’m and expert.” In our research, what we rely on is a wine knowledge questionnaire.
  • Like these expert wine tasters who evaluate wines and give them scores out of 100 that are used to put the medallions on the wine and things like that, are they better at identifying and talking about wines than I am? That’s an interesting question.
  • I think, at the end of the day, the scores that are given for consumers again is used as a useful piece of information for the consumers, and the judges or the wine raters, as you call them-they are probably more knowledgeable than the average consumer.
  • I have two black wine glasses here, and most people can’t tell if there’s-you know, when you lose those visual cues of the actual color, if you’re to sample these wines, most people can’t tell if the glass contains a red or white.
  • We want to get our friends to run an experiment, where they find out whether novices undergraduate students can tell the difference between wines on a whole bunch of levels.
  • Can they tell the difference between red and white? Can they tell the difference between the grapes? Can they tell an expensive bottle from an inexpensive bottle? Without going into detail, can you run through some of the things that they should really consider when they are designing a well-controlled experiment to find a reasonably good answer to some of these questions? Well, one way to-in terms of looking at price, having this wine in a brown paper bag so we don’t get any other cues of where the wine is from and what vintage it might be and so on, or if there might even be a price label on it-we want to hide all that.

Episode 6 – The Experiment > Superstitious belief > Superstitious belief

  • It turns out there’s nothing, no evidence for that whatsoever.
  • Another one is emergency room nurses claim that there’s a lot more activity when there’s a full moon during regular days of the month.
  • These are superstitious beliefs as a result of seeing that two things tend to be linked: a pair of lucky socks and how they perform, or the full moon and the activity in that evening, but there is no link.
  • There can’t be any link between them, but people see certainly that there is a link.
  • They’re familiar with the idea that if we want to believe something, we’ll go and seek out evidence for it and we won’t seek out evidence against it.
  • It’s a very pronounced tendency to treat information that’s consistent with what we want to believe in a pretty friendly way and be really hostile to information that’s consistent with something we don’t want to believe.
  • It’s almost as if we ask ourselves of something that we want to believe: can I believe this, or is there evidence for this? There’s evidence for almost anything.
  • Even the most outlandish things, there is some evidence for it.
  • The question is: is there enough evidence? Is there sufficient evidence? We don’t tend to ask ourselves: must I believe this? Is there enough evidence here? So all of that’s true.
  • All of people can relate to that, but it’s even more pronounced than that-that is, even if you don’t care about a particular belief, you have no vested interest in it, you tend to look for evidence consistent with the idea rather than information that’s inconsistent with it, which, of course, if we want to have a balanced picture, we’ve got to look at both.
  • How would you test that? Well, if you’re like most people, you’d give it a lot of water and see how they do.
  • You look for evidence for it rather than against it.
  • At some level, it make sense because it reflects a broader belief that, “Look, if this thing’s true, there must be some evidence for it, so let me look for some evidence for it.” You’re doing a very reasonable thing.
  • You need to look not only for evidence for something but evidence against it.
  • So if you believe that cheerful people are more likely to overcome a bout of cancer, you need to look not just who are the cheerful people you know who’ve done very well, but maybe you know some dour people also who’ve recovered.
  • We spoke a lot about how we can contest claims, how it is that we can convince ourselves and others that there’s a real effect here.

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