Third time’s a charm

I had one of those third time’s a charm moments this week.

1st Time: On his blog, Idiot’s Collective, Aaron McKenzie asks What Would It Take to Change Your Mind?

I started this blog to catalog the things that changed my mind over the years.  I soon learned that was too narrow of a scope for a blog to hold my interest, but it is still a question and topic that intrigues me.

I suggested that changing your mind takes a willingness to consider that you may be wrong.  That allows you to more fairly consider the merits of the conflicting evidence.

Aaron wrote in response:

…it helps if we don’t go around expecting to always convert others to our way of thinking. Rather, if we try to understand more deeply why others believe what they believe, we might find ourselves persuaded…

I agree.  I have found it to be productive to approach a subject by trying to prove myself wrong.  In the process, I learn a great deal.  Aaron also wrote:

The strident evangelist in all of us has a way of coming out when our views are challenged.

I agree with that too.  It takes practice and patience to contain that.

2nd Time: On February 9th, Aaron asked in regards to her position on vaccinations, What Would Change Jenny McCarthy’s Mind? He posted a video of Penn Jillette discussing Ms. McCarthy’s belief that vaccinations cause autism given evidence that one of the key studies that supported this link was fraudulent.  As Jillette describes, rather than admit that she needs to reconsider her position, “she doubles down.

For more on the story about the fraudulent vaccination study, I recommend this EconTalk podcast (whose host is exceptional at taking the non-evangelical approach) from January 31.

When I’m having a hard time changing my mind in the face of evidence that runs counter to my mental model, I try to remember Steven Landsburg’s advice.   It’s helpful.

3rd Time: I found validation for Penn, Aaron and myself in a Harvard Business Review Ideacast (i.e. podcast) called The Persuasive Power of Uncertainty.  Guest Zachary Tormala discusses research into how folks respond to people who display some uncertainty in their positions and those that display confidence.

They believe they found that experts with some self-expressed uncertainty in their position are more persuasive.   This finding lines up with my experience.

They also believe that they found that non-experts with high certainty are more persuasive.  I’m not so sure about that one.  I think there are other factors to consider.

On both findings though, I’m always skeptical of research — even the research that supports my beliefs.  I’ve seen too many false positives in my day.

But, I found the podcast interesting, worth a listen and coincidentally tied in with my other two encounters with the subject of changing minds this week — rounding out my third time’s a charm.

1 thought on “Third time’s a charm

  1. Thanks for the quotes and linkage. Glad I could be a part of your three charms. And thanks also for the pointers to Landsburg piece and the HBR podcast. I hadn’t seen them.

    I’ll add to your list of links this interview, in which Jillette makes the important point that, with few exceptions, we all want the same things for humanity (peace, prosperity, freedom, etc.) but we simply have different ideas of how to achieve them. Keeping this in mind can really bring down the temperature of discussions, especially those on politics or economics.


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