Ask the grumpies: How to change hearts and minds with Science

Jenny F. Scientist asks:

How to reach closed-minded usually far right wing students with science.

Here’s an economics paper that supposedly addresses that question (click here for an early, free version):

Galperti, Simone. 2019.”Persuasion: The Art of Changing Worldviews.” American Economic Review 109(3):996-1031

Abstract: Persuaders often face the task of changing their listeners’ worldview, which may involve conveying evidence that disconfirms that view. It has been shown, however, that people are often reluctant to change their worldviews. These aspects of persuasion cannot be captured in the standard Bayesian framework. The paper identifies the constraints, opportunities, and trade-offs of persuading people to change worldview. It finds necessary and sufficient conditions under which it is optimal for persuaders to do so. It also shows when and how they conceal disconfirming evidence and take advantage of their listener’s existing worldview.

Not a ton of practical information there.

The things I’ve seen recommended have been:

1.  Not disagreeing, but asking questions until the person starts to question it themselves.  This is a little tougher than it used to be because Fox News has glib answers to the surface questions that feel right because they’ve been repeated so many times, but continuing to probe deeper until the contradictions come out helps.  I’m not finding a link on this, but I have seen it talked about as something that has been tested.

2.  A three pronged approach:

An approach that starts by coming out with common ground .  You validate things they believe, make them feel listened to and like you have something in common.  Then you give alternatives– I notice in the link here the examples they give start with questions.  Only then do you provide proof.  In pre-Trump days when I taught Public Finance, I was able to get Libertarians to understand that feeding children is an investment in smaller government later.  (Nowadays the Libertarians I get are Libertarian In Name Only– and it’s really hard to reason with Social Conservatives who hate women and minorities.)

3.  A third thing that I’ve seen on forums but have not actually seen anybody talk about scientifically (probably because it’s a different part of psychology) is not focusing on the hard-core people at all, but focusing on the folks that are easily swayed.  This is likely to alienate the core close-minded people, but may “save” more people.  I don’t think I would do this with college students though because they’re so young and are probably more reachable than the main nutcases on the closed anti-vaxxer sub-forums of mommy boards.

4.  Convince people who believe things because they’re conspiracy theorists that there’s a conspiracy to get them to believe these horrible things.  That turns out to not be that hard to do because IT IS TRUE (see:  Russian bots).  The last part of this article talks about that technique in conjunction with anti-vaxxers and I’ve seen anecdotal evidence from doctors that it often works with their more paranoid patients.

Grumpy Nation, have you ever been able to convince a close-minded person of anything?

Ask the grumpies: Feelings about decluttering

Leah asks:

How do you feel about decluttering? Is it easy or challenging for you?

Is it easy or challenging?  Who knows?  We haven’t tried!  I mean, we’re already hitting where our budget constraint hits our utility curves, so why would we want to mess with that?

More seriously:  I try to not let stuff in the house to begin with.  So when we get gifts we don’t want, they go in our goodwill cabinet (or gift closet for unopened children’s gifts) straight away.  The only actual “decluttering” I do is when DC2 outgrows clothing and I hand them down to a colleague which was something people did before it got called decluttering.  Most of the stuff that leaves our house leaves it because it is broken or worn out or used up or outgrown at the point it is no longer useful.  We don’t systematically clean things out or have any sort of targeted decluttering.

Update:  DC2 recently went through hir room and closet and got rid of a lot of stuff zie had outgrown.  I guess that’s technically decluttering, though the questions were more “have you grown out of this/do you want this” than “does this spark joy.”  When zie did that, the goodwill cabinet (where we put things we don’t want until we decide to deal with them) got full, so we took multiple loads to goodwill, three of my colleagues with younger kids got bags full of clothing and toys, and we have a bag of new with tags stuff (gifts that never got worn) ready to go to a refugee center in the city.  So I guess we declutter but don’t think of it as decluttering.

What about the rest of Grumpy Nation?  Do you declutter?

Ask the grumpies: Favorite apps for fun?

Leah asks:

Do you have any sort of favorite apps you use for fun?

#2 doesn’t have a cell phone.  Like not even a flip phone.

#1 doesn’t use apps for fun because she has major problems with time management and internet addiction.  Still, she does use Yelp a lot.  And she watches Youtube a lot, but doesn’t use an app for it.  I use the Apple Podcast app in the car.

DH and the kids like all sorts of games (DH is currently playing Hyper Light Drifter).  DH uses the Netflix app a lot and Amazon PrimeTime.  He listens to Audible.

What are your favorite apps for fun, Grumpy Nation?

Ask the grumpies: Do you ration Halloween candy or do you let your kids eat as much as they want all at once?

Melva asks:

For Halloween candy, do you let your kids eat as much as they want or do you put limits on how much they can eat at a time?

My colleagues and I were just discussing this before a meeting earlier this week.  The answers ranged from one person only allowing hir kids to have one piece a day and a couple of us (including me) without any rules on how much can be consumed Halloween night.

The conversation included whether it was better to have a little sugar every day for most of the year or to have a couple/few heavy sugary days and then have entirely candy-free days (we’re social scientists, not nutritionists, so this was solely speculative).  Candy quality over time was also discussed.  But the main argument seemed to be that if you let kids eat as much candy as they want, they’ll get sick.

To which I replied, quite truthfully, “Oh, that only happens once.”

Which I guess illustrates how DH and I are very much natural consequences parents.  It’s not like we didn’t tell them that too much candy will give them a tummy ache, but sometimes one doesn’t know what too much is until one has experienced it.  (My learning experience was Easter, First Grade, in case you’re wondering.)

We don’t buy any candy other than extra super dark chocolate that’s mine and they have to ask permission to have, so the only way they get candy is via Halloween, Christmas, Easter, and what they spend their own money on (also the occasional school/party treat and the weekly dumdum from the piano teacher).  They almost never spend their own money on candy (though that’s where all my money went when I was growing up).  So unless they decide to ration out holiday candy themselves, most days will be candy-free.

There are rules on *when* candy can be consumed in my house, but not how much. They can generally only eat it after meals, mostly after dinner.  That’s because they’re still growing and allowing natural consequences doesn’t extend to missing important vitamins that could contribute to their growth because they’re overfull on sugar.

Is this the right thing to do?  Who knows.  It’s the lazy thing to do, which basically means it’s what works for us.  (We also let our kids nap whenever they were sleepy, while the one piece a day colleague had rigid nap schedules– I don’t think it actually matters.)  Last night our kids only ate a few pieces right after they got back, then noted they were full and put their remaining candy back in their bags.  I would like to say they then moved their bags to the kitchen pantry to their candy shelf, but in truth they left them on the dining room floor.  (Because all their bad habits come from me and I leave my bag on the floor whenever I’m not using it.)

Did you have rules growing up about how much Halloween candy you could eat at a time?  If applicable, do you have rules for your kids?

Ask the grumpies: How much to save for different long-term priorities

Ali asks:

How much to save for college vs retirement vs other savings, etc.  Basically, tell me what to do.

The vast majority of our readers should max out their retirement savings prior to saving for kids’ college.  The reason for this is that you can get loans for college, but you can’t get loans for retirement AND US colleges don’t include retirement savings in their financial aid calculations.   That means every dollar that you hide in retirement is a dollar the universities don’t take into account for their financial aid calculations.  If worse comes to worse (ex. student loan rates are high), you can contribute less to retirement while the kids are in college (because you already have so much saved up) and cashflow some of those college expenses with what you would have contributed to retirement.

Disclaimer:  This is not what we did.  Originally I paid a lot of attention to the “recommended” savings percentages in various books and made sure we were putting away 20% of our income for retirement (recommended is 10-20%, we were on the “went to graduate school and need to save extra to make up for low savings years” track).  Then some extra money went into 529s (tax advantaged college saving) for our kids and then the stock market went crazy in a bad way (remember 2008?) and we started prepaying our mortgage as well.  It wasn’t until later that we started contributing to a 457 plan, even though that would have made more sense than contributing to the 529s.

The following assumes you have no debt other than a low interest mortgage.

  1. Save an emergency fund that will get you through a missing paycheck or late reimbursement or small emergency.
  2. Put money into retirement up to any employer match.
  3. Save an emergency fund that will get you through a reasonable job loss or other large expense.  (A Roth IRA is a good place to stash this when you’re just starting out since you can tap the principal without penalty and it can go to retirement if you don’t have a major emergency.)
  4. Save 10-20% of your gross income for retirement (or the max if are a high earner).  Play with retirement calculators to get more specific on the percent.
  5. Start putting money away in a 529 plan based on how much you’re planning to contribute and what schools your kid is considering.  We have more details here, and also more generally with other 529 posts.  The short is you’ll want to play with some college savings calculators AND the financial aid calculators at individual schools that you’re looking at.  (You might want to pay down your house at this step instead because colleges don’t use most housing wealth in their calculations for financial aid, but play with those different assumptions with the calculators.)

I DO think it is important to have a 529 for relatives to put monetary gifts in if you have relatives who are likely to think that’s a good idea, and don’t just have one for the oldest boy even though the money is fungible across kids.  That’s not how gifts work– people want to give to both kids, not just one.

So… I guess that’s the basic advice.  There are exceptions to the above– people who have access to a backdoor 401k at work but don’t have high incomes might never be able to max out their retirement, for example.

Grumpy Nation:  What advice would you give?  How do you decide how much to save where?

Ask the grumpies: When is the movie better than the book?

Leah asks:

When is the movie better than the book?

Rarely.  Bad books aren’t usually made into movies!

#2 Didn’t like the book version of the Princess Bride as much as the movie, but #1 liked the book version more.

I guess there are several versions of Brewster’s Millions that are better than the original source material.  There’s a lot of Gutenberg material out there that has extremely cringey racial/ethnic stereotypes which don’t make it into the movie versions (or at least not into the movie remakes).

Peter Pan is a much better movie– terrifying book.  Similarly Pinocchio.  Fox and the Hound.  That era of Disney picked some pretty awful source material.  Even Mary Poppins is dramatically different (though one can argue which version is better).

We’ve heard that 50 Shades of Grey was a better movie than book, but we’ve got no desire to watch either one(!)

Grumpy Nation, help Leah out, have you seen movies that were better than their books?

Ask the grumpies: What is your favorite card game?

Leah asks:

What is your favorite card game?

The Great Dalmuti.  Also, three person spades.

I really like the kinds of card games that are fast and allow for lots of revolutions of who is in charge in repeated games.  So everyone wins a bunch.  (Though I also like the person who is winning gets an advantage… until the Revolution, of course.)

My family is really into the Werewolf games.