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Grape Expectations and Interpreting Evidence

From The Boston Globe: Can expectations influence how we judge the evidence?

SCIENTISTS AT CALTECH and Stanford recently published the results of a peculiar wine tasting. They provided people with cabernet sauvignons at various price points, with bottles ranging from $5 to $90. Although the tasters were told that all the wines were different, the scientists were in fact presenting the same wines at different prices.

The subjects consistently reported that the more expensive wines tasted better, even when they were actually identical to cheaper wines.

[...]

What they saw was the power of expectations. People expect expensive wines to taste better, and then their brains literally make it so. Wine lovers shouldn’t feel singled out: Antonio Rangel, the Caltech neuroeconomist who led the study, insists that he could have used a variety of items to get similar results, from bottled water to modern art.

[...]

After the researchers finished their brain imaging, they asked the subjects to taste the five different wines again, only this time the scientists didn’t provide any price information. Although the subjects had just listed the $90 wine as the most pleasant, they now completely reversed their preferences. When the tasting was truly blind, when the subjects were no longer biased by their expectations, the cheapest wine got the highest ratings. It wasn’t fancy, but it tasted the best.


With the foregoing observations in mind, how might expectations influence scientists when they look at evidence, or look for evidence? For example, do Darwinists find evidence for “transitional forms” because they expect to find them, or find evidence for the power of the blind watchmaker because no other possibility exists?

Of course, similar questions could be asked of ID proponents. With this in mind, I find Michael Behe’s example to be instructive. He was originally schooled to accept Darwinism as proven fact, and had no reason at the outset to doubt it. His expectations should have led him to find evidence for it in his scientific work, but once challenged to look at deficiencies in the theory, the hard evidence, objectively considered, led him to other conclusions. I went through a similar transition in my thinking.

In the ID versus Darwinism/materialism debate, who are the most likely victims of this expectations phenomenon? I vote for the Darwinists, because as evidence for design continues to mount at an ever-quickening pace, they seem most determined to prop up their expectations with ever-more desperate storytelling, conjecture, and appeals to the statistically impossible, to denounce their challengers with ever-more vitriol, and to attempt to silence them with ever-more coercive tactics.

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10 Responses to Grape Expectations and Interpreting Evidence

  1. “The subjects consistently reported that the more expensive wines tasted better, even when they were actually identical to cheaper wines.”

    Yeah, we used to keep a bottle of Absolut Vodka on hand for my brother-in-law who would drink nothing less… until we discovered that the cheap stuff in an Absolut bottle had the same effect.

    “…as evidence for design continues to mount at an ever-quickening pace…”

    But is paucity of evidence really the problem? The orderly movements of the stars or the making of oaks from acorns is enough for most normal folks…

    And is anything really different in the way of evidence being discovered? Aren’t we seeing, under the microscope and through the telescope, the same kind of design that we see, all around us, every day, with the unaided eye?

  2. But perhaps that’s what “Grape Expectations” are all about: we take the very large and very small examples of design more seriously than the obvious ones of “normal” proportions.

  3. A bacterium’s flagellum is a $90 bottle of design, while an oak tree is the more common, $5 variety.

  4. I sure wish one could edit one’s posts here!

    Or I could learn to think before I speak…

  5. I think the difference between the oak tree and the flagellum is that the design of the flagellum can be observed at the molecular level, so there are no lower-level black boxes to be used as excuses for explaining away design.

  6. “I think the difference between the oak tree and the flagellum is that the design of the flagellum can be observed at the molecular level, so there are no lower-level black boxes to be used as excuses for explaining away design.

    But isn’t that like saying we can’t recognize design in, say, a painting, without knowing the molecular composition of the paint?

  7. Incidently, I highly recommend Roddy Bullock’s insightful and humorous little parable, “The Cave Painting”, advertised at the right, on this topic.

  8. The subjects consistently reported that the more expensive wines tasted better, even when they were actually identical to cheaper wines.

    This is a consequence of the materialistic world we live in and is, in my opinion, a bleed over effect of psychologically manipulative advertising. Expensive things must be better.

    And we can see it all around if we decide to look. For example, a certain type of consumer would rather shop at Target than Walmart even though both are hawking irresponsibly produced goods from China. Target has better commercials and sells the same crap in fancier packages for more money.

    In the internet evolution debates, all you have to do to discredit a point of view is label it “creationist” or “intelligent design”. The crowd knows who to side with, without having to consider the viewpoint. This is of course tantamount to a junior high school bully shouting “blue light special” while pointing to his victim’s no-name brand sneakers.

    I am currently working on an entry for my blog that explores one of the ways well funded humanist organizations and their sugar daddies (such as Paul Allen) manipulate the masses via documentaries, and inoculate the next generation by persuading their public school teachers to suppress dissent from Darwinism with well produced propaganda courses.

    I hope you’ll stop by and offer constructive criticism, re-blog, and/or consider my sources. I expect it will be done by Monday morning, maybe sooner if I split it up.

  9. Expectations are huge- that’s why I hate the media ( I don’t watch the news there- are much more interesting things online and in books) because they claim a consensus on everything and usually there is none or they just flat out just get it wrong-

    Nonetheless I always taste the wines at different wine tastings without looking at the prices and usually like the more expensive ones better- there is in fact something to wine pricings and their quality- but your have to be interested and capable enough to tell the difference- and even then sometimes you may prefer the cheaper wine-

    The old adage that beauty is in the eye of the beholder is very much true here.

    Analogously, most mentally capable people who are interested in really tasting ID will find that it is rich with complexity and quality as a scientific theory- though admittedly some might still prefer the cheaper explanation.- except Darwinism is way overpriced even though it is completely inadequate to fulfill its claimed purpose. Yes, it is true that DE is almost all marketing and as far as I am concerned you couldn’t give it away for free.

  10. 10

    I’ve seen a wine tasting event where blind-folded subjects are led to believe that they are judging red wines, but are actually being given white wines.

    They ranked the wines in different levels on quality, but none of them knew they were being duped as to the basic type of wine being tasted. It amazed me as these people were wine lovers and well versed in wine culture. Their expectations couldn’t let them tell the difference between even a red and white wine.

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