Tuesday, June 11, 2013

Trust in Information

News flash: Germans know how to make sausage.  Oh, and the Rhine is flooded.

Busy week.  Lots of travel (flight to Germany plus travels within plus a 500+ km motorcycle tour of the flooded rhine).  Cool places (three different OMC hangouts, plus a police academy, plus a couple of medieval towns). Lots of classes.  Ambushes and Thugs at the Highway Riders Bad-Wildungeng HQ; Conflict Communications at the Lower Saxony Police Academy last night; private lessons start in one hour.

I always hate teaching ConCom to foreign audiences.  The language is nuanced and you can only tell if the translator is good if you don't need one.  Need to get some native speakers up to speed to teach in other countries (are you listening Andraz, Atilla, Thomas and Ferran?)  They liked it and most seemed to understand and Thomas is a good translator who understands the material-- but when things are this important anything less than perfection scares me a little.

Two of the academy social science instructors attended.  A German police academy is a full university leading to a bachelor's degree.  The students spend three years.  Part of their curriculum includes "social science" which seems to be a mix of psychology and sociology.

One of the social science instructors approached me after the class. "It was amazing. They listened to you.  They were alert and taking notes!" She makes a frantic scribbling gesture with her hands,"When we teach" she mimics a yawn. "But we are teaching science.  We have all of science to back us up and you have only personal experience and yet they believe you."

(Note, she was not saying the class was amazing.)

There is a lot in here, and it is important.
First, what passes as science in the social sciences is deplorable.  Really bad.  Remember that experimental design in psychology is what I studied...and even then at their top level at that time accepted practices would have been decried in a hard science.  I saw one rejection letter from the Journal of the APA that stated that their policy was never to publish a study that contradicted a previously published, peer-reviewed study.  Evidently peer review was more important than fact.

That aside, most officers don't trust social scientists and that's without having backgrounds in what constitutes science.  It is because so much of what they've been told by social scientists is wrong.  It fails.  In my experience social scientists are very in tune and correct about some things.  They know the way that relatively rich, educated, genteel, polite, educated undergraduates think.  They know how other extremely educated, privileged academics think.  And living in one of the most intellectually inbred worlds possible, they believe they know how all people think.  Anthropologists are the exception.  Many get their hands dirty.

The things the academics teach-- why they believe that the privileged people they know might turn to crime-- fails for the cops who are dealing with a certain demographic.

Point one: Distrust will arise when concepts comes from bad science.
Point two: Distrust will arise when concepts come from irrelevant science.

When theories are presented as theories, with no touchstone to reality, they don't sit well in your head.  I use Maslow, but point out that as a theory there are holes.  Big holes.  But as a model it is useful.  And I tie that model not to my experience but to the experience of everyone in the class.

Point three: Trust is increased with instructor humility. "The theory has holes."
Point four: Trust is increased when you can tie the concept to the student's direct, personal experience.

Though there are theories underlying Conflict Communications, the theories don't matter.  The entire course was back engineered.  What worked?  Why did it work?  No idea? Then think it through.  What did the things that work have in common? Oh, that reminds me of a theory from college, let me look it up...  It worked.  It worked before it was ever a system.  And it would continue to work as a model even if the underlying theories proved false.  The only difference would be not knowing why it worked...and there is no guarantee that we know the real 'why' now. So:

Point five: The appearance of science increases trust, even if it doesn't increase effectiveness or truth. This trust affect is purely psychological
Point six: Something that works increases trust.

I've dealt with the same bad stuff that these recruits will and these officers have.  We have a related background.  I bring stuff to them from their world, not from an imaginary world of theory and statistical analysis.  Someone pointed out recently that psychologists are about 40% accurate in predicting violence.  I don't know where he got the statistic or over what time frame or with what data.  But I will say that if cops were only 40% accurate the profession would be extinct.  The tools I show them are ones I have bet my life on.  No academic can say that.

Point seven: Trust increases if the concepts come from the same world and use the same language where the skills must be applied.
Point eight: Trust increases when people you trust rely on the concepts when the stakes are high.

The social scientist was a good, intelligent person who cared about these recruits.  But she had the same trust issues accepting data from a thug jail guard than they did accepting information from an academic. And for valid reasons.  My insights did not come from her world and might not work in her world.  I don't have the symbols of authority and trust in her world that I do in mine.  And as much as I've bet my life, I've never bet my tenure on a wild theory and, in her world, tenure seems more real.

Two more points, to make an even ten:
Point nine: Knowing the limits of your concept increases trust. To say something always works brands you as a liar or a fool.
Point ten: Trust is reciprocal.  I tell the students that I trust them to do the right thing, to make the decisions, to decide when the model will fail and do something else.  People trust people who trust them.


Maija said...

Yes. Nicely Put.

shugyosha said...

I am listening, by chance. And I have it as a project. It is one of the reasons behind a certain translation project...

Take care.

Mike said...

DAMNED good post....

Jim said...

Very good analysis of why instructors are accepted or not. Bottom line: theories and ideas are great... but they're trumped by reality. You see the same problem in "leadership training." I've had one leadership class that I feel was useful. There were two instructors: one a just retired command level cop who'd done his time on the streets, and the other an academic who had run his own company, as well as other real world experience. And, really, they were more facilitators than instructors; the students were the instructors, putting the ideas into practice. (I know, sounds a lot like a certain person's seminars...)

Adrastia said...


"Anthropologists are the exception. Many get their hands dirty."

smile.... thanks for the acknowledgement. Participant-observer
training has served me well. That's what you do too.

Natalie said...

I find it interesting that the social scientist in Germany would have a hard time accepting the reality of brutal crime. Growing up in Europe near Germany (Switzerland and France) during the 80s and 90s, that was the emergence of the true skinheads and hard-core gangs that spawned such a tough-guy fashion knock-off in the US. Except in Europe, it was real. Real brutality, often for not much more reason than the ability to do it. Group violence against "others", lots of anti-semitism. I spent a lot of time unwillingly on the streets and learned a lot about what you teach, first-hand: how to read a situation, how to read criminal intent, how to avoid if possible, how to de-escalate. But it was so prevalent and the most brutal young men came from Germany, so how on earth do the current academics overlook that real-world feedback in their social "science"?

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The European Historical Combat Guild said...

Natalie, living in a country that has violence in it doesn't mean one will have been exposed to it or seen it, let alone understand it. Someone who becomes a social scientist in Germany is unlikely to have spent a lot of time in places where racist violence would take place, in the same way that someone born and bred here in London, may have never had closer connection to gang knife crime that is prevalent in various parts of London, if they grew up in a nice area of North London and then went to UCL. I lived in an area for 15 years where fights, knifing s and shootings had had happened outside our front door, violence was pretty regular. I now live a 10 minute walk away on the same road.... and everything is different and people are oblivious to what happens just over the crest of the hill.

acm said...

"[S]ocial scientists... know the way that relatively rich, educated, genteel, polite, educated undergraduates think. They know how other extremely educated, privileged academics think. And living in one of the most intellectually inbred worlds possible, they believe they know how all people think."

Some of the wiser ones are starting to figure this out; Joseph Henrich has coined the term WEIRD to describe most study subjects: they are Western, Educated, Industrialized, Rich, and Democratic, and so it's doubtful that their behaviour can be generalized to say anything about humanity at large.


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