An Interview with CSICon 2018 Speaker Troy Campbell

Susan Gerbic

Troy Campbell is an assistant professor of marketing at the University of Oregon, a design psychologist, and a former Disney Imagineer. He develops psychological theories to design better ways to overcome bias; create great experiences; improve well-being; and communicate ideas, stories, and science. He will be presenting at CSICon on Friday October 19 at 11:30 am.

Susan Gerbic: Hello, Troy. Really nice to meet you. I’ve been stalking your social media and web presence, and I a few questions about you. But first, can you tell readers a bit more about yourself and your motivation for becoming a more scientific minded person? I understand it has something to do with ex-girlfriends.

Troy Campbell: I often tell the true story of how an ex-girlfriend didn’t make me more science-minded, but she made me act on science. Those seem like the same thing, right? It seems that if you were science-minded, you would do things based on science. But that is not always the case for many reasons. In my case, it was about motivation.

So a long time ago I dated a girl who was a big environmentalist, and she came over to my house, had a can of diet coke, and then asked me where the recycling was. I did not have a recycling, but I pretended to have one by using a cardboard box. Since that day I have been a much more environmental person in action. I always had the thoughts; I always knew the science, but I didn’t act. I ended up acting because of a girl, not because of any scientific truth.

I will talk about some honest things like that in my talk.

Gerbic: I’ve read over your CSICon lecture synopsis. It looks very engaging, but how are you going to cover all this is a thirty-minute talk? I think learning about why people “deny science” would be a semester-long discussion just by itself.

Campbell: There are many different biases that drive denial of science, so there is no way I can cover all of those. But here’s the fortunate thing: the way you battle those biases is mostly accomplished with just a few general techniques. The spoiler alert is that the title “Battling Bias” is a purposeful misdirect, because what you’ll see is that it is less of battle and more of extending of a welcoming hand and motivating people in the right way, which often, as with my ex-girlfriend example, has nothing to do with the science.

Gerbic: I loved this line of yours from a recent video: “Lies are signals of team commitment. Lying in a certain way, in certain situations, shows how strongly committed to a team you are, and especially what team you are on. … We reward people for engaging in lying.” Wow! Really well said. I guess I see how you are going to cover so much in a thirty-minute lecture.

Campbell: My new work on lying really shows how most of this denial isn’t really about mistrust in the scientific process.Some of it is, but most of it is not. Factual denial is often simply the result of very basic psychology 101 team dynamic behavior.

Gerbic: I also see you are a member of the large Elizabeth Loftus fan club that I am also a member of. I liked your insight into her career as an academic and researcher, you said, “When I met Elizabeth Loftus ten years ago, I thought I had I met the pinnacle of an academic in both research and presentation. Yet watching Loftus over the last ten years has shown me, some of the smartest people never reach a peak, they just keep getting better at talking, researching, and combining classic ideas with modern changes.”

Campbell: Loftus and the amazing political psychologist Peter Ditto were my undergraduate advisors at UC Irvine, and it has been amazing to see these people become even more famous and more relevant since I was their student. What has always amazed me about their work is their ability to reveal simple things we didn’t all know. Loftus’s work on how information after the fact clouds our memory of the original is obvious in hindsight and so is Pete Ditto’s work on how people assess information (they spend more time skeptically analyzing things they don’t agree with). Their experiments and the stories they tell are so immediately enlightening to the public.

Gerbic: I see you are at the University of Oregon, in Eugene. I hope you have been able to spend time with one of the founders of modern scientific skepticism, Ray Hyman. I will be doing a GSoW tour of the West Coast of the U.S. this summer, and I think I will be speaking in Eugene on July 30. I hope you can make my talk. The group Oregonians for Science and Reason is helping to organize it, so stay tuned.

Campbell: I may be still in California for some social science related to Comic Con, but if not, I will definitely make it.

Gerbic: Speaking of great speakers, CSICon has another great lineup this year. Who are you excited about seeing speak?

Campbell: The cultural cognition leader Dan Kahan is a fascinating speaker and often says things that make you think “Oh, how did I miss that?” I always like his talks.

Also, I am really excited to see Adam Conover of Adam Ruins Everything as my work has been on the show. I really like the way Adam’s show makes being wrong positive. In the harsh world of “woke culture” where knowledge is social status and being wrong is treated by many like an irredeemable sin, Adam is modeling something wonderful. I think there is more to be done building on the Adam Ruins Everything model.

I will say one last thing, and I hope I word this right. I am also excited that there are so many different types of speakers from fiery to less so. My work is all about how we must welcome people and be nice to those who are denying science. That’s not the specialty of everyone at the conference. And this mix is a good thing. Because we need both. We need fiery and sometimes hostile science celebrities, but we also need to be welcoming. Sometimes we can do both and be “radical and welcoming” at the same time. Sometimes we can’t or shouldn’t. I hope everyone leaves with many ideas and a wisdom about how and when to use different strategies with different audiences to bring people to science.

Gerbic: I believe this will be your first CSICon. We are known for friendly attendees and great discussions. Also, a Halloween party; this year’s theme is a pajama party. We also tell people to follow CSICon on Facebook to keep informed of what is happening in between the lectures. I look forward to meeting you in person, Troy. Hopefully in July in Eugene, but for sure in Vegas this October.

Campbell: I look forward to meeting you and everyone, especially after seeing Elizabeth Loftus’s past Facebook posts of the Halloween party. People can feel free to hit me up on twitter, @TroyHcampbell. Thanks for chatting, Susan. See you in Las Vegas!

Susan Gerbic

Affectionately called the Wikipediatrician, Susan Gerbic is the cofounder of Monterey County Skeptics and a self-proclaimed skeptical junkie. Susan is also founder of the Guerrilla Skepticism on Wikipedia (GSoW) project. She is a Fellow of the Committee for Skeptical Inquiry, and writes for her column, Guerilla Skepticism, often. You can contact her through her website.