Something is missing. How much should we defer to science (even if the science is right)?

I love science. For that reason, I feel like I need to say something about how we are abusing it.

There are so many great articles and statistics being posted here about the negative impacts of screen time! The science and the expert opinions are pretty convincing to anybody who cares to take the time to investigate.

But I did a little thought experiment: What if someone came on here and made a post saying that they love Facebook, they love Snapchat, they use screens 10 hours a day, and couldn’t be happier? How would I respond to that? Well, I would probably reach into my bookmark folder and pull out an article by Tristan Harris, an article by Sherry Turkle, a study from Common Sense Media, and google some statistics about sleep loss. I would bludgeon that person with all this information and call it a good, convincing response.

That kind of response, which is certainly a pretty common way of talking about these issues, worries me. I can’t help but think that Humane Tech will suffer from the same issues that the environmental movement has - we rely so much on studies, statistics, and experts (the subject matter being very complicated, of course) that we don’t trust our own voices and experiences to tell the story. Humane discourse in the environmental movement (that is, centered around the lives and direct experiences of humans) is all too often crowded out by a culture which reflexively prostrates itself before the omnipotent excellence of Father Science. For an example, look at how people who question (simply question!) climate change are branded as despicable scientific blasphemers, a shaming different from the trial of Galileo only by a matter of degree.

When we lose the courage to think for ourselves, speak out, and tell our stories in our own voices, it doesn’t matter whether Science or the oracle of Delphi dictates the direction of our society. In both instances we are at the mercy of an abstract authority whose conclusions we accept without question. I know that by saying this I will be accused of all kinds of nasty things like anti-intellectualism and conspiracy theories. But if I didn’t make this post, I would be giving in to the very same fear that I am warning about in this very post itself! - A fear of being “wrong”.

Science is a human institution, not a set of pure principles as we often like to imagine. I will make the risky move of suggesting that we try to find a way to tell the story of humane tech without timidly deferring to one scientific study or another as it fits our narrative. Let Sherry Turkle or Adam Alter or Tristan Harris speak for you if you want; they are probably up to the task. But a more personal, individual-centric discourse needs to thrive alongside the expert voices if we want this thing to really go anywhere.


A very good post. Thank you.

Hope you don’t mind my referring to yet another “authority”: Nassim Nicholas Taleb, author of The Black Swan: The Impact of the Highly Improbable.

Taleb is very distrustful of “experts,” many of whom, he says, are no better at analyzing the present or predicting the future than the rest of us. And some of these experts, he asserts, predict a future that is simply an extension of the present because such a prediction is what their clients want. OR because they can do no better than that.

I am in front of a computer most of my day. Why? Main reason is my job, which requires me to correspond with people, coordinate actions or decisions, produce books, help authors, clients, and others with their work. Do I think I am a computer addict? No.

Do I check my Facebook page when I get up in the morning? Yes. Do I think I am a FB addict? No. How much time do I spend on FB a day? Half an hour at the most.

But I–and you too, @afuchs, I suspect–belong to a different generation. We grew up with books, for one, and that makes a huge difference in who we are, how we think, how we act. Your call to action reflects that difference.

Taleb’s book encourages us not to follow experts over what he identifies as the cliff. He encourages us to be circumspect, conservative in our thinking and acting, to follow the middle path of experience and empirical learning.


I am also a huge fan of science, but this is an excellent point you make here, @afuchs!

A part of what this community should be, an important part, is inclusive! Respecting of all kinds of opinions and approaches to life. We already see this in what people post here. Some like to get rid of tech altogether, others want to improve the existing tech world, and yet others to create radical new tech to help us further.

Therefore, with regards to science, our research, and the principles and methods that come forth from that, we can never be prescriptive. We can never say “This is the right way to do things”. If we do, then it would be a very narrow-minded approach, and the TWS philosophy that we preach would be more of a religion.

Instead, I think, we should create recipes for all kinds of aspects related to tech, just like you have with cooking. You eat what you like, and maybe you don’t want to spend too much time in the kitchen. This determines the recipes that you choose. Same with TWS.

The scientific aspect is then just supportive, just a constituent part, of a specific recipe. Other parts are e.g. the philosophy behind, and effort required to adopt an approach. The impact it has, etc.
People should be free to ignore the science behind a best-practice or principle, if they do not trust it, or have decided it holds no sway to them.

I’ve said before that I think that CHT should be ‘full spectrum’, so it offers something useful for everyone.

So to summarize, I agree with you, and IMO, for the CHT the more personal, individual-centric voices should make the story, while the experts should help to strengthen it…


Completely support what you’ve said here.

I like the concept of recipes, which reminds us that we are free to try each other’s, to experiment, to leap over boundaries and try different cuisines.

And to refine the recipes we’ve developed for ourselves.

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I think we need different approaches here in dealing with different issues that confront us. I think nothing wrong with studies from well respected researcher and organization that definitely back up your argument on certain issue that your are right. CHT doesn’t have all the answer on all issues and we need input too from all well regarded sources.

Yes the knee jerk responses are all too common in today’s world and sensationalism too.

I’ll say my passion on this forum comes from a personal story- my experience in everyday life- and one example of a field not using science based approach research is education. Edtech wildly swung into education without critically thinking of displacing the consequences of a classroom that can’t sit still anymore or throws fits when the devices are taken away- no joke!! or the inability to write a grocery list because they only type on a keyboard- and the ergonomic consequences of pecking on a flat screen for the rest of your life because educators didn’t think you would ever need to write again…

I think our world is full of sensationalism and it is good to question the information we hear… So thank you for bringing this up!

Like anything we need to evaluate the research- is it a credible source? Is this pertinent to our humaniity’s best interest especially when addressing health and functioning day to day. Is the research really marketing a product or someone’s ideas etc… the truth is- many amazing things are born out of research- anything done in healthcare- a science based approach is necessary not to prove its right- but to make sure nobody is getting hurt!!

It’s like anything- everyone has to find out for themselves how they use their devices- when why who etc… and gathering information is the best way to do this. Just like dieting or health habits- everyone has their own diet and exercise routine- or not and we all respect each other’s choices- For some crash dieting works- healthy? Probably not but it is too personal to really judge. Maybe tech use and how people reach their own decisions is this way as well.,

If being reactionary may help someone dig out of a deep depression because their spouse is addicted to video games- so posting and researching articles will help this person and probably someone else. On the flip side, maybe someone works for a tech company with poor humane tech practices but can’t quit his job but knows nothing but tech- and talks about apps all the time- that is ok too. Both members on opposite sides will learn from each other and evolve and make informed decisions about how to proceed in this complex world.

I think science is important in humanetech. It is a process that allows us to link isolated facts into a coherent and comprehensive understanding. How things work, the knowledge generated from science is powerful and reliable. Science is continually refining and expanding our knowledge, it leads to new question for further investigation. We have to know and diffentiate what is good science from junk science. I think those who opposed climate change are using junk science. The body of scientific evidences as well as the scientific institutions backing it and what is happening in the ground are incontrovertble for climate change. I think science works for us either from inside of CHT or Outside sources.


Yes, @anon22019695, I think everything said in the above posts understates that fact. We will build our principles and guidelines, our ‘recipes’, upon the best scientific facts we can find, and do everything to have the highest quality of knowledge in this body of work.

You are right in saying there is a lot of junk science around, and using this is a trap we should not fall into. I think @afuchs’s example of climate change was not the best example for the sake of the arguments he made, as especially in this field you probably find most of the junk. What you have here, IMO, is that the client-change-deniers-in-chief have double agenda’s. They are not ignorant, as often stated. They are just deeply invested in environment-destroying businesses, and use disinformation and outright propaganda, to alleviate or delay anything that threatens this. Very successfully it seems. Capitalism at its best. (But this is off-topic).

Its just that we should make our work accessible to everyone, regardless of opinion, and allow freedom to pick & choose whatever appeals to a person most :slight_smile:

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Every person has the right to choose for themselves how to spend their time. At the same time, tech product development should consider if not standardize practice for the health and wellbeing of people. If a certain tech innovation has a pitfall that may be harmful to a person- the tech company needs to take responsibility to make things right again. In healthcare in the act of serving humanity this is called “do no harm”. Thinking about every action and whether it adds to the well being of people.

Technology is a mirror of ourselves. The internal state of the person is what it ultimately magnifies. That includes things like intentions, even if technologies can be readily used “off label”. And hence that also includes pockets of ignorance and a lack of awareness. And that’s what I appreciated in It’s Not Technology That’s Disrupting Our Jobs.

But back to the original point in this thread, science and data are fabulous but are also unfortunately dry and generally unmotivating. People don’t vote on logic, they vote on emotion. Which is why we get what we get in politics. And when it comes to making people aware of the harms of technology and trying to be more thoughtful about how they approach it – as both creators and consumers – I think a pure science and data approach would not be very effective on its own. It’s great as reference materials, but it’s difficult to relate to that.

Which is also why big, complex stories - like environmentalism or Syrian refugees - work better when they are introduced as, and also distilled down, into relatable, personal stories. This is where the individual voice holds weight. The power of Alan Kurdi’s image did far more to describe and enable empathy for the Syrian refugee crisis than all the facts, figures, research papers, etc. ever could. Our feeble brains just can’t get around the problem until we can make it relatable at an individual level.

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