Emlen Metz is a postdoctoral scholar at UC Berkeley, conducting research on psychology of epistemology, social influences on cognitive style, and scientific reasoning. She earned a Ph.D. in psychology at the University of Pennsylvania in 2017, writing her dissertation under Jon Baron and Michael Weisberg on psychology of epistemology, and a B.A. from Swarthmore College. She works at the intersection of psychology and philosophy, with a focus on how beliefs about the nature of knowledge and thinking affect reasoning, scientific beliefs, and effective decision-making, especially under conditions of uncertainty.
Sense & Sensibility & Science
Actively open-minded thinking (AOT) is crucial for epistemic responsibility. Without engaging seriously with evidence and perspectives that run against our views, we will not improve upon our representations of the world. However, AOT is difficult to measure. A major focus of my research program centers around developing better tools for observing AOT in the wild, including rating scales and multiple choice questions (Baron, Scott, Fincher, & Metz, 2015; Metz, 2017), interviews (Metz, 2017), and textual analysis (Tetlock, Metz, Scott, & Suedfeld, 2014; Metz et al., in preparation).
Evolution by natural selection is widely rejected by the public, despite strong consensus among scientists and extraordinary explanatory power for biological phenomena. In collaboration with Michael Weisberg and Deena Weisberg, I have found evidence for two novel factors for this phenomenon; disagreement over legitimate criteria for belief and perceived explanatory power.
For example, there are major individual differences in trust in different criteria for belief (e.g. some people put more stock in scientific consensus, others believe you should trust your gut), and these differences track both group affiliation and acceptance or rejection of scientific theories like evolution with remarkable fidelity (Metz, Weisberg, & Weisberg, 2018).
Actively Open-Minded Thinking
Science, psychology, and philosophy offer a number of conceptual technologies that can make it easier for people to make good decisions as individuals and in groups, especially under conditions of uncertainty and complex information. These conceptual tools include scaffolds for coping with uncertainty like credence levels, signal and noise, Type I & Type II errors, statistical & systematic error, and concepts that help us minimize common mistakes by simply being aware of their temptation, like confirmation bias. They also include techniques for minimizing mistakes by acknowledging the uncertainties, like blind analysis and scenario planning. I seek to develop and test more effective ways of teaching these ideas. The goal is to teach them in such a way that students can use them to make better judgments about what to believe and how to achieve their goals.
S&S&S is an interdisciplinary project at UC Berkeley that seeks to furnish students of all kinds with these conceptual tools. After five iterations as a popular undergraduate course, we are now working to expand the course to other institutions, including other universities, middle schools, high schools, and professional schools.