Wednesday, 2 November 2011

More on the science of being wrong

Following on from a couple of posts ago, here's further articles on the gentle art of being wrong about everything.

First up a lovely column from Christie Aschwanden on the personal side of being wrong. Short version: we as individuals think of ourselves as independent, intelligent people, and when confronted with somebody saying we are wrong, rather than weigh up the arguments we intuitively take it as an attack as it contradicts our view of ourselves.

In not-dissimilar footsteps, Cracked on 5 logical fallacies that make people wrong (often when they think they're right). Click through for details, but as a list:

5. We're Not Programmed to Seek "Truth," We're Programmed to "Win"

4. Our Brains Don't Understand Probability

3. We Think Everyone's Out to Get Us

2. We're Hard-Wired to Have a Double Standard (i.e. when it happens to us it's because of external circumstances, when somebody else does it it's because they are bad)

1. Facts Don't Change Our Minds

Nothing massively new here, but a good roundup, and I particularly liked item 3 - the idea that we think people will screw us over much more than they actually will, but we rarely find out our mistake. The corollary of this is that we have experiences where we are surprised our trust is broken when we expected it to be kept, but rarely have experiences where we are surprised our trust is kept when we expected it to be broken (because we usually walk away from those situations before they happen). Perhaps the cumulative effect is part of the reason older people are generally more conservative - that's pure speculation on my part, though.

All in all, good stuff about being wrong. I'm sure I fall foul of this stuff all the time, but I'm lucky enough to be a scientist, and hence being proved wrong is part of the job - in fact, I usually prove myself wrong on a regular basis. Just within this blog, I was completely wrong in what I though about streetlights.

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