Monday, January 24, 2011

Confirmation Bias - My Resolution for the New Year

Good morning (says he who really wishes he could sleep in until noon)!

I didn't mean this to be my first post of the year. Some of you may have thought I'd given up on the blogging. It is quite a bit after the New Year. But, no, I did have a post I wanted to put, a quote from Drums of Autumn that I thought most amusing (no, it was not a bawdy one, though Diana Gabaldon had quite a few good passages along those lines in her novels too).

I've been spending this morning downloading podcasts from the Cato Institute and AEI. Maybe I'll go to the Heritage Foundation at some point, though I always feel like I have a somewhat bitter taste in my mouth after reading their site. Perhaps because I don't like Rush Limbaugh.

More importantly, I'm also downloading podcasts from the Urban Institute and the Brookings Institution (incidentally, two places I would have liked to work at when I was an econ major at Georgetown).

It may not be apparent from my posts, but I lean on the libertarian and conservative side of matters when it comes to economics (it wasn't always this way). Hence, why I like the Cato Institute. But, given that I also like studying psychological biases, and that one of them is confirmation bias, I thought I'd make a resolution for the new year. And that resolution is to listen to the points of the opposition, not to angrily rebut them with "You Lie!" while listening in the car, but to absorb them and set them in square view for consideration in my free time. By doing so, I'll be tending to my confirmation bias. I'll be listening to views that I disagree with, hopefully with evidence provided by the opposition. By doing so, I hope to ensure that my views are robust. Considering both sides of the coin, instead of one side, is the key to overcoming confirmation bias.

It's a bias that all of us have, to a degree. We give the highest value to the evidence that confirms our view and tend to immediately dismiss evidence to the contrary. I'm quite guilty of this. We look for more white swans rather than the black swan (attribution Karl Popper).

By inculcating a habit to listen to the opposition though, I hope to overcome my confirmation bias. I'll listen to evidence used to buttress contrary opinions. And I won't know if it'll change my views, or if listening to that evidence and their assumptions will cause me to find holes in their arguments that I can exploit. Regardless, it seems sound to consider evidence contrary to my held views, because if there's something significant out there contradicting them that could lead me to a better understanding of subject matter I like to know about, then I want to consider that evidence.

Darwin bolstered his theory of evolution by seeking out evidence contrary to his, and giving it the utmost attention to determine if that evidence invalidated his views. In doing so, his theory became quite robust. Hence, why not humble me?

So that's my resolution (that I'm sharing with all of you). Overcoming my confirmation bias by considering not only views in harmony of mine, but in opposition. This'll be quite a good habit for graduate studies too, another reason I'm undertaking this resolution.

Good morning!