Ignorance is power
Posted by Dave Bath on 2009-06-10
Error bars are never valued by those who would benefit from them the most.
A while back I (2008-12-21) mentioned an article from Harvard Business School Working Knowledge that showed people looked more favorably on artful dodgers who avoided questions, than a stumbling truth teller. Depressing.
There’s another paper to file under "we’re all doomed": "Humans prefer cockiness to expertise" (New Scientist 2009-06-10) – even if the cocksure no-nothing has a proven bad record.
So, the best chance a political party has of winning a seat is to get the most arrogant dissembler they can find, preferably one ignorant of their own ignorance. Religious zealots will beat subtle theologians for market share.
And so much for the persuasiveness of nuanced opinions and list of caveats. No-one wants to listen.
Geoscientists, carefully laying out their thoughts on climate change, haven’t a hope in hell of getting past the electorate and the politicians.
Metaphysical arguments and the admission of doubt will find it hard to compete against the simplistic unreasons given by ardent theists – and the more idiotic the theist, the more unaware of their own ignorance, the more convincing they will be!
It’s a bit like my rule about people grading themselves between 1 and 5 out of 5 in various domains. Ninety-nine percent of people rate themselves as "3", because those who should be a "1" don’t know the extent of their ignorance, while those who should be a “5” have an excellent grasp of the gaps in their knowledge. Ask me what I don’t know about unix (I used to teach it) and I’ll take a good hour to list things. Ask
ken (met him once at an AUUG conference) what he doesn’t know about unix and he’d probably take a week to give you just the bullet points.
From the New Scientist article:
The research, by Don Moore of Carnegie Mellon University in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, shows that we prefer advice from a confident source, even to the point that we are willing to forgive a poor track record. Moore argues that in competitive situations, this can drive those offering advice to increasingly exaggerate how sure they are. And it spells bad news for scientists who try to be honest about gaps in their knowledge.
The study used a game, players guessing the weight of people in photographs, and able to "buy" advice (a bit like being offered lifelines in quiz shows).
In the later rounds, guessers tended to avoid advisers who had been wrong previously, but this effect was more than outweighed by the bias towards confidence.
This should have been no surprise. The baseless "It’ll take two weeks and cost 50K" is preferred by managers rather than "It’ll probably take a couple of weeks, cost between 40K and 60K, but if x, y, or z pops up, that could stretch time-to-delivery to about a month, while if q,r and s don’t surface, it might only take a week".
So I can now state categorically that all J’s on the Myers-Briggs should be taken out and shot, so we P’s have a chance of running things properly.
OK, so maybe we don’t kill those with borderline J-ness, perhaps only those in the top 3 or 4 deciles of J-ness, …. and maybe not if there is a hope of upping their P-ness in the next 5 through 20 years… but maybe we keep just a few J’s alive, even though I can’t think right now why we’d need them, there might be some value in having a few breeding specimens…
Curses! Foiled again! Hoist with my own P-type!
- Yep. I’m an off-the-scale NTP, with a little i at the front, which is why I prefer personality typing tools (I once wrote psychometric software used by clinicians, so I’m an informed user of such tools) that allow graduated rather than yes/no responses. Grab a copy (Microsoft EXE file included, but unix source available) of the DDLI which is pretty darn good – and even has an "If I’m wrong, there is a chance you are an XXXX because…" section, or at least try this – less subtle than the DDLI, but very much better than most Yes/No MBTI tools.