Friday, March 16, 2007

bias, truth and the future

The forum Overcoming Bias is really cool. I imagine that in practice it has enabled many readers to dismiss the arguments of their foes by "spotting" one of the examples of bias discussed. If that’s true it would be really funny because the blog is mainly to help the reader tackle their own bias. Given that our brains evolved along with our bodies I suspect that there might be good reasons why we simply can't overcome our bias, or if we could we might be sent to the depths of depression.

Robin Hanson thinks certain types of institutions would help most in our quest. Betting markets are an example. People often sound 100% certain of their opinions on certain topics but wouldn't put money on themselves with odds that match their certainty. This is an example of bias that is corrected, if you wanna make money you better be bias free.

Another less formal institution is "truth telling". If this rule were observed that would help but wouldn't eliminate bias because you could choose only to talk about certain things. I think that truth telling has been overwhelmed by politeness in western society. It’s better to have your heart in the right place than be a remorseless truth teller. Global warming is good example here's Al Gore
Nobody is interested in solutions if they don't think there's a problem. Given that starting point, I believe it is appropriate to have an over-representation of factual presentations on how dangerous it is, as a predicate for opening up the audience to listen to what the solutions are, and how hopeful it is that we are going to solve this crisis.[my emphasis]

When facts on the ground change these kinds of institutions also change. Maybe the current PC norm is because the rights blacks, gays and women have only recently been fully recognized, but now society is changing again and much more of what we’ve ever said is accessible in e-mails sms and more importantly on the web.

This is a problem because saying what you think can have negative consequences. People are fired (or not hired) for things they may have said years ago. The way the incentives are lined up now there is a pressure to self censorship and away from truth telling.

I’m optimistic about the long term effects though. Since information can spread so fast and there are so many people scrutinizing everything factual errors don’t last long. Recently a photographer added smoke to one of his pictures for dramatic effect and was instantly found out, I can’t imagine that happening 20 years ago.

So how will new media affect cultural norms of truth telling and attitudes towards bias?

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