Why we don’t realize we are wrong

A discussion of the neuroscience of why people continue to believe theories when lots of anomalous data appears. It may not be a full explanation. As Thomas Kuhn noted, many of these situations are paradigm dependent. So, models are often held until a new generation of theorists arise who use a different paradigm. Nonetheless, a reminder that we often are wrong without even realizing it.

Moreover, my son observed that “It takes a model to beat a model.” [As an aside, he initially attributed the phrase to Gary Becker. I did a quick search and found it attributed to Tom Sargent and then found a lengthy discussion of the legal aphorism: “it takes a theory to beat a theory.” What a wonderfully productive side quest!] Regardless, the point is that a model held for good reason has lots of traction – some problems don’t necessarily mean abandonment is required.

Back to the article. When encountering an anomaly (an unexpected result), the article suggests four strategies:

1.  Check your assumptions

2. Seek out ignorant people (those unlikely to share your assumptions)

3. Encourage diversity  (make sure you have people involved who don’t have the same assumptions)

4. Be aware of failure-blindness (awareness of the bias may help inhibit it)

Good advice, regardless.

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