Sunday, July 19, 2015

Again: practical wisdom

Another list I came across about sound judgment had five items:
  1. Be open-minded.  Deal with uncertainty. Welcome new evidence. Notice the limits of your knowledge. Probe your assumptions. What additional information could give you a more balanced viewpoint? Make your convictions explicit and take the opposite standpoint. Or put yourself in someone else’s shoes.
  2. Admit when you have been in the wrong.
  3. Imagine what if… Re-imagine key events. Consider eventualities and form hypotheses. It broadens your mind when grappling with the unexpected.
  4. Use checklists in complex situations.
  5. Recognize your bias.
A good list. But how to recognize your bias? Wikipedia has a list of 100 bias. And they missed a few. Even downsizing that list, I couldn't come under 50. I grouped them for better grasp.

Egoism and emotionalism
  • Narcissism: rosy self-image; overrate your abilities; overrate your personal importance; take credit for desirable but not for undesirable outcomes.
  • False pride: claim more responsibility for successes than for failures.
  • False modesty: blame failures on yourself while attributing successes to circumstances or others.
  • Narrow-mindedness: familiar is better.
  • Puberty: doubt or ridicule the judgment of others; overrate your own judgment.
  • Selective perception: focus on what you like - or on what you dislike.
  • Avoidance of embarrassing questions and aspects.
  • Overrate the control you have over events and conditions.
  • Framing: overvalue presentation over facts.
  • Sensationalism: focus on the most salient and emotionally-charged aspects.
  • Embellishing: inflate recall and description.
  • Justify actions already taken, like rationalize your purchases.
  • Avoidance of extremes; prefer intermediate options.
Disregarding evidence
  • Professional conventionalism.
  • Unwarranted assumptions: assume without evidence.
  • Credulity: believe in something without reason or evidence.
  • Dogmatism: protect your beliefs against evidence.
  • Prejudice: assume qualities, attitudes and behavior from appearance.
  • Joining the bandwagon: believe things because most other people believe the same; adopt opinions and follow behavior.
  • Data-doctoring: manipulate an experiment or misinterpret data to confirm expectations.
  • Group thinking: go for the comfort of commonality instead of the discomfort of the unknown, the ill-understood or the search for new evidence.
  • Negative hallucination: not see what is. 'It didn't happen.'
  • Nitpicking: focusing on insignificant details.
False evidence
  • Myopia: only see the immediate facts.
  • Tunnel vision: interpret everything in line with earlier assumptions, earlier analysis or earlier conclusions; ignore alternative explanations; protect current investment. Often the result of group thinking.
  • Pseudo-recall: imaginary recall or imprinted recall.
  • Illusion: imagine patterns and cause-effect relationships where none exist.
  • Believe that the world is just and that people get what they deserve.
  • See deeper meaning in random events.
  • Positive hallucination: see what isn't there. 'It really happened.'
  • See everywhere what you have just learned or noticed. (Like the 'medical disease.)
  • Halo effect: generalize from one positive or negative trait.
  • Barnum effect: mistake confection for individual profile.
Unwarranted expectations
  • Wishful thinking: be over-optimistic.
  • Worrying: be over-pessimistic.
  • Planning optimism: underestimate task-completion times. (usually about 3x)
Space and time distortions
  • Project present attitudes and behavior into the past.
  • Hindsight: see the past through present knowledge: 'I-knew-it-all-along.' Harry S. Truman: ' A schoolboy's hindsight is better than a president's foresight.'
  • Overrate the recent, the immediate, the remarkable.
  • Conservatism: old is better.
  • Progressiveness: new is better.

Lack of statistical thinking
  • Generalization: underestimate the variety in people.
  • Disregard probabilities, especially unknown and unwelcome probabilities.
  • Assume that specific conditions are more probable than general ones; judge the probability of the whole to be less than the probability of a part.
  • Accept risk to avoid negative outcomes, but avoid risks if expecting positive outcomes.
  • Preference to reduce a small risk to zero over greatly reducing a large risk.
  • Action bias: overrate the harms of action compared to the harms of inaction; overrate the benefits of action compared to the benefits of inaction.
  • Texas sharpshooter fallacy: select or adjust a hypothesis after the data are collected.
  • Endowment effect: demand much more to give up an object than you would be willing to pay to acquire it.
  • Anchoring: interpret new information by comparing it to accidental previous information.

The best system for vetting and limiting the consequences of bias is the scientific method: develop ideas from evidence and test them to new evidence. And in daily life? Return to the first advice: be open-minded.

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