Wednesday, 29 June 2016

The science of why people insist on making idiotic choices

Just read the following article.  It says:

To find the real reason people seem to disregard the views of experts about important matters, we need to look at how we process information. In The Stupidity Paradox, a recent work I completed with Mats Alvesson, we asked why, in a world of increasingly smart people, we so frequently end up making incredibly stupid decisions.

One reason is our inbuilt cognitive biases. We often make quick decisions about complex issues on the basis of our past beliefs or even chance associations. After we have made these decisions—which often happen in a matter of milliseconds—we start the laborious process of proving ourselves right. We seek information which justifies decisions already made. Many members of the public have already made up their mind about about Trumponomics, Europe, or climate change. All they focus on is finding information that confirms their split-second decisions. Information that challenges their beliefs is carefully ignored; it could make them uncomfortable and require them to think again.

And it is true that paying attention to the evidence of experts can be uncomfortable. There are difficult contradictions that require humiliating climbdowns. Humans tend to avoid what psychologists call cognitive dissonance at all costs. When the facts don’t fit our beliefs, we tend to prefer to change the facts, not our beliefs.

I think this is all true, but it's not clear to me we should simply trust the word of alleged experts.  The problem of course is that it is often the case that those who are alleged to be "experts" are nothing of the kind. The predictions of economic experts, for example, are little better than flipping a coin.

Then we get experts predicting the future. Inevitably such predictions tend to be dramatic, exciting, or apocalyptic, but which inevitably fail to describe anything like the future that actually transpires.

Another problem is that scientists readily pontificate on areas which reside outside their areas of expertise. Specifically they seem to think they are proficient (experts) when it comes to philosophy for example. Hence they make preposterous predictions such that in a few decades computers will become conscious and wish to enslave us! They don't seem to be aware that the existence of consciousness is deeply problematic given our current scientific understanding of reality.

So in short, it is certainly wise to listen to experts, but the problem is how do we know they are experts? And even if they are, how do we know that there are not vested interests involved in what they claim?

Reading the comments below the article I find myself in agreement with a certain Sean Nee Research Professor of Ecosystem Science and Management from Pennsylvania State University says:

It is mysterious why intelligent people think the views of economic forecasters are relevant in the Brexit debate. These forecasters were unable to see that, for example, leaving John Major’s favorite economic mechanism for further integration, the European Exchange Rate Mechanism, would turn out to be so beneficial for the UK. They did not foresee the 2008 global financial crisis. Their inability to forecast the future when conditions are apparently unchanging explains why they dislike anything new occurring, like Brexit. There are actual issues that are real now, like the fact that if any member of the EU gives citizenship to anyone at all, as is their right, that person, or those millions of people, immediately have the full rights of British nationality, regardless of the EU status of their country of origin. Some intelligent people consider this more important than the futurology of discredited conservative forecasters.

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