How to be Wrong!

­­­­­­­­­­­­­­­­­­­If you never change your mind, why have one?

Edward de Bono physician, psychologist (originator of Lateral Thinking)


Never speculate without all of the data 

Paraphrase: Sherlock Holmes (Arthur Conan Doyle)

Holding accurate and truthful opinions is difficult as there are many ways one’s thinking can run off the rails. The good news is that just three factors are involved in the majority of ways of being wrong: control those three attitudes and your thinking will dramatically improve. But if you insist on being wrong you should: 1] be assertive and satisfied with your existing opinion; 2] have confidence in the opinions of those who likely don't care if they are wrong and know little more about the topic than you do, and; 3] only consider a matter from one particular viewpoint.  Easy - and very satisfying!


These three ways of thinking are related to bias. They are often called: The Overconfidence Effect, The Bandwagon Effect (or Group-think Bias), and Confirmation Bias (for more detail see: The Big Three Biases in this website).


I will use a "thought experiment" to help show how stubborn these three mind-sets can be. The demonstration starts with a controversial claim with which a significant percentage of people will instinctively disagree. Yet the statement can be readily falsified or verified on the basis of logic, and is not reliant on a particular opinion. This way it will provide an awareness of why bias is such an unyielding and important topic. I have selected this assertion: The peer review process, as used by scientists, is unscientific.  


Along with quality assurance procedures peer review is the main way science uses to counterbalance individual or institutional mistakes and biases. Just one robust assumption is required: no person or group of people is omniscient. With respect to the statement it is likely you have already decided whether you agree with it, or not.


To start the analysis: Nature is the most highly cited interdisciplinary science journal in the world with the lofty goal of providing to the public “the finest peer-reviewed research”. But an article (published in July 2016) admitted in its title - Let’s Make Peer Review Scientific that peer review is currently unscientific. The following are some of the issues with the current system. 


The peer review process: firstly, fails to pass a statistical analysis to demonstrate its efficacy (see: John P.A. Ioannidis paper – Why Most Published Research Findings Are False); it can rarely provide hard data to support or reject the work of others; and, can be dominated by senior investigators who can easily restrict opposing viewpoints. On top of that it is most often not involved in the design of the research specification; has limited control over the source of funding or any other constrains placed upon the research; it is frequently anonymous - which then avoids any personal responsibility; and, can never prevent a conspicuously flawed study from being published in at least one “scientific” journal.


The reason the statement is controversial is that it is a foundational assumption for many other beliefs; and as such, provides a high degree of comfort to the believer. But it remains that peer review is not founded upon logic and is not supported by the scientific method as being dependable. It is therefore not possible to call it scientific. It is rather an entirely “human system” which can never provide a pathway to establish reliable facts. 


If you initially disagreed with the statement, and have not changed your mind, ask yourself: do I seriously question my opinion on this topic, do I trust the information in this blog, and do I care sufficiently about this issue?  If your answers to these question is: no, no, and no; then at least you will have comfort in knowing how easy it is to be wrong.  The other good news is you will ensure you will have many people in your social group agree with you and possibly increase your chance of being considered cool.


Independence of mind and strength of character  [including: not following the biases of others] is rarely found among those who cannot be confident that they will make their way by their own effort

Paraphrase of Friedrich A. Hayek - Economist