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Posts Tagged ‘Bias

The Überdistortion

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From Create Your Own Economy, the new book by Tyler Cowen of the Marginal Revolution blog:

Standard behavioral economics views “framing effects” as distorting our decisions, but in many circumstances framing effects help make our lives real, vivid, and meaningful, just as Twittering can make our smallest choices more salient.  We choose to send or receive messages in particular ways, in part, to determine which kinds of framing effects will influence our thoughts and emotions.

. . .

The better way to understand human imperfections is to focus on what I call an überdistortion, namely that we, when selecting from a broad menu of options, don’t always make the right choice of framing effects.  In other words, if you want to make better decisions, you should be more self-reflective about how you are choosing to frame the messages you send and receive.

. . .

Competition gives you the chance to construct the whirlwind of influences that you most prefer.  For that process to work smoothly, try to avoid the überbias of picking the wrong framing effects.  Focus your wisdom on choosing the right media for your messages.  (pp. 78-79, 89)

(Obviously, the link to Wikipedia was inserted by me and is not in the book.)

Cowen is writing about the ways in which the information age allows us to customize our own individual relationship to the world by choosing particular ways of filtering the bits of information (cultural goods, friendships, news, etc.) that we consume.  In the above excerpt, he suggests that the meta-level choice of how we frame information is the important choice to get right if one wants to live a meaningful life in the information age — more important, perhaps, than the information itself.

Is this good advice?  What principles should one apply in choosing the ‘best’ frames for oneself as a consumer of information?  Does explicitly recognizing and embracing one’s own frames imply the abandonment of disinterested impartiality in information consumption (even if that was always just a pretence anyway)?  If everyone thought this way about the information they consume, would we all become dangerously postmodern?

The book is pretty good so far.


Written by Alex

August 17, 2009 at 3:13 pm

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Stupid Media…

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I have a love/hate relationship with the Globe and Mail, one of Canada’s premier national newspapers.  Today it’s all about the hate.  This morning I woke up to an article about Harper traveling to the States to conduct a series of media interviews (link).  Here’s the lovely little spin they’ve decided to put on it:

It’s part of a strategy to limit his Canadian interrogations – where the questions tilt toward the specifics of Canada’s troubled domestic economy – in favour of foreign media who can be expected to compare this country favourably to its international partners.

It’s nice how the Globe embraces reporting drawn out of thin air.  The sad thing is that millions of Canadians will wake up and most likely take this idea at face value.  They will believe they now have insight into Harpers master plan to manipulate us all.

The really sad thing is that the article contradicts itself completely.  In the direct paragraph before they write:

Mr. Harper did provide Radio-Canada with a rare interview on Thursday evening and is scheduled to give another tomorrow to CTV.

It’s just so dissapointing that this is from one of the premier news sources in Canada.  To close, I’ll offer a few oher spins on why Harper may be headed South.

  • Talk up the Canadian American trade relationship to help dissolve protectionist sentiment.
  • Try and garner American support for the initiatives Canada wants to push at the upcoming G20 summit.
  • Return the courtesy president Obama showed Canada in his latest visit.

Written by jk

March 28, 2009 at 8:36 am

Posted in Ideas/Opinions, Just News

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Overcoming Bias

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(Tip of the Hat to Overcoming Bias, an okay blog.)

The purpose of this post is to start a discussion of bias.  I believe that we are all biased.  This isn’t necessarily bad; bias can probably be a useful heuristic device and it also has emotional benefits, so we shouldn’t be too biased against bias.  However, it’s important to know what our biases are.

I often find myself saying something like “I am not a libertarian, but I have a strong predisposition against ‘big ideas’ to engineer certain social or economic outcomes through the exercise of central authority.”  I think that policymakers are not smart enough to get anything but the simplest things right except by chance, and that they have few incentives to choose optimal policies even if they were smart enough.

I have no principled opposition to the reasonable exercise of the coercive power of the state, however.  I therefore endorse state interventions to address some problems – those for which the costs of inaction are very large and the policy solutions are relatively simple.  Global warming is an example.

A problem is that I sometimes get lazy or emotional when considering a policy-relevant proposition, and I mindlessly respond like an extreme libertarian.*  My intuitions – my gut responses – are the same as those that a radical libertarian would have. I like to think that I can, over the long run, balance these intuitions with reason.**  However, it is more likely than not that my opinions are systematically biased toward a libertarian position.  I think it’s best to be upfront about this.

How about others?  What are your biases?  If you say that you have none, I will probably not believe you because I am biased against objectivity.

* When I refer to libertarianism, I mean a Hayekian epistemic brand of pseudo-libertarianism.  Other types – Chicago-style efficiency libertarianism, or natural rights-based libertarianism – have less appeal to me.

** I guess this is problematic because on some level, all knowledge claims are founded on intuition.  Whether intuition can be ‘good enough’ for those knowledge claims to count as knowledge is a big question that has made people’s brains ache for thousands of years.

Written by Alex

March 18, 2009 at 12:00 am

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