Thursday, April 6, 2017


A couple decades ago, Richard Heuer wrote a book for the CIA to help improve the quality of their analysis. In chapter two (available online here) he mentions an interesting fact about a certain drawing:

"The right-hand drawing in the top row, when viewed alone, has equal chances of being perceived as a man or a woman. When test subjects are shown the entire series of drawings one by one, their perception of this intermediate drawing is biased according to which end of the series they started from. Test subjects who start by viewing a picture that is clearly a man are biased in favor of continuing to see a man long after an "objective observer" (for example, an observer who has seen only a single picture) recognizes that the man is now a woman. Similarly, test subjects who start at the woman end of the series are biased in favor of continuing to see a woman. Once an observer has formed an image--that is, once he or she has developed a mind-set or expectation concerning the phenomenon being observed--this conditions future perceptions of that phenomenon."

This in a nutshell is American journalism today. Reporters who started off with one set of beliefs--that they were in the process of viewing one disaster--are completely blind to the evidence that's actually coming out, indicating a quite different disaster is actually occurring. (Details of which scandal/disaster aren't important to my point.) This is why CNN/MSNBC and Fox News almost seem to be reporting from completely different universes right now; it's not that they're malicious or actively conspiring to lie--they just started at different ends of the series of drawings, and they're not fighting to overcome their biases and see the picture with fresh eyes. They're not evil; they're just not any brighter about their own psychology than the average intelligence analyst.

It is however possible to do much, much better than the average, if you work hard at intellectual honesty. That's what real science is about.


P.S. The Joseph Smith quote in my .sig seems relevant. "Shall I bear them down? No." etc. Note to self: try to be patient with people when they're seeing a different picture than you.

If I esteem mankind to be in error, shall I bear them down? No. I will lift them up, and in their own way too, if I cannot persuade them my way is better; and I will not seek to compel any man to believe as I do, only by the force of reasoning, for truth will cut its own way.

"Thou shalt love thy wife with all thy heart, and shalt cleave unto her and none else."

No comments: