Friday, January 28, 2011

A Simple Pass/Fail Test To Evaluate Substance Over Loyalty

I read this article by Robin Hanson a while back that lists signs that "your opinions function more to signal loyalty... than to estimate truth" and I forgot to share it until now.

It's a simple, but effective, pass/fail test you can apply to commentators in order to gauge substantive perspective. If nothing else, it's a good indicator of when to apply the proverbial grain of salt when someone opens their mouth.
  • You find it hard to be enthusiastic for something until you know that others oppose it.
  • You have little interest in getting clear on what exactly is the position being argued.
  • Realizing that a topic is important and neglected doesn’t make you much interested.
  • You have little interest in digging to bigger topics behind commonly argued topics.
  • You are less interested in a topic when you don’t foresee being able to talk about it.
  • You are uncomfortable taking a position near the middle of the opinion distribution.
  • You are uncomfortable taking a position of high uncertainty about who is right.
  • You care far more about current nearby events than similar distant or past/future events.
  • You find it easy to conclude that those who disagree with you are insincere or stupid.
  • You are reluctant to change your publicly stated positions in response to new info.
  • You are reluctant to agree a rival’s claim, even if you had no prior opinion on the topic.
  • You are reluctant to take a position that raises the status of rivals.
  • You care more about consistency between your beliefs than about belief accuracy.
  • You go easy on sloppy arguments by folks on “your side.”
  • You have little interest in practical concrete implications of commonly argued topics.
  • Your opinion doesn’t much change after talking with smart folks who know more.
  • You are especially eager to drop names when explaining positions and arguments.
  • You find it hard to list weak points and counter-arguments on your positions.
  • You feel passionately about a topic, but haven’t sought out much evidence.
  • You are reluctant to not have an opinion on commonly discussed topics.
It's telling, and frankly, sad, that few cable news commentators pass this test. Especially when I can't think of any on Fox News, save maybe Shep Smith, and his is more a calculated way to distinguish himself, rather than a pure display of integrity. Also, it's unfortunate that nearly all of the people guilty of being loyalists lack the self-awareness to recognize themselves as such.

[Overcoming Bias]

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