Short Cuts

Interesting set of links spinning out of a Ben Goldacre piece on “judging quality” in scientific “evidence”.

Cialdini’s “Influence”.
Complementary & Alternative Medicine.
Ben’s piece with
My original comment, plus comments by
JDC at Stuff & Nonesense, and
Keith Douglas the philosopher-animal.

The cognitive “short-cuts” people use – heuristics – to make complex decisions pragmatically, and importantly use to justify and persuade others of decisions. Wise practitioners know they are using them and why they need to use them – memetic arms race again. Judgement is embedded in the choice of logic, not in the logic itself, and one can be seen to be using logic, being scientific, without apparently being judgemental. It’s a necessary (?) game of rhetoric in science.

Disguises, outwardly denies, the place of judgement in science, whilst actually sneaking it in under the radar. Use with caution, hence wisdom.

4 thoughts on “Short Cuts”

  1. Hmm, interesting yes, and kinda relevant … it’s distinctly about “engineering” as opposed to “science”. I think it’s kinda intuitive to the public that when things are big and complicated in practical areas of life, rules of thumb are used – less easy to appreciate that this is true in fundamental science (and theology I suspect) at all levels.

    I suspect most people believe the rules of thumb are rationally justifiable though, supported by the “real” detail facts, when push comes to shove, whereas … rhetoric rules.

  2. One thing I don’t agree with is that Occam’s razor is usually cheapest and best.

    Usually easiest to explain and justify (the memetic problem), but often the worst in practice. I tend to think in terms of conservation of complexity – things are as complex as they are get used to living with it. Occam is really about how much complexity to expose in a given situation – simplest is usually the easiest place to start.

  3. And this bit is dodgy …
    “My boss would come around with a great idea; we would tell him what was wrong with it; and then he’d let it go. It wasted time, …… You can’t get creative if you stick with a loser idea. The important thing is to give it up once someone shows you it’s foolish.”

    Well, was it a great idea or not ? Foolishness here is really about intellectual honesty …. believing you have in fact been in error …. not that someone showed you to be in error. In reality people hanging on to ideas branded foolish are often the main source of creativity and progress.

    Knowing too much about (or bringing too much that you know into) a problem can itself be a problem. Kill all intellectual patterns someone once said 😉

    Overall a little too simplistic I’m afraid.

Leave a Reply

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.