4 thoughts on “A Problem”

  1. Claude,
    My concern was not so much about my (or your) big biases but about my more petty ones. My big biases should be rather self-evident to regular readers.
    My specific worry concerned how I deal with possible disconfirming evidence in an essay I’m rewriting. The peer reviewer didn’t note this evidence but I discovered it the course of trying to respond to one of his or her comments. I don’t think (notice the word “think”) that this newly recognized evidence negates the thesis of my essay but it sure doesn’t help it. On the one hand, I can tell a story in which the new, to me, evidence is a rather trivial exception to my thesis and explain why this is so. And there is what seems to me to be a rather good way of explaining it away – well, almost away. On the other hand, I can treat the new evidence as destructive to my thesis (in whole or in part). If this evidence is thought of as very robust, my thesis is simply wrong and while much of the essay would stand, it would be weakened to the point that it becomes a different essay.
    I have lots of supporting evidence for my thesis (or at least I think I do) and this one counter example doesn’t really seem all that important to me. But it is exactly there that confirming bias comes in. Am I so desirous of my thesis being true that I am looking for ways around the seemly counter example rather than facing up to it?

  2. Duane: “Am I so desirous of my thesis being true that I am looking for ways around the seemly counter example rather than facing up to it?”
    Having asked the question out loud, you’re likely closer to the truth than those that wouldn’t be caught dead admitting their internal conflicts due to an inflated ego.
    On the other hand, your question reminds me of some issues I have against the priorities of general academia that seem to have strayed away from valuing open knowledge-sharing, pushing instead towards a more competitive, corporate regime that encourages secrecies. I wonder if theses have been, on a whole, decoupled from the quest for truth just as the paper bill has been divorced from its foundations in metal currency. But… I digress. Looks like Glenny is cranky and needs to get to bed pronto before he starts another political dissertation. :o)

  3. Seems to me that everyone does this to a certain degree – how much depends on the individual.
    I think it’s good to test a thesis by throwing everything contrary at it, and then adapting – if need be.
    On the other hand – if everyone stopped dead in their tracks at the slightest disagreement to their ideas, not much would be accomplished. I think some of the greatest ideas require a nice set of horse-blinders from time to time – whether it’s in scholarship, music or art. Or at least a nice pair of sunglasses.
    It’s a brave thing to hope that one’s work will spur someone else to do better with it – even if, instead of standing on your shoulders, they use your head and prefer to wear spiked shoes!

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