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RS68 - Applied Rationality

Release date: August 26, 2012

You've heard plenty about biases: the thinking errors the human brain tends to make. But is there anything we can do to make ourselves *less* biased?  In this episode, Massimo and Julia discuss what psychological research has learned about "de-biasing," the challenges involved, and the de-biasing strategies Julia is implementing at her organization, the Center for Applied Rationality.

Julia's pick: Dan Ariely's blog
Massimo's pick: "Measuring the Evolution of Contemporary Western Popular Music"

Reader Comments (13)

Congratulations on CFAR and what it's already accomplished. I can't help but notice that everyone on the team is a math/statistics/computer science student or academic. The team could benefit from having someone who studies people, as in cognitive science or psychology, and someone with real-world experience outside the ivory tower, as in a physician or an industrial engineer.
Also, I hope it won't become a cult like Objectivism and perhaps LessWrong.

August 27, 2012 | Unregistered CommenterMax

About songs of every decade, people say that this music is the best, and the rest is crap. Duke Ellington, Frank Sinatra, The Beatles, Pink Floyd, David Bowie, Michael Jackson, The Pixies, Sublime, Radiohead, Jack Johnson, Coldplay, etc.

August 27, 2012 | Unregistered CommenterMax

One type of obstacle to de-biasing is as Julia said, when someone is unaware of their bias(es). How about someone (such as a politician) who is well aware of his bias, but believes that his bias serves some greater (and/or selfish) purpose? Such a person could easily have what they consider to be a rational basis for adhering to a bias that cannot be supported with reason (I think this would fall into the category of the noble lie). While we don't know and cannot ask him, it may be the case that this is what motivated Stephen Jay Gould to overstate his case in his book The Mismeasure of Man and to object to sociobiology in ways that were partly "the result of an unapologetic commitment that seemed to take priority over the science," as Massimo says in Nonsense on Stilts (U. Chicago Press, 2010, p. 124). In fact, in cases like this, accusations of bias may fly back and forth and both sides may deny that they are biased while privately being fully aware that they are indeed biased.

Anyway, another great podcast, thank you to everyone whose time, effort and energy makes these podcasts possible. Best wishes to Julia with the Center for Applied Rationality, and I agree with commenter Max that it would be good to see the team include members who study people and/or who have a lot of "real life" experience outside the ivory tower.

August 27, 2012 | Unregistered CommenterEurydice

I'm in the initial stages of starting a campus rationality group. I sent CFAR an email a few weeks ago about their upcoming programs and never got a response. HRM....

August 28, 2012 | Unregistered CommenterP

Regarding the absence of peer review in some popular science books I have two things to say. First, some popular books do go through the process of anonymous peer review, while other are read by the author's colleagues. True, it's not always the same as a journal article submission, but neither are edited books that include various chapters that were edited by one or two people.

Second and more relevant to the post, Massimo claimed that using a popular book as a source is shaky because it's largely based on the author's opinions or anecdotal data and not rigorous science (I am paraphrasing it). While it's true in some cases (Feinman for example), Shermer and Dawkins rely on many peer reviewed research that they summarize and synthesize. It make sense actually to quote one comprehensive source, than many individual sources).

September 2, 2012 | Unregistered CommenterGil

I'm curious about the term "applied rationality". From what I gather it's about confronting biases to improve decision-making. But I could and actually do use these rational skills towards totally irrational ends. I'm wondering if, for rationality to be rational, it has to be an end-in-itself, and also if it is imperative that it be contained in some sort of ethical framework, kind of like how Aristotle and Kant and others have seen it.

September 2, 2012 | Unregistered CommenterI

Objectivity is forged in the fire & folded countless times, that's what it is.

September 3, 2012 | Unregistered CommenterMarcus Morgan

"I would have liked to have heard more from Julia about CFAR and its research activities rather than Massimo's rather uncharitable objections to it (which I suspect even Julia may have been slightly taken aback by, but which she responded to extremely well)." - Diagoras

I'm sure she was expecting it. Anyone who's a regular listener knows that's just Massimo's style.

Actually, along the lines of Julia expecting it, I thought I noticed her voice was deeper in this episode than usual, and she seemed to be more defensive in general (it seemed her rate of speech was higher than usual as well). At one point I thought she wasn't breathing. She did well though, as always =]

Great episode. This is what I'm going to school for, to join the growing army of "decision scientists," and become a self help expert (a legitimate, non-pseudoscientific one, a.k.a. a psychologist).

September 9, 2012 | Unregistered CommenterChance

On the Relative Independence of Thinking Biases and Cognitive Ability. Keith E. Stanovich

September 14, 2012 | Unregistered CommenterDaniel

Is there a link on the "consider the opposite" heuristic? I didn't know that had been studied as much as you said.

October 16, 2012 | Unregistered Commenterjsalvatier

Really one of the Awesome article i have read it. Thanks for the article. Also i have made a Blog on Good Friday 2015 & Good Friday Images 2015. Hey thanks and regards, Ayush Sharma

March 31, 2015 | Unregistered CommenterYatin
Definitely something to ponder about ...

How can we help people become more Rational Thinkers? If only there was an easy answer. I think what keeps us from reaching this potential is our own Systems of Governance. They are rooted in old traditions of Illogical thought & behavior. So then we have a situation where those that need Rationality the most are the ones who can make the Biggest difference if they did. But it becomes a Catch-22 when they necessarily wouldn't seek out to become more Rational when the System they are part of has accepted them just the way they are, and where being more of a Rational mind wouldn't reward them nearly as much. Because like I said, we live in a Social System that mostly sees Rationality as some sort of disadvantage and not as important as other ways of understanding the world. So it's up to the individual to prioritize being a Rational Thinker and try to lead by example because our Societies as a whole are not designed and therefore capable of producing such an Amazing feat.

Ponder away my Friends ... ..
March 3, 2017 | Unregistered CommenterErnesto
This is a really great episode. I'm so glad that critical thinking has made its way into the high school curriculum. From personal anecdotal experience, as well as monitoring the performance of governments, I know that the world certainly needs more rationality. CFAR seems like a really kool organization.

So strange that no correlation exists between intelligence and rationality. One would think that highly intelligent people would learn to think rationally. The "my side bias" amongst highly intelligent people does make sense though, since highly intelligent people often have careers such that they have to advocate for their position aggressively.
January 21, 2018 | Unregistered CommenterJameson

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