Paul Simon on confirmation bias

by Russ Roberts on November 10, 2011

in Truth-seeking & ideology

From The Boxer:

A man hears what he wants to hear and disregards the rest.

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{ 65 comments }

Jon Murphy November 10, 2011 at 9:46 am

Thank you Russ. Now I am going to have that song stuck in my head all day

vikingvista November 10, 2011 at 11:51 am

What’s wrong with that?

Jon Murphy November 10, 2011 at 11:59 am

Well, I don’t have it on my iPod, so until I hear the whole thing, I’ll only be singing this lyric of the song.

vikingvista November 10, 2011 at 12:48 pm

Maybe this will cure you of it:

“We are the champions, my friend…”

I just hope the cure isn’t worse than the disease.

Jon Murphy November 10, 2011 at 2:12 pm

Still better than Come Sail Away.

“I just hope the cure isn’t worse than the disease.”

On a side note, that’s where the word pharmaceutical comes from: the Greek word pharmakeus (I think). It means poison-cure.

brotio November 12, 2011 at 8:11 pm

ACK!

I just got home from a college football game. The local team just won the Conference Championship, and will likely assume a #1 ranking going into the playoffs.

It was a wonderful game, except for the incessant playing of that stupid song!

:P

mark November 10, 2011 at 9:52 am

The way I read the news and opinion serves my confirmation bias.

When browsing Real Clear Politics, I follow the links to columns authored by conservative or libertarian authors but avoid most (but not all) of the ones authored by liberals.

I read reason.com every day but seldomly read Huffington Post.

I open up the WSJ before I open up the NYT.

So how I absorb news and opinion does serve my confirmation bias. I realize that, but part of it also relates to time being a scarce resource. I dont want to waste my time reading things that do not look very interesting. not to say I dont click on the non-interesting looking links, I just dont click on that many of them.

. . . and my liberal friends click on the links that I generally do not click on.

Randy November 10, 2011 at 11:51 am

I used to go to progressive sites, but I got tired of the rudeness, and on most of them it doesn’t take much to get banned, so now I go almost entirely to libertarian sites. Is it bias? Perhaps, but then, I come by my biases honestly. I don’t think I misunderstand their points – I just disagree.

vikingvista November 10, 2011 at 11:57 am

The HuffPo and NYT only offer those opinions that you are already bombarded with daily from most media and acquaintances. They are a reinforcement of what you have always been immersed in. The libertarian sources are an ESCAPE from status quo bias.

Greg G November 10, 2011 at 1:15 pm

I am always entertained by how many people believe that the way you combat confirmation bias is to detect it in people you disagree with. I am not a libertarian and I get most of my news from the New York Times. But I come here daily to make sure I am hearing a different point of view. Occasionally I read things here that change my mind but I almost always leave with a better sense of what are the weakest and strongest arguments on each issue.

I found my way here through links from Fight of the Century and EconTalk. In both of those cases I was very impressed with the way Russ does his best to be fair with ideas he disagrees with.

Of course once people start commenting on the internet, on issues they feel strongly about, the atmosphere is very different. “Dissenter” is one of the nicest things I’ve been called. Coming to a site where I know that most people disagree, I feel an obligation to try and argue politely most of the time. That often results in being called “passive-aggressive” by the self appointed confirmation bias police. All that is fine. I enjoy the site and find it a good tonic for my own confirmation bias. And it is always a good place to find any number of very amusing example of unintended irony.

vikingvista November 10, 2011 at 1:18 pm

“I feel an obligation to try and argue politely most of the time.”

Much appreciated, and I think it serves your purposes as well.

Greg Webb November 11, 2011 at 11:31 pm

I feel an obligation to try and argue politely most of the time.

LOL! That’s the passive part. The aggressive part is when you make unsupported conclusory statements, disregard contrary evidence and facts, and make silly personal attacks. The irony is that you actually believe that you were polite.

Steve November 10, 2011 at 9:53 am

My dear mom used to say “A man convinced against his will, is a man of the same opinion still”. Seems to be a common human trait.

john thurow November 10, 2011 at 1:44 pm

That is why we should have individual freedom so no one feels like he was… with government only acting as ‘fair’ arbiters in disagreements of contracts

placebo96799 November 10, 2011 at 9:57 am

Does this apply to Cafe Hayek also?

Invisible Backhand November 10, 2011 at 10:31 am

Russ and Don get paid for this, so it’s more like hearing what you are paid to hear.

“It is difficult to get a man to understand something, when his salary depends upon his not understanding it!”

–Upton Sinclair

vikingvista November 10, 2011 at 11:58 am

You think there are more jobs for free market economists than for keynesiac interventionalists?

placebo96799 November 10, 2011 at 12:56 pm

“People respond to incentives.” Even Professors Roberts and Boudreaux.

House of Cards & Economic Freedom November 10, 2011 at 8:24 pm

“People respond to incentives.” Even Professors Roberts and Boudreaux.

But there are many different kinds of incentives — knowledge and reputation being two.

Only leftists constantly obsess about money being the sole or most important incentive.

Charles Rice November 10, 2011 at 1:48 pm

Question for Invisible Backhand:
So anyone who generates any revenue via their writings cannot be trusted to be truthful in their writing? Does this apply equally to HuffPo, and Paul Krugman, and George Will? Does your “(these writers) get paid for this” bias assumption taint the opinions of every single professional writer on the planet?

Jon Murphy November 10, 2011 at 2:03 pm

Of course, Charles, that is assuming his claim that they are paid for writing this blog is true.

Invisible Backhand November 10, 2011 at 2:59 pm
Charles Rice November 10, 2011 at 4:31 pm

Your comment led me to believe that payment for blogging makes the payee’s opinion suspect. Per your link to hasty generalizations, perhaps your point is actually that Russ specifically is subject to this phenomena, and my generalization is misplaced. What is it about Russ specifically that makes him unique v. Paul Krugman, or any other paid blogger? How do you sort the bloggers to whom the Sinclair quote applies from the bloggers to whom the Sinclair quote does not apply?

Invisible Backhand November 11, 2011 at 7:00 pm

No, my point is that Charles Rice tried to pass off a fallacy:

So anyone who generates any

Charles Rice November 11, 2011 at 8:22 pm

Invisible Backhand,
Au contraire, mon ami! It is your argument that is based on the fallacy that people who get paid to do things cannot be trusted.

Invisible Backhand November 11, 2011 at 8:51 pm

Charles Rice November 11, 2011 at 8:22 pm
Invisible Backhand,

Au contraire, mon ami! It is your argument that is based on the fallacy that people who get paid to do things cannot be trusted.

C’est vrai. Vous avez raison!

As a hardcore-commie-pinko-leftist-freakster, I agree completely with Thomas Sowell’s characterization of the left’s “unconstrained vision” as placing great emphasis on the psychological trait of sincerity. If one is sincere about the common leftist talking-points, then it follows that one would not only not need to be paid for espousing these views, but (indeed) one’s sincerity risks being corrupted by payment.

However, the connection between payment and disingenuousness pertains only to those advocating views other than commie-pinko-leftist-freakster ones. In my own case, for example, my sincerity regarding the benificence of statism is so well established, that it just doesn’t make sense not to pay me for trolling and heckling various libertarian and conservative blog sites.

Thank you for listening. I hope I’ve made myself clear.

Charles Rice November 11, 2011 at 9:14 pm

Ah, yes! I do understand. I like you much more than I did before you wrote that paragraph! I love going for beers with people that have violently polar views v. mine. There is hardly any point in even talking politics with my brother, we agree on so much, while a dinner with a long lost friend who grew up on a commune in Humboldt County was fantastically enjoyable. We couldn’t agree on the color of the beer we were drinking, or which way was north! It was great! Heckle on!

MWG November 10, 2011 at 2:12 pm

Russ and Don get paid to blog? Any proof?

Invisible Backhand November 10, 2011 at 2:52 pm
Mark November 10, 2011 at 3:28 pm

I dont think a domain name being registered to a university is evidence that they are being paid to blog.

Even if they were, what does it matter? Paul Krugman gets paid to blog for the NYT. Liberal firebrand Markos ‘kos’ Moulitsas runs the for profit blog dailykos.com

Based on that logic I hope you also take issue with liberals who are paid to blog. . . the list is long and many?

Sam Grove November 10, 2011 at 3:32 pm

That does not show that they are actually getting paid to blog here.

Jon Murphy November 10, 2011 at 4:37 pm

All that shows is the University owns the domain name. You’d have to prove a) That Don and Russ are getting paid to blog here and b) the University is paying them specifically to promote a free-market message and c) Don and/or Russ aren’t free-market capitalists for your point to matter. All you’ve done is confirm something we already knew: they work for GMU.

Emil November 10, 2011 at 4:41 pm

“Paul Krugman gets paid to blog for the NYT. Liberal firebrand Markos ‘kos’ Moulitsas runs the for profit blog dailykos.com”

But they are have good intentions (aka think the same way as IB)

Invisible Backhand November 10, 2011 at 11:22 pm

And please don’t forget that Simon and Garfunkel wrote the refrain from “The Boxer” as a musical homage to me, my handlers at Anonymous and MoveOn.org, and the entire Standard Operating Procedure of the political left:

Lie, lie, lie . . .
Lie, Lie, lie, lie, lie, lie, lie . . .
Lie, lie, lie . .
Lie, Lie, lie, lie, lie, lie, lie, Lie, Lie, lie, lie, lie, lie . . .

Russ Roberts November 10, 2011 at 6:09 pm

We do not, alas.

HaywoodU November 10, 2011 at 6:35 pm

I guess, in a way, you get paid in semi-instant feedback to your thoughts(after you filter through the flak). Which is pretty cool.

Sam Grove November 10, 2011 at 3:17 pm

I don’t think Don and Russ get paid for running this blog.

vikingvista November 10, 2011 at 3:19 pm

They should.

Jon Murphy November 10, 2011 at 4:45 pm

Right? Maybe we should start a fund. We each put in what we think the value of this blog is and we send it to Russ and Don.

And, to head off the question, if you think the blog is a negative value, you cannot take money out.

vikingvista November 10, 2011 at 4:59 pm

The easiest thing would be to simply place Google ads on the website. But if they asked for anonymous donations to support the blog, I’d happily pay up.

vikingvista November 10, 2011 at 5:18 pm

And let me just add, that if those donations generated enough extra funds for the good professors to buy a two week vacation in paradise for their families, it would put a smile on my face.

Invisible Backhand November 10, 2011 at 8:41 pm

Please note:

As Upton Sinclair’s own correspondence showed, he lied about a number of events on which he wrote in order to propgandize for socialism. For example, he knew Sacco and Vanzetti were guilty but chose, for ideological reasons, to portray them as innocent victims.

Russ Roberts November 10, 2011 at 6:01 pm

Of course. I write and speak about it all the time. Please check out the “Truth-seeking and ideology” category.

Russ Roberts November 10, 2011 at 6:09 pm

But we are not paid. Not that it’s relevant. We’ve talked about putting ads in.

Chucklehead November 11, 2011 at 4:11 am

Even “Truth” is subjective.

rhhardin November 10, 2011 at 10:23 am

The most familiar message is encoded in the fewest bits.

Greg Ransom November 10, 2011 at 10:47 am

Confirmation bias theorist sees confirmation bias everywhere …

Jon Murphy November 10, 2011 at 11:12 am

lol

Greg Webb November 10, 2011 at 11:13 am

;)

troll November 10, 2011 at 3:34 pm

yeah, confirmation bias is pseudo-scientific garbage! No amount of reference to any such “facts” will sway me…

morganovich November 10, 2011 at 11:14 am

no way. i am a rock. i am an island.

Marcus November 10, 2011 at 2:30 pm

:-)

jb November 10, 2011 at 11:49 am

Indeed! And this is why liberals can’t be trusted to make policy!

*kidding*

vikingvista November 10, 2011 at 3:21 pm

“*kidding*”

Why? It’s true.

Invisible Backhand November 10, 2011 at 12:30 pm

And I should know! I sow chaos and confusion and purposely refuse on comprehend the arguments for limited government. My handlers at MoveOn.org and Anonymous, as well as the newest member Occupy Wall Street (welcome to the club boys and girls!), thrive off of misinformation and lies, so I must do my best to sow them or divert the conversation. Paid ignorance is so much better than the free kind!

john thurow November 10, 2011 at 1:44 pm

Lie la lie …

Jon Murphy November 10, 2011 at 2:13 pm

Thank you John

DWMF November 10, 2011 at 2:35 pm

Were you watching that programme on BBC4 about Simon and Garfunkle last night? Like I was? I’ve always thought it was an excellent lyric. /byeee.

SmoledMan November 10, 2011 at 4:55 pm

Love “The Boxer”, one of the all time great songs. “Bridge over Troubled Water” is also a great album with many classic songs.

jorod November 10, 2011 at 8:54 pm

Attitude and beliefs die hard. Convictions, confirmation bias if you wish, is good when based on experience and testing. It has enabled the human race to survive. A tiger will eat me. A dog will eat out of my hand. Experience has shown that socialism leads to poverty and violence. That’s the lesson of experience not bias.

stedebonnet November 10, 2011 at 10:50 pm

Alex Trebek: Of Simon and Garfunkel, the one that is not Garfunkel.

Sean Connery: I Garfunkeled your mother last night.

Slappy McFee November 11, 2011 at 12:36 pm

Connery: I’ll take Anal Bum Cover for $200 Alex

Trebek: Um… thats an album cover

*side note, Netflix added most of the SNL skits to the library, but can I find a Jeopardy episode? NO!!

Estoy Listo November 11, 2011 at 8:42 am

From Paul Simon, “Proof”

My face, my race, don’t matter anymore
My checks, my checks are accepted at the door

Invisible Backhand November 11, 2011 at 1:50 pm

I am not your mirror image part deux:

Q. What is different between conservative and liberal literature?

A. One striking difference is that the iconic conservative works are about ideology. By contrast, the most influential liberal books of the era are about policy issues. Those works are Silent Spring by Rachel Carson (1962), The Other America by Michael Harrington (1962), The Feminine Mystique by Betty Friedan (1963), and Unsafe at Any Speed by Ralph Nader (1965), which helped launch the environmental, anti-poverty, feminist, and consumer movements, respectively. Some prominent liberal books of the time were about ideology — such as The Vital Center by Arthur M. Schlesinger Jr. (1949) and The Affluent Society by John Kenneth Galbraith (1958) — but these are exceptions to the rule.

http://www.nationalreview.com/articles/271937/liberal-reads-great-conservative-works-carl-t-bogus?pg=2

Jack Davis November 11, 2011 at 11:09 pm

I’m not sure Simon can be taken seriously. He made a lot of money in his career–in fact he may well be one of the 1% who are destroying the country.

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