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The Rational Future Institute
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Raising public awareness of the principles of rationality
Raising public awareness of the principles of rationality

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"Many psychological studies have shown promising improvements in belief accuracy when it involves matters that participants don’t care about, Nyhan told me. “But the lesson of controversial political, health and science issues is that people don’t apply their critical-thinking skills in the same way when they have a preference for who’s right.” Studies by law professor Dan Kahan at Yale show that even highly numerate people are prone to cognitive traps when the data contradicts the conclusion most congenial to their political values."

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Belief in a just world may cause you to irrationally believe that victims of misfortune deserved their fate.

"What’s truly unsettling about the just-world bias is that while it can have truly unpleasant effects, these follow from what seems like the entirely understandable urge to believe that things happen for a reason."

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Here's an article by one of the pioneer's of rationality research, Keith Stanovich, on the important difference between intelligence and rationality.

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"So it seems that when we perceive and process other people with ease, we judge them favorably. When we have difficulty -- for whatever reason -- we judge them negatively. Since our perceptual system is called upon to make near-constant judgments in a complex world, it's unsurprising that we use mental tools to simplify this overwhelming task. Yet as helpful as these tools may be for making quick sense of the world, this cognitive machinery underlies the pervasive and hateful prejudices that fuel everything from overt discrimination to genocide."

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"A kindergarten statistics curriculum, as directed by the ASA framework, might look like the following: Given that children are surrounded by data, such as student preferences (e.g. favorite types of music) and measurements (e.g. number of books, heights), there are many opportunities for young students to be introduced to “data sense—an understanding that data are more than just numbers. Statistics changes numbers into information.”"

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"The person who caught the error, and persuaded the military to armour engines, was Abraham Wald, one of the great mathematicians of his era. He knew nothing about aerial combat, but as Ellenberg recounts, that didn't matter: "A mathematician is always asking, 'What assumptions are you making? And are they justified?'." Without ever seeing a military plane, Wald recognised that the problem was one of survivorship bias, a phenomenon which also causes confusion as far afield as finance and parapsychology."

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Sometimes, our evaluations are colored by irrelevant information.

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"Yes, there are people who are consistently less cognitively biased than average.  They are a minority, but not a tiny minority.  They are smarter and more reasonable than average.  When you break down the measures of cognitive bias into two types, you find that intelligence is correlated with measures of ability to reason formally, but not with measures of ability to question one’s own judgment; the latter are more correlated with dispositions like “active open-mindedness.”"
HT: Eliezer Yudkowsky

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Zero-sum bias describes intuitively judging a situation to be zero-sum (i.e., resources gained by one party are matched by corresponding losses to another party) when it is actually non-zero-sum.

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"The next time you read a news story about whether or not (for example) breast cancer screening should be targeted to particular women, or applied to the entire population: remember Bayes' theorem. It is the single best way to interrogate public health proposals which rely upon the deployment of diagnostic testing. Such tests, outside of newspaper websites, aren't parlour games. It's vital to understand the translation of their results into the personal: should I test positive, what's the actual probability I have the disease?"
http://tinyurl.com/nevpju6
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