A paradoxical attempt by Brian Resnick to bat for intellectual humility especially among social scientists backed by research from….social scientists/psychologists. “…We need more intellectual humility for two reasons. One is that our culture promotes and rewards overconfidence and arrogance (think Trump and Theranos, or the advice your career counselor gave you when going into job interviews). At the same time, when we are wrong — out of ignorance or error — and realize it, our culture doesn’t make it easy to admit it. Humbling moments too easily can turn into moments of humiliation.”
The first step towards building intellectual humility is the appreciation of our cognitive blind spots – much has been written about this in recent years, yet there isn’t a simple practical guide for it. “..it’s a method of thinking. It’s about entertaining the possibility that you may be wrong and being open to learning from the experience of others….it is about being actively curious about your blind spots. One illustration is in the ideal of the scientific method, where a scientist actively works against her own hypothesis, attempting to rule out any other alternative explanations for a phenomenon before settling on a conclusion. It’s about asking: What am I missing here?”
The second step is to give up the notion that owning up to our mistakes undermines our credibility among peers, in society, etc when the reality is exactly the opposite.
“Many of us fear we’ll be seen as less competent, less trustworthy, if we admit wrongness. Even when we can see our own errors — which, as outlined above, is not easy to do — we’re hesitant to admit it.
But turns out this assumption is false. As Adam Fetterman, a social psychologist at the University of Texas El Paso, has found in a few studies, wrongness admission isn’t usually judged harshly. “When we do see someone admit that they are wrong, the wrongness admitter is seen as more communal, more friendly,” he says. It’s almost never the case, in his studies, “that when you admit you’re wrong, people think you are less competent.”
Even among scientists — people who ought to question everything — intellectual humility is hard. In some cases, researchers have refused to concede their original conclusions despite the unveiling of new evidence. (One famous psychologist under fire recently told me angrily, “I will stand by that conclusion for the rest of my life, no matter what anyone says.”)
Psychologists are human. When they reach a conclusion, it becomes hard to see things another way. Plus, the incentives for a successful career in science push researchers to publish as many positive findings as possible.
There are two solutions — among many — to make psychological science more humble, and I think we can learn from them.
One is that humility needs to be built into the standard practices of the science. And that happens through transparency. It’s becoming more commonplace for scientists to preregister — i.e., commit to — a study design before even embarking on an experiment. That way, it’s harder for them to deviate from the plan and cherry-pick results. It also makes sure all data is open and accessible to anyone who wants to conduct a reanalysis.
That “sort of builds humility into the structure of the scientific enterprise,” Chabris says. “We’re not all-knowing and all-seeing and perfect at our jobs, so we put [the data] out there for other people to check out, to improve upon it, come up with new ideas from and so on.” To be more intellectually humble, we need to be more transparent about our knowledge. We need to show others what we know and what we don’t.
And two, there needs to be more celebration of failure, and a culture that accepts it. That includes building safe places for people to admit they were wrong, like the Loss of Confidence Project.”
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