Monday, July 14, 2008

Do not study human cognitive biases, part 1

This is a public service announcement.

My dad told me yesterday that if I went in the water I wouldn't be eaten by a shark. What he said exactly was, "You won't be attacked by a shark." This was after my mom told us both that there had been a shark warning a few days earlier at the beach. Additionally, the seals were fairly close in, which means that the sharks may have drifted toward the shore. I went in briefly (only to body surf), but that is beside the point.

The point is how annoyed it makes me when people tell me the probability of certain events happening in absolute terms, like "won't." One of my friends used to tell me to go crazy fast on the road, and when I told him I didn't want to get a speeding ticket, he told me, "oh come on, you won't." I might, god dammit.

What people need to do is to check their priors for selection and availability biases. Most do not.

Once you realize their fallacy, this will annoy you, and when you (almost inevitably) project your anger, it will annoy the people you talk to. This is a vicious cycle, and you do not want to get in the throes. Do not study human cognitive biases. Do not click on these links. Read an adventure novel. Go oogle pictures of Scarlett Johansson.

You will not thank me later, because you will never know what I am talking about. You do not want to know. I am warning you out of pure altruism. Good night, and good luck.