Tuesday, August 25, 2009

Serious Person Syndrome

Paul Krugman:
I do have one qualm, though, which isn’t really about Bernanke, but rather about the broader symbolism of the reappointment — namely, it unfortunately seems to be a reaffirmation of Serious Person Syndrome, aka it’s better to have been conventionally wrong than unconventionally right.

This sounds right and important. And it need not only apply to reappointments, but to theories and whether they are accepted or not. Absurd statements in conventional packings - accept. True statements in unconventional packings - reject. But this is not just a complaint, more a call to investigate and change. Investigate whether there really is such a bias and if so, try to change the conventions so that they function better as a filter to distinguish between good and bad theories.

Is it possible to do this? And how? First, to believe the Serious Person Syndrome I would like to have something more than anecdotes to base it on. For instance an experiment in which individuals played a game in which every round some people win or lose based partly on ability and partly on luck. Moreover, there would be some "conventional" strategy and unconventional strategies. Maybe based on focal points or just norms or conventions established before the game by the instructors. One could then examine whether the players assigned less blame to a player who was playing an unsuccesful but conventional strategy, than an unsuccesful unconventional strategy.

Vague words you say? What is the empirical proof? Well, I recall a paper where the author believed to have found a sub-optimal conventional strategy in American football. The existence of this was explained by coaches trying to avoid blame for losing a game and there was less blame involved when chosing the sub-optimal, but conventional, strategy.

Maybe the reader can give more examples and create better experiments?

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