orgtheory.net

should i listen to people who don’t agree with me?

First, congratulations to co-blogger Kieran Healy. His political philosophy group blog, Crooked Timber, was mentioned in the NY Times by Paul Krugman. Now, I want to focus on what Krugman wrote in that post after he praised Crooked Timber:

Some have asked if there aren’t conservative sites I read regularly. Well, no. I will read anything I’ve been informed about that’s either interesting or revealing; but I don’t know of any economics or politics sites on that side that regularly provide analysis or information I need to take seriously. I know we’re supposed to pretend that both sides always have a point; but the truth is that most of the time they don’t. The parties are not equally irresponsible; Rachel Maddow isn’t Glenn Beck; and a conservative blog, almost by definition, is a blog written by someone who chooses not to notice that asymmetry. And life is short …

I am agreement with Krugman’s point. I really don’t feel any need to analyze what Glenn Beck or Rush Limbaugh say. And sometimes being “open minded” turns you into this guy. They’re entertainers and not serious thinkers. Also, they spew garbage.

But hold on, let’s apply the economic way of thinking here. Not everyone who disagrees with me is Glenn Beck or Sarah Palin. Also, I am not infallible. So it seems that the optimal amount of listening to people who disagree with me is somewhere between 0% and 100%. What’s the percentage? How do I optimize input from people who appear to be wrong?

I don’t know, but maybe it helps to provide a checklist:

  1. Experts. If you have spent the time mastering a topic, maybe I should listen to you.
  2. Truth seeking. If you seem to care about logic and evidence, maybe I should listen to you. I should not listen to you if you ignore evidence, fabricate it, or distort it to suit yourself
  3. Clear comminication. If you can transalte your ideas into terms I can understand, maybe I should listen.
  4. Novelty. If you satisfy #1-3 and you can show me a new way of looking at something, I might listen.

I should not pay attention if:

  1. You know almost nothing about the topic and yet pontificate.
  2. You engage in ad-hominem attacks.
  3. Your point is entertainment rather than communication.
  4. Repitition. If I’ve heard it before, I can tune out.

Using these rules of thumb, I can probably tune out most mass media. It clearly doesn’t exist to transmit knowledge. I can also tune out much political discourse as it repeats, it is ad-hominem, and not truth seeking. Blogs are probably out, including this one when it veers into fun topics that aren’t management or sociology. And of course, I should definitely pay attention to Kieran when he explains the subtleties of organ donation.

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Written by fabiorojas

March 17, 2011 at 3:23 am

9 Responses

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  1. I’ll be checking the server logs at Organizations and Markets regularly, looking for your IP address.

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    Peter Klein

    March 17, 2011 at 4:54 am

  2. The problem for non-experts is figuring out who the experts are. The less you know about a topic, and the less you know about science and academia in general, the more difficult this is. Probably a lot of Glenn Beck’s followers believe that he’s an expert on the stuff he talks about. Maybe this problem could be solved if the real experts gained control over school curricula. By the time people graduate from high school, they need to know that the Earth isn’t 6,000 years old, and how to distinguish between real and fake experts.

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    Benjamin Geer

    March 17, 2011 at 10:19 am

  3. Good idea is to avoid people who make bad arguments, either consciously or because they don’t recognize the fallacies. Unfortunately and somewhat ironically, it turns out to be quite arguable whether and when a specific argument is fallacious.

    There is a nice book on appropriate and inappropriate informal reasoning by Douglas Walton:

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    Henri

    March 17, 2011 at 10:38 am

  4. “By the time people graduate from high school, they need to know that the Earth isn’t 6,000 years old, and how to distinguish between real and fake experts.”

    So, are you saying that as an expert or fake expert?

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    Austen

    March 17, 2011 at 11:15 am

  5. @Austen: As someone who knows how to tell the difference between real and fake experts.

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    Benjamin Geer

    March 17, 2011 at 11:18 am

  6. How do the checklists work in the “mixed case”. Someone with expertise, and to whom I should listen regularly, wades in on a topic outside the domain in which they routinely satisfy the first checklist. They wallow in the faults of the second checklist. Say, for example, http://orgtheory.wordpress.com/2011/03/06/the-death-of-mathematical-economics/

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    Randy

    March 17, 2011 at 2:55 pm

  7. I don’t know of any economics or politics sites on that side that regularly provide analysis or information I need to take seriously.

    If Krugman is only talking about Glenn Beck et al, then fine. But he says that he doesn’t know of “ANY” sites that are worth reading. This seems more an indictment of his own closedmindedness than of anything else. Ed Glaeser and Greg Mankiw, to take two examples, aren’t worth reading at all?

    Like

    Stuart Buck

    March 17, 2011 at 2:56 pm

  8. I gathered 35 years of academic credits and 2005-2010 completed an associate’s, bachelor’s, and master’s. Liberals, progressives, and Marxists of all kinds gave me a lot to think and write about. I graduated summa cum laude by keeping an open mind. That said, I am pretty sure that this was not a bilateral engagement. Paul Krugman’s statement underscores that. I agree that Glenn Beck and Rush Limbaugh are not experts. Neither are Al Franken and Michael Moore. However, just as Krugman is a Nobel laureate (Sveriges Riksbank Prize), so, too were Hayek, Friedman, Becker, Coase, and others who might caution against the prescriptions offered by Dr. Krugman. Truth is where you find it.

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    Michael E. Marotta

    March 17, 2011 at 4:42 pm

  9. “I should not pay attention if:

    1. You know almost nothing about the topic and yet pontificate.
    2. You engage in ad-hominem attacks.
    3. Your point is entertainment rather than communication.
    4. Repitition. If I’ve heard it before, I can tune out.

    Using these rules of thumb, I can probably tune out most mass media.”

    I have to say, using your own rules of thumb, I’m inclined to disregard the sentence that follows them.

    Like

    Jenn Lena

    March 17, 2011 at 5:39 pm


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