- 2018年05月17日14:59 来源：小站整理
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How to be wrong
To err is human. Society is suffering from an inability to acknowledge as much
A NEWSPAPER cannot publish for 174 years without some mistakes. This one has made its share. We thought Britain was safe in the European exchange-rate mechanism just weeks before it crashed out; we opined, in 1997, that Indonesia was well placed to avoid financial crisis; we noted in 1999 that oil, at $10 per barrel, might well reach $5, almost perfectly timing the bottom of the market; and in 2003 we supported the invasion of Iraq. For individuals, like publications, errors are painful—particularly now, when the digital evidence of failure is both accessible and indelible. But they are also inevitable. The trick, then, is to err well: to recognise mistakes and learn from them. Worryingly, humanity may be getting worse at owning up to its goofs.
Few enjoy the feeling of being caught out in an error. But real trouble starts when the desire to avoid a reckoning leads to a refusal to grapple with contrary evidence. economists often assume that people are rational. Faced with a new fact, rational actors should update their view of the world in order to take better decisions in future. Yet years of economic research illuminate the ways in which human cognition veers from rationality. Studies confirm what is obvious from experience: people frequently disregard information that conflicts with their view of the world.
Why should that be? Last year Roland Bénabou, of Princeton, and Jean Tirole, of the Toulouse School of Economics, presented a framework for thinking about the problem. In many ways, beliefs are like other economic goods. People spend time and resources building them, and derive value from them. Some beliefs are like consumption goods: a passion for conservation can make its owner feel good, and is a public part of his identity, like fashion. Other beliefs provide value by shaping behaviour. The conviction that one is a good salesman may help generate the confidence needed to close sales; religious asceticism can help one avoid unhealthy habits.
为什么会这样呢?去年，普林斯顿大学的罗兰·贝纳布(Roland Bénabou)和图卢兹经济学院(Toulouse School of Economics)的让·蒂罗(Jean Tirole)提出了一个思考此问题的框架。在许多方面，信念就像其他经济产品一样。人们花费时间和资源制造信念，并从中获得价值。有些信念就如同消费品：对环境保护的热情可以让一个人感觉良好，这种热情和时尚一样，是他个人身份塑造中对外展示的一面。其他信念通过塑造行为来提供价值，比如深信自己是一名优秀的推销员可能有助于建立信心，做成生意;又比如宗教禁欲主义可以帮助人避免不健康的习惯。
Because beliefs, however, are not simply tools for making good decisions, but are treasured in their own right, new information that challenges them is unwelcome. People often engage in “motivated reasoning” to manage such challenges. Mr Bénabou classifies this into three categories. “Strategic ignorance” is when a believer avoids information offering conflicting evidence. In “reality denial” troubling evidence is rationalised away: house-price bulls might conjure up fanciful theories for why prices should behave unusually, and supporters of a disgraced politician might invent conspiracies or blame fake news. And lastly, in “self-signalling”, the believer creates his own tools to interpret the facts in the way he wants: an unhealthy person, for example, might decide that going for a daily run proves he is well.
Motivated reasoning is a cognitive bias to which better-educated people are especially prone. Not all the errors it leads to are costly: preaching the superiority of Arsenal despite contradictory evidence does little harm. But when biases are broadly shared—within troubled firms, say, or financial markets or political parties—danger lurks. Motivated reasoning helps explain why viewpoints polarise even as more information is more easily available than ever before. That it is easy to find convincing demolitions of climate-change myths, for example, has not curbed misinformation on the topic. But the demand for good (or bad) information is uneven. Polling shows, for example, that Democrats with high levels of scientific knowledge are more concerned about climate change than fellow partisans with less scientific background; among Republicans, the level of scientific awareness has no effect on climate beliefs. Even, or especially, sophisticated news consumers look for what they want to find.
Work by Mr Bénabou suggests that groupthink is highest when people within groups face a shared fate: when choosing to break from a group is unlikely to spare an individual the costs of the group’s errors. If an individual politician’s fortunes rise and fall with his party’s, breaking from groupthink brings little individual benefit (and may impose individual costs). The incentive to engage in motivated reasoning is high as a result. Even as the facts on a particular issue converge in one direction, parties can still become increasingly polarised around starkly different belief-sets. That, in turn, can make it harder still for a member of one party to derive any benefit from breaking ranks. Indeed, the group has an incentive to delegitimise independent voices, such as statistical agencies or budget watchdogs. So the unanimity of views can be hard to escape until it contributes to a crisis.
Lowering the cost of admitting error could help defuse these crises. A new issue of Econ Journal Watch, an online journal, includes a symposium in which prominent economic thinkers are asked to provide their “most regretted statements”. Held regularly, such exercises might take the shame out of changing your mind. Yet the symposium also shows how hard it is for scholars to grapple with intellectual regret. Some contributions are candid; Tyler Cowen’s analysis of how and why he underestimated the risk of financial crisis in 2007 is enlightening. But some disappoint, picking out regrets that cast the writer in a flattering light or using the opportunity to shift blame.
降低承认错误的代价有助于缓解这些危机。在线杂志《经济期刊观察》(Econ Journal Watch)最新一期有一个专题研讨，请杰出的经济思想家说出他们 “最后悔的言论”。这样的活动如果定期举行，人们也许就不再那么耻于改变想法。然而，这个专题研讨也显示出，要专家们面对自己的错误判断并非易事。有些专家很坦诚：泰勒·考恩(Tyler Cowen)分析了自己如何以及为何低估了2007年金融危机的风险，富有启发性。但也有些专家令人失望。他们要么专门挑出一些实为增加自己光环的所谓错误，要么就利用这个机会来转移责任。
I don’t want to be right
Public statements of regret are risky in a rigidly polarised world. Admissions of error both provide propaganda for ideological opponents and annoy fellow-travellers. Some economists used to seethe when members of the guild acknowledged that trade liberalisation could yield costs as well as benefits—though economic models had always allowed for this. In the long run, such self-censorship probably eroded trust in economists’ arguments more than it built support for trade. It is rarely in the interest of those in the right to pretend that they are never wrong.