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Brooks Wilson's Economics Blog: Confirmation Bias (Repost II)

Tuesday, August 24, 2010

Confirmation Bias (Repost II)

As classes begin, I urge students to avoid confirmation bias. Robert T. Carroll of the Skeptic's Dictionary describes confirmation bias as
a type of selective thinking whereby one tends to notice and to look for what confirms one's beliefs, and to ignore, not look for, or undervalue the relevance of what contradicts one's beliefs.
Expose yourself to new ideas. Students tend to think of economics in terms of the Democrat and Republican debate. Although economists are often partisans, their debates frequently turn on a different axis. For example, economists might debate the relative effectiveness of monetary policy and fiscal policy in achieving full employment. Both a Democrat and a Republican might favor stimulative fiscal policy but differ on who gets tax cuts. Many of the economists who believe that fiscal policy is effective may not like the tax cut plans of either party.

Greg Mankiw posted a letter from the "perfect" student in “A Question about Learning Economics,” or at least that's how I think the student. The student reads books by economists with very different perspectives, and respectfully engages professors in discussions. The student mentions having a professor who was a Friedman disciple and another who was New Keynesian. Mankiw's reply is sold. In part, he writes,
You are lucky that you have professors with different viewpoints. Your job, as a budding economist, is to learn from all of them. Ideally, at the end of the day, you should be able to understand and appreciate (although not necessarily agree with) each point of view. You should try to construct in your mind a debate between your Friedmanite professor and your Keynesian professor. What points would each raise, and how would the other respond?
In a valuable EconTalk, Ian Ayers suggests that listeners attempt to name things that they have learned but that they don't like. If you can't think of any, you are a biased consumer of education.

1 comment:

  1. I have never look at economics in this manner. Meaning confirmation bias, I have always just thought it was to difficult to learn and did not want to learn it at all. Now I look at it to confirm or dismiss my ideas, thoughts, and beliefs.