Tuesday, July 17, 2012

Cognitive Bias: conflict of interest? What conflict of interest?

Dan Ariely speaking at TED
Dan Ariely speaking at TED (Photo credit: Wikipedia)
All of us have multiple roles in life. There's family, work, friends, net acquaintances, fellow hobbyists, fellow gamers, so on and so forth. While we find some sort of balance through life balancing these responsibilities, sometimes, one of the roles you had taken on would lead you to make a decision that is actually NOT optimum for the actual role you *should* be playing.

Daniel Ariely, a psychologist, had some major facial injuries (from a fire, I believe). His doctor wanted him to get some micro-tattoos so he gets a permanent 5 o'clock shadow (slightly unshaven look) so the two sides of face would "match". He thought about it, then decided against it. Then his doctor allegedly started to berate him about him wanting to stay ugly... unsymmetric, blah blah blah. He left.

It was only MUCH later that he found out that his doctor had written a paper about this micro-tattoo technique and needed three case studies to publish, and he would have been number three had he accepted.

The doctor had a conflict of interest, which lead him to propose something that he *thought* would be benefiting the patient, but is actually benefiting himself. No doubt he thought it was a win-win idea...  But as a doctor, he's supposed to put his patient's welfare ahead of his own.

I personally often find that many defenders of suspect schemes to be way too intimately involved to think logically about the scheme to accept facts and logical analysis. They have an interest to see the scheme succeed, so they will use every argument (many bad ones documented on this blog) they can think of to defend the scheme, instead of actually study the logic and evidence presented by the other side.

And they will JUSTIFY this willful ignorance with bogus excuses like "avoiding negativity". Much like the apocryphal story about Admiral Horatio Nelson "turned a blind eye" to the retreat signal.

And they will JUSTIFY their willful ignorance AND intimacy with the scheme by claiming "you can't judge us unless you're with us".

Are *you* aware of your own conflict of interest? WHY are you really persuading people to do a certain thing?

Watch Dan Ariely's TED talk on this incident: Beware of conflict of interest.

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