Tag Archives: bias

Book Review: The Believing Brain – by Michael Shermer

The Believing Brain – by Michael Shermer

TheBelieving Brain Everyone gets something different out of a book. The opinions here are mine only.

There is so much about the brain and its complex workings that we do not understand. Every time an expert explains a little more, learnt through scientific study and controlled experiments, this becomes quite helpful.

I found the book particularly useful as it it very well written, very readable and informative; at the same time, it is not too technical (except for a few small sections) for the lay person. The author takes on a number of the “strange” phenomena witnessed in the world head-on (such as sensed presences, experienced by athletes, mountaineers and in Charles Lindburgh’s transatlantic flight), describing real, specific examples, and explains what goes on in the brain during those times. The way human brains work gives us the tendency to look for patterns and infuse them with meaning (whether correct or not).

Michael Shermer also presents in some detail, the various cognitive biases that affect us when forming  beliefs. Most of us are vaguely aware of some of this (e.g. anchoring bias and framing effects) but having such a comprehensive list explained is very helpful. I see the usefulness of applying this knowledge whenever we are presented with a persuasive argument, thinking about what traps we may be falling into.

Book Review: Redirect – by Timothy Wilson

Redirect – by Timothy Wilson

Everyone gets something different out of a book. The opinions here are mine only.

The basic premise of the book is that many techniques prescibed in self-help books and programmes rolled out to address social problems lack proper scientific validation and have not worked. Many such programmes (e.g. to reduce prejudice, alcohol and drug abuse, close the achievement gap) have been implemented without rigorous testing, therefore have wasted billions of dollars and have not worked. Timothy Wilson criticises the use of testimonials by those who advocate such techniques as biased, and recommends strict scientific methods, with control groups etc. to test techniques used for social problems just as is done in medicine (because common sense arguments, although appealing, often lead to wrong conclusions).

Wilson advocates a a number of tested techniques (such as “story-editing” or redirecting the internal narrative, labelling kids’ behaviour appropriately, distancing and writing for trauma victims and other techniques) instead, to effectively deal with these problems.

I like the rigour Wilson requires and applies to the testing of the techniques to achieve objectivity, as opposed to using glowing testimonials, which are possibly biased. However, Wilson himself states that it is unclear whether applying these laboratory tested techniques in the real world will achieve the same results – there are too many complexities; however, at least it is a step in the right direction.