A Head Worth Getting Inside

I just stumbled onto this blog of a guy going to graduate business school in India. It’s interesting to me on a number of levels. First, I like the telegraphic style–the guy just assumes you know what he’s talking about and therefore starts right in on the meat of the topic (something I struggle with in my writing, obviously), and sometimes the meat is pretty rich stuff. Also, you can tell that thinking and articulating make up most of his day because he asks a lot of questions and makes a lot of observations. What could be more refreshing than finding a thoughtful, articulate person on the internet? How about an MBA student taking on the hows and whys of MBAs in the economy? Of course when you’re taking macroeconomics everything is about macroeconomics. I like his hypothesis for the statistical basis of political polarity so much that I’m not even going to try to paraphrase it (though I will add a link to clarify the terms):

A liberal might be wary of rejecting a true hypothesis (Type I error) and may be unwilling to disregard it even if the figure was as low as 1%. A conservative right-winger on the other hand, would not want to run the risk of accepting a false hypothesis (Type II error). He may be tempted to ditch the hypothesis for any figure less than 15%!

This took me a while to grok, and again I’m not going to try to break it down for you or synthesize examples, but it’s worth thinking about. The central point, I think, is that these opposing cognitive approaches result in a significant gap in what is considered common sense (because what is common sense if not a gut-level statistical analysis?). One of Wikipedia’s examples, combined with the above analysis, illustrates this gap thus: one common-sense approach says we should be 99% sure we are not sending an innocent person to jail; another common-sense approach says we should be at least 15% doubtful before letting a guilty person go free. This might ultimately come back to framing. Guilt and innocence are not perceived as perfect opposites of each other by the two sides. Liberals may overvalue innocence compared to how conservatives value guilt, for example. Liberals say the innocent must not be persecuted. Conservatives say the guilty must be punished. Both of these are true statements, but in application there is a gap between them. Where that gap comes from is the different framing of the questions involved, and the re-framing that occurs internally in each group and mind, which is where the Type 1 vs. Type 2 distinction comes in.

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