Argumentative Theory of Reasoning

I posted a web comic poking fun at the irrational fear of the ocean. My carefulness last weekend maybe kept me from getting stung by jellyfish and definitely from stepping on a stingray or skate. There were no sharks that I saw. But then, “absence of evidence is not evidence of absence.” 🙂

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Dr. Jonathan Haidt, NYU — Bob Howard, Village Square

After some comments, I eventually deleted the post because I was tired of the arguing whether fear is rational or irrational. (It is both which is why I thought the comic funny and posted it, but obviously this was not the correct audience.) I keep to myself more these days to keep from arguing about politics. There has been a temptation to leave Facebook altogether in order to get away from the madness. Something I will not tolerate is that kind of thing on my own posts. I tell people to stop and if anyone eggs it on, then I delete the post.

In Jonathan Haidt‘s Edge talk A New Science of Morality (Part 1), he alerts us to:

According to Mercier and Sperber reasoning was not designed to pursue the truth. Reasoning was designed by evolution to help us win arguments. That’s why they call it The Argumentative Theory of Reasoning. [1]

My own Confirmation Bias screams that this absolutely must be the most true thing I have read this decade. Several posts on this blog demonstrate my fascination with people trusting their ideology over the facts. But this makes sense in an environment where people are mainly looking to prove themselves correct. Someone can be completely reasonable, but if the other has made up their mind there is no changing it. The flow of information only serves to eventually serve up something that supports their view which they will seize upon.

As Behavioral Economics fanboy, I very much am all about humans are not extremely imperfect reasoners. To label anyone, even Neil deGrasse Tyson, as very rational strikes me as irrational. It will be difficult to refrain from not using reasonable as pejorative to mean someone who has stopped thinking beyond only supporting their own view.

Dashboard vs Feed

John Pavlus in Ghost’s Blogging Dashboard Doesn’t Need to Exist fell hook line and sinker for Anil Dash’s All Dashboards Should Be Feeds false dichotomy. The better argument is dashboards only tell the past with all the noise where the more useful information is an accurate future. People ultimately want to know what is going to happen. The feeds would do that.

However, to accomplish that feeds take the same data, apply criteria, and report a prediction of value to the user. That’s fantastic stuff. You know… Fantasy.

Someone has to decide how to produce the signal out of all the noise. Probably that is a quant or a wannabe who teases out of the data the important predictions. So unless you are beholden to someone like Anil, you want to be able to manipulate the data by looking at something like a dashboard to build feeds.

Not everyone is like me, I get that. Simple users want a magic number or an easy indicator of what is going on. Think of an alert that a site is going to break in 15 minutes. Power users like me want to know if components of those web sites are going to break 15 minutes from now. You know, so I can go fix it. But I would not mind being able to allow others to subscribe to my feeds where appropriate.

I’ve never had a problem taking dashboard data and projecting from them trends. A good one, like Yaketystats will even graph the prediction lines for me. I often work with the data to see how this line changes in order to get a sense if the prediction has biases built into it. But then, I enjoy being hands on and manipulate the graphs to see what I want to know. Predictions are only as good as the algorithm. Any why should we trust other’s when we can build our own? I could see YS with alert feeds for directors and above letting them know about upcoming milestones. It would be great for them, but that high level view is not so interesting to me. I want the details and build the things that produce the signal from the noise.

Red Uniform Effect

While watching the NFL draft the other day, a woman at the bar lamented about how highlights for players from all over the SEC displayed their prowess against the local university. I explained Red Dress Effect to her and the bartender. Obviously these football players were not women in red dresses.

Red can draw attention. So maybe if someone is going through a bunch of highlights to pick just one, the one with the bright red team could be selected over others. To really know, someone would need to go through the draft highlights and identify all the opposing teams in all the clips. Then compare the prominent color of shirts verses the predominance of the color. Next would be to experiment by having people select clips and see whether they pick red jerseyed players getting beaten over others.

Probably what would be found is no significant difference in red being selected over other colors. This would be consistent with red cars not really getting significant more speeding tickets than other cars.

Oh… And her complaint could be just confirmation bias. If she believed people do not respect her university’s football team, then any time they were portrayed in a negative light would confirm for her this belief.

Ctrl+F

From Crazy: 90 Percent of People Don’t Know How to Use CTRL+F:

This week, I talked with Dan Russell, a search anthropologist at Google, about the time he spends with random people studying how they search for stuff. One statistic blew my mind. 90 percent of people in their studies don’t know how to use CTRL/Command + F to find a word in a document or web page! I probably use that trick 20 times per day and yet the vast majority of people don’t use it at all.

This incredulousness people do not know how to use Ctrl+F sounds like availability bias. Just because you know how to do something, does not mean everyone or even very many do.

If electronic literacy classes are the solution, then the rate should be below 90% as those have been around since the 1980s. After 30 years, there should have been a dent. Unless keyboard shortcuts are not content taught in these classes as they are so 1980s. People came up with the mouse for a reason, right? Some get so used to the one way they learned how to do it, they do not learn more efficient ways as that takes time and effort and their way is “good enough”. Others are always looking for how to improve how they do things to get it done faster. A few minutes (aka hours) looking for a better way is worth it for something that will improve life.

When I watch people do things on the computer to help me, I pay attention as maybe I can use that in the future. Of course, I would rather be able to do anything I need done on the computer than rely on others to do things for me. More… casual… users may be content to be inefficient so more efficient people will just take over and do the task for them.

UPDATE: By the way, I commented on a friend’s inability to quickly get to the top of a web page without a floating button to go to the top of the page that she could use the Home key. She was pleased to have a new way of doing things. Maybe I should have looked up common keyboard shortcuts and given her the list?

Unintended Consequence of Ads

My Internet Service Provider spams me about deals. Requests not to receive phone calls or emails have no effect. (I love Google Voice because I have their number on a no ring list for their robocalls.) They send emails weekly about deals I should take to pay them more than I am. Usually I delete the emails without thought. However, when I am trying to use it and the web mail takes three minutes to load like every I accessed recently on the Internet, this email about a deal makes me think…

If I stop paying you anything, then that is the best deal of all.

Not sure if this is fortunate or unfortunate, I try not make decisions when frustrated. That negative emotional state leads me to attentional bias to predict that if I stay, then constant poor performance will annoy me all the time. The reality is occasional.

Still. Frustrating.

This is how our clients feel when performance problems both of our ability to resolve and some outside something (ISPs, networks, client computers) cause.