Walking monsters

…if you let them. Today’s treat is the trick of embracing failure to fight the zombie idea apocalypse. Admitting wrong can be the sawn-off shotgun to combat them. Daniel W. Drezner’s piece, “The Uses of Being Wrong”, describes:

  • “My new book has an odd intellectual provenance—it starts with me being wrong. … Confessions of wrongness in academic research should be unsurprising. (To be clear, being wrong in a prediction is different from making an error. Error, even if committed unknowingly, suggests sloppiness. That carries a more serious stigma than making a prediction that fails to come true.) Anyone who has a passing familiarity with the social sciences is aware that, by and large, we do not get an awful lot of things right. Unlike that of most physical and natural scientists, the ability of social scientists to conduct experiments or rely on high-quality data is often limited. In my field, international relations, even the most robust econometric analyses often explain a pathetically small amount of the data’s statistical variance…The persistence of so-called ‘zombie ideas’ is something of a problem in the social sciences…Why is it so hard for scholars to admit when they are wrong? It is not necessarily concern for one’s reputation. Even predictions that turn out to be wrong can be intellectually profitable—… Part of the reason is simple psychology; we all like being right much more than being wrong. As Kathryn Schulz observes in Being Wrong, ‘the thrill of being right is undeniable, universal, and (perhaps most oddly) almost entirely undiscriminating…It’s more important to bet on the right foreign policy than the right racehorse, but we are perfectly capable of gloating over either one." … I know colleagues who make fantastically bold predictions, and I envy their serene conviction that they are right despite ample evidence to the contrary…Schulz argues in Being Wrong that ‘the capacity to err is crucial to human cognition. Far from being a moral flaw, it is inextricable from some of our most humane and honorable qualities: empathy, optimism, imagination, conviction, and courage. And far from being a mark of indifference or intolerance, wrongness is a vital part of how we learn and change.’ …Blogging and tweeting encourages the airing of contingent and tentative arguments as events play out in real time. As a result, far less stigma attaches to admitting that one got it wrong in a blog post than in peer-reviewed research. Indeed, there appears to be almost no professional penalty for being wrong in the realm of political punditry. Regardless of how often pundits make mistakes in their predictions, they are invited back again to pontificate more. As someone who has blogged for more.”

Happy Halloween!