Marc Hauser is Harvard¢â‚¬â„¢s rockstar primate psychologist whom the university recently found guilty of eight counts of scientific misconduct. Though Harvard has kept quiet about what happened, “a former lab assistant alleged that when Hauser looked at videotapes of rhesus monkeys, in an experiment on their capacity to learn sound patterns, he noted behavior that other people in the lab couldn¢â‚¬â„¢t see, in a way that consistently favored his hypothesis.” Then, apparently, when confronted with these discrepancies, Hauser asserted pretentiously that his interpretation was right and the others¢â‚¬â„¢ wrong.
It seems that Hauser has now admitted to committing ¢â‚¬Å“significant mistakes.¢â‚¬ University of Maryland physicist Robert L. Park wrote in a Web column that Hauser ¢â‚¬Å“fudged his experiments.¢â‚¬ Yet that might not be exactly true. It¢â‚¬â„¢s entirely possible that Hauser was swayed by ¢â‚¬Å“confirmation bias¢â‚¬¢â‚¬”the tendency to look for and perceive evidence consistent with our hypotheses and to deny, dismiss or distort evidence that is not. As a result, people gather evidence and recall information from memory selectively, and interpret it in a biased way.
According to Scott O. Lilienfeld, Professor of Psychology at Emory University:
The past few decades of research in cognitive, social and clinical psychology suggest that confirmation bias may be far more common than most of us realize. Even the best and the brightest scientists can be swayed by it, especially when they are deeply invested in their own hypotheses and the data are ambiguous. A baseball manager doesn¢â‚¬â„¢t argue with the umpire when the call is clear-cut¢â‚¬”only when it is close. 1
In my doctoral research, I found that we misinterpret as much as thirty percent of what we see, observe and/or study. There is a need for humility in our beliefs because we just may be wrong. I’m not insisting that the essentials of our Faith are to be doubted. I am speaking of those areas where good people disagree.
Tomorrow begins a new year. Take the opportunity this coming year to listen to different voices, not just those voices that agree with you or that you honor without criticism. This new year, begin to read those who are critical to your way of thinking. Learn to listen rather than fight for your view of how things are in the universe. Instead of immediately being critical, consider the other person’s point of view. In fact, if you cannot articulate his or her viewpoint in a way that is satisfactory to the person whose view you are critiquing, you have not listened well. Or read well.
Otherwise, you may just be fudging the evidence for your view, and you may find yourself saying, “Oh Nuts!”
Have a Happy New Year!