Berkeley Initiative for Transparency in the Social Sciences

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Scientific Pride and Prejudice

Or why Jane Austen might well be the first game theorist.

Science is in crisis, just when we need it most […] A major root of the crisis is selective use of data. Scientists, eager to make striking new claims, focus only on evidence that supports their preconceptions. Psychologists call this “confirmation bias”: We seek out information that confirms what we already believe. “We each begin probably with a little bias,” as Jane Austen writes in “Persuasion,” “and upon that bias build every circumstance in favor of it.” […] Austen might say that researchers should emulate Mr. Darcy in “Pride and Prejudice,” who submits, “I will venture to say that my investigations and decisions are not usually influenced by my hopes and fears.” […] But it would be wrong to say that the ideal scholar is somehow unbiased or dispassionate […] A researcher cannot separate in advance the productive prejudices that enable understanding from the prejudices that hinder it. We all bring different preconceptions to our inquiries, and these preconceptions can spur as well as blind us.

Understanding science as fundamentally a human process might be necessary to save science itself, concludes Michael Suk-Young Chwe (UCLA) in the NYT.


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