Cognitive Bias: Bad Thinking and Bad Decision Making

Two things which fascinate me are the ways in which we logically or illogically argue and how our observations can succumb to certain biases. If you routinely study the styles of argumentation which people reason from and then reverse engineer their language, you start finding the fallacious thinking and bias that drives their outlooks. The best examples of when this is on parade are discussions concerning politics or religion, however, they also permeate the minutiae our daily conversations as well.

What inspired this post was a very interesting article that appeared in the statistics blog written by Christie Aschwanden on cognitive bias.  Specifically the “illusion of causality” and how it pertains to the anti-vaccination movement.

Paul Offit likes to tell a story about how his wife, pediatrician Bonnie Offit, was about to give a child a vaccination when the kid was struck by a seizure. Had she given the injection a minute sooner, Paul Offit says, it would surely have appeared as though the vaccine had caused the seizure and probably no study in the world would have convinced the parent otherwise. (The Offits have such studies at the ready — Paul is the director of the Vaccine Education Center at the Children’s Hospital of Philadelphia and author of“Deadly Choices: How the Anti-Vaccine Movement Threatens Us All.”) Indeed, famous anti-vaxxer Jenny McCarthy has said her son’s autism and seizures are linked to “so many shots” because vaccinations preceded his symptoms…

Before we move on to some examples of how cognitive bias affects our daily lives let’s look at a quick definition and how it is different from fallacious argumentation.

Cognitive bias describes the inherent thinking errors that humans make in processing information. Some of these have been verified empirically in the field of psychology, while others are considered general categories of bias. These thinking errors prevent one from accurately understanding reality, even when confronted with all the needed data and evidence to form an accurate view. Many conflicts between science and religion are due to cognitive biases preventing people from coming to the same conclusions with the same evidence. Cognitive bias is intrinsic to human thought, and therefore any systematic system of acquiring knowledge that attempts to describe reality must include mechanisms to control for bias or it is inherently invalid.

People sometimes confuse cognitive biases with logical fallacies, but the two are not the same. A logical fallacy stems from and error in a logical argument, while a cognitive bias is rooted in thought processing errors often arising from problems with memory, attention, attribution, and other mental mistakes.

As indicated cognitive bias and logical fallacies are not the same. However, I am personally “biased” towards the outlook that the two are related, in that one is our view and another is how we argue our view. This opinion is a personal reflection, not necessarily something which has been ostensibly proven or supported empirically. Subsequently you can consider this estimation “a priori.”  

Further investigation into cognitive bias reveals there are upwards of fifty-eight different examples of cognitive bias…perhaps more. With all of that in mind here are a few examples of some which you might find familiar but have been completely unaware of.

Here are three which I see fairly routinely.

The first is what I like to call the “Facebook High-Life.” This is when someone enhances the quality of their life on their FB pages, or other digital mediums, without regards to the realities they are truly facing. This is known as the ‘Self-Enhancing Transmission Bias.’

Another one that is a particular favorite of mine is “Selective Perception” or when one views the world in accordance with their frame of reference. Two great examples of this are sports and at work. In the sports arena we might notice the referee’s penalizing our team but gaff off penalties for the opposing team. At work have you ever had a fellow employee who in your eyes as well as many others, is a total screw-up, but irrespective of this fact they remain the boss’s go to guy or gal? You are left to wonder why everyone else can see your fellow employee’s problems but not management. Well your boss may be suffering from the aforementioned bias.

Projection Bias is the assumption that everyone around you shares your beliefs, outlooks, and viewpoints. This is common in political geographies when it is assumed by someone that everyone in their particular location is politically wired just as they are. Or in other words you are unconsciously projecting your values and positions on the population you live around.

I could go on and on…but I think we get the idea. Bias of any sort is difficult to avoid especially since most of it is unconscious. We are hardly aware of the glitches in our thinking and it is therefore difficult to compensate for. However, this doesn't mean it is impossible to overcome. Awareness is the first step to clear thinking and better decision making habits.  
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Italy is worried about ISIS invasion.

~History doesn't repeat itself, but it does rhyme.

Whether this little nugget comes to fruition or not it is mind-boggling that in the 21st century, Italy is worried about a mainland invasion from ISIS. This is not exactly a historically correct statement but its seems the Moors might be knocking on Italy's door once again. 

From the Daily Beast,

ROME — Last weekend in Italy, as the threat of ISIS in Libya hit home with a new video addressed to “the nation signed with the blood of the cross” and the warning, “we are south of Rome,” Italian Prime Minister Matteo Renzi shuttered the Italian embassy in Tripoli and raised his fist with the threat of impending military action. Never mind that Italy has only 5,000 troops available that are even close to deployable, according to the defense ministry. Or that the military budget was cut by 40 percent two years ago, which has kept the acquisition of 90 F-35 fighter jets hanging in the balance and left the country combat-challenged to lead any mission—especially one against an enemy like the Islamic State. 
In fact, Renzi didn’t specify exactly who would wield that military might, and, two days later, when no one volunteered to lead the charge, he backtracked. “It’s not the time for a military intervention,” Renzi told an Italian television station Monday night and said the United Nations had to lead the way. “Our proposal is to wait for the U.N. Security Council. The strength of the U.N. is decidedly superior to that of the radical militias....
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John Podesta tweets about UFO files.

Ok...admittedly this is from the land of kooky and obscure but John Podesta, former Bill Clinton Chief of Staff and present Hillary Clinton campaign manager, yesterday sent out a strange tweet concerning UFO's.! 

But I must admit....I share Podesta's infatuation with ET. This isn't to say that I go around chasing UFO reports or that I think the History Channel's Giorgio Tsoukalos--contributor to Ancient Aliens--is some sort of misunderstood genius. Just that this is something I am fascinated by and really, really really, hope is true! (Don't judge me damn it!)

Also, and of course, the little tin-foil hat wearing conspiracy theorist in me does think it's strange when a former CoS to a President of the United States starts mentioning stuff about "disclosure of UFO files." But those kind of thoughts are best...ahem!...not mentioned any further. 

Sometimes it's just nice knowing that even people in positions of authority and distinction are just as strange and eccentric as the rest of us. And that obscure fascinations tend to more often than not transcend things like political differences. 

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The Contradiction of Leftist Opinion: Scott Walker, Tom Cotton, et al

The liberal media complex is usually singular in its vision--agitprop. Push the meme, secure the front against argument, then debilitate opposing viewpoints with ridicule. A very to the point mechanical process that has been honed through years of practice and study. 

But sometimes the meme's get tangled and the realism of their untruth reveal the true intentions of its propagators.

One one side, Governor of Wisconsin, Scott Walker is a blooming idiot and doesn't deserve to even be thought of as Presidential material since he doesn't possess...gasp!...a college degree!

What a snob! On today's Morning Joe, Howard Dean, a product of fancy prep schools and Yale, suggested that Scott Walker was unfit to be president because his lack of a college degree rendered him "unknowledgeable." 
Dean's disdain for the un-diplomaed came during a discussion of Walker having declined, during his recent trip to the UK, to state whether he believes in evolution. Joe Scarborough was incredulous at Dean's diss, pointing out that people such as Bill Gates and Mark Zuckerberg never finished college. To which list could be added super-successful and knowledgeable people from Rush Limbaugh to Steve Jobs, among many others...

On the other side of the coin is Senator Tom Cotton of Arkansas.

Here is the latest from the National Inquirer of Liberal political rags, Salon, by a useless opinionator whose scribble is perfectly suited for such an environment, Heather Digby.

Tom Cotton is Ted Cruz with a war record, Sarah Palin with a Harvard degree, Chris Christie with a Southern accent — a force to be reckoned with. He may sound like he’s speaking gibberish to you or to me when he asks why there were no prisoners in Guantánamo before the prison existed, but to the Republican base he’s speaking their language as clear as day and it will fit nicely on a bumper sticker: “Let ‘em rot.”
The utter hilarity of the Left's dualistic  thought processes and contradicting dumbfuckery is on full parade here. One man is to "unknowlegable" to arrive to any station higher than the one he has already achieved. The other, educated in one of the highest bastions of Liberal thought, Harvard Law--the same law program which our President graduated from--and a successful member of the US armed force and he speaks "gibberish."  

Their high crime? Both are real time threats to the Liberal power base. Moreover, either they are in the process of developing a more in depth and meaningful record or they have already succeeded. Additionally and more importantly, they are both Republicans.

As you wade through the ridiculousness you can see that either you are to dumb, because of a lack of a college degree, or you are to stupid, even if you attended a Liberal institute of higher education. However, I might add the real issue here  isn't education or the lack of; the main problem is not following the Leftist orthodoxy and/or successfully combating it. For that you must be punished, minimized, and thus eradicated. 
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The Post-Truth Perception of the Political Liberal

Sometimes you have to question contemporary knowledge about our history and past. When we get so wrapped around ideology and start to warp historical facts and truth in order to sustain our own context and perspective of our world, the truth becomes non-existent. From then on we live in a world that is simply pure abstraction and no longer real.

Case in point a few days ago,  Lawyer, Guns, and Money contributor, Eric Loomis's observed that Fox News contributor, Tucker Carlson, is either "the dumbest person in the United States" or "maybe he is just dishonest."

The reason Loomis is so upset? Because Tucker Carlson--while hosting a Fox News show recently--said this, “Christianity is the reason we don’t have slavery in the world today,” he added. “I mean, talk about ahistorical.” Carlson's commentary was in reference to the President's controversial statements he made at this year's National Prayer Breakfast.

Now I am not a particularly religious person, but I have respect for the good, the bad, and the ugly which religions of all denominations have provided society with. History is wrought with religion's successes and altruism's as well as its abysmal failures and inhumanity. However, religion, particularly Christianity, seems to be the favored target of the secular Left. Many of their attacks are usually based in ignorance and hyperbole that has become so entrenched in stereotyping it becomes reality. Despite facts stating otherwise.

But why? Well...a good bit of it is political and some philosophical. Since the 70's the so-called Religious Right has become a formidable political bloc and by its philosophical design, a natural enemy to the Left's shallow interpretations of the world. Mainly on two points,  abortion and more recently, gay marriage. Therefore for these reasons Christianity is not only to be opposed...but destroyed, at any opportunity.

The greatest absurdity that the modern American Left suffers from is that their progressive influences, in part, stem from the social gospel movement of the late 19th century. People such as Walter Rauschenbusch and Washington Gladden--Protestant ministers --advocated for such items as the unionization of American workers, minimum wages, child labor laws, etc. Even the stalwart Progressive hero, William Jennings Bryan was a devout Presbyter whose religiosity greatly influenced his social outlook versus some of the modernist progressives of his day.

Another paradoxical point to ponder is the Left's collective thought that Christianity was causative in the rise of the slavery epidemic which infected the American South. When in fact, opposition to slavery and the Abolitionist movement had its roots to the "Second Great Awakening" (SGA). In short many people in the late 1700's America, contrary to popular belief, rarely attended church. They instead replaced traditional worship with revivals which served as not only ritual devotions but "social meetings" between neighbors.

Subsequently,these revival movements were causal in the formation of Christian reform groups whom opposed slavery on theological and moral grounds.  See the American and Foreign Anti-Slavery Society. Now...this isn't to say there weren't others who opposed slavery on more than just Christian values, however, there is no doubt that religiosity played a pertinent role for many abolitionists and anti-slavery movements of the early and mid 1800's.

Finally, revisionism is a hallmark of the the modern American Left. This is induced by the  Liberal's world of anxiety in which they perceive their political legitimacy under constant threat from any oppositional thought they face.Their media and marketing constructs are selling a bill of goods which is sadly distorted and designed to produce an outcome that will ensure their authority to which they feel entitled.

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Tu quoque, Barack, tu quoque?!?!?!

Within the world of politics, especially in Presidential politics, every move, every word, every action is a setup for scrutiny or condemnation from detractors. The significant amount of the opinions expressed by critics of Presidents are usually mundane low-brow expressions which are made more for personal gain or as an attempt to validate the critic’s existence than legitimate fault finding. So is the case with the examination of the President’s commentary at the annual National Prayer Breakfast this week.

Here are the President’s remarks which got so many noses out of joints.   

And lest we get on our high horse and think this is unique to some other place, remember that during the Crusades and the Inquisition, people committed terrible deeds in the name of Christ. In our home country, slavery and Jim Crow all too often was justified in the name of Christ.

What the President is referencing here is that American’s shouldn't judge the Muslim community as a whole because of the deplorable violence wrought by ISIS. And that as a nation we should remember that our own majority faith, Christianity, has its own long dark history of violence and appalling actions to contend with. Accordingly it is not only wrong, it is factually incorrect to refer to ISIS as "Muslim Extremists."

Now before you think that this is a defense of the President’s commentary or that I am in agreement please…think again. His sophomoric and banal attempt to remind us about ethical standards of judgment is anything but coherent or lucid. On the historical front most of the “facts” as presented by Mr. Obama are anything but actualities. My problem is that most of the criticism of the President's remarks have been in the wrong vein, elucidate the critic's lack of  knowledge on historical events and their context, and they combat the Left's sophistry with crude rhetoric.  

But why worry about all of this and these inane and fallacious comments? Is it really that surprising that Mr. Obama would make comments like these considering his background and the philosophy he admittedly adheres to? The answer is no, I am not worried nor upset about anything he has said. However, this is a truly teachable moment and provides great insight to the style of argumentation which the Left tends to employ in its overall strategy. And why I am highlighting it. 

What The President is doing is invoking the informal logical fallacy of 'Tu quoque' or translated as 'you too'. In other words you discredit your opponent's argument by asserting they have engaged in the same behavior or acted inconsistently in reference to the point which they are defending or making. Subsequently, this method does nothing to address your opponent's position except reject it, not argue against it in logical practice.  For you visual learners here is the argumentative structure provided by RationalWiki.

1.       Person A makes claim X about Person B.
2.       Person B points out that claim X is also true of Person A.
3.       Therefore, X is irrelevant/false and A is a hypocrite.

To combat this you have one of two choices. The first is showing that the argument is unsound or that the two premise don’t lead to the conclusion being drawn. The second is that one of the premise being presented is patently false. Meaning if a premise is shown to be inaccurate then invariably the deduction is incorrect.

Take the Crusades for example. Anyone who has a modicum of knowledge about this time understands that there were two centuries worth of historical context which led to the Church launching its forces into the Middle East. Islamic expansionism against Western Europe and the Byzantine Empire, see the Seljuk Turks, made this necessary and unavoidable.

Do I fault the Muslim states for trying to conquer Western Europe? No…I do not. They were doing what empires do and the Western Church—the only unifying agent in Europe at the time--was doing what it had to do to ensure its survival and expansion. Certainly both sides were as much victims as they were perpetrators. However, this doesn’t fit into Mr. Obama’s narrative. You could also go on about the Inquisition, slavery, and Jim Crow and show these premises to be faulty and hollow as well.

The takeaway here is once you understand the structure of the argument being used against you, then you can combat it effectively. 
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Rand Paul and Anti-Vaccinations

You can color me astounded! Never in million years would I have believed that the “Anti-Vaxer” movement might gain a life of its own and actually be something that could shape the political landscape of the 2016 Presidential contest. looks like that might be what is happening.

Senator Rand Paul has weighed in on the issue of compulsory vaccinations. From his viewpoint vaccinations can leave children with  "profound mental disorders" and that mandatory immunization is an example of “government overreach.” New Jersey Governor, Chris Christie also stated that parents should ““have a "choice" in the matter but that ultimately "there is no question kids should be vaccinated."”

Back in October of last year I followed up a report appearing in Real Clear Science about the anti-vaxxer’s political composite. In terms of this philosophies origins, it can be rudimentarily established it’s beginnings lie in the Western US with far-left liberals and libertarians. Some of the anti-vaxxer states, as indicated in the RCS article, appear in red territories known for their libertarian bent and the more hyper-liberal fever swamps on the Left Coast. On the other end of the spectrum the predominantly better vaccinated states are more traditionally Conservative enclaves and with some East Coast liberal bastions thrown in there.

On the political end though I guess it shouldn’t surprise anyone that vaccinating your kids is a growing issue since measles, a disease once thought damn near eradicated,  is making a comeback. All through the due diligence of some irresponsible pseudo-science loving conspiracy nuts.  The issue is rightfully gaining political traction and demanding that politicians and candidates weigh in on it.

My personal prediction is this donkey will soundly be  hung around Paul’s neck as an indicator of his "libertarian induced insanity." Much like his father...he has you in his grasp, making perfect sense, until that one little issue pops up that makes him go off the deep end. Losing you forever...

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