Confidence men

Peter Aldhous asks

Ever wondered why the pundits who failed to predict the current economic crisis are still being paid for their opinions?

Why, yes, I have!

According to Aldhous

The research, by Don Moore of Carnegie Mellon University in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, shows that we prefer advice from a confident source, even to the point that we are willing to forgive a poor track record. Moore argues that in competitive situations, this can drive those offering advice to increasingly exaggerate how sure they are. And it spells bad news for scientists who try to be honest about gaps in their knowledge.

We prefer advice from a confident source, even if the source has given us lousy advice in the past!

Probably many givers of lousy advice are not merely exaggerating, but are sincerely, stupidly sure. According to Bertrand Russell

The fundamental cause of trouble in the world today is that the stupid are cocksure while the intelligent are full of doubt.

According to Ashleigh Brilliant

My opinions may have changed, but not the fact that I am right.

And according to E. Haldeman-Julius

It is well to stress early this point about sincerity. It is a much overrated virtue. Sincerity, joined with ill thought and ill will — sincerity that has no intelligence to guide it — is one of the most dangerous things in this world.… When in other days a heretic was burned at the stake, it mattered not to the victim that those who lit the fagots were sincere.… When Voltaire was forced into exile, when his writings were destroyed, when he was assailed by all the forces of intolerance, it signified really nothing to him whether the bigots were sincere men or designing hypocrites.… Sincerity can be cruel, unscrupulous, outrageous, and fraught with the peril of passionate abuse.

Another spoonful

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3 Comments

  1. “Something I’ve learned about people is that if you speak as if you have authority on a subject, answer the questions, and then write up a viable sounding plan, 95% of people will go along with it. The remaining 5% usually fold to peer pressure. “

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  2. According to Rich in PA

    I think voters tune out Democrats because Democrats don’t convey genuine commitment to their own ideas. Republicans never express doubt, and even their internecine conflicts are about competing visions of certainty. When a leading Democrat conveys certainty, that Democrat is derided from within their own party as too extreme or even as a bad person. I could give you dozens of fresh examples without breaking a mental sweat.

    Democrats don’t need a Leninist unity of voice (though that would totally rock), but each high-level officeholder and candidate needs to say that there’s a right way to see things–their own–and the rest can go suck eggs. That’s how Republicans bounced back.

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  3. I had a lawyer as a client once, his #1 rule when negotiating (and probably in life too): “Maybe wrong, but never uncertain”

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