The importance of knowing you might be wrong

By | January 4, 2019

Brian Resnick writes:

Julia Rohrer wants to create a radical new culture for social scientists. A personality psychologist at the Max Planck Institute for Human Development, Rohrer is trying to get her peers to publicly, willingly admit it when they are wrong.

To do this, she, along with some colleagues, started up something called the Loss of Confidence Project. It’s designed to be an academic safe space for researchers to declare for all to see that they no longer believe in the accuracy of one of their previous findings. The effort recently yielded a paper that includes six admissions of no confidence. And it’s accepting submissions until January 31.

“I do think it’s a cultural issue that people are not willing to admit mistakes,” Rohrer says. “Our broader goal is to gently nudge the whole scientific system and psychology toward a different culture,” where it’s okay, normalized, and expected for researchers to admit past mistakes and not get penalized for it.

The project is timely because a large number of scientific findings have been disproven, or become more doubtful, in recent years. One high-profile effort to retest 100 psychological experiments found only 40 percent replicated with more rigorous methods. It’s been a painful period for social scientists, who’ve had to deal with failed replications of classic studies and realize their research practices are often weak.

It’s been fascinating to watch scientists struggle to make their institutions more humble. And I believe there’s an important and underappreciated virtue embedded in this process.

For the past few months, I’ve been talking to many scholars about intellectual humility, the crucial characteristic that allows for admission of wrongness.

I’ve come to appreciate what a crucial tool it is for learning, especially in an increasingly interconnected and complicated world. As technology makes it easier to lie and spread false information incredibly quickly, we need intellectually humble, curious people. [Continue reading…]

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