Here I want to mention that there exist at least two analogous fashionable beliefs:
groupthink is always badThere exists a whole herd of people – perhaps a majority of mankind as of late 2019 – who unanimously believe in groupthink that the assertions above are self-evidently true. And I guess that my argumentation below will only confirm their belief in these two assertions. I sincerely hope that you have understood the relationship between the previous two sentences and the two blockquoted propositions above them. If you haven't and if you have read this blog post less than 999 times so far, go to the first sentence of the blog post and read again.
confirmation bias always is bad.
Nice to meet you again, dear readers who have passed the basic test of intelligence and those who have failed but who have read the previous paragraphs 1,000 times. ;-)
OK, if I merge the post about ideologies and this one, I may summarize the main message I want to convey. It is the following: Instead of buying the idea that
ideologies, groupthink, and the preferred belief in the information that is in harmony with our pre-existing knowledge... are three universally bad things,every genuinely rational person acknowledges that
* we always need some ideologiesand the devil is only in the "details". Our actual task isn't to parrot simple-minded negative statements about ideologies, groupthink, and confirmation bias. Instead, our actual task is to choose the ideologies that are better than others, the groups whose thinking is better than the thinking of other groups, and the right long-lasting principles that we prefer to keep when we're forced to weaken and abandon at least some beliefs we've had so far.
* we always find ourselves to be members of groups that share some thinking – which is "groupthink" but doesn't pretend to be universally negative
* we always prefer the new information that is more compatible with some pre-existing knowledge and it's unavoidable and rational...
Well, the task as I have defined it is surely more difficult than the original task to produce the simple-minded negative slogans. That's why so many cheap people prefer to repeat the over-simplified negative slogans. But be sure that if you want to be more than trash in my eyes, you have to be solving the more refined tasks as I sketched them, not just become a shouting machine criticizing what is incorrectly said to be three universal evils.
Don't get me wrong. I don't claim that confirmation bias or groupthink is never a problem. Of course they are often problems. They are often a good description of various people's fallacies. Instead, what I am saying is something different: I claim that the criticisms of confirmation bias and groupthink have become a "cure that is worse than the disease". If we take the frequencies observed in the real world into account, we conclude that the manipulation achieved by "complaints about groupthink and confirmation bias" has become much worse than the manipulation and distortion caused by groupthink and confirmation bias themselves.
I have carefully watched numerous pundits who like to complain about other people's "groupthink" and about "confirmation bias" for many years and I concluded that an overwhelming majority of these pundits are dishonest liars who are ready to use the most immoral weapons to protect their own interests and who never apply their own principles against themselves or their claims. The situation is completely analogous to the grievance studies: certain people love to whine about their being victims of microaggressions but once their whining gives them power, they don't hesitate to plot mega-aggressions against others – which are, if you do the math, one trillion times harsher than the microaggressions they have previously complained about. Similarly, leftists start with the dreaming about the diversity and tolerance when they're weak (because it's good for them to grow and strengthen) but once they get strong, they demand uniformity, conformity, and zero tolerance. This hypocritical evolution is sort of unavoidable: any "movement" that is obsessed with the "weak links" of a chain that may be abused is very likely to abuse them itself.
In particular, 100 times repeated complaints about "groupthink" and "confirmation bias" are among the most beloved demagogic tools used by the far left activists; by the fake scientists who have criticized proper, "Copenhagen" quantum mechanics; by the fake scientists who have created cults against string theory, inflationary cosmology, or particle physics in general; and many other, overlapping sets of preachers who are wrong about very fundamental things. There are certain individuals who use this kind of demagogy more often than the word "the". They are obsessed with these "tools of propaganda" more than with science itself because they want to do propaganda and not science, too.
The real problem is with the audiences that get easily manipulated by this cheap form of demagogy – and millions of people are sheep of this kind. It works like this.
A demagogue says: The other group (the group of my foes) believes in a uniform belief, so it's groupthink. You must believe the opposite claim to avoid groupthink.And the stupid sheep just mindlessly adopt the beliefs that they are prescribed to believe by the demagogue. They couldn't survive being groupthink or confirmation bias sinners, could they?
Also, the other group of people has built a framework where things are harmonized or consistent with each other. It's confirmation bias. You must believe that they are wrong, otherwise you will also become the sinner who is guilty of confirmation bias.
Well, they could. They almost certainly would. When it's defined impartially without negative labels, there's nothing universally wrong about "groupthink". Like an ideology, it's just some loose but somewhat tight collection of ideas, beliefs, or assumptions that certain groups or sets of people share. When people share some belief, e.g. 2+2=4, is that wrong? Well, I don't think there's anything wrong about the people who share the belief that 2+2=4. There's nothing wrong about their being a group, either. After all, the demagogue is creating another group with some "groupthink" as well, isn't she?
When such a group of people shares the belief that 2+2=22, it's bad but the actual reason why it's bad is something else than the fact that the believers in 2+2=22 form a "group". (They actually don't because these people don't come equipped with an associative operation of composition. But let's not get carried away by geeky jokes LOL.)
Is there something wrong about the people who believe that the Copenhagen axioms of quantum mechanics – or string theory – are unavoidable parts of all viable fundamental laws of Nature in the future? Or is there something wrong about the coherence of their beliefs? No, there is nothing wrong about it. The situation is analogous to the collective belief that 2+2=4. In fact, these three situations are equivalent to each other because every true statement is equivalent to every other true statement! ;-)
In effect, some demagogues' assertions that "the opposite side suffers from groupthink or confirmation bias" are nothing else than insults whose logical power is exactly equivalent to vulgarisms. The difference is that the people who love to emit the "fancy" insults accusing others of groupthink or confirmation bias are usually more wrong and more malicious than the people who prefer the no-nonsense vulgarities instead. For years, the people who have used simple-to-understand slurs such as "Crooked Hillary" have been far more honest and far more correct than those who prefer the contrived equivalents such as "groupthink" and "confirmation bias".
Accusations from connections to an ideology, from groupthink, and from confirmation bias have become great litmus tests to identify professional and semi-professional demagogues and manipulators – especially the kind of manipulators who love to pretend that they're far smarter than they actually are.
The stupidity of the consumers who are ready to buy this kind of demagogy is particularly enhanced when their preferred demagogues complain about their foes' groupthink and they worship the power and importance of "consensus" at the same moment. And I kid you not. This shocking mixture is being marketed by lots of manipulators who are rather influential.
How stupid the consumers of this propaganda have to be not to see through these tricks? Not to see the self-evident contradiction? According to the beef that hides in their meaning, the words "consensus" and "groupthink" mean exactly the same thing. The only difference is that "consensus" is supposed to make the sheep mindlessly buy that "it is a good thing and you must agree with it" while "groupthink" is supposed to make the same sheep mindlessly believe that "it is a bad thing and they must avoid it at all costs". But it's still exactly the same thing: "groupthink" and "consensus" are some ideas that are believed by everybody or almost everybody in an environment!
Completely analogously, such demagogues often complain about "confirmation bias" before they also accuse their foes of softly contradicting themselves. But "to avoid soft contradictions" and to embrace "confirmation bias as a good thing" are exactly synonymous once again. What I want to say is that if you want to keep your position coherent and avoid mutual contradictions between your assertions or beliefs, even "somewhat vague and loose" contradictions, and this coherence still looks like a pretty good thing (or at least a way to prevent some criticisms), then you must curate the new ideas that you embrace (prefer those new statements that preserve the coherence of your current package) – and that's what may be negatively labeled "confirmation bias". But it's the alleged negative character of this activity that is utterly unjustified in a vast majority of contemporary real-world cases in which someone complains about "confirmation bias".
So once again, the beef of "groupthink" and "confirmation bias" may be good or bad. There is obviously no universal rule that would imply that these things are bad.
To some extent, groupthink is unavoidable because people outsource the fact checking and the discovery. They have to do it because not everyone may rediscover and verify every bit of information. Even people who obsessively verify or rederive every important statement they embrace or build upon – like your humble correspondent – sometimes rely on others. Ideally some others who have a good track record that has already passed some tests, e.g. the test of time. It's necessary because the amount of information that we are drowning in is too huge. It's unavoidable that people outsource some discovery or verification to others or to whole groups. And the resulting partial uniformity of those groups – like nations – may surely have positive implications in many cases, too. In many cases, this (imperfect) uniformity is a necessary precondition for a decent evolution of those groups such as nations because the incoherence – often described by euphemisms such as diversity or multiculturalism – is often annoying, suffocating, and sometimes deadly.
Similarly, confirmation bias in the neutral sense – well, the preference for new information that is compatible with the already available knowledge – is mostly a good thing simply because coherent or harmonious sets of ideas are better and more likely to be true than the incoherent or disharmonious ones. Whenever the truth values are sharply defined to be true or false, i.e. in the axiomatic systems of mathematics, the internal consistency of the axiomatic system is an absolutely necessary condition. To universally denounce everything that could be described as "confirmation bias" by someone as a bad thing means to infinitely prefer incoherent systems of ideas over the coherent ones. A rational person, and especially a deep thinker, prefers coherent systems of ideas over incoherent ones!
So the claim that "confirmation bias is always bad" is counterproductive in a majority of cases simply because the coherent systems are more likely to be true than the incoherent ones! The only actual fallacy appears when someone heavily overestimates the domain of validity of his existing, too simple to be true, set of beliefs – which makes him believe that he may use these ideas to guess the truth value of every new statement that he encounters. But trying to extrapolate the validity of a theory or a set of beliefs as far as it can get isn't a bad thing. Such a "null hypothesis" is really the first attempted answer that every good scientist probes! To describe this tendency (which may be captured by the "confirmation bias" slur) as a universal evil is a profoundly anti-scientific attitude to take.
All these simple demagogic tricks – constant accusations that the foes are guilty of ideological accusations, groupthink, or confirmation bias (aside from several other similar examples I could add) – are just methods to easily manipulate millions of dimwits who are increasingly incapable of independent thinking. Just watch out. In way over 90% of real-world cases in the early 21st century, when someone whines about the "evil of groupthink", "evil of ideologies", or "evil of confirmation bias", you're being had. It is extremely likely that the speaker is just trying to make you believe that "some beliefs are bad or wrong" even though he or she has presented no valid evidence for that appraisal whatsoever!
He or she only uses a positive word – such as "consensus" – or a negative word – such as "groupthink" – and millions of brain-dead sheep automatically and mindlessly embrace the idea that it must be a good or bad thing, respectively. Don't be like these stupid sheep, like the readers of numerous cesspools on the Internet and elsewhere. When someone tells you that something is good or something is bad, even when it's being said implicitly by the choice of emotionally loaded words, demand actual evidence to back this appraisal, not just unjustified insults presented in the pompous jargon of pseudo-intellectual demagogues!
And that's the memo.