You're wrong, right? Right, wrong. Huh?

Is it time for a new discipline to emerge? 'Wrongology' would look at why people tend to assume they're right, why so many studies are later overturned, and other questions of wrongness.

Photo illustration / Darren Greenwood / Design Pics / Newscom / File
Should we spend more time wondering if we're wrong than trying to prove we're right? Should we be skeptical of medical studies, when so many end up getting overturned later? How much wrongness should we expect?

Immediately drop everything you are doing and read this article. Then, shove aside the growing pile of books on your nightstand and read this book this weekend (doing so will also deflate any tension with your spouse over the appearance of your nightstand). Discussion questions:

1. How can we really "know" anything? These pieces only reinforce my belief that one of the most profound philosophical statements in all of history comes to us courtesy of Bill & Ted: "The only true knowledge consists in knowing that you know nothing. That's us, dude!" (And, yes, I know I have written about this before, but really, is there anything more fundamental than the question of how we can know whether we're right or wrong?)

2. Where is the John Ioannidis of economics or social science more broadly?

3. I often think that a helpful research strategy would be to write a "bizarro" paper for every "real" research paper that we do. But I can't decide if that would have any merit or even feasibility. As Being Wrong details in such a lovely way, the most pernicious and persistent type of confirmation bias is the failure to seek out contradictory evidence--omission rather than commission. If anyone tells you how open-minded and open to criticism they are, they're probably wrong. It would seem to be much safer and saner to walk around with the presumption that you are wrong about everything until proven otherwise, but this strategy would clearly strain the limits of human identity and, thus, plausibility.

4. If much of our conscious identity (the stories we tell ourselves) is composed of memories, but if those memories turn out to be mostly mis-remembered, what does that mean?

Finally, out of sheer coincidence, I also happened to stumble across this terrific sentence earlier today: "Both rationalism and functionalism grossly exaggerate the capacity of actors to know what they are doing before they have done it." (See question 2 above.) (HT: Rogers Hollingsworth.)

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