A New Goal: Aim to Be Less Wrong

Tania Lombrozo: When Brian Nosek recommended that I and other scientists assume that we are wrong, he was sharing a strategy that he’s employed in his own lab — a strategy for changing the way we offer and respond to critique. Assuming you are right might be a motivating force, sustaining the enormous effort that conducting scientific work requires. But it also makes it easy to construe criticisms as personal attacks, and for scientific arguments to devolve into personal battles. Beginning, instead, from the assumption you are wrong, a criticism is easier to construe as a helpful pointer, a constructive suggestion for how to be less wrong — a goal that your critic presumably shares. This advice may sound unduly pessimistic, but it’s not so foreign to science. Philosophers of science sometimes refer to the “pessimistic meta-induction” on the history of science: All of our past scientific theories have been wrong, so surely our current theories will turn out to be wrong, too. That doesn’t mean we haven’t made progress, but it does suggest that there is always room for improvement and elaboration — ways to be less wrong.

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