Research Questions & Mental Shortcuts: A Warning


Daniel Kahneman talks extensively about how we make reasoning errors because we tend to use mental shortcuts. One mental shortcut is ‘substitution‘. Substitution is what we do when we (often unconsciously) answer an easier question than the one being asked. I find that I sometimes do this in my own research. For instance, when I set out to answer the question, “How can X be rational?” I sometimes end up answering easier questions like, “How does X work?”. In an effort to avoid such mistakes, I will (1) explain the question substitution error, (2) give an example of how we can distinguish between questions, (3) give a personal example of the substitution error, and (4) say what we can do about it.

1.  Substitution

In case you’re not familiar with Kahnemen’s notion of ‘substitution’, here is some clarification. In short, substitution is this: responding to a difficult question by (often unintentionally) answering a different, easier question. People use this mental shortcut all the time. Here are some everyday instances:

Difficult QuestionEasier Question
How satisfied are you with your life?What is my mood right now?
Should I believe what my parents believe?Can I believe what my parents believe?
What are the merits/demerits of that woman who is running for president?What do I remember people in my community saying about that woman?

For further discussion of mental shortcuts and substitution, see Part 1 of Kahneman’s Thinking Fast and Slow (2012).

Now, how does this mental shortcut apply to research?  Continue reading Research Questions & Mental Shortcuts: A Warning

4 Student Feedback Policies


If you have a lot of students, then you can spend nearly all of your time on student feedback. Here are a four policies designed to make my feedback workflow more sustainable. Continue reading 4 Student Feedback Policies

5 Email Workflow Policies


Like most technology, I love and hate email. In this post, I’ll list some policies designed to make my relationship with email more about love and less about hate. Continue reading 5 Email Workflow Policies

Grading Shorthand: Quick, Consistent, and Constructive Feedback


Grading with shorthand allows me to grade papers quickly. This is great for me, of course, but —more importantly — it’s great for students. Using grading shorthand means that students get prompt, consistent, and constructive feedback.

I’ve included the key to my grading shorthand below. I’ve also included the printer-friendly, PDF version of the key that I give to students. You are welcome to use and adapt the shorthand, including the PDF, however you see fit — it’s in the public domain. And you are more than welcome to share your own shorthand with me in the comments, on social media, or by contacting me directly. Happy grading!  Continue reading Grading Shorthand: Quick, Consistent, and Constructive Feedback

Plans for 2017


Now that I’ve been admitted to candidacy for my PhD, I’ll be focusing my energy on writing a dissertation and on publishing hitherto unpublished projects. I will regularly post bits and pieces of that on the blog.1

I’ve also become more interested in how my reasoning research relates to politics — ergo the recent posts “Is post-fact reasoning redeemable?” and “Third Party Voting: A Wasted Vote?” So I might also write about how my research relates to US and international politics.

So if you’re interested in this stuff, then stay tuned. More specifically,

  • subscribe to the blog (in the menu) to find out when new posts are published.
  • follow me on social media to find out what I’m reading, thinking, and doing.

Here’s to the best possible 2017 — whatever that would be.


  1. I share my research on the blog for two reasons: First, to get your thoughts on it; Second, to make academic research available to more people.

Visual Brainstorming on Whiteboards for Posters, Slides, and More


A whiteboard is pretty versatile. It can be used many times for many purposes. I use it during meetings and while working alone. In this post, I’ll explain how I use a whiteboard for creating visual aids.

1. Visual Brainstorming

I am very committed to the digital workspace. My library, papers, notes, handouts, etc. are in the cloud (more about that in this post). I do all of my reading and writing on a computer or a smartphone. But very occasionally a physical workspace trumps my digital workspace.

Visual brainstorming is one task for which a physical workspace outshines the digital counterpart. By ‘visual brainstorming’ I just mean  Continue reading Visual Brainstorming on Whiteboards for Posters, Slides, and More

The Minds Online Conference Is Starting!


From September 5 to September 30, there is an exciting, free, online conference about the philosophy and science of mind: the (second annual) Minds Online conference! Loads of wonderful scholars are sharing and commenting on each other’s research — and you can access and participate in all of it!

Here are a few things to note for those who are new to online conferences.

  • Sessions: There are four sessions, each with a different topic and its own keynote.
  • Timeline: Each session lasts one week. (So the conference lasts four weeks).
  • Participating: You can read papers starting the weekend before their session. And you you can comment on papers on Monday through Friday of their session.

So head on over and enjoy the wonder that is conferencing from the comfort of your home, office, favorite coffee shop, etc.

Here’s the program: http://mindsonline.philosophyofbrains.com/minds-online-2016-program/

Continue reading The Minds Online Conference Is Starting!