New paper: “Your Health vs. My Liberty”

Why did otherwise life affirming people flout public health recommendations during the COVID-19 pandemic?

  • Was it leaders’ messaging? For example, are “flatten the curve” graphs about statistical victims less effective than information about identifiable victims?
  • Was it people’s reasoning? Do some people not think carefully enough about public health? Might people who better at math better understand public health information involving concepts like exponential growth and probability?
  • Was it people’s philosophical preferences? Do some people just care more about preventing harm? Do others prioritize personal liberty over pubic health? Do people’s beliefs about science matter? Religion?

Michał Białek and I investigated. In short, we found that flouting public health recommendations was less about messaging or reasoning than philosophical beliefs, especially beliefs about our duties to others, liberty, and science. The paper is under review now published in Cognition. As always, you can find a free copy of the paper on my CV at More details below.

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The Base Rate Fallacy

Who is more likely to be killed by a police officer in the United States: a white person or a black person? You might think, “Police kill more white people than black people in the US. So it’s the white person.” That answer contains a fallacy: the base rate fallacy. This post explains the fallacy, provides some examples, and suggests how to avoid it.

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25+ Cognitive Science Podcasts

Cognitive Science investigates the mind with methods and tools from various fields like computer science, neuroscience, psychology, and philosophy. Here are some popular cognitive science podcasts. I listen to almost all of them, so feel free to contact me if you have questions that are not answered in each podcast’s description below.

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Politicians Defunding Based on Political Bias? Sounds Biased

“I would use the Department of Education … to monitor our institutions of higher education for extreme political bias and deny federal funding if it exists.” –Ben Carson

1. Everyone has biases — political and otherwise.

So denying funding on the basis of any political bias would be tantamount to denying all federal education funding. That’d be problematic. So — if we assume a charitable interpretation of Carson — that’s surely not the Republican plan (…or is it?). So let’s assume that Carson is not out to defund any educational institution that exhibits just any political bias.

Instead, maybe Carson’s plan is to monitor for particular biases. The idea here would be that only institutions with certain biases should be defunded. But even that would be problematic. After all, Carson is a human. And humans are more likely to notice and take issue with others’ biases (Corner et al 2012; Lord et al 1979) or biases that merely seem like others’ biases (Trouche et al 2015, 2018). So Carson might be more attuned to and dismissive of others’ biases than his own. And that itself is a political bias.

To overcome that bias, we would need to make sure that Continue reading Politicians Defunding Based on Political Bias? Sounds Biased

3 Post-Election Problems (and Solutions?)

Did your candidate or party lose an election? That’s disheartening. It really is. But I hope you’ll eventually be turn your attention to deeper, more pressing problems . For instance, we are not reasoning well, we are doing a bad job of reassuring those who feel neglected, and we are letting our political parties determine what we care about.  Continue reading 3 Post-Election Problems (and Solutions?)

Rawls & Cosmopolitan Egalitarian Redistribution

I have ventured beyond my areas of competence again: ethics. I find ethics to be massively complicated because so much of it seems to be bypassing unsettled empirical questions. Anyway, to try to avoid a misstep, I am reaching out to the wiser.

I have finally read some of Rawls’s A Theory of Justice—I am continually surprised at how many alleged “classics” I have yet to read. While I am sympathetic to most of it (and perhaps naively so), I am curious about how Rawls’s theory would apply to not just a single society, but a plurality of societies (like the plurality of nations on our planet). I have surveyed the first 3 chapters, paying special attention to section 58 (where he deals, briefly, with this very question). I have also skimmed Leif Wenar’s “Why Rawls is Not a Cosmopolitan Egalitarian” [PDF] (2006).

The trouble I am having is the following. It seems that Rawls allows for redistribution within societies, but not between societies—that is, per his principle of self-determination in section 58.

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