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Sunday, December 25, 2011

The Danger of Stories

From Tyler Cowen, speaking at the TedX Talks.
…we should be suspicious of stories. We’re biologically programmed to respond to them. They contain a lot of information. They have social power. They connect us to other people. So they’re like a kind of candy that we’re fed when we consume political information, when we read novels. When we read nonfiction books, we’re really being fed stories. 
 …So what are the problems of relying too heavily on stories? You view your life like “this” instead of the mess that it is or it ought to be. 
 …narratives tend to be too simple. The point of a narrative is to strip it way, not just into 18 minutes, but most narratives you could present in a sentence or two. So when you strip away detail, you tend to tell stories in terms of good vs. evil, whether it’s a story about your own life or a story about politics. 
 …As a simple rule of thumb, just imagine every time you’re telling a good vs. evil story, you’re basically lowering your IQ by ten points or more. If you just adopt that as a kind of inner mental habit, it’s, in my view, one way to get a lot smarter pretty quickly.
I find this great advice for life, but maybe more specifically to us researchers doing analytical work. Things are never as simple as they seem; there are invisible effects and unintended consequences which anecdotes often obscure.

The full transcript is available here. The excerpts are taken from Chris Blattman's blog.