Wednesday, August 22, 2012

no nurse, I said remove his spectacles

I was called by a leading Australian publication the other day to comment on the main Australian political parties usage of social media, and speculate on the influence it may have on the outcome of the forthcoming federal elections.

I gave the topic some degree of consideration and sent them back a thoughtful piece about shared meaning, the ad-hoc nature of communities online and how in the connected world ideas are adopted by groups who find them salient.

I went on to lament the poor efforts of the big two parties to engage in any meaningful way and preferring to simply pushing their desired meaning onto the voters in social networks in the same way that they have done with mainstream media.

I also speculated that the banality of much of the content delivered by the parties was in fact a highly tactical move to bore the electorate to death in order to invoke the inherent status quo bias. In reality we know that this-or-that policy has less influence on voter behaviour than simply whether the candidate looks like they know what they are doing.

Dan Ariely even hypothesised recently that we prefer to elect corrupt or corruptable candidates because government itself is inherently corrupt so the candidate needs to be able to operate in that kind of space.

To the point of the story, they never published any of my comments.

Instead they elected to publish a stream of inane drivel about each party's number of Twitter followers, what an infographic is, and how Julia Gillard once had a hangout on G+ blah blah.

Now I couldn't care less if the use my material or not, but I noticed that I had become a victim of my own biases.

In this case a big bit of the authority bias, with a touch of the representativeness heuristic.

In decision-making, authority bias is the tendency to over value the opinion of someone who one views as an authority or expert.

In my case I overestimated the intellectual level of debate to the same level that I overestimated the 'authority' of the publication.

The reality being that the conversation was happening at such a low level that made Mashable look like New Scientist.

Here's another - and this is one of my favourites - everyday example of the authority bias in action.

A physician ordered eardrops to be administered to the right ear of a patient suffering pain and infection there. Instead of writing out completely the location 'Right ear' on the prescription, the doctor abbreviated it so that the instructions read 'place in R ear'.

Upon receiving the prescription, the duty nurse promptly put the required number of ear drops into the patient’s anus.

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