Economist Tyler Cowen argues that people too readily dismiss others’ arguments:
One of the most common fallacies in the economics blogosphere — and elsewhere — is what I call “devalue and dismiss.” That is, a writer will come up with some critique of another argument, let us call that argument X, and then dismiss that argument altogether. Afterwards, the thought processes of the dismisser run unencumbered by any consideration of X, which after all is what dismissal means. Sometimes “X” will be a person or a source rather than an argument, of course.
The “devalue” part of this chain may well be justified. But it should lead to “devalue and downgrade,” rather than “devalue and dismiss.”
“Devalue and dismiss” is much easier of course, because there then will be fewer constraints on what one can believe and with what level of certainty. “Devalue and downgrade” keeps a lot of balls in the air and that can be tiresome and also unsatisfying, especially for those of us trained to look for neat, intuitive explanations.
His George Mason Economics Department colleague Bryan Caplan responds that, in reality, most people aren’t dismissive enough:
I’m tempted to object, “Thank goodness for dismissal, because most ideas and thinkers are a waste of time.” But on reflection, Tyler’s overly optimistic. Dismissing ideas often requires rare intellectual discipline. Psychologists have documented our assent bias: Human beings tend to believe whatever we hear unless we make an affirmative effort to question it. As a result, our heads naturally accumulate intellectual junk. The obvious remedy is to try harder to “take out the trash” – or refuse to accept marginal ideas in the first place.
I think both Bryan and Tyler capture some of the truth. When new information or arguments cut against are strongly […]