Slide show on cognitive biases: a health warning

This morning I have mixed feelings from seeing something I’ve worked on being heavily praised, but for the wrong reasons.

Erik Fernandez, a blogger, has created a slide show about cognitive biases. I haven’t examined it carefully, but it seems like all the text is taken, or at least lightly adapted, from two Wikipedia articles; Cognitive bias and List of cognitive biases. I know this because I recognise my own text in the slide show. Under the terms of the Creative Commons licence, Eric is entitled to copy this material and make derivative works, but not to pass it off as his own work.

These articles are a long way off finished, and in their partial state they can be actively misleading.  As one of the authors, this is partially my fault. It’s better than nothing, but they’re not ready for wide publicity.

That’s why I’m concerned that over the last couple of days, the slide show is getting a huge amount of attention by being featured on the high-traffic blogs BoingBoing and LifeHacker. These blog posts treat the slide show as an original work and make no mention (because Fernandez doesn’t) of where the text comes from.

I’m really pleased that people are enjoying learning about bias research, but it’s unfortunate that there aren’t any health warnings about the poor quality of the content, and the fact that they can get the text straight away on Wikipedia. To be fair to the Boing Boing community, a lot of the commenters there have picked up on the poor quality of the lists.

The situation is complicated by the fact that Fernandez jokingly calls his blog “The Royal Society of Account Planning”, which some bloggers seem to be taking seriously, as though the slide show were an official publication.

Below is the comment I’ve been putting on any blog I can find that has featured the slide show.

As one of the authors of this presentation, I strongly recommend that people do NOT rely on it. It’s merely the current Wikipedia article – which is pretty poor – turned into a slide show with some images. The article will be good some day, but its present form is so incomplete as to be misleading.

Not all of the things mentioned are cognitive biases, not all the biases on the list arose from the heurisitics and biases research programme. The numbers are just arbitrary. There aren’t “42 decision-making biases”: there are just 42 things correctly or incorrectly in the Wikipedia list at a particular time.

This is a fascinating topic, and you get an infinitely better introduction to it from a paperback book: Stuart Sutherland’s “Irrationality”, Cordelia Fine’s “A Mind of Its Own”, Scott Plous’ “The Psychology of Judgement and Decision Making”, Thomas Kida’s “Don’t Believe Everything You Think” and there are lots more that would serve the purpose.

Again, I say this as one of the authors of the article, and I admit I haven’t done a good job with it so far.

Lifehacker isn’t accepting my comments: I hope that means they’re just being held for moderation.

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  1. #1 by danbri on May 20, 2010 - 10:49 am

    From comments in http://boingboing.net/2010/05/17/visual-study-guide-t.html

    “””Hello Everyone,

    A big thank you for all the interest in this study guide. It was created as a fun introduction that took the Cognitive Bias wiki and tried to make it easier to memorize. I originally made it for personal use but thought it would be helpful to share.

    However, as the authors of the wiki article have expressed here, it seems the Cognitive Bias wiki still needs a lot of work. The document has being taken down for the time being until that can be corrected. Thank you all for your interest.

    My sincere apologies for any troubles this caused!

    Would love for a bunch of Professors in the field to chip in and make the Wiki spotless. There seems to be tremendous interest in this topic. If your an expert in cognitive science, pitch in to help save the wiki! 😀

    Eric”””

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