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Being Wrong: Adventures in the Margin of…

Being Wrong: Adventures in the Margin of Error (edition 2010)

by Kathryn Schulz

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Title:Being Wrong: Adventures in the Margin of Error
Authors:Kathryn Schulz
Info:Portobello Books (2010), Paperback, 272 pages
Collections:Your library
Tags:non-fiction, minds and brains, read in 2014

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Being Wrong: Adventures in the Margin of Error by Kathryn Schulz



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Ok, I'm not done yet, and I will finish, but I've struggled with one of Schulz's major premises and in order to be able to read the rest of the book I have to say now: One cannot be "wrong" about *opinions.* for example: I may get a divorce from the man I fell in love with 10 years ago, but I was not "wrong" to have spent those years with him. Regret won't get me anywhere - it's irrelevant. Instead it makes much more sense to say "I've changed my mind." Or: I may believe that people who believe in a God and a Heaven & Hell are naive, but I cannot say they're "wrong." I have no specific evidence to say that some version of what they believe can't be true after all (no matter how I personally "know" otherwise). Or: we all believe, and know, that abortion is wrong, but those of us who are pro-choice know that it is less wrong than restricting a woman's right to make decisions for her own body. Nor are political choices "wrong" - we vote for representatives and leaders who seem sympathetic with our priorities, ie education vs war, or, more universal health care vs loss of some free-market manueverability for the industry.

My point is that "wrongs" of these types are easy to cope with for anybody who is thoughtful enough to read this book. Those people don't need to read it. However, those others who paint the world in "right vs wrong" and "black vs white" in the realm of *opinion* will *not* read this book. Which in my opinion is unfortunate; they're the ones who need to.

I'd hoped, when I entered to win this, that I'd get help with how to cope more sanely/ effectively with each discovery that I'm wrong about something *factual.* So far not so much but we'll see when I get to the concluding chapters. Then again, I already use care, and until I've fact-checked with other conclusive sources, I do say, "To the best of my knowledge...." or, "Based on the information I have...." or, "In my considered opinion...." or, "Speaking for myself...." or at least, "I see often that...."


ETA: I'm done. I tried really hard to appreciate Schulz's effort, despite our disagreement about what the word "wrong" means. Iow, I decided to accept that she was using it very inclusively. But, I still don't think it's a very good book. She really doesn't say much she couldn't say in a thoughtful essay. It was much more philosophical than scientific, which *could* have been good *if* she'd presented it that way.

Basically, she espouses that we stop thinking of wrong as bad, and embrace errors as the basis for further learning and growth, for creativity, science, art, and comedy, for effective relationships, and for a healthy dose of humility. And, maybe because she's young, and/ or a New Yorker, and/or a journalist, she assumes she needs a whole book that took her a long time to write to be able to tell us those things. Problem is, she is a journalist etc. I'm older and I'd've appreciated a little more care, a little more of a scientific approach. She kept falling victim to the error-generating strategies she was alerting us to - for example saying "we" all the time as if every one of her readers is just as pig-headed and scatter-brained as she admits to being!

(Same problem I had with *Traffic* - lots of research and scientific citations, but neither writer actually used a rigorous approach to the arguments.)

It does have lots of interesting anecdotes and bits culled from research, and a few insights I can use to feel more empathetic to the frustrated & frustrating people around me.

Those of us who already know how to learn from our mistakes, laugh at ourselves when we err, think creatively by reading science fiction or playing social games, and have friends and family members with differing political or religious perspectives don't need to read this. And those of us who haven't learned how to be ok with being wrong aren't likely to read this. So, I recommend it only to fans of pop psychology who have several extra hours to kill. ( )
  Cheryl_in_CC_NV | Apr 14, 2015 |
Excellent book. Provides a tremendous amount of insight without being dry or preachy. I highly recommend it to everyone who wants to understand people behave as they do. ( )
  grandpahobo | Mar 23, 2015 |
I may be wrong about this, but Being Wrong is a very good book. Kathryn Schulz uses personal stories from a variety of sources, such as a wrongfully identified criminal, people losing their religion, and more trivial instances of mistakes, to explain just what is so humiliating about being wrong, and why it is so darn satisfying to be right. And she does all this with a consistently conversational tone, friendly and funny but not too funny when the more serious stories are being told.

In addition to intriguing stories, Schulz provides a very good potted introduction to philosophy by quoting from many major philosophers to illustrate the varying perspectives on "wrongness" and error. Most people nowadays would probably consider error to be something humiliating, that doesn't happen very often. But it does, all the time. Schulz argues that, where possible, we should try to see the positive side of error. It can stimulate creativity, broaden the mind or even change our lives for the better. ( )
  rabbitprincess | Nov 5, 2014 |
This book is an exploration of what the author calls "Wrongology": the ways in which we get things wrong, how we feel when realize we were mistaken, how we deal (or fail to deal) with our mistakes, and how we might benefit from accepting or even embracing our own capacity for error.

I've read a number of books on similar subjects, but this one has a somewhat different feel to it. It's less focused on psychological experiments and the exact ways in which our neurons misrepresent the world or our minds leap to irrational conclusions (although there is some of that), but instead takes a somewhat more philosophical tone. Schulz does still keep things fairly well grounded, though, in part by including detailed and interesting examples of people being wrong in various ways. It's also very engagingly written, with wit, intelligence, and heart. Definitely worth a look for, well, anybody who's ever been wrong about anything. ( )
1 vote bragan | Sep 7, 2014 |
42. Being Wrong : Adventures in the Margin of Error (Audio) by Kathryn Schulz, read by Mia Barron (2010, 14 hours, 17 minutes, 420 pages in paper format, Read July 10-25)

I thought about my job the entire time I listened to this. Not sure that comes across as a compliment. It’s just that I’m wrong a lot. And this book has me thinking about that, about how often I am surprised when I discover, for sure, I was wrong, and about how valuable that is, how much I learn from it and get better at what I do because of it.

It’s long book, that covers a lot of topics and then goes on and on about them. So, it’s good thing I found so many topics interesting.

Thing I learned:

That being wrong is a human problem. Animals and computers are never in state of awareness that they were wrong (probably arguable with animals). But humans are never in a state of knowing they are wrong, only that they were wrong. We always assume we are right about everything. Once we are aware we are wrong, we instantly know we are right that we were wrong, so maintain our permanent sense of rightness.

Our power of inductive reasoning. How we make vast conclusions on the tiniest amount of information. Typically we make our conclusion from the first bits of data, and then take the remaining data only with a sense of confirmation bias, looking for proof our initial conclusion was right. We need to do this to get through day-to-day life and it’s actually a very impressive thing. Computers can’t do inductive reasoning. But it’s also, naturally, error prone.

About the emotional disaster of transition - which is kind of like being in a state of wrongness. For example, if you have a strong belief and it is suddenly shown to be wrong, and you don't have another belief to replace it, you are left in difficult state. Belief is critical to our confidence that the world is as we think it is, even at the most basic lever. The transition state results in a loss of confidence.

About the mechanisms we use to avoid being proven wrong. How the less secure we feel about a belief, the more ardently we fight for it. And how some of us are so stubborn as to refuse to see the wrongness, including going through exaggerated states of denial of confabulation.

About confabulation - or making things up. How we all do it even when we think we are simply explaining what we are doing. How stubborn people tend to confabulate more.

On the separation in our minds between the parts that confabulate and the parts that fact check. We make stuff up first; it’s a critical part of our imagination. Then we fact check it second. Except that when we dream, we aren’t able to fact check. It’s the only time our imagination can run loose.

And so on.

Not a book for everyone, as it’s a bit long and very long winded. But it’s a great collection of interesting stuff. There is a lot here that might change how you view humanity.
3 vote dchaikin | Jul 26, 2014 |
Showing 1-5 of 14 (next | show all)
What is most cherishable about this bumper book of other people's booboos is its insistence that to experience error is, at its best, to find adventure – and even contentment. Schulz takes as her model Don Quixote, the knight-errant who was wrong about almost everything. "Countless studies have shown that people who suffer from depression have more accurate world views than non-depressed people," she points out.
added by mikeg2 | editThe guardian, Stuart Jeffries (Aug 28, 2010)
“Being Wrong: Adventures in the Margin of Error" is an insightful and delightful discussion of the errors of our ways — why we make mistakes, why we don’t know we are making them and what we do when recognition dawns.

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Barron, MiaNarratorsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
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On the heels of the success of "The Wisdom of Crowds" and "Predictably Irrational" comes a thoughtful and persuasive celebration of human fallibility that examines what it means to be right or wrong--and why it matters so much to us.

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