You’ve Always Known You Are Not So Smart

Just so Stan doesn’t feel lonely in being the only one apologizing for our recent lack of posts, I’m sorry.

As Stan mentioned, I’m “the Asian guy” who was on his way to the States while “the two white guys” are on their way back to China. As it is, Stan should already be back yonder while Custer is probably still wrapping things up in the States. As for me, I’ve already been here for a few days enjoying Southern California’s weather (which seems to alternate between sunny blue skies and dreadfully overcast). Now that I’ve have a moment to spare, I’m going to try to get back into the swing of things, in the midst of all my plotting.

Some of you already know I’m big on a blog called The Last Psychiatrist. The reason why is because it regularly challenges what I think and what I believe. I consider this invaluable to making my peace with reality. As a quickie, I want to recommend our readers to You Are Not So Smart, which is self-described as “A Celebration of Self Delusion”.

My kind of website.

In short, the website focuses on sharing and explaining common cognitive biases to the average layman1. The goal (in part) is to show us how oh-so-very wrong we often are, and why2.

My kind of website.

Just a taste, their latest post reviews “Hindsight Bias“, your tendency to think you knew or believed something all along…when you really didn’t3.  An excerpt:

Fischhoff was one of the first researchers to pinpoint the mechanisms of hindsight bias. He put together a study right before President Nixon left for China.

He asked people what they thought the chances were for certain things to happen on his trip. Later, once the trip was over, knowing the outcomes, people remembered their statistical assumptions as being far more accurate than they were.

The Washington Post interviewed Fischhoff in 2006, and found him still hard at work exploring the implications of hindsight bias:

“…Americans who made estimates about their danger after the Sept. 11, 2001, attacks recalled having made much lower estimates of risk a year later, after their fears failed to materialize.”

Washington Post, 2006

Hindsight bias is a close relative of the availability heuristic. You tend to believe anecdotes and individual sensational news stories are more representative of the big picture than they are. If you see lots of shark attacks in the news, you think, “Gosh, sharks are out of control.” What you should think is, “Gosh, the news loves to cover shark attacks.”

The availability heuristic shows you make decisions and think thoughts based on the information you have at hand while ignoring all the other information that might be out there.

You do the same thing with Hindsight Bias by thinking thoughts and making decisions based on what you know now, not what you used to know.

“…people’s need to be right is stronger than their ability to be objective.”

N. Crawford, The American Psychological Association

Knowing hindsight bias exists should arm you with healthy skepticism when politicians and businessmen talk about their past decisions.

Also, keep it in mind the next time you get into a debate online or argument with a boyfriend or girlfriend, husband or wife – the other person really does think they were never wrong, and so do you.

Demotivator: Hindsight, with Stormtrooper.

Hindsight < Written Record.


  1. …which, I am starting to suspect, is a lot less educated and intelligent than I had previously thought. Either that or I’m just getting older and more ornery. []
  2. …which is essentially something along the lines of “you’re irrational because that keeps you sane”, which I think is essentially a euphemism for “because you’re an idiot”. []
  3. ..you disingenuous asshole. []


6 Comments

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  1. I’m proud to say that this is the first time I’ve heard of hind­sight bias.
    ;)

  2. WESTERNER

    I like this. Argument or belief should be based on balance and understanding not on a preconceived i am right therefore i must win or they say it is dangerous therefore it will always be dangerous ! Also the use of logic is also useful in picking up on a “fallacy” spoken in hindsight to a problem. I just dream for the day when some politicians actually answers a question fully XD.
    P S i feel sorry for the storm trooper, did Lord Vader forgive him XD.

  3. Jones

    Thanks for the new websites. They seem pretty interesting.

    This is the first time I have heard of the concept of Hindsight Bias, but it’s not all that unbelievable at all. I have the utmost respect for the power of the human mind. I think this sort of thing is small beer compared to some of the self-convincing our minds can unknowingly do to us.

  4. Hm… sounds like empirical/anecdotal evidence to the old saying, “ignorance is bliss”

  5. Bin Wang

    What happens when the CAFC over-compensates against hindsight bias? Patents for everybody! Right Stan? :-)