Author Archives: Hal Finney

Surprisingly Friendly Suburbs

I’ve seen several news reports recently on a study by Jan K. Brueckner of UC Irvine finding some surprising results on neighborly friendliness as a function of population density. There’s a popular impression that people living in cities have good relationships with their neighbors, while those in suburbs live more isolated lives and have few neighborhood connections. In fact this is often argued as a reason why planners should encourage greater density communities and avoid suburban sprawl.

Brueckner examined this relationship using data from the Social Capital Benchmark Survey, which includes measures of neighborhood contact and friendships. Surprisingly, he found that the relationship went in the inverse direction from what had long been assumed. Suburbanites were more likely to have friendships and good relationships with their neighbors than city dwellers. This factor should therefore argue in favor of suburban sprawl and against concentrated development (of course other considerations are relevant as well).

While not a bias per se, assumptions which are widely held but which turn out to be wrong are an important source of error. We should be alert for news which gives us reason to reverse our opinions on factual matters.

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Foxes vs Hedgehogs: Predictive Success

I want to follow up on my earlier post on Philip E. Tetlock’s book, Expert Political Judgment, and in particular his discovery of differential predictive accuracy between individuals with the cognitive styles corresponding to "Foxes" vs "Hedgehogs".  As several commenters guessed, his study found that Foxes (who have a flexible, adaptive, tentative cognitive style) significantly outperformed Hedgehogs (who are said to "know one thing and know it well" and to focus on a single, coherent theoretical framework in their analyses and predictions).

I first want to emphasize that this is a wide-ranging book with a variety of points of view and directions of analysis.  I hope my focus on one aspect in these blog postings doesn’t give readers too narrow a view of Tetlock’s work.  Here is an excellent review of the book from The New Yorker that goes into more detail on the range of material covered.

However, from the point of view of predictive accuracy and bias, Tetlock does organize much of his presentation around the Fox/Hedgehog distinction.  This is not because of some prejudice that this aspect of cognitive style is of supreme importance, but rather that it came out of the data.  More on this below the fold.

Continue reading "Foxes vs Hedgehogs: Predictive Success" »

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Quiz: Fox or Hedgehog?

I read a great book a few months ago that provides insight into the nature of bias and error.  It is Expert Political Judgement, by Philip E. Tetlock. One of Tetlock’s discoveries is that there is a significant correlation between expert prediction accuracy and a cognitive style measure introduced by Isaiah Berlin called "fox" vs "hedgehog". Below the fold I go into more detail on this distinction and present a quiz you can take to determine whether you are Fox or Hedgehog.

Continue reading "Quiz: Fox or Hedgehog?" »

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