In addition to my most absurd belief, I have a host of other beliefs that might be characterized as absurd.
- Nature vs. Nurture. I come down pretty hard on the side of nurture. As far as I can tell from research summaries I’ve read, not to mention my own experience, nature mostly matters when all other things are approximately equal. Most importantly, that includes the prevailing culture, education level, and resources of someone’s family/guardians. But I think the culture, education level, and resources of someone’s family are stronger predictors of performance than anything genetic. Not to mention there don’t seem to be mechanisms for how exactly the genetics affects things, only fancy statistical tests. This makes me suspicious.
- Value of Education? Even though I consider Robin Hanson, at Overcoming Bias, and many economists, more than a little crazy and taken with their theories, I think they have a bit of a point about modern university education. A common argument for the value of higher education is that even if the students don’t use skills they were taught in college, they do use critical thinking abilities they learned. I like this idea, and hope it is true. However, it’s very untestable. An alternative idea, pushed by economists, is essentially that higher education is used as a signaling device to advertise you have a particular middle-class culture, work ethic, desire for wealth, and basic level of skills. In other words, it’s just a sorting device for employers to use, and it’s left up in the air whether what you were taught matters at all. That alternative argument is also hard to test, but it appeals to my cynical side a great deal.
- Much Academic Research is Overvalued. I have a belief, somewhat patently absurd, that most academic research is of very little value. While many people might feel comfortable saying that about philosophy, humanities, or social science research, I’m anomalous in extending it to physical and biological science fields as well. It’s true that we’re making all sorts of new discoveries and publishing all sorts of new findings, but it’s unclear what difference academic research is making, despite the onward march of new products and technologies. This isn’t a belief I can defend in any way, and it’s easy to knock down in many specific circumstances. But I often feel it’s true nonetheless.