Orac / David Gorski has a post about Conflicts of Interest and motivated reasoning.
He points out that COIs (it really should be CsOI, but I’ll go with COIs for simplicity) are not just financial, they’re also ideological and personal (and there are doubtless other kinds he didn’t enumerate).
That’s why I’ve become very insistent that we, as skeptics, scientists, and physicians, need to be totally up front about our conflicts of interest, be they financial, ideological, or personal. One reason, of course, is that those who—shall we say?—don’t share our dedication to rationality, science, and critical thinking will be very quick to point them out if we don’t do so first, but that’s not the most important reason. The most important reason is to be better skeptics. We need to honestly admit and recognize anything that might compromise our objectivity or lead us to conclusions that are not the ones best supported by science and the evidence. Once we know our own skeptical weaknesses in the form of COIs, we can work on trying to mitigate them. In many ways, financial COIs are the easiest to deal with, because they’re far more straightforward. When one has a personal experience that informs one’s views on a topic or has a strong ideological commitment to a point of view, it’s often hard to tell where skepticism devolves into motivated reasoning.
True. Good point. I try to do that to some extent, but probably not enough. One reason for the not enough is just that it would get tediously repetitive except for first-time readers…but other reasons are perhaps also in play. Why don’t I just take this opportunity to spell out some of my Interests.
One is feminism. Duh. That’s obvious, and it’s obvious that lots of people think feminism is not so much an Interest as a Guaranteed Warper of Rational Thought.
It could be, under certain conditions. There are things I would not like to see Firmly Established By Science, such as the permanent inherent global inferiority of the female brain…or, for that matter, the [insert any adjective here] brain. But personally, self-interestedly, Conflict of Interestedly, I would not like to see that in the case of the female brain. I would be threatened by that.
So that’s one.
Others are liberalism (in the sense of a rights-orientation), universalism, secularism, atheism.
But Gorski also includes personal. Right. There are some of those. There are people whose participation can turn me right off a discussion, people who have a long and rich history of calling me (and, often, friends of mine) nasty names. There are a lot of them. I can’t have any kind of calm, reasoned discussion with them. It just isn’t possible. That’s a COI.
Fortunately most of them are just pseudonymous people on Twitter and in blog comments. Fortunately most of them are not likely to cross paths with me except on Twitter or in blog comments. But there are a few, and that’s a COI.