Tag Archives: felix-salmon

On Being Wrong: Estimating Our Beliefs

Following the forced retirement of Helen Thomas following her controversial comments on Israel and Palestine, Felix Salmon discusses how being wrong–and more importantly, the willingness to be wrong–is an admirable trait that should be applauded.

In discussing this, Salmon points to a conversation between Tyler Cowen and Wil Wilkinson, where Cowen proposes:

Take whatever your political beliefs happen to be. Obviously the view you hold you think is most likely to be true, but I think you should give that something like 60-40, whereas in reality most people will give it 95 to 5 or 99 to 1 in terms of probability that it is correct. Or if you ask people what is the chance this view of yours is wrong, very few people are willing to assign it any number at all. Or if you ask people who believe in God or are atheists, what’s the chance you’re wrong – I’ve asked atheists what’s the chance you’re wrong and they’ll say something like a trillion to one, and that to me is absurd, that even if you think all of the strongest arguments for atheism are correct, your estimate that atheism is in fact the correct point of view shouldn’t be that high, maybe you know 90-10 or 95 to 5, at most.

Salmon continues:

I try hard to believe […] that many if not most of my opinions are wrong (although of course I have no idea which they are), and that many of the most interesting and useful things I write come out of my being wrong rather than being right. This is not, as Wilkinson noted to Cowen, an easy intellectual stance to hold: he calls it “a weird violation of the actual computational constraints of the human mind”.

via The Browser

More Psychology of Wine

Most psychology studies focusing on my good friend, wine, rely on applying the scientific method to the tasting of different wines, and this is done in one, relatively simple way: blind tasting.

Finance blogger at Reuters, Felix Salmon, isn’t a fan of blind tasting, and after reading his eminently-quotable piece on the subject I tend to agree. The problem, according to Salmon? We know that wine has a lot to do with context and, in tasting wine, objectivity is overvalued.

This from Bob Millman:

It should be obvious to any thinking person that blind tastings necessarily favor–on a group vote basis–wines which offer immediate pleasure and gratification. Left to their undirected devices, the senses will almost always gravitate to the obvious and miss the subtle

and this from Salmon:

If you know exactly what it is that you’re tasting — a young first-growth wine, for example — then you can taste it in that light. Similarly, if you know that you’re looking at an Ad Reinhardt painting, you’ll be willing to spend a few minutes with it so that you can appreciate its subtleties. If you didn’t know it was a Reinhardt, then you’d probably just read it as a black monochrome and move on.

In that article it is noted that professional wine taster Robert Parker does not taste wine blind because of these issues, and in a later article Salmon discusses how at one event, when Parker was persuaded to taste blind a selection of wines he had previously rated, he scored a once-reviled Bordeaux as his favourite of the evening. The following quote from the piece looks at the futility of (inherently subjective) wine ratings:

Wine is not a fungible commodity, where one bottle is always the same as the next — quite the opposite. But the fact that wine changes, from bottle to bottle and from month to month, rather defeats the purpose of [rankings and] magazines such as Wine Spectator.

The Frontal Cortex continues by saying that “our sensations require interpretation” and that “we parse their suggestions based upon whatever other knowledge we can summon to the surface”.

This point was brought home when, in 2004, Gourmet looked at the growing craze of Riedel wine glasses noting that what receptacle is used to drink wine from really does have a massive influence on how we perceive its taste and smell. This is mainly because,

Riedel and other high-end glasses can make wine taste better. Because they’re pretty. Because they’re delicate. Because they’re expensive. Because you expect them to make the wine taste better.

Researchers are now starting to look at this directly by running experiments on how the haptic qualities (feel) of a drinking vessel affects our perception of its contents.

Those who like to touch [high autotelics] are least influenced by touch in taste evaluations. Indeed, in a taste test of the same mineral water from both a flimsy and a firm cup, it was low autotelics [those who don’t like to touch] who gave the most negative evaluations of the taste of the water in the flimsy cup.

The results were similar when participants were just told about the containers in a written description and did not actually feel them: Low autotelics expressed a willingness to pay more for a firm bottle of water, while high autotelics did not.

So keep all this in mind if you’re a red wine fan when you next order fish: it’s now been shown that low-iron red wines are a perfect complement to some types of fish, so don’t let your pesky subconscious get to the wine first.

As Lawrence Rosenblum of Sensory Superpowers says, “you drink what you think”.