Should we trust or distrust the dogmatic?

Paul, a loyal MR reader, writes to me and queries:

…would or should knowing that someone is deeply religious affect your assessment of the reliability of their economic judgments? I used to think not, but in the last couple of years have been gradually changing my mind. The financial crisis has brought out how many serious macro and micro misjudgments were due in part to the unwillingness of economists to re-examine cherished foundational beliefs. I now view with even greater suspicion than before any adherence to the idea that faith provides a justification for ignoring logic and evidence. But the paradox is that I have no actual evidence that religious economists were more likely than secular ones to cling to foundational economic hypotheses in the face of considerations that should have led them to change their minds. It is even imaginable that they were less likely to do so, since secular economists might have exercised similar failures of reasoning about non-theological issues. That is, antipathy to metaphysical reason might be a substitute for antipathy to economic reason, instead of being a complement as I have been presuming. Can anyone provide anecdotal or statistical evidence on this?

I don't know of any systematic evidence, but often I favor portfolio models of dogmatism (by the way, don't argue in the comments about whether religion is necessarily dogmatism; that's not the relevant point here and I'll delete discussion of that.  If you wish just treat this as a discussion of dogmatism).

That is, most people have an internal psychological need to fulfill a "quota of dogmatism."  If you're very dogmatic in one area, you may be less dogmatic in others.  I've also met people — I won't name names — who are extremely dogmatic on ethical issues but quite open-minded on empirics.  The ethical dogmatism frees them up to follow the evidence on the empirics, as they don't feel their overall beliefs are threatened by the empirical results.

Some people, if they feel they must always follow the evidence, respond by skewing their interpretation of that evidence.

There's a lesson here.  If you wish to be a more open-minded thinker, adhere to some extreme and perhaps unreasonable fandoms, the more firmly believed the better and the more obscure the area the better.  This will help fulfill your dogmatism quota, yet without much skewing your more important beliefs.

An alternative view is that people become addicted to dogmatism and the dogmatic habits spread to many more realms of their thought.  I believe this alternative model is true above some margin of dogmatism and also if the dogmatism infects the "wrong areas of thought."

I would like to know more about what the dogmatism portfolio looks like and what are the relevant coefficients of substitution and complementarity.

I believe in portfolio models of dogmatism very very strongly. 


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