Trust Matters

Who do you trust?

Bo Diddley wrote and recorded, “Who do you love?”  in 1956.  It is an enduring piece of music and the lyrics show love is complex. Trust should not be so.

In the past year or so we have discovered that as many as half of articles in scientific journals claim discoveries that cannot be replicated. Replication of result, given the inputs, is the hallmark of scientific processes.

We have also learned that peer review means nearly nothing. I am not a scientist, but I assume that without the raw data, I could make little valid assessment of anything. Statistical inference is a wobbly path. 

Even if I read the article and you can’t count on that. Many peer reviewed articles are reviewed in name only.

Absent trust is costly

Learning is hard enough. If the data or information available cannot be relied upon,  my life gets harder. I have costly choices:

  1. Validate the information before using it
  2. Use it as is and recognize I may need to reverse later and do something else.
  3. Use my intuition to decide if it is accurate
  4. Do nothing.

One and two are both costly in terms of time and money.

Three includes the risk in 2) when I guess wrong and is like 4) when I say no. Doing nothing includes the risk and therefore cost, of missing something that is true and useful.

Who should you trust?

In our world trusting is risky. There are many people who can benefit from a good narrative that is not factually sound. Watch investment people on TV take a tiny detail and make it crucial.  It is better if the tiny detail is simple and exciting. If it leads to an easily implemented answer they win. They can control or have people continue to be viewers in expectation of more pearls of wisdom.

Financial TV, and news TV, and commentary TV, and nearly everything on the internet should be viewed as entertainment rather than fact. Follow the lawyer and policemen idea to process information. “Qui Bono?” To whom the good? Who benefits?

If you know who benefits, assessment is easier.

A big audience provides both income and power.

There is another step. Who is at risk? I don’t know the Latin phrase for that.

  1. If it is the customer and the vendor has no risk, then the customer should be more careful.
  2. If it is a simple answer to a complicated problem, the customer should be careful.
  3. If the problem cannot be connected to the customer’s situation, the customer should ignore the solution.
  4. If the solution is is presented without choices of method, be skeptical. 
  5. If the description of the problem relies on opinion rather than provable facts, be very cautious.
  6. If there is no recourse when the vendor breaches their promises, do not proceed.
  7. If it looks too good to be true, it either is too good to be true, or you have not understood the details.

Trust is efficient.

Culture, community and ease of living require trust. Trust must be earned. It is not easy to provide trustworthy information. Our world becomes both more complex and harder to bear when the information we must rely on is not itself reliable.

The defense

  1. Ignore people who are good entertainers but irresponsible in what they claim to be true. Do not become a follower or viewer. They will confuse you and enjoy the benefit of an audience.
  2. Ignore people who present opinion as fact. A show of hands is not evidence. That 92% of the investment experts think the market is overvalued is not evidence. Demand the raw data and how they assessed it before accepting the opinion
  3. Find and pay attention to the common argument flaws. Wikipedia has a lengthy list. (more than 100) It is amusing to listen to politicians and commentators after you understand the list. There should be a game where people listen to a presentation and whoever can identify the greatest number of fallacies wins that round.

It’s on you

Ultimately the only sound defense is personal skill. If you recognize false arguments and are curious about new things, you have a chance. If you accept information without filters you will be easily lead astray. Not every time, but often enough that it matters.

Healthy skepticism is the minimum standard of attention. Failure to invoke skepticism will eventually lead to cynicism, where you trust nothing and no one. That doesn’t work either.

Consider Lily Tomlin’s thought.

“No matter how cynical you become, you can’t keep up.”

You don’t want to be there.

Don Shaughnessy arranges life insurance for people who understand the value of a life insured estate. He can be reached at The Protectors Group, a large insurance, employee benefits, and investment agency in Peterborough, Ontario.  In previous careers, he has been a partner in a large international public accounting firm, CEO of a software start-up, a partner in an energy management system importer, and briefly in the restaurant business.

Please be in touch if I can help you.  866-285-7772

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