The Honesty Box

The British Medical Journal once proposed something called an “Honesty Box” – a place where contributors were supposed to mention oddities in the data, problems that may have shown up in the research. It seems like common sense, especially in light of documented bias like this or this, but it never caught on.

The Wall Street Journal has the balls to called the section where they admit that their mistakes “Corrections and Amplifications.” That doesn’t sound like humility to me.

In The Wisdom of Whores, Pisani gives an entire chapter to the notion of an Honesty Box. She tells us everything that’s wrong or missing or vague about the data behind AIDS. And all of a sudden, she seems above the din of rhetoric and activism.

We could use more honesty boxes.

JP Rangaswami (who has a fantastic site) said it well:

“What I hadn’t appreciated was that, for some classes of information, I would go to Wikipedia in preference to other places because of the willingness of Wikipedia to point out its own provisionality.”

Wikipedia relishes in Honesty Boxes – users are encouraged to challenge the validity of an article on dozens of fronts even if they wrote it themselves. Because Wikipedia enjoys pointing out its own flaws it’s considerably easier to trust than sources that go around pointing out their reputation for quality.

I’ve tried to do this a little more with my site, adding footnotes and links to the books where I got the idea. But I think I want to get more in the business of discussing the flaws in my thinking or the bias I might be holding. One of the best parts of the 48 Laws of Power is at the end of each chapter where Robert admits that it’s not as much of a Law as he made it out to be. There is almost always a reversal.

So for my box:

– Someone rightly pointed that a lot of the stuff I talk about is limited to less scientific fields – it’s harder to leverage new media to make you a better doctor. The internet is not the answer to everything.

– I tend to fall head over heels in love with an idea and then slowly ratchet myself down as I weigh it against subsequent things I’ve learned. It’s better to catch me at that end of the cycle than the beginning.

– I’ve gotten incredibly lucky 3 or 4 times with the people I’ve met. Had I been older, I probably wouldn’t have been granted the same access.

– My Alexa rank is disproportionate to the amount of traffic I actually receive. I get to see a lot of the hard data for other sites and mine is definitely a favorable rank.

– My inability to calmly deal with some of the stupid comments I often get on this site is a sign of a pretty obvious insecurity.

So, if you had to put together an honesty box that went along with the way you presented yourself, what would be in it? It’s mostly rhetorical but think about, what are you not telling people that might their perception if they knew? And are you buying into your own deception?

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