Turing Test as Trojan Horse

Bryan Caplan, I think, coined the “Ideological Turing Test”, which is a neat idea. Tyler Cowen likes it, too.

Put me and five random liberal social science Ph.D.s in a chat room.  Let liberal readers ask questions for an hour, then vote on who isn’t really a liberal.  Then put Krugman and five random libertarian social science Ph.D.s in a chat room.  Let libertarian readers ask questions for an hour, then vote on who isn’t really a libertarian.  Simple as that.

My challenge: Nail down the logistics, and I’ll happily bet money that I fool more voters than Krugman.  Indeed, I’ll happily bet that any libertarian with a Ph.D. from a top-10 social science program can fool more voters than Krugman.  We learn his worldview as part of the curriculum.  He learns ours in his spare time – if he chooses to spare it.

We learn from Psyblog, though, that:

Janis and King (1954) tested this by having some participants give a talk while two others listened. Then they swapped around and one of the passive listeners gave a talk to the other two on a different topic.

What emerged was that, on average, people were more convinced by the talk when they gave it themselves than when they merely heard it passively. This suggests that we really are persuaded more strongly when we make the argument ourselves, even if it isn’t in line with our own viewpoint.

There’s a powerful signalling story to all this, of course. He who more convincingly passes the ITT can say he withstood the powers of self-persuasion. He is RIGHT.

And ideologues everywhere are scrambling to seize the ITT high ground. Caplan’s inspiration is Paul Krugman, who once said this:

[I]f you ask a liberal or a saltwater economist, “What would somebody on the other side of this divide say here? What would their version of it be?” A liberal can do that. A liberal can talk coherently about what the conservative view is because people like me actually do listen. We don’t think it’s right, but we pay enough attention to see what the other person is trying to get at. The reverse is not true.

Eric Barker disagrees:

Who was best able to pretend to be the other?

The results were clear and consistent. Moderates and conservatives were most accurate in their predictions, whether they were pretending to be liberals or conservatives. Liberals were the least accurate, especially those who described themselves as “very liberal.”

The bottom line? The stakes are too high for anyone to actually undergo a real ITT.

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