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mercredi 6 août 2014


When I began working with the Indians, it looked like they were intent on educating this “tribal” boy into the ways of Indians. I clearly remember an elder telling me: whoever is sitting in front of you, treat them with respect. Just because he is wearing simple clothes and speaks humbly don't under estimate him. Two things he stressed that I must try to do. RESPECT all Indians regardless of their age and show no JUDGEMENT.

That man waiting to see you, wearing a torn tee shirt and ancient jeans is the leader of the Eagle Clan of this tribe, He has knowledge far superior to that of yours and certainly far deeper than yours, so don't dismiss him,thinking  he is just another old indian. I took this advice to heart and to this day, I try not to judge Indians under my care.
In a study published some years ago, most family practitioners have already made up their minds before even they see a patient they are familiar with.
Oh, no, it is not Mrs J again, she must have Migraines! And then the doctors construct the conversation around that conception and treatment would end up being inappropriate! in many cases. This incongruity was recently seen in an Indian patient of ours who was suspected of having Renal Problems, but the PA (physicians assistant) who saw him thought he had come to see him about an elevated blood test and he dismissed it not being serious. So the patient is still left with the problem, may be the PA felt he has done a fantastic diagnostic job!
Why do we make judgements? Why do we tend to believe in our intuitions? Are the intuitions true or are they convenient?
While the fighting between Israel and Hamas was going on, news reports avoided other tragedies that were taking place in the region, some of greater magnitude if not equal
50 000 Yazidi Kurds were driven into the hills with no food and water and many children died of starvation 
Hundreds of Shia civilians were made to dig their own graves and shot by the Islamists.
A drone hit a prison used as a headquarters for the Sunni Jihadists and killed 60 militants and allowed 300 prisoners to escape.
At least 300 people were killed in Syria in one day, the fighting has now broken into Lebanese territory where the Shia villagers are being massacred.
The media makes it easy for people to remember and reinforce what they want to believe . If you are supporter of Hamas then you would be far less interested in hearing about the atrocities being committed in the name of Islam by muslims on each other but would readily see the scenes broadcasted of the gruesome tales of Gaza. What anti semitic people consider as aggressive may not be seen as being equal to the barbarity of the Muslims by Kurds forced to flee to the mountains.
So,  easy memory recall facilitated by media or propaganda makes it easier for us pass judgement.
I have noticed that in authoritarian countries I have visited or lived in, the newspapers report all the atrocities around the world and write glowingly about their own countries. You don't have to be authoritarian but would like to influence the people, as is the case in Malaysia, where reading the newspaper you would get the idea that the country is inhabited only by Muslim Malays.

I highly recommend a book called Thinkig Fast and Slow by Daniel Kahneman. He is an Israeli, currently a Professor at a Prestigious north American university and a recipient of Nobel Prize in Economics. He and his colleague at the Hebrew University of Jerusalem, Amos Tversky in the 1970s formulated the rule of thumb thinking (heuristic thinking) and biases. A seminal article was published in the Science magazine in 1974 under the title
Judgement under Uncertainty: Heuristics and Biases
It is available as an appendix in the book.
The following ideas  are taken from the introduction in the book.
We always make judgements about three and four year olds and predict that they may become lawyers because they are argumentative, professors or engineers because they are nerdy, or psychotherapists because they are sympathetic. Of course these predictions are absurd.
It is also clear that our intuitions were based on the resemblance of each child to the cultural stereotypes of a profession.
The next example is taken verbatim, about Steve selected from a representative sample
An individual has been described by a neighbour as follows: “Steve  is very shy and withdrawn, invariably helpful but with little interest in people or in the world of reality. A meek and mildly soul, he has a need for order an structure, and a passion for detail.”
The Question to the reader is:
Is Steve more likely to be a librarian or a farmer?
The personality resemblance to a stereotypic librarian is striking in the above description, and the statistics are ignored. There are 20 male farmers for each male librarian in the United States. So the chances of finding a meek and mildly soul in a tractor is greater than finding him at the reception in a library.
This is the Heuristic (roughly, a rule of thumb) way of thinking to make a difficult judgement.

Answer this question.
Is the letter K more likely to appear as the first letter in a word OR as the third letter?
While most people intuitively would say the letter K appears more often as a first letter, the reality is K along with L N R and V  occur more frequently in the third position .
If the question has been about letter Q you might have hesitated but K? most people would use the rule of thumb and say K occurs most commonly as the first letter and this causes a bias in judgement.

Is adultery more common among Politicians or Doctors or Lawyers? You might be tempted to say it happens more often among Politicians especially Republicans or Tea party members in the USA but Physicians whose affairs are not reported in the press beat them to it.
I will let you read the book for other interesting theories and examples.

So I thank my teachers American Indians especially the Meskwakia for putting me on the right path. To this day I try not to judge people by their appearance.

Two of my close friends I met very casually on airplanes where there are less chances of making a judgement! once on a flight to Siem Reap and another time on a flight to Los Angeles!

I personally had experienced a example of heuristic judgement  of this sort in academic circles. I used to sport long hair tied in a pony tail with ornaments from indigenous tribes and with bracelets making noises and would (still do) wear colourful clothes given to me by the tribes as gifts.
I was at a conference in Honolulu, dressed as above, giving a lecture on the Social aspects of Chronic Diseases, I noticed that no one was paying any attention. A year later, I cut my hair (for personal reasons) and gone were the ornaments. I gave a very similar lecture at a conference in Lincoln, Nebraska about Society and Illness and it was well received! I am the same person, I was talking about similar subjects but my appearance got me respect in the second conference.

Here is another example of our bias and how that influences our judgement, taken verbatim from a review of the book in NEW YORK TIMES by Jim Holt
, consider what Kahneman calls the “best-known and most controversial” of the experiments he and Tversky did together: “the Linda problem.” Participants in the experiment were told about an imaginary young woman named Linda, who is single, outspoken and very bright, and who, as a student, was deeply concerned with issues of discrimination and social justice. The participants were then asked which was more probable: (1) Linda is a bank teller. Or (2) Linda is a bank teller and is active in the feminist movement. The overwhelming response was that (2) was more probable; in other words, that given the background information furnished, “feminist bank teller” was more likely than “bank teller.” This is, of course, a blatant violation of the laws of probability. (Every feminist bank teller is a bank teller; adding a detail can only lower the probability.) Yet even among students in Stanford’s Graduate School of Business, who had extensive training in probability, 85 percent flunked the Linda problem. One student, informed that she had committed an elementary logical blunder, responded, “I thought you just asked for my opinion.”
The last sentence by the student tells us no one likes to be told that their intuition is not in tune with reality. My humble friend from Bogor, dressed simply in clothes bought in Cambodia (not branded ones from Milan or Paris) often is mistaken by the Flight Attendants as an intruder into the Business Class, this happens often, last time it happened was on a Garuda Indonesia flight from Jakarta to Amsterdam!
So, the warning is,
if you act on your intuition, you would most probably will be wrong!