Overcoming Bias: My Favorite Liar

One of the blog that I’ve really come to enjoy is Overcoming Bias housed at the Future of Humanity Institute at Oxford. It’s a great source of information on cognitive bias and on the predictable ways our brains fool us into making bad decisions.

This post focuses on a little technique that can be used to help develop students develop the habit of questioning authority–even authority of the teacher. An economics professor announced the first day of class that he would incorporate one lie into each of his lectures.

Between today until the class right before finals, it is my intention to work into each of my lectures … one lie. Your job, as students, among other things, is to try and catch me in the Lie of the Day.”

The lie of the day began with an obvious untruth and became more subtle as the quarter moved on. When no one caught the lie by the end of the class the instructor would send them off with a challenge: Ah ha! Each of you has one falsehood in your lecture notes. Discuss amongst yourselves what it might be, and I will tell you next Monday. That is all.”

This makes for a great story, but I wonder how it would fly in today’s classroom. Our students seem so serious; trying a trick like this could really hurt the old evals.