Claire Black: When I said science I was using that term loosely

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IT WAS with a pang of something a little unexpected that I read about research revealing that being loud and opinionated is more persuasive than actually being right.

I should have been appalled, shouldn’t I? How superficial, I might have fumed. How gullible. But, no – instead, I had the uneasy feeling of recognition.

The suggestion was this: we are much less interested in accuracy than attitude. We are much more susceptible to someone being confident rather than correct. This means, shout loudly enough and you’ll probably be taken seriously even if what you’re saying is absolute tripe.

Concentrate now, here’s the science: two graduates from Washington State University used Twitter to analyse how the reputations of pundits fared when they compared their confidence and accuracy at predicting sporting events. Analysing tweets in which both pundits and fans offered their predictions about the outcomes of American football and baseball matches, they discovered that even although there was hardly any difference in accuracy (the pundits were correct 47 per cent of the time, the fans 45 per cent of the time) in terms of confidence (assessed by their use of words such as “destroy” and “annihilate”), the pundits massively outstripped the fans and so accrued many more followers.

Obviously, when I said science I was using that term fairly loosely. It’s just that I said it so confidently you believed me. But here’s the thing, I can offer my own corroborative evidence. I am blessed, or cursed, depending on the context, with the ability to sound confident even when I know very little of which I speak. Partly it is that my brain contains a frightening amount of random, often entirely useless, information. But it’s also that I sound like I know what I’m talking about so even if I’m saying very little

it sounds like a lot. As a lecturer, when I had to stand in front of 50 postgraduate students up to their ears in student loans and full of the expectations of learning, I depended upon it. But when I’m on a hill walk and I offer my suggestion as to the direction, without really having a clue, and then everyone heads that way only to find invariably I was wrong, it’s not so great. But at least now I know why it happens. People don’t like uncertainty so they are drawn to those who seem assured. Fine. Just don’t blame me when we all end up lost.

IN THE world of tweets and tumblrs, blogs and e-petitions, it comes as a bit of a shock to see an entire community campaign casually disregarded. Splashback, the campaign to reopen Leith Waterworld, was hopeful of

a positive outcome when Edinburgh City Council, although rejecting the group’s bid for the centre, did agree to work with them to improve it. But last week, it was revealed that instead of allowing the time agreed (until December), the council has accepted a million quid from a property developer for the site and Splashback’s hopes have been dashed. Whether savvy or silly, it doesn’t send a great message about community engagement.

I MAY not be an expert on football, but I like to dip my toe into the choppy waters of the sports sections now and then. What a treat to read the comments of Carles Vilarrubi, the vice-president of Barcelona FC who effectively flipped the bird at Jose Mourinho upon the latter’s departure from the club. No statesman-like discretion from Vilarrubi on hearing that the chosen one is to return to Chelsea: “There is something wrong in his mind. I am not interested in him and am glad he’s gone. Goodbye.” In the spirit of telling it like it is, I say well done, sir.

Twitter: @Scottiesays

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