Motivated Reasoning: is it undermining your business?
The New America Foundation’s recent challenges with alleged research conflicts of interest should motivate all think tanks and research organizations to take a hard look at themselves.
Businesses are at high risk of this problem, too. Confirmation bias results in leaders over-emphasizing the importance of information that aligns with their pre-existing beliefs while discounting disconfirming evidence.
How well does your organization “see itself” and understand the potential perverse incentives for “motivated reasoning”?
How often does your organization have an independent assessment of your levels of risk for this problem?
Intellectual courage among think tank leaders is growing in importance as corporate donors and foreign governments increasingly provide funding for research. Think tanks have become reliant on such funding for survival.
This, in turn, can create incentives for “motivated reasoning” — conclusions designed to advance donor interests. These expectations are more often implicit than explicit.
Think tanks can be very opaque about their funding, so it is difficult to tell how closely their reports align with donor interests.
An independent audit is a great way to understand the potential scale of this problem and to take steps to address it.
Failure to “see themselves” places even the best organizations at high risk of a blindside or major credibility melt-down.