Tuesday, November 27, 2007

Incentive-caused Bias in the Medical Profession

Mr. Charlie Munger would surely have enjoyed reading this superb article in New York Times Magazine published on 25 November.

The piece titled, "Dr. Drug Rep", is a moral story of Dr. Daniel Carlat, a medical man, who learnt how to deal with one of Mr. Munger's favorite mental models: Incentive-Caused Bias which Mr. Munger likes to describe as "whose bread I eat, his song I sing."

Every professional should read Dr. Carlat's story. It has powerful lessons for professions outside of medicine...

Mr. Munger likes to talk about incentive-caused bias as a very powerful psychological tendency, which makes, "a decent man, driven both consciously and subconsciously, by incentives, drift into immoral behavior in order to get what he wants."

Its fascinating to me to see what happens once incentive-cause bias sets in.

After his immoral behavior has started, the victim would come under the influence of several more psychological tendencies. For example, Operant Conditioning (It feels good, so I want more), Social Proof (everyone is doing it, so it must be OK), bias from Commitment and Consistency principle (I have to be consistent with my earlier, taken stand), and Low contrast effect (If I said yes to x, then saying yes to 1.01 x is no big deal) would combine together to produce rationalized immoral behavior. ("Man is not a rational animal, but a rationalizing one.")

It takes a lot of courage for a professional to speak out against the incentive caused bias spreading like cancer in his profession, which is exactly why such stories deserve to be recommended for reading...

For example, the accounting profession could do with more Dr. Carlats...

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