Information Bias – Or Why More Is Not Necessarily Better – is a cognitive bias which leads us to believe that more information is better.
Sometimes we collect information which is ultimately irrelevant – or even harmful – to the decision we are trying to make, but we feel more confident in making the decision because of the extra and irrelevant informations. In mathematics, “necessary and sufficient” is a term used to describe the optimal amount of information that is needed to have in order to do something. Before embarking on any task it is important to gather the information that is necessary and sufficient to complete the task. This is the optimal amount of information needed. Once you have gathered information which is necessary and sufficient, more information will not help you accomplish the task better and might even hinder the successful completion of the task by confusing matters. People will often feel a false sense of prowess when armed with more information even when that information is largely irrelevant to the decision at hand. It is for this reason that sometimes traders will use many more indicators and studies on charts than is necessary. They will look to complex models, algorithms, and proprietary trading packages. But more information does not equal better and neither does complexity increase one’s chances of success in the markets. It is worth remembering the principle known as Occam’s Razor which in it’s simplest form alludes to the idea that simplicity usually is the best way to arrive at the truth of something.
The same happens in medical literature. We at least 10 publications every minute on medical journals. A doctor would risk to drown in this ocean of informations.
In the era of Big Data, the following little anecdotal story – written by Louis Borge and titled “On Exactitude of Science” (Del Rigor de la Ciencia) – makes the point.
“…In that Empire, the Art of Cartography attained such Perfection that the map of a single Province occupied the entirety of a City, and the map of the Empire, the entirety of a Province. In time, those Unreasonable Maps no longer satisfied, and the Cartographers Guilds struck a Map of the Empire whose size was that of the Empire, and which coincided point for point with it. The following Generations, who were not so fond of the Study of Cartography as their Forebears had been, saw that that vast Map was Useless, and not without some Pitilessness was it, that they delivered it up to the Inclemencies of Sun and Winters. In the Deserts of the West, still today, there are Tattered Ruins of that Map, inhabited by Animals and Beggars; in all the Land there is no other Relic of the Disciplines of Geography”
In this country, told by Borge, the science of cartography is so sophisticated that the inhabitants produce only the most detailed of maps: a map which scale of 1:1, as large of country itself. Its citizens soon realize that such a map, theoretically better than the classic map 1:100, does not provide practical any insight, since it merely duplicates what they already know. Borges’s map is an extreme case of the information bias, the delusion that more information guarantees better decision.
But what if the map is paradoxically 10:1…..100:1….or even 1000:1….or ad 10000000:1 as in the case of medical literature? Having a map in scale 1:1 of a territory – yet it may appear to be the best solution – is useless and even harmful. We are in the era of paradoxical maps 10:1, 100:1, maps the are unreasonably vaster than the territories. Often in medicine we build titanic map of some regions of the patient, over-testing him using the last diagnostic technologies and acquiring teratological data, that are often just a trampoline for a new series of tests of other territories. We are in the era where the most frequent disease is the Diagnosis.
Some years ago Maestro Lane Ochi, a prosthodontist from California, suggested me to read a book “The Paradox of Choice…Why more is less”. I have got his message.
- On Exactitude in Science. Jorge Luis Borges, Collected Fictions, translated by Andrew Hurley
- Rold Dobelli “The Art of Thinking Clearly”