An instance of one-sideness bias

Let us consider the following (in deductive form) instance of the one-sidedness bias, mentioned by Philippe Boulanger (2000, p. 3)1. Ulam estimates that if a company were to achieve a level of workforce large enough, its performance would be paralysed by the many internal conflicts that would result. Ulam estimates that the number of conflicts between people would increase according to the square of the number n of employees, while the impact on the work that would result would only grow as a function of n. Thus, according to this argument, it is not desirable that the number of employees within a company becomes important. However, it turns out that Ulam’s reasoning is fallacious, as Boulanger points it out, for it focuses exclusively on the conflictual relations between employees. But the n2 relationships among the company employees can well be confrontational, but may include as well collaborative relationships that are quite beneficial for the company. And so there is no reason to favour conflictual relationships with respect to collaborative ones. And when among n2 relationships established between the company employees, some are genuine collaborative relationships, the effect is, instead, of improving business performance. Therefore, we can not legitimately conclude that it is not desirable that the workforce of a company reaches a large size.

Ulam’s reasoning can be described as follows:

Fig3

(1Ā ) if <a company has a large workforce>
(2Ā ) then <n2 conflictual relationships will result>
(3Ā ) then negative effects will result
(4Ā ) ∴ the fact that <a company has a large workforce> is bad

This type of reasoning has the structure of a one-sidedness bias, since it focuses only on conflicting relationships (the dissociation pole of the association/dissociation duality), by ignoring a parallel argument with the same structure that could legitimately be raised, focusing on collaborative relationships (the association pole), which is the other aspect relevant to this particular topic. This parallel argument goes as follows:

fig-inv-250

(1A) if <a company has a large workforce>
(2A) then <n2 collaborative relationships will result>
(3A) then positive effects will result
(4A) ∴ the fact that <a company has a large workforce> is good

This finally casts light on how the two formulations of the argument lead to conflicting conclusions, i.e. (4Ā) and (4A). At this point, it is worth noting the very structure of the conclusion of the above reasoning:

(5Ā ) the situation s is bad from the viewpoint of Ā (dissociation)

while the conclusion of the parallel reasoning is as follows:

(5A) the situation s is good from the viewpoint of A (association)

But if the reasoning had been complete, by taking into account the two points of view, a different conclusion would have ensued:

Fig1

(5Ā ) the situation s is bad from the viewpoint of Ā (dissociation)
(5A) the situation s is good from the viewpoint of A (association)
(6A/Ā) the situation s is bad from the viewpoint of Ā (dissociation) and good from the viewpoint of A (association)
(7A/Ā) the situation s is neutral from the viewpoint of the duality A/Ā (association/dissociation)

And such a conclusion turns out to be quite different from that resulting from (5Ā ) and (5A).

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Further reading: Elements of dialectical contextualism

1Philippe Boulanger says (personal correspondence) that he heard Stanislaw Ulam develop this particular point in a conference at the University of Colorado.

 This text is part of a book under construction. (c) Paul Franceschi