"When you make a mistake, do not be afraid of mending your ways."
People who refuse to admit their mistakes bug Andrew Gelman. They bug me too. But complaining about it is probably just, as he puts it, "railing against universal human nature". The relevant aspects of human nature we are railing against are no doubt laziness, vanity, and cowardice.
I get this from Cyril Connolly's The Unquiet Grave. "Three faults," he writes, "which are found together and which infect every activity: laziness, vanity, cowardice. If one is too lazy to think, too vain to do something badly, too cowardly to admit it, one will never attain wisdom" (20). "Sloth rots the intelligence, cowardice destroys all power at the source, while vanity inhibits us from facing any fact which might teach us something; it dulls all other sensation" (30). The fact that might most straightforwardly teach us something is of course one that we've gotten wrong.
Confucius tells us not to be afraid of correcting ourselves. It is interesting that we should be afraid of such things. Maybe he too was railing against something fundamental in human nature. Actually, I think it's more likely that we are perverted from our true natures by culture. It is something in the way our mistakes are treated when we are students that makes us fear admitting them when we become scholars. And I think I know what it is: our mistakes are too often tolerated, more often simply ignored. Too many scholars don't know what happens when your mistake is corrected. In other cases, perhaps, there is some sort of trauma. Our mistakes were punished too severely.
Wherever it comes from, it certainly is annoying. More than that: it is distressing to think how many false ideas must be in circulation simply because people are too vain to face facts that might teach them something.