Confirmation Bias

Hallo skeptics,

Today I am going to be blogging about one of the most commonly used logical fallacies out there, confirmation bias. It is used in a range of topics including alternative medicine, religion, UFOlogy, astrology, psychics, mediums, and almost all topics which skeptics keep tabs on. Confirmation bias is a logical fallacy which is often referred to as cherry-picking, however is slightly different. While similar, cherry-picking refers to picking single studies from a sea of negative papers, confirmation bias is the picking out of specific results, not specific studies.

One of the most simple and common uses of confirmation bias is praying. I recently saw one of those Facebook like-hoarding pictures which asks for likes to confirm ones religious views, which read “Like this photo and in the next 120 seconds god will do you a favour”… it had over 30 000 likes. I read that and immediately saw it as a perfect example of confirmation bias. To anybody who likes that status, I can almost guarantee that something good will happen to them in the next 120 seconds. The reason is that people want it to come true. If something slightly good happens to that person in the next 120 seconds, they will attribute that to liking the photo… your basketball team makes a buzzer-beating game winner? God did that. Mum decides to give you a little extra ice-cream for dessert? god did that. Get a new twitter follower? god did that. Whatever happens, god is the reason.

It doesn’t even have to be within 2 minutes, you will remember anything that happens for the whole rest of the day and give credit to god… because a thousand years is like a day and a day is like a thousand years, or some post hoc reasoning like that. Even if nothing good happens, that means the devil was going to do something bad to you but god saved you because you liked the photo.

This photo is a perfect example of how confirmation bias works. Another common example is in alternative medicine. Lets say somebody gets cancer, and they decide to, along with their doctor approved, scientific medicine, have a chiropractor try to fix it. Once the cancer has been removed, the patient might only remember the chiropractic treatment that cured the cancer, and forget all the scientific medicine that actually removed the cancer.

Confirmation bias is one of the most common fallacies out, and is often combined with other fallacies like post hoc ergo proctor hoc, placebo, reliance on memory and the availability heuristic to form the greatest of all fallacies, the anecdotal evidence.

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Sports Superstition

Hello there, skeptical brothers-in-arms,

Today I am going to be blogging about some of the superstitions in sports, some of their implications, and how people continue to believe their superstitious rituals actually affect their game. I will start by listing some of the common superstitions held by professional sports people.
In baseball, when a pitcher is hot, nobody is allowed to talk to him. During play-off runs or winning streaks, many sportsmen wear the same socks or underwear, without washing them, for every game. Sportsmen often have lucky charms or rituals of some sort, and there are plenty of performance enhancing jewelery options out there for any sportsperson, from wrist bands to necklaces.

That list is just a list of superstitions, I’m not writing to you all today to tell you that superstitious beliefs are ridiculous, all of my readers should know that all ready. I’m going to tell you why some people persist with their beliefs, and how they can see evidence when there really is none.

One of the most influential effects on sport superstition is, you guessed it, the placebo effect. Studies have been done on the Power band, one of the most famous performance enhancing items around (before its many law-suits), has had tests done on it. The results of which showed that a person could reach almost 5 centimeters closer to the ground, upon the wearing of a Power Balance band. Now, to any unscientific layman, this would sound like an astounding proof of the power of the Power Balance band. But, if you are familiar with the scientific method, you will know that tests must be blinded. These tests where not blinded, the test subjects knew wether or not they were wearing the Power Balance band, and they knew the hypothesis, that Power Balance bands will show an increased effect.
Any scientist looking at these results would say Wow, the placebo effect is really that strong! This effect is also known of in other sports, where players and coaches have their own rituals. If you can put yourself in the mindset of a player, who, for the last 5 years of his playing career, has always gotten up out of bed on the right side, every game day, and then one day, he accidentally gets out of bed on the left side. If I knew that was one of my rituals, I would start to get anxious, and nervous. Anybody can figure out that a baseball pitcher who is more worried about what side of the bed he got out of this morning than whether to throw a fastball or a splitter, is not going to play as well, he is not focusing on the game.

All of these rituals that sportsmen perform, might actually have an effect, but it is not how they think. Instead of warding of evil spirits, they are really just providing a comforting motion to perform to themselves, when there are 50 000 plus fans screaming yours and your teams names. These rituals provide something to calm the body down, in the nervous and high adrenaline sports arenas of today. Psychology has strange effects on humans.