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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The Madden Curse

Hello skeptics,

Today’s post is about the Madden curse associated with NFL, and some possible mechanisms for it, if any, but first, a little background on Madden and the Madden curse. Madden is one of the most popular sports games sold in the world, it is the official video game of the NFL and is produced every year by EA sports™. The game is named after the great John Madden, who is a hall of fame player and coach, as well as a commentator, one of the most famous players ever. It has been sold since 1993 on various platforms and has sold over 85 million copies. Every year, a succesful player from the previous year is selected to be shown on the front of the box, on the disk, the cover screen, everywhere. It is a big deal to be on the Madden cover, both for good and bad reasons.

The Madden curse pertains to that video game. The Madden curse is the belief that any player who is shown on the front of Madden NFL is going to have an injury or suffer some other terrible outcomes. While it is true that about half of the athletes on the cover have experienced downfalls of some sort, this is due mainly to a few reasons.

The first, and often most talked about reason why there appears to be a madden curse, is regression to the mean. Any player who features on the cover of madden has probably had the best season of their career, they got picked out of thousands of players, so they have had a pretty stellar year. It is expected therefore that the player probably won’t go as well the next year. If you break the passing yards record one year, odds are against doing it again next year.
We see this in all sports, when Usain Bolt broke the record for the 100 m sprint, nobody expected him to break it again the next time he ran. He didn’t. But nobody attributed this to the fact that he got in all of the papers the next day, they just said, “Well, you can’t expect him to break 2 records in a row”, and that was that. So we can’t just say it’s just regression to the mean, there must be something else psychological going on.

What makes the Madden curse different from Usain Bolt is that there is a lot of time and talk. When Usain Bolt broke the 100 m sprint record, it wasn’t long before his next run, a few days, maybe. That’s not enough time for a lot of hype to spread. In football, on the other hand, there is a break of about 5 months between the madden box being announced and the start of the season, and then another six months of playing time after that. That’s a long time for people to talk about the madden box, and a lot more time for the player to get injured or have a re-drawn contract or get cut or have a bed game of some sort. So there is huge magnification going on there. But there could still be more.

It could be that players are getting jealous of the madden cover superstar. Football is a rough, contact sport, and injuries do happen. There is also room for some bounty or targeting of players to go on, as we saw with the bounty system scandal surrounding the saints recently, so players could easily be going out for specific players to injure, or protect. If it’s a quarterback, then more linebackers will blitz him, he will be rushed with his throws more, he will get sacked or knocked down more often, and he won’t have a s good a game. If it’s a receiver, they will get double coverage manned up on them, so they will catch less passes, and get tackled more. If it’s a running back, linebackers will blitz. If it’s a defensive back, then quarterbacks will throw away from them so as not to get picked off, and they will be assigned better blockers.

The madden curse is yet another one of those superstitions which could have some possible real mechanisms, but which is really just a myth which continues on in society today.

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.