lunar-human confirmation bias

Confirmation Bias in Action

lunar-human confirmation biasWe humans are strange creatures. Here we have the ability to reason. We have science to give us a means of interpreting our world. Yet, we still fall prey to a juicy confirmation bias. We can’t help ourselves. It affects even the keener minds, i.e., the ones that should know better. A study by the University of California provides a striking example.

Confirmation Bias in Action

Professor Jean-Luc Margot analyzed the basis for the so-called lunar effect on humans. There probably isn’t one person who hasn’t said at one time or another, “It must be a full moon.” The scenario goes something like this.

Things get wacky. It could be a higher number of accidents or more arrests involving aggression. In this case, Margot looked at hospital admissions and birth rates. A review of the literature suggesting a correlation between the moon and these types of incidents yielded startling results.

No, the moon isn’t causing your Uncle Norm to run amok. Rather, it boiled down to erroneous conclusions drawn from analysis shortcomings. Margot found problems with data collection and analysis, which contributed to the errors.

How Errors in Inductive Reasoning Occur

Induction is the process of using premises to support the credibility of a conclusion. Your argument could be weak or strong. Your conclusion could also be false. Deduction, on the other hand, is a definitive conclusion drawn from the premises. With induction, you generalize.

Here’s an example of inductive reasoning.

Premise: All of the people I see at the bar are regulars.
Conclusion: Therefore, the bar only serves regulars.

You can see the logical flaw. That’s how confirmation bias works. In a nutshell, it is the tendency to disregard evidence that does not support your beliefs and seek (or notice) the bits that do.

In the case of the lunar connection, individuals notice the spike in births and attribute to the full moon. Never mind the other times when births spiked and there was no full moon. We remember the evidence that it does.

Safety Mechanism

While it sounds silly, the confirmation bias has its place. It allows you to make quick decisions. In a world where survival was uncertain, it could mean the difference between life and death. Unfortunately, it also leads to error in judgement, hence, the lunar-human connection.

But all is not lost. Awareness is the first step toward taming the bias/fallacy monster. It’s when you’re not aware that things go awry. Next time, pay attention to what you say and hear. Look for the signs of confirmation bias. It’s not the end of the world to admit that you’re wrong.

“A person who never made a mistake never tried anything new.”
~Albert Einstein Chris DR

rooftop garden

Staying Open to Solutions

rooftop gardenAs I’ve written before, politics and ideology plague the climate change dialogue. It is a classic example of the false dilemma fallacy or specifically, the false choice fallacy. It goes something like this. Climate change exists. We need a solution. Either we [fill in the blank] or we’re all doomed, and women will be forced into prostitution.

That’s why a new law passed in France is so refreshing. The law declares that all new buildings in commercial areas must either have rooftops with solar panels or plants. It is the or bit that is a good change of pace.

The Island You Might Want to Avoid

If you travel regularly between cities and rural areas, you know the heat island effect firsthand. The city heats up during the day due to the amount of heat-absorbing dark-colored surfaces. The effect compared to rural settings is dramatic. The French law is a win-win solution.

Either you make that solar radiation work for you, or you use it to grow plants while lowering temperatures. It is the fact that it is a choice that makes the difference.

No longer is it the dogmatic response that you must install a solar panel. Instead, the French government recognizes two solutions to the same problem. Solar panels aren’t the end-all solution for everyone. There are problems

Solar Panel Issues

Let me go on the record to say that I believe solar panels work as standalone solutions. If you can afford to invest and wait for the ROI, go for it. However, large-scale solar power has problems that have yet to be addressed. Birds getting killed when flying near solar plants is an issue. All lives matter.

Then there are the geographic and topographic limitations. Science hasn’t figured out to make the sun shine at a different angle in the northern latitudes or tucked down in valleys. If I have a problem getting enough vitamin D from sun exposure in the winter because I live in Minnesota, a solar panel isn’t likely to do much better. It is what it is.

A Suite of Solutions

The French law is an acknowledgement that there can be more than one solution to a problem. Many factors come into play, not the least of which is cost and efficacy.

Perhaps if the dialogue shifts more toward a suite of solutions, we can move away from this false choice scenario. It does no one any good to dismiss the solutions that don’t happen to be the favorite ones of any political group. I said it before, I’ll say it again. We all want the same things: clean air, clean water, and a healthy environment. Chris DR
photo credit: IMG_8499 via photopin (license)