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Posts Tagged ‘Availability heuristic’

To analyze does not necessarily mean to produce useful information

From Reviewing the Movies: Audiences vs. Critics by Catherine Rampell.

It is a fair and interesting question or set of questions.  Do audiences and critics assess movies in different ways?  If so, in what ways do they differ?  Which views, audience or critics, provide a better forecast of future performance?  These questions apply to art, sports, books, etc. There are answers to some of these questions.  The general informed public and specialists do tend to review things differently.  General informed public tend to factor in more context and larger macro considerations than do specialists.  General informed public tend to be better forecasters than are specialists.  Nate Silver covers a lot of this in his The Signal and The Noise: Why So Many Predictions Fail – but Some Don’t
What is notable is that Rampell asks a legitimate question and has an idea on how to answer the question.  Her error is to use information that is available (Rotten Tomatoes Database) rather than information that is needed.  There is a fairly detailed critique of her analysis in the comments.  The article serves as an example of Selection Bias (the distortion of a statistical analysis, resulting from the method of collecting samples) and Information Bias (the tendency to seek information even when it cannot affect action), and possible Mere Exposure Bias (the tendency to express undue liking for things merely because of familiarity with them).


I ought to have eaten a pretzel in the first place!

From Fables and Fairy Tales by Leo Tolstoy, page 37.  An example of the logical fallacy post hoc ergo propter hoc, combined with the availability heuristic.

Three Rolls a Pretzel

Feeling hungry one day, a peasant bought himself a large roll and ate it. But he was still hungry, so he bought another roll and ate it. Still hungry he bought a third roll and ate it. When the three rolls failed to satisfy his hunger, he bought some pretzels. After eating one pretzel he no longer felt hungry.

Suddenly he clapped his hand to his head and cried:
“What a fool I am! Why did I waste all those rolls? I ought to have eaten a pretzel in the first place!”

Taking the last link in the chain of events and stopping there invites misdiagnosis of a situation.  It is not uncommon that a team will seize on the most recent cause as the most obvious cause, will already be halfway towards solving the problem (“Always stick with pretzels”) and won’t want to go back and look at root causes.

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