Confirmation Bias

Have you ever noticed that someone mentions something, and all of a sudden you notice that thing multiple times? One professor mentioned that very phenomenon one week. Early the next week, I was touring Waltham’s 911 dispatch center, and noted the software they used forĀ  (Computer Aided Dispatch) CAD, intending to look more into it. The next day, I had that professor’s class again, and, for reasons I still don’t understand, somehow slipped in a mention of knowing someone who worked at that company. So I mentioned this to him after class, and also pointed out the incredible irony of the fact that the week before he’d mentioned the “someone mentions something, and all of a sudden you keep seeing” it phenomonen. {Meta: this phenomonen may, itself, be related to a confirmation bias, but I digress.}

So Kyle mentioned confirmation bias in one of his recent posts. The next day someone on Ask MetaFilter asked why black people were afraid of his dog. Most answers bordered around it being a confirmation bias. (Although it got interesting when several people reported having noticed the same thing, suggesting that maybe, just maybe there is some sort of racial difference in how dogs are viewed.)

The other day there was a lunar eclipse. Around the same time, we had several short problems with Internet access, where traffic wasn’t leaving Bentley. (Incidentally, I had the same experience I’ve had with most of my tickets–I only open then when I run into an issue I can’t solve myself and am very confident that it’s a problem, so I usually include enough information that the front-level have no idea what’s going on an forward it to an expert… So I ended up speaking with our “Network Engineer,” a position I didn’t even know we had, and we had a good talk about exactly whta the problem was… It appears to lie with an upstream company performing some maintenance.)

So today my professor–who teaches nothing related to electronics nor astronomy–randomly interrupted her lecture saying, “Thursday was a lunar eclipse. Did anyone else experience technical problems because of the lunar eclipse?” People had several problems that day–several brought up the Internet disruption. Someone had their computer crash. She explained that the lunar eclipse tends to cause those things.

If ever there were evidence of a confirmation bias, that’s it. I don’t profess to be a total expert, but I’m pretty certain that the moon being obscured by our shadow isn’t why our Internet link went down for a couple minutes. And yet she’s found plenty of evidence to support what’s probably an urban legend.

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