Tuesday, 31 July 2007

"I see that you are soon going to take a breath"

Dear lazyweb (well, it works for jwz!)

Help. What is the name given to the tendency for the human brain to spot and selectively cull related data from a background sea of unrelated data and declare it to be significant evidence of synchronicity? Is that selection bias, or is there a more appropriate term?

It's a phenomena that has fascinated me since someone was able to adequately explain to me that I was guilty of it. Commonly used to provide evidence of paranormal phenomena - You think of someone you haven't spoken to for three years, they ring you, ooh! That sort of thing.

For example, I have just, within the period of twenty minutes, spoken to two women called Julie from entirely separate agencies about exactly the same service. Ooh!

Reminds me of a "joke" my statistics lecturer told us: "Five patients were all given the same experimental treatment. They all died. That was not significant." (the idea being, you see, that five data points on a yes-no t-test is insufficient to establish statistical significance. But you already knew that.)

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