Saturday, August 09, 2008

Confirmation Bias

To a three year old with a hammer, everything looks like a nail. The scientific term for this is "confirmation bias" which Wikipedia defines as
a tendency to search for or interpret new information in a way that confirms one's preconceptions and avoids information and interpretations which contradict prior beliefs. It is a type of cognitive bias and represents an error of inductive inference, or as a form of selection bias toward confirmation of the hypothesis under study or disconfirmation of an alternative hypothesis. Confirmation bias is of interest in the teaching of critical thinking, as the skill is misused if rigorous critical scrutiny is applied only to evidence challenging a preconceived idea but not to evidence supporting it.
The Students on Ice Expedition aims to take 65 international students and 30 scientists on a 17 day journey around the Arctic.

Coordinator Zoe Caron writes "never before has an expedition been so altered by climate change" and proceeds to describe how weather has affected their itinerary and logistics. Fog developed when temperatures dropped. Ice blocked the ship's route. The daily itinerary has changed and changed again. It's because of Climate Change.

Ms Caron is a co-author of Global Warming for Dummies. For some reason I find this funny. And profoundly sad.


zoe said...

Online articles are very clearly up for interpretation. A risk all bloggers run.

As you know, it is obvious that no one event in weather or climate can be linked directly to climate change. Not once did the article your refer to say that climate change caused itinerary changes.
But many times, it said that itinerary was affected by weather and climate events.

These weather and climate events are similar to those being projected by climate science.

Hurricane Katrina was a much more extreme example of this. Yes, climate change means more frequent and more intense hurricanes.

Would Hurricane Katrina have happened if climate change wasn't occurring? We'll never know.

Would the high number and high impact of the hurricanes experienced in the past handful of years have happened if climate change wasn't occurring? Probably not.

Hope that clarifies things.


Zoe Caron

JR said...

Re. Zoe Caron's comments:
(1) "climate change" is always happening but I think we know Ms Caron actually means AGW.
(2) The correlation between "climate change" and hurricane intensity and frequency is, at best, tenuous. It's hardly as certain as Caron apparently believes.
(3) Global temperature, as best as such a thing can be measured by satellite, has actually gone down over the past decade ("handful of years"). Last year it was down by about .6 deg Celsius (down to 1980 values).

Your observations on bias and critical thinking are right on the money.