Above all don't fool your self

The health arena is confusing.  There are many claims, philosophies, misinformation, scares and scams that unfortunately crowd out some of the more reasonable voices.
In fact once you look past much of the confusion, things become very simple and easily scrutinized. 
You do not need to be an “expert”, you do not need to have studied nutrition, or be otherwise enlightened to find out if you are being told the truth.  You do however have to ask the right questions, simple as they are, to circumvent the typical pitfalls of the human reasoning.
In the next section I will briefly describe why and how Humans fool themselves, followed by three simple questions to ask yourself to scrutinize any information or insight presented to you.

Image by Rhett Wesley

WHY AND HOW WE FOOL OURSELVES

The main reason that we get ourselves into trouble is that some of the mechanisms that are critical for survival sometimes backfire.  For instance, you have a brilliant immune system that protects you against almost any microorganism, but when it unnecessarily responds to the perfectly harmless pollen in the air, your eyes water, your mind numbs, and you end up miserable.

The same holds true for cognitive processes.  There are brilliant ways in which our brains guide us through our lives.  We often find short cuts in order to survive.  The very same short cuts can get us into trouble, sometimes at a global scale.  Stock market booms and busts, fashion fads, celebrities, why you (and Popeye) probably believe that spinach is high in iron, or why it took over 2000 years to stop the practice of bloodletting – all have a few mental mechanisms in common.

Take a look at some of these very familiar examples:

I - Social proof

Everyone is running in the same direction – maybe it is a good idea to start running too and to ask questions later. 

The reason you exist is that your ancestor somewhere on the savannah did a better job than his best friend (with huge intellectual curiosity) who was eaten by the lion. 

This mechanism also called “social proof” is the reason why so many advertisements claim that 9 out of 10 people (or cats) prefer a particular product, or why you feel stupid if you are the last person who does not have the latest gadget.

Why this is relevant to your health: Just because everyone in your company has had colonic irrigation it does not follow that it has any healthy effect whatsoever.

Image by Solen Feyissa

II - Extrapolation and confirmation

The last time I ate a red mushroom, I drove the village crazy with my all night singing – maybe it is a good idea to avoid eating any red mushrooms in the future.

The reason you exist today is that this particular ancestor (and her tribe) did not try all the red mushrooms they came across.

We tend to extrapolate from a single experience.  What is worse is that once a belief has been formed, we tend to look for confirmation rather than evidence to the contrary, further stabilizing a potentially erroneous belief and our commitment to it.  (See card example)

How does this relate to your health: Look at something you believe about health (e.g., a daily Wheatgrass shot will make me healthier) and see how you respond to new information that questions (not healthier than eating some spinach) or confirms (packed full of vitamins) your belief.  While both statements are true, we tend to treat them differently based on our ingoing assumptions.  What we should care about are the facts.

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Imagine there are four cards laying on the table: a red-backed card, a blue-backed card, a card with a number 16 on it, and a card with the number 21 on it.  You know that all cards have a number (16 or 21) on one side and a color on the other side (red or blue).  Now imagine you are asked to determine if the following statement is true:  A card with a 16 on one side always has a blue back.  A minimum of how many cards would you turn over and which ones specifically?

Most people will tend to want to turn over the card with the number 16 and the blue-backed card.  Turning the card with 16 on it will provide valuable information  (i.e., if the color of the back is red then the statement is clearly wrong).  However turning the blue card around will only confirm our statement, but not give us any certainty (i.e., if the blue-backed card has a 21 on it, that would be irrelevant for checking the statement).
However, if we choose to turn around the red-backed card, we would get valuable information: if the other side would have the number 16 on it we would know that the statement is wrong.

Now imagine the same statement put to you in the following context: You have organised a party where there are a number of over 21 year olds (above drinking age) invited, but there are a few who are also attending who are 16.  To ensure that the 16 year olds do not drink any alcohol, you are told that everyone will show up with a card depicting their age (16 or 21) and what they will be drinking (red card=red wine and blue card=apple juice).  Again you have to check if the following statement is correct: A card with a 16 on one side always has a blue back.  Put this way, most people will ignore the 21 card and the blue cards (apple juice), as their holders don’t worry you.  It is the 16 card and the red-backed card that you want to turn over to ensure that the party runs smoothly.

III - Compelling story

Lightning struck the chief of the nearby village – we should make sure we move our village to a lower spot. 

The reason you walk the earth today is that some of your ancestors insured themselves against the improbable.

The more emotional and dramatic a story is, the more we believe it to be probable. This is the main reason why people use case stories to make a point, why we are more afraid of flying than biking despite the evidence, and why we find it easier to sympathize with earthquake victims (ca 3-30 deaths/million p.a.), than with victims of meningitis (300 deaths/million p.a.) or general malnutrition (ca. 400 deaths/million p.a.).  An aspect of this effect is that we sometimes feel over-confident, when we can form a picture in our head or if we have part of the information. 

We tend to believe what makes sense.  The more compelling a story, the easier it is to ascribe it with credibility.  The psychological impact of this type of reasoning is no less prevalent and arguably far riskier when it comes to matters of health.  So while “fighting fire with fire” creates a very compelling and dramatic picture, does that necessarily mean that such an approach has any efficacy let alone a greater efficacy to other less dramatic, but proven methods?

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Would you say:


Adonis was the god of Love or Vegetation?

Which of these is a bigger cause of death in the US?  Homicide or Suicide?

Which of these is a bigger cause of death in the US? Firework accidents or Measles?

Where does ca 75% of the world’s production of cocoa come from S. America or Africa?

Our answers are often overconfident because somewhere in the back of our minds there is some piece of information or a concrete picture that just makes sense: 

  • “Adonis (good looking god, often used in an erotic context) has got to do something with love! 

  • “All those TV shows, news flashes, and stories I hear are about homicides.  So the answer should be obvious!”

  • “ Same thing for fireworks:  How many people do I know who burned their hand with a fire cracker? But do I have a picture of measles in my head, and has it not been eradicated anyway, given all the vaccination going on?”

  •  “Didn’t the Cocoa bean originate in the new world?”

 (the answer to the questions above is Vegetation, Suicide, Measles, Africa)

IV - Trust and Authority

 He is wearing a leopard’s fur, crocodile teeth adorn his neck, he has a firm and caring handshake, and my-o-my, are those scalps hanging from his shield? – I better sign up for his next “survive and how” class.   

Your ancestors were well advised to associate with strong, good looking, healthy, and apparently successful individuals. 

We often accept confirmation (signs of battle savvy-ness) as proof and confuse liking (strong handshake, well groomed) with content.  This causes us to place too much trust, respect, or fear into uniforms, titles, or confident claims.  For the same reason, we are more prone to vote for politicians if they are attractive (never mind their agenda).  

Relevance for health?  Well, you should be your own witch doctor.  While there is much caring and knowledge among many who have dedicated their lives to improving people’s health, you must critically assess what you are told.  Humans are fallible, no matter how much they have studied or how vast their experience.  It can make a huge difference if you contribute your own brain power to your health.

V - Correlation or causation

 Every time we dance around the fire we are almost certain to get rain – Let’s figure out what specific moves make it rain more.  

From making fire with two twigs to the proverbial apple hitting Newton’s head, understanding cause and effect is what helped humans become the dominant species of this planet.

Given this amazing track record, it is not surprising that we see cause and effect everywhere – sometimes to our modern detriment.  Common examples include failed investments based on an impeccable track record, conspiracy theories (most of them anyway, see example), and the evil eye.


We also wildly confuse correlation with causation. The fact is that it is extremely difficult to prove that something is caused by something else. Do dog owners look like their dogs because they pick a dog that looks like them, or do they start resembling each other after a while (for example when both get obese)? Does the observer simply imagine the resemblance, or do we notice the resemblance and forget all the cases where there is no resemblance?


This explains why it feels somehow special if someone calls right when you are thinking of them, and as we like to look for confirmation (see above), even the most rational among us tend to assign that little bit of magical aura to an otherwise random event.

This is highly relevant to your health.  When you personally experience a particular effect (e.g., you took vitamin C and your cold disappeared), you should be very careful extrapolating and assuming that there is necessarily causation.  Also when you read the next newspaper article about something being particularly good or bad for your health, stop and think about how the reporter can possibly come up with such a statement.  Some well-publicized examples are “Blueberries improve night vision” or ” Shaving more than once a day increases a man’s risk of having a stroke by 70%”.

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This often-cited example illustrates the slippery slope of reasoning that can emerge when we instinctively ascribe meaning to seemingly related sets of facts.


Everything below about the fates of Abraham Lincoln and John F. Kennedy is true:

  • A century is a very special thing

    • Lincoln was elected to the presidency in 1860;  JFK in 1960.

    • Lincoln was elected to Congress in 1846;  JFK in 1946.

    • Lincoln was a runner-up for the party's nomination for vice-president in 1856;  JFK in 1956.

    • Lincoln and Kennedy each have 7 letters and 5  syllables in their full names

  • Similar moral underpinnings

    • Both cared about civil rights

    • Lincoln signed the Proclamation of emancipation that became law in 1863; Kennedy presented his report on civil Rights to Congress in 1963

  • Similar fates (part 1):  Both presidents were

    • shot in the head

    • shot in presence of their wives

    • shot on a Friday

    • Lincoln was shot at the theatre named "Ford's" (btw, owned by a man named John); JFK was shot in a Lincoln - made by Ford (just to make your head spin, JFK’s assassination was filmed by a man named Abraham)

    • both of their wives lost their children while in the white house

  • Similar fates (part 2): both assassins were

    • killed before they could be put on trial

    • John Wilkes Booth and Lee Harvey Oswald each have 15 letters and 3 words

    • Booth shot Lincoln in a theatre and hid in a warehouse, while Oswald shot Kennedy from a warehouse and hid in a theatre.

    • Both assassins were southerners and both presidents’ successors were southerners

    • Both successors were named Johnson, were democrats and born in 1808 and 1908 (in case you were wondering, their first names of course have the same number of letters, Andrew and Lyndon)


Makes you wonder, doesn’t it???
For a great discussion of this particular illusion see:
http://www.snopes.com/history/american/lincoln-kennedy.asp

VI - False positives:  Survivor's bias and reversal to the mean

We are so proud of our tribe’s witch doctor.  She has healed all our sick, predicted the volcano getting angry, and the spell she put on the neighboring tribe worked like a charm – Finally, the gods are on our side  

We often fall prey to an illusion called “the survivor’s bias”.  We ignore all the failed attempts (easy to do as they tend not to be widely advertised) and bestow the successful outcome with more credit than it often deserves (see example).  The witch doctor in the above story may simply be the lucky draw. 

Relevance to health: Aunt Sally, who smoked until she was 105 and was fit as a fiddle, is no relevant evidence for the harmlessness of cigarettes or any other vice she may have had. 

The Survivors Bias is a psychological mechanism for amplifying a pattern or causal relationship by ignoring negative results.   “Reversal to the mean” is a phenomenon that can also be ignored or poorly accounted for when analyzing complex phenomena such as clinical trials.  What this says is that for many complex systems (and your body is one of these), when you push them to an extreme, they often naturally reverse towards their balanced state.  That is the reason why most diseases are self-limiting (your body’s immune system takes care of things in the vast majority of cases).  While you may believe that taking that remedy took care of your flu, it would have disappeared (in the vast majority of cases) on its own if you had done nothing whatsoever.

VII - Why change a good thing:  The dangerous trio of blindness to subtlety, cognitive dissonance, and anchoring

For want of a nail the shoe was lost.
For want of a shoe the horse was lost.
For want of a horse the rider was lost.
For want of a rider the battle was lost.
For want of a battle the kingdom was lost.


And all for the want of a horseshoe nail.

Our innate ability to cope with a changing world is an evolutionary and adaptive miracle.It has allowed our species to populate the coldest and hottest parts of this planet, emerge from calamities, and pretty much find some happiness in most circumstances.

At an individual level, this powerful survival instinct can lead us astray.When change is subtle and only requires us to accept a small cognitive compromise (the moon has an effect on the oceans, therefore it is not unreasonable to assume it may have an effect on us), we rarely delve into the potential consequences. Brainwashing is almost entirely based on this mechanism, where an individual’s willingness to compromise on something small (better food for signing a statement that the captors are providing good food!) to guide them on to a slippery slope. 


Due to a process called cognitive dissonance (simply means that we have a very hard time dealing with contradictions and will bend our reasoning to stay consistent with an initial commitment), we tend to stay on a chosen track.

And finally, a third mechanism called anchoring tends to psychologically glue us to a particular perspective.  For example imagine that you are standing in front of a large display with the number 37 printed on it, and someone asks you how many countries there are in Africa (try coming up with a number).  Alternatively, imagine that you are standing in front of a large display with the number 86 printed on it, and someone asks you how many countries there are in Asia/Middle East (try to come up with your answer before looking up the solution below).  What typically happens is that simply by seeing a number (37, or 86 in the cases above), we get anchored to that number and on average tend to give a higher number when we see 86 than when we see 37.


There are 54 countries in Africa and 47 countries in Asia/middle east

Image by Jp Valery

The fact that a fund manager who has had a 5-year track record of top performance, while comforting, may have nothing to do with his abilities.  Imagine 1000 incapable fund managers who on average will lose your money (let’s say 40% by luck give you good returns, while 60% lose your money).  After year one, 400 are doing great.  Of these after year two, 160 are doing well, and so on until after year five where you find 10 managers with a fantastic track record, despite the fact that they were recruited from a group of village idiots.  The shocking truth is that there are very few fund managers that fall outside of this logic.  So be careful where you invest your money.

If you want to make a small fortune, give a big fortune to a fund manager

Image by Fernando Jorge

Anchoring:  You and your friend decide to buy a present for a common friend.  As your friend is interested in old prints, you go to an antique dealer and find an old map that costs $100.  You decide to split the cost evenly and buy the old map.  How much has each one of you spent at this point? Easy answer, 100/2=50.  Each person has spent $50.

The shopkeeper realizes that he has overcharged you and gives his assistant $5 to return to you.  The assistant starts running towards you and your friend, but as he is approaching he realizes that he could make a handsome tip and tells you that you have overpaid and returns $3 while pocketing $2.  How much has each one of you paid now after receiving the three dollars and splitting it evenly ($1.50 each)?  Well, that is still an easy calculation (50.00-1.50=48.50)?  Each person has spent $48.50.

Here comes the clincher though:  If each one of you has spent $48.50 then together you have spent $97 (48.50+48.50=97.00).  Plus the $2 that the assistant pocketed gives us $99.


Where is the missing dollar???  If you find yourself even confused for a second, you have become a victim of anchoring.

VIII - Placebo/Nocebo

You take the blue pill, the story ends, you wake up in your bed and believe whatever you want to believe. You take the red pill, you stay in Wonderland and I show you how deep the rabbit-hole goes.
The Matrix, Movie from 1999


This is one of the least understood natural biological effects known.  It describes the self-healing (Placebo) effect generated by an individual (also seen in some animals) as a result of an expectation, subconscious change, instinct, or belief.  It can be triggered by administering a sham drug (e.g., sugar pill), a verbal suggestion (you will lose that wart), or a self-generated expectation (I will get better).  The Placebo effect can be physiological, emotional, behavioral, or cognitive in nature.

Image by Tech Nick

The evil twin of the Placebo is the Nocebo effect which can generate undesirable
consequences.

There is substantial debate on the scale and importance of the effect, as it is often difficult to distinguish a real placebo, positive influence from “reversal to the mean” (see above), poor quality of the evaluation, and non-neutral (i.e. influenced) control groups.  In general, the placebo effect appears to be stronger when a person does not know if they are receiving a sham treatment (i.e., truly believes they are being treated with the real thing) .[i],[ii]

Conditions like pain, nausea, depression, are more prone to the placebo effect.  For example, in investigations of the Placebo effect on pain, an average of 34% effect is seen due to the placebo (i.e., there would be a need to administer 34% less of a painkiller) when the patient is told that they are receiving a painkiller but is actually receiving a sham treatment.   Interestingly, in the same studies, there is an average 21% effect when the patient is informed that they may receive a placebo or the real painkiller.

Given the potential influence of this effect, it is important to differentiate between what our minds/bodies will achieve on their own and what is a result of intervention.   Therefore all clinical trials of a new drug need to demonstrate an improvement over placebo or existing drug. 

In other words, if you have the choice of buying the green (sugar) pill or the red pill, and both have exactly the same (mind altering) effect, it may make sense not to pay more for the red pill.

Relevance for your health:  What people claim to be the effect of their treatment (and is typically paid for by you, the consumer) may be your own doing.  Equally, the placebo effect may delay your getting help for more serious conditions where the self-healing abilities of your body are not sufficient.


[i] Hróbjartsson A, Gøtzsche PC, The Cochrane Library, 2010, Issue 1;  http://www.thecochranelibrary.com; Cochrane Database Syst Rev. 2010;(1):CD003974.

[ii] Pain. 2001 Jul; 93(1), 77-84.; Pollo A, Amanzio M, Arslanian A, Casadio C, Maggi G, Benedetti F.

IX - Statistics - Shmatistics

Your ancestors did not have much use for Statistics, and it was really only formalized as a mathematical discipline in the mid 17th century – a full 2000 years after Geometry!


Our ability to apply basic statistics, even for those who deal with it on a daily basis, is weak.  Our gut feeling is often simply wrong. 

One of the most powerful examples of how our gut feeling can be wrong is found in the Monty Hall problem[i].   Simply put, a game show host shows you three closed wooden boxes.  He has put a gold coin into one of the boxes, while the other two are empty.  You get to pick one box (your chances are obviously one in three).  Once you have picked a box, the game show host opens one of the other two boxes and shows that it is empty.  He now gives you a chance to stick with your selection or to switch.  What should you do?  The answer, if you have not yet heard about this problem, is shocking to most people and often aggressive arguments ensue.  The point being that our gut feelings are so strong (and wrong), that even those who already know the answer find it quite difficult to explain it to the uninitiated.  To find out why you definitely should switch and why the probability is not 50-50 – well put on your thinking cap or follow the URL link below.   

There are two aspects of statistics that are worth understanding (very easy-I promise).  The first one is that independent events are independent.  The toss of a normal coin for example.  Even if you have had a run of 10, 50, or 500 heads the probability of the next toss being heads or tails is 50% (unless it is a trick coin, which you may suspect after 500 heads).  What we call winning streaks are normal events that tend to make you believe in an underlying cause (fate, or Fortuna smiling on you). 

The second aspect, and one that we often ignore, is the underlying frequency of an event.  For example (simplified for brevity), imagine that you have taken a test to determine your chances of living to the ripe old age of 107.  Let’s say the test is 95% accurate.  Your test comes out positive.  How happy should you be?  The answer is that based on the above information you would not know.  Why?

Let’s say that you live in a country where 1 in 100 people make it to that ripe old age.   If you gave the test to 100 people at random, then you would identify the person who will make it to the age of 107 (almost certainly), but your test will also give you false positives (5%).  That is 5 people will be told that they will make it to a hundred but unfortunately that will not happen.  You can easily see that there are 6 people with a positive result only one of which will actually make it to 107.  In other words, the precision of the test must be much higher in order to be a helpful predictor.

This is obviously highly relevant to our health (when being tested), but also when we hear statements that claim some lifestyle “doubles” your chances of getting some disease.  The question you should always ask is how many people were studied, and how many people actually got sick (i.e., was the doubling from 1 to 2 people in a 1,000,000 studied or 100 to 200 in a 1,000 studied;  in the first case you should ignore the information, while in the second case you may want to further investigate)


[i] http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Monty_Hall_problem

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Numbers that Mislead: Hospital example


Take a look at this example. You are about to recommend to a friend with a very life-threatening condition to go to one of two hospitals: Optimism hospital and Confidence Hospital. Both have a good reputation.

Being very diligent, you have asked for the statistics of how people with his condition have fared at each hospital. To the right are the results.  


Clearly, it seems like a good idea to send your friend to the Confidence Hospital, given their fantastic survival statistics. 

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Knowing that people’s attitude does make a difference in their ability to heal, you ask for more detailed information where the patients of the two hospitals are further compared by their attitudes: Pessimists and Optimists.

How could this be?  All numbers add up of course, but suddenly the Optimism Hospital has a better performance for both groups.  This is where our common sense is not very helpful and where the devil is in the detail.

X - Freud or Fraud

See the coconut up there?  I can bring it down with one throw of my ax!
Oops, that didn’t work, because I held the ax the wrong way. 
Let me try again. 
Oops, that didn’t work, because I can’t throw it under pressure.  It’s always like that when people watch me I can’t concentrate
Last try, here we go again. 
Yippee, what did I tell you!  Solid performance despite the fact that you were watching me!


When we hear about various claims and supposed evidence supporting these, we should sharpen our senses to how the evidence is arrived at.  While most people are sincere, our subconscious often pursues its version of the truth, especially if there is emotional or financial gain.  Below are the most obvious errors made in good conscience (or con-science?):

Keep Calm Poster

As in the example above, when something does not work we will often try until it works, ignoring all the failed attempts.  Therefore just because someone has conducted a study that establishes an insight does not mean that this insight is reliable.  You must know how many times the study has been performed, and how many times it failed. 

This is where the value of meta-analyses (analysis of analyses) comes to the fore because it averages over many studies and also looks at whether negative results may have been ignored.

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When the person, group, institute, or profession making a claim has a particular bias in favor of their position you should watch out.  The point is not whether their claim is right or wrong, but that you should be more critical and vigilant.  Examples are:

  • A head hunter tells you that their particular psychometric test has a huge success rate in identifying the right candidate

  • A chain-smoker tells you that smoking is pretty harmless

  • The Milk industry tells you that a glass of milk is essential for well being

  • A Homeopath cites the WHO study on the efficacy of Homeopathy

  • A dentist tells you that changing your amalgam fillings for beautiful white ceramic is better for your health


When you hear things similar to the above, you should put on your critical thinking cap and be more vigilant than you would be if the opposite would be claimed.

Image by Antonika Chanel

“Massaging” the data until you get what you’re looking for.  Examples include:

  • Changing or cherry-picking what we compare the results with (e.g., the baseline)

  • Eliminating outliers that undermine our conclusion

  • Creating data subsegments that support a certain conclusion

  • “If the facts don’t fit the theory, change the facts” – Albert Einstein (attributed)


Remember, there is no need for assuming fraud in any of the above cases. It is a direct result of the wishful thinking that we all commit throughout our lives. The most and least shocking statistic is that the majority of people think that they have above-average intelligence.

XI - Conspiracy and agency

“For those who believe, no explanation is necessary. For those who do not believe, no explanation is possible.”

Franz Werfel, The Song of Bernadette

The thing is that our brains constantly formulate hypotheses about the world and then check if the hypothesis is right or wrong.  Our hypotheses often are formulated as intention with a cause (presumed behind the intention) and effect (resulting from actions linked to the intention), such as "I think Lin is hungry and wants Vladimir's cookie and she will make an attempt to take it in the next minute".  When we're right we record it as a success and when we're not right, we just forget about it.  When we are right we do not care if it is by luck or because our hypothesis was ingenious.

We also invariably assume agency.  Most ancient gods were the agency behind thunder or a good harvest.  Today the ancient gods have been replaced but not eliminated.  New agents have taken their place.

Our fundamental assumptions behind our hypotheses are:

1.  Cui bono - who benefits?  When we can find a beneficiary we often assume that that beneficiary may be acting in their own interest to favor a certain outcome.  This is of course often true, but not always.  Sometimes people start taking advantage of a situation after it has happened but are not the cause of the situation in the first place.  As the old saying goes: "never let a good crisis go to waste".

2. Who has power?  We assume that individuals or organizations that have a certain power will wield (or even abuse) that power.  Historically this has often been true, but again not necessarily so and most people and organizations screw up the best-laid plans.  Our mistrust often grows the lower the level of transparency.  The reason why there are so many conspiracy theories spreading (i), is that the media have abandoned their calling to create transparency and accountability and instead contribute to the dynamic with over-blown sensationalist reporting.

3. Does it relate to me?  The more something may negatively or positively impact our personal situation the more we will take it personally.  This is reasonable in some circumstances, but not in all.  We must consider that if something may impact us, it does not necessarily mean that we are its target.  A car cutting us off on the highway is maybe aggressive behavior towards us, but it could equally be a careless, distracted driver, someone avoiding a bigger threat than possibly hitting us, or someone with a medical emergency, you get my point.

What makes the above so tricky is that some conspiracies are true but no delusion is ever true.  Distinguishing between them requires us to question our underlying assumptions even if our conclusions all make sense to us and those around us.

[i] For a good review see Karen M. Douglas, Robbie M. Sutton, and Aleksandra Cichocka, (2017), The psychology of conspiracy theories, Current Directions in Psychological Science, Vol. 26(6) 538–542

Image by Jonathan Petersson

THERE IS A DICE CONSPIRACY

There is a strange phenomenon plaguing online games where chance plays a role, such as Backgammon. 

If you look at the chatrooms or comments from players, a large majority believes that the game developers have fixed the game by biasing the dice or writing code that favors certain players (for example those with a premium subscription).  The rationale is that by making winning more difficult for non-paying participants, that it would encourage them to buy a subscription or various tokens.  After-all they are a business and want to make money.


I took the time to record and analyze 200 games and while my own feeling was that there seemed to be an awful lot of doubles thrown during the games, the results did not support anything out of the ordinary or even a conspiracy.  The dice throws were as expected based on statistics.  It is easier to shake the dice than to shake the feeling that there has got to be a reason behind my losing to a weaker opponent.


Unless of course, the game developers knew that I was planning to analyze things and turned off their nefarious algorithm during my analysis!

What most people do not realize is that if a game developer would bias a fair game, they would very quickly cease to exist.  There are hordes of graduate students in the field of statistics, that would love to prove their prowess and bring down such a gaming site.  Also, these gaming sites gain more from having large and growing numbers of users (advertising, etc) than any incremental in-game purchases encouraged by a cheating algorithm.

FINAL THOUGHTS

The above mechanisms are individually and when taken together powerful in derailing our judgment when we try and make sense of matters important to our health. 


People who have the best intentions, healers of all sorts, are subject to the same cognitive conundrums.  It is therefore vital that you take matters into your own hands.  In the next segment (Crook defense), I have assembled three simple questions that should help you on your way. 

In a way, in order to ensure the health of your mind and body, you first need to ensure that your decisions are healthy.

And as your mind armed with these new tools starts annoying people at the next office party - who excitedly tell you about the latest fad, insight, or miracle cure, - you know you’re on your way.