If you know this one; stop me here…
How many animals of each kind did Moses take on the ark?
Think about that for a second… is your answer “two”.
If it is you’re wrong. Read the question again and think about it.
Think again about who loaded the ark – it wasn’t Moses, it was Noah.
The Kaplans raise this question in their book: Bozo Sapiens: Why to Err is Human. As they suggest, to look at one thing is to become blind to everything else. They highlight a study where observers watch a basketball game and are told to count how many passes one team makes and not the other. Concentrating on the task, the majority of viewers will miss the gorilla mascot walking across the court and briefly stopping in front of the camera.
…looking is an active, selective process, involving choice of objects, assessment of surprise, direction of attention, and division of the world into Important and Invisible. So it’s not surprising that our opinions can shape not just what we think but also what we see.
Think about the classic example of buying a new car and then all of a sudden you start seeing those cars everywhere – maybe even feeling some affiliation. Marketers know this, they prey upon it. Why do you think Harley Davidson owners are almost like a cult group among North American yuppies? Or, why the Austin Mini had a huge resurgence after featuring in a James Bond movie or two….
Certainly our mistakes generally err toward the self-serving whether it’s a case of researchers “finding” that the data fits the curve or taxpayers discovering that they magically owe the government less that they’d thought. These aren’t necessarily lies – just accurate reports from a parallel, more desirable universe, which suggests why people caught out in them are so often sincere in their protestations of innocence. But the world doesn’t know how we want it to be, so why do we cling to self-serving conclusions in the face of conflicting evidence?
Simple: once we have a conclusion we don’t see the evidence, or we downgrade it – whether it’s a smoker telling you his chimney of a grandmother lived to be ninety-nine or an oil company executive telling you that climate-change science is “flawed”.
Let me throw a rather stunning piece of evidence that rings in my ears – the United Nations Food and Agriculture Organization has been reporting for years:
over 70% of the world’s fish species are either fully exploited or depleted. The dramatic increase of destructive fishing techniques worldwide destroys marine mammals and entire ecosystems.
Could some of this be a case of a few too many fisheries researchers and managers, government ministers and others: “finding that the data fits the curve”?
For example, that operating on the principle devised for farming crops – maximum sustained yield (MSY) – is highly, highly flawed. In salmon “management” the principle of MSY has dictated that salmon fisheries can catch/kill 80% of a run and that the remaining 20% will make it upstream, feed the ecosystem and successfully spawn the next generation – which can then be depleted by 80%, and so on, and so on…
Downgrading the evidence… is that what the Kaplans called it?
Or salmon-colored glasses, or to be entirely truthful – I think we could say that salmon “management” has been through rather thick human-colored glasses.