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Beneficiaries of human tragedies ! July 19, 2006

Posted by Sharath Rao in india, media, rant.
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Somebody atleast benefits from natural calamities and somebody ( other than the terrorists and their sympathesizers ofcourse ) benefit from man-made tragedies like the recent Bombay blasts – astrologers and numerologists ( and if it involves an individual maybe even palmists. )

Look at this piece from the Hindustantimes.

Is there a common thread between Indonesian tsunami (July 17, 2006), Kashmir earthquake (October 8, 2005), Mumbai floods (July 26, 2005), Gujarat earthquake (January 26, 2001) and the devastating Indian Ocean tsunami (December 26, 2004)? Indeed, it is number eight – the number of Saturn.

We heard this before. Except that was about different numbers, and after other tragedies. We heard about how 26 was an unlucky number after Mumbai floods, Gujrat Earthquake, Tsunami. Now since the Mumbai blasts happened on 11th and not on 26th or 8th or 17th, we have a new fact.

Lets now list a few tragedies of Independent India ( in addition to the above ) :

Death of Gandhi : Jan 30, 1948
China attacked India : Oct 20, 1962
Death of Nehru ( First PM in office ) : May 27, 1964
Indira Gandhi’s assasination ( First major political ass. ) : Oct 31, 1984
Sikh riots : Nov 1, 2, 3rd, 1984 ( 2000+ killed )
Bhopal Gas Tragedy : Dec 2, 1984 (3000 dead )
Second major political assasination ( Rajiv Gandhi ) – May 20th, 1991
Babri Masjid brought down : Dec 6, 1992
Gujrat riots : Feb 28, 2002 ( 2000+ dead )
Uttarkashi Earthquake : Oct 20, 1991 (1000 dead )
Latur-Osmanabad Earthquake : Sep 30, 1993 ( 7000+ dead )
Orissa cyclone : Oct 29, 1999 (10,000 dead )

How many 8s, 17s, and 26s do you see here ?

Someone has generously listed the top 10 biggest falls of the Indian stock market index. The 3rd biggest happens to be on May 17th, 2004 ( Black Monday as they call it – when Vajpayee came down ). Now if you were arguing on the side of the author of the HT article, you would cite only this as the evidence. I wouldnt go as far to call one a say one a cheater for doing that. What we doing here is either unjustified generalization. Or as statisiticians put it – showing confirmatory bias :

Rarely do any of us sit down before a table of facts, weigh them pro and con, and choose the most logical and rational explanation, regardless of what we previously believed. Most of us, most of the time, come to our beliefs for a variety of reasons having little to do with empirical evidence and logical reasoning. Rather, such variables as genetic predisposition, parental predilection, sibling influence, peer pressure, educational experience and life impressions all shape the personality preferences that, in conjunction with numerous social and cultural influences, lead us to our beliefs. We then sort through the body of data and select those that most confirm what we already believe, and ignore or rationalize away those that do not.This phenomenon, called the confirmation bias, helps to explain the findings published in the National Science Foundation’s biennial report (April 2002) on the state of science understanding: 30 percent of adult Americans believe that UFOs are space vehicles from other civilizations; 60 percent believe in ESP; 40 percent think that astrology is scientific; 32 percent believe in lucky numbers; 70 percent accept magnetic therapy as scientific; and 88 percent accept alternative medicine.

A homegrown example of confirmatory bias would be to listen to how people defend their favorite astrologers. I wont say anything more.

Sources : For earthquakes data, stockmarket data

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