Without evidence of benefit, an intervention should not be presumed to be beneficial or safe.

- Rogue Medic

Another Wonderful Friday the 13th

I love superstitions, so this is another opportunity to point out how ridiculous this example of anecdotalism is.

Anecdotalism?

Absolutely. If we objectively track of what happens on Fridays that are the 13th and compare those bad events with the bad events that happen on the other Fridays, we will see that this superstition is not supported by research, but only supported by our faulty memories.

We selectively remember bad things that happen during a full moon, or on a Fridays the 13th. We associate the bad things with the evil influence of the moon, or the date, or whatever makes us soil our panties.

This is no different from a doctor, nurse, or medic remembering the outcomes that are interpreted favorably and ignoring the bad outcomes, when giving medical treatments. The patients do not even have to have improved. The only thing that matters is that the person remembering the experience has a favorable memory of what happened.

This is why almost every experience-based treatment will be demonstrated to be harmful, unless it is eliminated without evidence.

We convince ourselves that what we are doing is helpful, because we wouldn’t intentionally harm patients, therefore we are helping. We don’t notice the circular logic, because we are fooling ourselves.

An example is a patient I transported to a hospital that claims to be the best hospital in the country/world. It is an excellent hospital. One of their buildings has more than 13 floors, but it does not have a 13th floor. Did somebody steal it? Were they careless and maybe they lost it? No. They are just demonstrating that even an Ivy League university hospital trembles before irrational superstitions. Fortunately, the buffoons in charge are not the people treating patients. Ben Franklin would be embarrassed. This is the kind of foolishness he created the university to oppose.


Image credit.

However –

The patient I transported was receiving a superstition-based medicine tradition-based medicine experience-based medicine. I mentioned that it was unfortunate that this patient had to be harmed by this medication (there were several obvious adverse effects) for no benefit. One of the nurses defended the superstition by stating, I’ve seen it work.

Of course you have, because that is what confirmation bias is. Convincing ourselves that what we are seeing is confirmation that we were right – in spite of the evidence.

No doctor came in while I was there, but doctors do tend to be less superstitious than nurses and medics, so I remain optimistic.
 

Belief in lucky or unlucky things imposes purpose, design, meaning, and significance on otherwise indifferent and purposeless events. Confirmation bias assures that such superstitions will be supported by plenty of validating anecdotes.[1]

The great tragedy of Science — the slaying of a beautiful hypothesis by an ugly fact. – Thomas Henry Huxley.

Some superstitions unsupportable hypotheses are take a long time to die.

Footnotes:

[1] paraskevidekatriaphobia
Skeptic’s Dictionary – A Collection of Strange Beliefs, Amusing Deceptions, and Dangerous Delusions
Robert T. Carroll
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Comments

  1. Less superstition and more marketing/operational efficiency. The hotel and hospital administrators know there’s no truth to the 13th phobia, but they also know that if they have a floor labeled 13, they’ll receive multiple requests from idiots to be moved off that floor. Easier to relabel the floors.

  2. I’ve seen some truly weird things that can’t be just coincidence, a rash of car accidents, group hysteria, dozens of psych calls within a few hours the nothing for days, very mysterious! The 13th stuff is a little over the top, I think it’s more of a quantum physics thing.

    • michael,

      I’ve seen some truly weird things that can’t be just coincidence, a rash of car accidents, group hysteria, dozens of psych calls within a few hours the nothing for days, very mysterious!

      What is the normal spacing of these events?

      We look for connections, because we are a pattern-seeking species. Our brains like patterns. We release dopamine when we think we recognize a pattern.

      We recognize many more patterns than actually exist.

      A bunch of anything is still minor compared to all of the major accidents that have not happened on a Friday the 13th.

      If the date is dangerous, then major accidents should be over-represented on Fridays that fall on the 13th day of the month.

      Where are the Friday the 13th major disasters?

      The 13th stuff is a little over the top, I think it’s more of a quantum physics thing.

      The frequency of quantum physics causing some bizarre event, or series of events makes any non-quantum occurrence else seem common.

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