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Hal Finney
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Mike, I think the point of Robin's story was not that ivory tower scientists in their labs overlook basic truths known by athletes in the field; rather, in this case the athletes themselves were misunderstanding the value of water for distance runners. Apparently, for decades, long distance runners believed that drinking water during races and training was bad for them and avoided water consumption, the opposite of what is now believed to be true. These were athletes who had every incentive to learn the truth, to experiment on themselves and try various things to see what works. A successful strategy would be expected to be copied and widely applied among other competitors. Yet this did not happen, they continued to cling to their accepted beliefs for many years. Given that the long distance running community could make such a mistake, why should we believe that bodybuilders are immune? Isn't it just as possible that the beliefs of bodybuilders are as much folklore as reality, based in tradition more than testing? In my experience, such beliefs are almost immune to falsification. If a bodybuilder ups his protein intake but still can't increase mass, this isn't viewed as evidence against the value of protein. Instead, a myriad of excuses will be offered: he didn't work out hard enough, or he ate too much bad food, or some other aspect of his program was wrong. Plus there are problems due to expectation effects. If someone believes eating high protein will help them, maybe they subconsciously work out harder when they eat that way. Or consider the long distance runners, I'll bet plenty of runners tried drinking water while training and felt sick afterwards, confirming their expectations. Beliefs can be very influential and it is hard to untangle them from results. That's why the double blind placebo controlled study was invented.
Toggle Commented May 14, 2009 on Desert Errors at Overcoming Bias
Sometimes people have trouble distinguishing flavors. This story is making the rounds today: Can People Distinguish Pâté from Dog Food? "Considering the similarity of its ingredients, canned dog food could be a suitable and inexpensive substitute for pâté or processed blended meat products such as Spam or liverwurst. However, the social stigma associated with the human consumption of pet food makes an unbiased comparison challenging. To prevent bias, Newman's Own dog food was prepared with a food processor to have the texture and appearance of a liver mousse. In a double-blind test, subjects were presented with five unlabeled blended meat products, one of which was the prepared dog food. After ranking the samples on the basis of taste, subjects were challenged to identify which of the five was dog food. Although 72% of subjects ranked the dog food as the worst of the five samples in terms of taste (Newell and MacFarlane multiple comparison, P<0.05), subjects were not better than random at correctly identifying the dog food."
Toggle Commented May 1, 2009 on You Don't Know Why You Act at Overcoming Bias