Here’s how a contributor to the Skeptic’s Dictionary defines confirmation bias:
Confirmation bias refers to a type of selective thinking whereby one tends to notice and to look for what confirms one’s beliefs, and to ignore, not look for, or undervalue the relevance of what contradicts one’s beliefs. For example, if you believe that during a full moon there is an increase in admissions to the emergency room where you work, you will take notice of admissions during a full moon, but be inattentive to the moon when admissions occur during other nights of the month. A tendency to do this over time unjustifiably strengthens your belief in the relationship between the full moon and accidents and other lunar effects.
This tendency to give more attention and weight to data that support our beliefs than we do to contrary data is especially pernicious when our beliefs are little more than prejudices. If our beliefs are firmly established on solid evidence and valid confirmatory experiments, the tendency to give more attention and weight to data that fit with our beliefs should not lead us astray as a rule. Of course, if we become blinded to evidence truly refuting a favored hypothesis, we have crossed the line from reasonableness to closed-mindedness.
And that’s a definition that brings me to the curious case of New Moore Island:
A tiny island claimed for years by India and Bangladesh in the Bay of Bengal has disappeared beneath the rising seas, scientists in India say. The uninhabited territory south of the Hariabhanga river was known as New Moore Island to the Indians and South Talpatti Island to the Bangladeshis. The BBC’s Chris Morris in Delhi says there has never been a permanent settlement on the now-vanished island, which even in its heyday was never more than two metres (about six feet) above sea level. In the past, however, the territorial dispute led to visits by Indian naval vessels and the temporary deployment of a contingent from the country’s Border Security Force. “What these two countries could not achieve from years of talking, has been resolved by global warming,” said Professor Sugata Hazra of the School of Oceanographic Studies at Jadavpur University in Calcutta.
And so the story goes – and is spread by the faithful. But, as always, adding a dose of the skepticism that ought to be an essential element of an environmentalism of doubt is called for.
Turning to Watts Up With That (to be sure, a skeptic site) we read that such “temporary estuary islands and sandbars appear and disappear all the time worldwide. Sometimes it can take a few years, sometimes a few centuries. Note that most of the area near South Talpatti Island is only 1-3 meters above sea level anyway, which means that such low lying islands made of mud and sand are prone to the whims of tide and currents and weather.”
Fair point, I reckon. And its importance is not that it disproves the idea that this lump of mud and sand was a victim of AGW. It doesn’t. What it does show, however, is that claims that the disappearance of New Moore can definitely be put down to climate change have to be treated with a fair degree of skepticism. And for some people that skepticism seems to have gone missing.
Well, religions are like that.