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Survivorship Bias


Why to study failure rather than success?

Survivorship bias is a cognitive bias that occurs when someone tries to make a decision based on past successes, while ignoring past failures.

Understanding survivorship bias and how it influences your judgment is the important to becoming more alert and a critical thinking. This can help it to be better decision maker or making data-driven decisions like a scientist.


Is dropping off the college a good idea?

We all have heard the story of how Bill Gate, Steve Jobs, Mark Zuckerberg dropped off the college and went on to build the empire. We get inspired from such stories but what about the rest of people who dropped off the college and became broke and still have student loan to pay.

Bill Gates in his blog says "Based on the latest college completion trends, only about half of all those students (54.8 percent) will leave college with a diploma. The rest — most of them low-income, first-generation, and minority students — will not finish a degree. They'll drop out." We all see the people who make it to the top but we fail to see the 1000 people who couldn't make it.


What will you choose if i give you below data?

Consider you are a head engineer at US army during World War 2. You are told to examine the damaged planes which have survived the fight and returned back to your base and suggest to place armor on plane to protect it.




Now, If i am not wrong you would have suggested to put armor on places where you see damage, right?

But Abraham Wald, a statistician at the Statistical Research Group (SRG) during World War 2, made a glaring observation—the military would make a terrible mistake by upgrading the armor along these sections of the plane. Why? Because the military was only looking at the damage on returned planes. They hadn’t factored in damage on planes that didn’t return.

Planes that didn’t return were the ones that sustained damage in ways not seen on returned planes— their engines. Unlike the body, tail, and wings, the engine was extremely vulnerable. Once hit there, planes went down, and they didn’t make it back home to have their damage charted out.


How scams work and how to avoid it?

To answer the above question i will share an experiment conducted back in the 1930s by Dr. Joseph Rhine who had set out to test whether or not extrasensory perception (ESP) really existed. To figure this out, he tested whether someone could successfully guess the order of a shuffled deck of cards.

He originally used regular playing cards but switched to specially designed Zener cards so that participants didn’t default to guessing only the playing cards they were familiar with versus genuinely guessing.




In his experiment, he asked 500 people to guess the order of these cards. Participants who guessed right were moved to the next round. They were asked to guess again, and those who guessed correctly were moved to the next round and so on.

Whoever was left at the end was deemed to have telepathic ability because they were able to guess correctly in every round.


As interesting as this experiment is, it was a case of survivor bias. The experiment, unintentionally, found the probability that someone, anyone, in the participant pool would guess correctly each time. It didn’t determine that a particular person had abilities.

In many cases it has more to do with luck than things you learned along the way.

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