Sunday, April 11, 2010

The Earth Holds Steady

There's a nice piece in the NYT this morning, addressing the idea that "earthquakes are becoming more frequent." One passage that struck me was on clustering:
Throw enough dice, and sometimes you’ll get several sixes in a row. People notice the clusters; they don’t notice the gaps in between. No one ever asks me during the quiet periods if earthquakes are becoming less frequent. Also, people tend to have short memories; they notice the current cluster, but don’t remember the previous one.
I find it interesting, but in agreement with my own experience, that people don't perceive "normal," and therefore don't really remember it. I tend to remember weather extremes, for better or for worse, more clearly than the majority of days, which are merely normal. I don't think I've ever explicitly mulled that idea over before.

And of course this is the reason that we have to follow strict data collection rules. If we just collected data that was "interesting," it would be very biased indeed.

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