Saturday 31 January 2009

Chinese Fiddlesticks!

Every year, the city’s fate is supposedly sealed by the drawing of a Chinese fortune stick by an official representative of the Hong Kong government. This year, it was fortune stick number 27 that was shaken out of the bamboo holder and immediately the media, not to mention Fung Shui masters, started to cherry pick incidents (i.e. an interesting psychological phenomenon known as confirmation bias) that support the fortune stick’s non-specific predictions.

For example, the South China Morning Post article (referenced below) drew readers’ attention to a fireworks barge catching fire and a pleasure boat springing a leak. Oh dear, just what are the chances of such incidents happening? And is this the only time such incidents have occurred? Furthermore, the article attempted to highlight bad incidents that occurred the last time fortune stick number 27 was drawn, back in 1992, which somehow supposedly confirms the view that Hong Kong’s fate in 2009 is sealed. Other Hong Kong newspapers and TV programmes reported similar story themes.

Fung Shui masters are a lost cause (since they have a vested interest in finding confirming evidence, plus they don’t want to lose face even when contrary evidence stacks up against them), but it would help if journalists exhibited some critical thinking skills, and hence some critical reporting.

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