The fertility chair
In saturday's edition of Charente Libre, our local paper was a story about a magic fertility chair in Naples.
For anglophones, this magnificent journal also has an English version. I can't link to the story itself as it is a subscription site. I found this one though, and here is the story at Reuters.
Now this post may ramble a bit because I'm posting immediately after haveing 3 demi pressions at the cafe with the old boys - pre lunch aperatifs.
First, lets get the Charente Libre out of the way. The newspaper's name translates as "Free Charente", but if you should decide to quip to the newsagent that the paper shouldn't cost 85 centimes since it is free, you will be rewarded with a blank look. Because in French there are a few words for "free", and "libre" has the sense of "freedom" or "liberty" as in free from oppression or slavery, and my guess is that the paper took its name shortly after liberation from the Nazis in 1945. "Free" as in "costs no money" is the word "gratuit" and "free" as in "available" is "disponible.
Getting back to the story at hand. I read the article in the Charente Libre while on a night shift, Saturday. "That's blogworthy" I thought and tore it out and put it in my jacket pocket.
Today, Monday, in the cafe, one of the old boys sarts telling the story of this miraculous fertility chair, whereapon I reach into my pocket and bring out said article. Much to everyone's amazement at how switched on to current affairs the English are. We aren't, of course. The remark is an example of confirmation bias. And confirmation bias is the explaination behind the miracle fertility chair.
Either it's the alcohol, or my own confirmation bias but I'm delighted the way these threads are coming together.
Right. The story at hand. The magic fertility chair. At the end of the 18th Century, Anna Maria Rosa Nicoletta Gallo spent her life in a small flat "in chastity and mystical suffering until her death in 1791 at the age of 76." She was given the saint name of "Mary Frances of the Five Wounds of Jesus" which suggests she may have carried stigmata, but, given that at the shrine you can also see her hair shirts and whips, it's not beyond the bounds of possibility that the stigmata were self-inflicted.
What's involved is that women who are struggling to fall pregnant sit themselves in an armchair in the shrine. Then Sister Maria Giuliana, or Sister Elisa who belong to the order of nuns that guard the shrine will touch the supplicant's breast and belly with a box containing a vertebra and lock of hair of the saint. The efficacy of the treatment is proved by the birth announcements stuck to the walls and the testimonies in weblogs.
This is where the confirmation bias comes in.
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.
Numerous studies have demonstrated that people generally give an excessive amount of value to confirmatory information, that is, to positive or supportive data
All the hundreds and thousands of people who have sat in the chair and had no benefit do not get reported. All the hundreds and thousands of people who would have fallen pregnant regardless of whether they sat in the chair or not, cannot be assertained, as there is no double blind testing. Likewise, it is impossible to judge the effects on mood, moral, and mental attitude of the women who have sat in the chair and then attacked their conjugal efforts with renewed vigour.
(That last sentence is DEFINITELY the efffect of French beer)
In closing, I'd like to add how much I love catholicism for being the loony fringe of christianity. European and South American catholics are so into the voodoo zombie side of stuff, with saints and bones and weeping statues. It is such good value for money. That's your "old time religeon" right there.
Here we have a picture of a woman getting the saintly boner (sorry, "bones") applied to her: and below is a url for a video. Courtesy Reuters
video: Fertility Chair