Thursday, November 08, 2007

In the shops now

I thought one of the attractions of taking out a subscription to a publication was that it landed on your doormat before appearing on the shelves of the local newsagent - not so with Canal Boat, it would appear. I have, however, by dint of handing over to my trusty local tobacconist a sum in excess of three guineas, secured myself a copy of this highly desirable publication. 'I'm buying this,' I told him, in the hope of a little parochial glory, 'Because there's an article by me in it.' 'Are you sure it's in this one?' he replied, 'It only came out today.' I left with my brow slightly more furrowed than when I arrived.

I waited until I was on the train to have a look at the article, and I must say, Kevin has done it proud with the photos; it looks really great. I wasn't expecting a photo byline, but he's culled a rather heroic looking shot of me from the website. It's actually on the Hundred Foot in a slightly chilly breeze, but looks very purposeful.

The text I think he has cut a bit more since I last saw it, but I'm not complaining. There are also little bits that he added, at an earlier stage, and I approved them despite not thinking they were 100% perfect; I've been an editor, and there's nothing worse than a precious author.

However, I am now going to try to have my cake and eat it. Kevin really wanted to bring out the way that once you embark on a project like our engine, you can't really get off the rollercoaster until you get to the end. That's definitely the way it feels, and he put in a little parenthesis to make the point: ' ... you realise you have to keep going, even if you can ill afford it, because stopping will leave you with a half finished project and a lot of wasted money!'

What I realised, when I read it this morning, was that I had allowed my name to be put to a blatant example of what philosophers (this is true) call the Concorde Fallacy. A fallacy, in this sense, is a faulty chain of reasoning. For example, if you toss a coin ten times and it comes up heads, you think that there's a greater probability of it coming up tails next time; of course there isn't, the probability is still 50% as it always was and always will be. This is known as the Gambler's Fallacy, and is usually illustrated by reference to roulette (but coins are simpler).

The Concorde Fallacy, which gets its name for obvious reasons, is about making spending decisions (I suppose it could apply by analogy to other situations, like whether to continue with a personal relationship). If you have spent a lot of money on a project already, it is tempting to think that this gives you an additional reason in favour of spending more money, so as to somehow ensure that the money you've spent already isn't wasted. In fact, what has happened, and however much you have spent, in the past has no bearing at all on what the sensible course of action is now. You have, as it were, to start from where you are, and decide purely on the basis of the likely future consequences of each course of action open to you now.

So now you know that I know that I have, nominally, committed a fallacy, I feel better. Actually, it's a fallacy I'm particularly fond of, in the sense that I was pleased to learn about it, because it's a very tempting one to fall into and it's good to be able to refute it. It doesn't really apply to Warrior's engine though, because the reason for continuing with that was never because we'd already spent so much etc etc; it was because we wanted to see it bloody well finished, at almost any cost.

I wonder whether, with me and Bones, this issue of Canal Boat has the highest ever degree count ... Finally, I have concluded that Canal Boat is better than Waterways World because the former lasts the entire journey to London, and the latter only lasts about as far as Clapham Junction.

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

Hi Sarah

My copy arrived on Tuesday ... and I live in "remote" Norfolk. Well, OK, Norwich isn't remote by Norfolk standards, but it's still a long way from anywhere. Not saying this to gloat, but thought you'd like to know that this BSc turned straight to your excellent article. Even though I'd read it all (most) here before! (Sorry Bones, if you read this, but your DIY column wasn't specifically listed in the contents so it took a bit of searching for)

Nice one.