Woozle Hunting: In Search of the Facts

“Knowledge is power only if man knows what facts not to bother with” Robert Staughton Lynd

A Woozle is an imaginary character in A.A. Milne’s book Winnie-the-Pooh, published in 1926. In chapter three, “In which Pooh and Piglet Go Hunting and Nearly Catch a Woozle”, Winnie-the-Pooh and Piglet start following tracks left in the snow believing they are the tracks of a Woozle. The tracks keep multiplying until Christopher Robin explains to them that they have been following their own tracks in circles around a tree.

“I have been Foolish and Deluded,” said he “and I am a Bear of No Brains at All.”

Long before the specific term “Woozle effect” was coined, the underlying research phenomenon and (connection to the Woozle) is said to date back to 1950’s academic papers which used the terms “scientific Woozle hunters” to describe scientific methodology and research errors in the field of psychology.

In fact, it goes back much further than that. “Three men make a tiger” is a Chinese proverb which refers to an individual’s tendency to accept absurd information as long as it is repeated by enough people. It refers to the idea that if an unfounded premise is mentioned and repeated by many individuals, the premise will be erroneously accepted as truth.

The proverb came from the story of an alleged speech by Pang Cong, an official of the state of Wei in the Warring Sates period between 475 BC and 221 BC. According to records, before he left on a trip to the state of Zhao, Pang Cong asked the King of Wei whether he would hypothetically believe in one civilian’s report that a tiger was roaming the markets in the capital city, to which the King replied no. Pang Cong asked what the King thought if two people reported the same thing, and the King said he would begin to wonder. Pang Cong then asked, “what if three people all claimed to have seen a tiger?” The King replied that he would believe in it. Pang Cong reminded the King that the notion of a live tiger in a crowded market was absurd, yet when repeated by numerous people, it seemed real.

Since Pang Cong, as a high-ranking official, had more than three opponents and critics, he was in fact urging the King to pay no attention to those who would spread rumors about him while he was away. Despite Pang’s best efforts to educate the King on the dangers of relying on unsubstantiated information, the King himself fell victim to the Woozle effect and banished Pang on his return!

A Woozle is also a claim made about research which is not supported by original findings. A Woozle effect occurs when frequent citation of previous publications that lack evidence mislead individuals, groups, and the public into thinking or believing there is evidence, and non-facts become urban myths and factoids. The Woozle effect is an example of confirmation bias and is closely linked to belief perseverance and group think. Since when making investment decisions evidence may be based on experiential reports as opposed to objective measurements, there may be a tendency for researchers to align evidence with expectations.

There are many famous examples of the Woozle effect in the mainstream:

 

The Baltimore Evening Sun Reports All Titanic Passengers are Safe

 

The Chicago Tribune Mistakenly declares Dewey defeats Truman in presidential election

 

Bloomberg publishes Steve Job’s obituary three years before his death

 

Our ethos at Woozle Research is firmly based on acquisition and discernment of the real facts and allowing these facts themselves to attest the truth. We are fully cognisant and respectful of external opinion and conviction but we do not slavishly accept nor judge anything no matter how credible, widely reported or universally accepted.

We are passionate about conducting our own brand of timely and rigorous on the ground intelligence gathering to procure a real and unbiased picture of events and results at all the companies we track.

Our culture here at Woozle Research can be aptly summed up by Bertrand Russell’s ‘intellectual’ message to future generations:

“When you are studying any matter, or considering any philosophy, ask yourself only what are the facts and what is the truth that the facts bear out. Never let yourself be diverted either by what you wish to believe, or by what you think would have beneficent social effects if it were believed. But look only, and solely, at what are the facts.”

By | 2018-02-01T19:53:11+00:00 January 22nd, 2017|Article|0 Comments