Saturday, September 25, 2010

Bringing a priori bias back to the level of the mundane

[UPDATE: The situation has been (partially) resolved. Not so much an apology, but at least acknowledgement that I am probably not a backpacking Sheila on a pre-Uni world jaunt "with my girlies". How did I manage this? The way any self-respecting man would: By getting his GF to email and sort things out. (She insisted.)]

A strange thing happened to me today:

I was minding my own business searching the internet for mail-order brides crushed rhino horn very intellectual school stuff, when up popped an email from a B&B that I stayed at during a recent Croatia trip with my girlfriend.

I scanned the first few lines and “realised” what the problem was: Having completed our Croatia holiday, I was requested to review all our various accommodations on Hostel World (the site I originally used to make our bookings). However, due to some computer glitch, the same review ended up getting posted twice for two different places; one in Split, the other in Hvar. As we had enjoyed the latter (i.e. the B&B in question) more than the former, I had tried to edit this double post only to encounter difficulties in doing do so. I eventually left it thinking that readers and the Hostel World team would notice something was amiss; if for no other reason that I referred to a different city in my actual review (Hvar vs Split)!

So, instead of reading through the whole email, I skipped straight to the reply button with an “Oh, yes, sorry about the misunderstanding. This is what happened, can you help us fix it? Blah Blah Blah Kind Regards...” response. This is the reply I got:
Stop playing , my mail gave you an answer already.Next time don´t close doors for yourself by lies.Your writings on trip advisor gave me a sight in your personality. 
Note to self: WTF?

I decided that a second reading of the initial email was warranted and, in keeping with the El Duderino theme* of stickman’s corral, my response upon doing so was: “What in God’s Holy Name are you blathering about??”

The B&B owner had gone on and on about how my review was filled with blatant lies, how I had disrespected her family with my terrible review and claimed that the place was a “dump”. This certainly wasn’t ringing any bells and – while we had preferred the B&B to our previous hostel – I wasn’t exactly slanderous in that review either. I called up my review just to make sure:
"Nice little spot right in the middle of XXX. Only spent one night there so couldn't comment too in depth, although would still recommend it. Friendly staff and rooms decent without being anything particularly fancy. Would recommend to friends and fellow travellers on a modest(ish) budget." RATING: 73%
Also, I have never written anything on Trip Advisor. Still confuzzed, I actually went onto Trip Advisor to see if any reviews could explain the first email. Indeed there was one, with the requisite “dump” references and so forth. The snag: it was written by an Australian female under the age of 25. In the Australian-female-under-25 department, I fail on all three accounts... Much, as I do sometimes think that the only thing standing between me and becoming the next Neighbours starlet is a good agent. (If anyone knows someone that knows someone...)

I wrote back, explaining the above to show that there MUST be a misunderstanding. I concluded:
If you have made up your mind that I am some kind of hate-filled liar, then there is no point in continuing this email conversation. However, if you can try to recall us from our actual visit then I am certain you would have to acknowledge that we don’t fit this category. We had a great time at XXX and we got on very well with both you and your husband and the other guests.[...] Why would I say we had a terrible time?? It makes no sense.
Further, I have explained the technical/internet fault that led to this double posting for the wrong hostel. You have the chance to help me have this corrected and not to provide misleading review for your hostel. 
If you do not wish to do so, I cannot help you.

Result: No response.

THOUGHT FOR THE DAY: Seeing as I’ve constantly droned on about how little I’m probably going to write on this blog, I was hoping to produce something insightful for my first post. However, I’m afraid that I have nothing more profound to say than: “Yes, people can be morons.”

REAL THOUGHT FOR THE DAY: Okay, I’ll try to add something more thoughtful. I’ve seen much written recently about people’s self-serving biases and the tendency of a priori assumptions to skew(er) our decision-making capabilities, particularly w.r.t. to matters economic**. In this particular case, the owner's preconceived notions precluded the possibility of us reaching an understanding. Among the biggest ironies is that she is the one that stands the most to gain from establishing the full set of facts; since she can help have my correct review posted (thereby boosting the overall rating of her establishment). As frustrating as it is to encounter everyday obstinacy, I suppose it is reassuring to see that people - from PhD's to B&B owner's - can show some consistency in their irrationalities.

* I’ve often speculated about The Big Lebowski’s ability to provide a truly apt quote for virtually every situation.  So far, this hypothesis is holding up nicely. [Update: Seeing as I cite Barry Ritholtz a few times in the next footnote, good to know that he seems to agree with me on this as well.]
** To use one example, Barry Ritholtz had several interesting posts herehere and here. The first of these links references the famous quote by George Orwell about “facts plain to any dispassionate eye”. 

We loved our Croatia trip, but beware the pizzas... They can be deadly:

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