Name That Phenomenon

Monday, January 25, 2016

Writing about a trend in software development, Stavros Korokithakis describes an interesting phenomenon:

As with all fashionable practices, it starts out innocently enough, someone tries it, it works out very well for them, they present it in an eloquent way that outlines all the advantages of the new practice, and everyone is excited and eager to try it out. Soon, you have a deluge of articles saying how well it works, and how more people tried it with great results. What you don't hear, though, is the cases where it didn't work, simply because people aren't as motivated to write about their failures. [bold added]
I have seen things like this happen again and again, but am having trouble finding a name for the phenomenon, which seems like it should have one. Korokithakis notes that it leads in part to "cargo-culting" whatever it is others are saying is so successful, but he doesn't name the phenomenon. The best I have come up with is, "echo chamber." Maybe this is technically correct, in that opposing views are underrepresented, but there is connotation with that term that the process is deliberate, which doesn't apply here. Should any passers-by know the correct term for this, please leave a comment or drop me a line.

-- CAV


Anonymous said...

Hi Gus,

It sounds to me like a composite phenomenon. Part 'Bubble' (as in Dot-Com Bubble) and part confirmation bias, though in something of a collective sense rather than individually.

Confirmation Bubble? (to coin a neologism?)

"Men, it has been well said, think in herds; it will be seen that they go mad in herds, while they only recover their senses slowly, and one by one."

Quoted from: "Extraordinary Popular Delusions and the Madness of Crowds"

c andrew

RT said...

Sounds similar to "survivor bias".

Kyle Haight said...

I think the phenomenon described in the bold text you quote falls under the broad heading of "selection bias". The assessments of the effectiveness of the new development methodology (or whatever) are assumed to be a representative sample of the overall results, but in fact they are not because there is a systematic tendency to exclude negative assessments from the sample.

Gus Van Horn said...

Of the comments and email so far, I think the data that arises most closely resembles what one might get from selection bias. Perhaps -- on the part of all the imitators after the first wave of enthusiasts. Considered from the imitators as samplers (and those after), perhaps we have a positive feedback loop of selection bias.

Vigilis said...

The inclination described is a form of "attribution error":
"The typical pattern of such attribution errors, as psychologists call them, is for people to take credit for positive outcomes and to attribute negative outcomes to external factors, no matter what their true cause." - Lovallo and Kahneman, Harvard Business review, July 2003.

The more familiar, though opposite example of this "selective anonymnity", occurs when satisfied customers may tell their friends about happy transaction outcomes, but some dissatisfied customers post their grievances on line, including some who prefer to erroneously believe their own mistake(s) had nothing to do with the poor outcome(s).

Certainly would be nice to know a more user-friendly synonym.

Gus Van Horn said...


Thanks for mentioning that opposite phenomenon.

I recall hearing some time ago that Android app ratings were being skewed by people seeking to take advantage of the attention a negative rating could get by using one even for positive reviews.