Regression to the mean

You connect facts and experiences, you create pattern in the world around you and in the reality none of them are correlated. In few words this is the explanation of the regression to the mean (in a day-to-day life).

Did I ever mention that I love cognitive illusions? Pure love!

One of the things I love the most of being a medical librarian is that I am gaining an incredible insight into medicine: how science works, the importance of facts and evidence and how we are “repeatedly bombarded with sciencey-sounding claims” (Goldacre, 2008). The best part is that the more I learn about the health-business the more I see things in a different way.

I am reading Bad Science and my attention is captured by a new concept: the regression to the mean. I am not interested in the statistical aspect (more info here) but how this concept has silently blinded me in many situations.

As Goldacre explains, if I have a cold I will try things to get better. I would stay at home, drink water, eat a chicken soup and take an ibuprofen = my body is at the very worst and I try remedies to cure my illness. In the best scenario I will be up and running the following day. Now, it is because of the ibuprofen or because of the delicate chicken soup prepared by my husband or because my body simply needs a rest.

In my mind I think it’s because all of three, however Goldacre argues that because it worked that last time, now my brain has created a cognitive illusion that demands me to take an ibuprofen, ask my hubby to prepare a chicken soup and have a rest.

Now on I will look at a common cold in a different way. I know for sure that having a rest is a good idea, not sure about the ibuprofen at this point. Using my rational part of the brain I know that the chicken soup homemade by my hubby is not miraculous, but it works! Shall we do a trial?

We connect facts and we rely on this cognitive illusion. Natural history plays an important factor. My point is that rather that blindly believing in magic and quick solutions I will accept the natural cycle of the illness (but I still demand my homemade chicken soup!).



Goldacre, B. (2008). Bad Science. London: HarperCollins.