In a recent Facebook post, a person that I’ve known for over 10 years and someone who has authored several articles for this website, said, I don’t need to support my views with facts because I know that they are true. It was as if Stephen Colbert’s truthiness joke was manifest in reality. This person was arguing something that had no real evidence, but had been said over and over and over again — heck, it has been said enough times that I believe it, too, even though I’ve never seen any real evidence that could be used in court to prove it or convict the people involved. There’s a cognitive bias that shows when people hear something over and over enough — even when it isn’t true — that they start to believe it. This is called the illusory truth effect.
We see this in sea kayaking and the outdoor world as well.
Defined by Wikipedia:
The illusory truth effect (also known as the truth effect or the illusion-of-truth effect) is the tendency to believe information to be correct after repeated exposure.
One example from the sea kayaking world is: when asked what length of kayak is best for the ocean or the Great Lakes, the common answer is 16 feet minimum. It’s repeated often all over the Internets and is often believed as truth. The problem is that it isn’t true. The right answer is: it depends. And in sea kayaking it really does depend. I recently saw this play out in an online discussion group. Someone stated that you’d want a minimum of 16 feet and when I pointed out that I like to use my 14-foot Dagger Alchemy for those types of conditions, the person stated:
Bet you aren’t far off shore. Just saying it easier and safer to be in a bigger boat, especially if you are a ways off shore… My definition of chop is when the waves are big enough to swamp your boat if you are not an experienced paddler or drains your energy.
I’m not sure if there was a bit of confirmation bias going on there as well. Maybe?
Confirmation bias defined by Wikipedia:
Confirmation bias, also called confirmatory bias or myside bias, is the tendency to search for, interpret, favor, and recall information in a way that confirms one’s preexisting beliefs or hypotheses, while giving disproportionately less consideration to alternative possibilities.
The thing is: it depends.
My answer for the length of a kayak, and I don’t think this is a complete answer, was: I wouldn’t say there is a specific length so much as features that you’ll want (assuming you have the right skills) such as bulkheads or float bags with enough float to make rescues and reentries easy, full perimeter deck lines, a cockpit that you can easily seal with a skirt, bow and stern toggles, a hull design appropriate for the conditions, etc… And this answer, shows my biases. Certainly, a recreational kayak could be used safely on the Great Lakes or ocean in the right conditions.
And in sea kayaking, it really does depend. There are so many quick answers that people have heard and given that those answers are often just repeated even if they aren’t true. It depends so much on the situation in sea kayaking that it’s hard to give a pithy answer. For example, what is the best rescue to use in sea kayak? What is the best rescue to use when you are alone in sea kayaking? It depends. But to common answers are going to be: t-rescue and paddle float rescue. The later is one that many who read this website would disagree with and have good evidence on why even though it is repeated in every book on the subject, taught in many courses and repeated over and over as the best solo rescue. A British coach and experienced expedition paddler was once asked to demo the paddle float rescue and she had no idea how it was done and she had successfully completed major expeditions. But due to the illusory truth effect, many believe that it is the best without overcoming their confirmation bias to figure out whether or not that is actually true.
Another cognitive bias is known as the Dunning-Kruger Effect. Wikipedia says that it’s “the tendency for unskilled individuals to overestimate their own ability and the tendency for experts to underestimate their own ability.”
This is something that kayaking instructors see all the time and something that I’ve written about as well. Check out What’s Our Burden as More Experienced Kayakers? to see an example of a person suffering from Dunning-Kruger. Heck, there’s a presidential candidate suffering from it as well. Chances are that you know someone suffering from it, too.
Heck, we probably all suffer from some type of cognitive bias, and it’s really apparent in online conversations. Luckily, the readers of PaddlingLight tend to comment after thinking deeply about a subject. I can’t say as much for some of PaddlingLight’s Facebook fans. It seems like if someone is going to display the illusory truth effect, confirmation bias or Dunning-Kruger it’ll probably be on Facebook and not directly on this website.
Next time while discussing sea kayaking or any other topic, perhaps, it’s time to think about the illusory truth effect, confirmation bias and Dunning-Kruger. We might not think we have the skills that we have or we might think we are more skilled than we are, we might only be repeating a “truth” because we’ve heard it over and over, and we might only be commenting or listening or reading in a way that supports our confirmation bias. In a discussion group, that might only mean hurt feelings, but in sea kayaking, a sport in which you are surrounded by danger and risk, your biases might get you killed.