It all began when I asked a question about the "As a [role], I want
[ability], so that [benefit]" style of writing stories. (See Mike
Cohn's User Stories
Applied for a description.)
Not all Americans wanted to [treat prisoners well]. Always some
dark spirits wished to visit the same cruelties on the British and
Hessians that had been inflicted on American captives. But
Washington's example carried growing weight, more so than his written
orders and prohibitions. He often reminded his men that they were an
army of liberty and freedom, and that the rights of humanity for which
they were fighting should extend even to their enemies. Washington and
his officers were keenly aware that the war was a contest for popular
opinion, but they did not think in terms of 'images' or 'messages' in
the manner of a modern journalist or politician. Their thinking was
more substantive. The esteem of others was important to them mainly
because they believed that victory would come only if they deserved to
win. Even in the most urgent moments of the war, these men were
concerned about ethical questions in the Revolution.
David Hackett Fischer, Washington's Crossing, p. 276
Confirmation bias is a phenomenon wherein decision makers have been
shown to actively seek out and assign more weight to evidence that
confirms their hypothesis, and ignore or underweight evidence that
could disconfirm their hypothesis [...]
Among the first to investigate this phenomenon was Wason (1960), whose
subjects were presented with three numbers (a triple):
and told that triple conforms to a particular rule. They were then
asked to discover the rule by generating their own triples and use the
feedback they received from the experimenter. Every time the subject
generated a triple, the experimenter would indicate whether the triple
conformed to the rule (right) or not (wrong). The subjects were told
that once they were sure of the correctness of their hypothesized
rule, they should announce the rule.
While the actual rule was simply "any ascending sequence," the
subjects seemed to have a great deal of difficulty in inducing it,
often announcing rules that were far more complex than the correct
rule. More interestingly, the subjects seemed to only test "positive"
examples; that is, triples that subjects believed would conform to
their rule and thus confirm their hypothesis. What the subjects did
not do was attempt to falsify their hypotheses by testing triples that
they believed would not conform to their rule.
In an October 2002 speech in Cincinnati, for example, President Bush
said: "We've learned that Iraq has trained al Qaeda members in
bomb-making and poisons and gases." Other senior administration
officials, including Secretary of State Colin L. Powell in a speech
to the United Nations, made similar assertions. Al-Libi's statements
were the foundation of all of them.
Qaeda-Iraq Link Recanted, Washington Post, July 31, 2004.
According to CIA sources, Ibn al Shaykh al Libbi, after two weeks of
enhanced interrogation, made statements that were designed to tell the
interrogators what they wanted to hear. Sources say Al Libbi had been
subjected to each of the progressively harsher techniques in turn and
finally broke after being water boarded and then left to stand naked
in his cold cell overnight where he was doused with cold water at
His statements became part of the basis for the Bush administration
claims that Iraq trained al Qaeda members to use biochemical
weapons. Sources tell ABC that it was later established that al Libbi
had no knowledge of such training or weapons and fabricated the
statements because he was terrified of further harsh treatment.
Harsh Interrogation Techniques Described, ABC News, Nov.