Daylight Savings Time and Confirmation Bias

Current daylight savings time illustration
Image Copyright: Andy Woodruff

Episode 17: Daylight Savings Time and Confirmation Bias – Show Notes

This episode was inspired by a clear lack of sleep.

Today, we are discussing confirmation bias. Confirmation bias is when people seek out only the evidence that supports their point of view while dismissing contrary evidence. An example might be a smoker highlighting a study of doctors. If 9 out of 10 doctors believe that smoking is bad for you then that means 1 doctor dissents. So the smoker might listen to the 1 instead of the 9.

In this episode, we use an oddly-controversial topic to show how confirmation bias can bring scientific studies into the fray. We are talking about daylight saving(s) time – something that there’s even a debate about the spelling of, nevermind the actual effects. Listen to the arguments and evidence in both directions to catch confirmation bias in action.

Should we abolish daylight savings time? Should we stay on daylight savings time perpetually? Or should we just keep adjusting our clocks? Comment below with your thoughts.

Additional Links for Daylight Saving Time and Confirmation Bias

Daylight saving time ends Sunday: 8 things to know about “falling back” Vox article that includes some rather compelling illustrations of what sunrise and sunset would be like if we either permanently keep or eliminate daylight saving time (Note: they insist that “saving” is singular)

Florida’s Year-Round Daylight Savings’ Time Law on Hold in Congress Orlando Sentinel article describing arguments both for and against the year-round daylight savings’ time legislation.

Cognitive Bias Science Daily’s scientific definition of the confirmation cognitive bias

Daylight Savings Time and Confirmation Bias Episode Transcript

View Episode Transcript

Lexy: Welcome to the Data Science Ethics Podcast. My name is Lexy and I’m your host. This podcast is free and independent thanks to member contributions. You can help by signing up to support us at datascienceethics.com. For just $5 per month, you’ll get access to the members only podcast, Data Science Ethics in Pop Culture. At the $10 per month level, you will also be able to attend live chats and debates with Marie and I. Plus you’ll be helping us to deliver more and better content. Now on with the show.

Marie: Hello everybody and welcome to the Data Science Ethics Podcast. This is Marie and I am here with Lexy. And today we are going to be talking about data science ethics in politics. Specifically, daylight savings time.

Marie: So this might sound like a kind of odd topic, but we’ve been thinking about it the last couple of weeks because we’ve just gone through daylight savings time.

Lexy: And I’m exhausted.

Marie: Because she has two huskies that do not accept the fact that we have gone through daylight savings time.

Lexy: Yeah. As those of us here in the US know, daylight savings time is when we set our clocks ahead an hour during the Spring and then we move the clocks back an hour in the Fall. In theory, you get more daylight during the hours when people are expected to be out of the house and working and doing things. The side effect of this, of course, is that all the non-humans that don’t read clocks and don’t care that we think it’s a different time. The sun still comes up roughly at the same time that it did the prior day.

Marie: Correct. And so there has been some legislation that’s been proposed to either keep daylight savings time throughout the year or to get rid of daylight savings time so we don’t have to change the clock back and forth. What we wanted to do on our podcast today was talk about how people can potentially use numbers and statistics in making arguments that affect policy.

Lexy: Yes. I’m going to preface this by saying I am a night person.

Marie: And I’m going to preface this by saying I’m a morning person.

Lexy: So when my dogs wake me up before my alarm, it’s inevitably earlier than I want to be up. This makes me groggy and irritable all day. It’s been going on for now over a week. So my preference, personally this is just me, would be to keep daylight savings time – meaning that it will stay lighter later throughout the year – which is what has been proposed here in Florida. On the flip side, if we were to get rid of daylight savings time, that would mean that you would have an earlier sunrise but also an earlier sunset.

Marie: Correct.

Lexy: So it’d be great for morning people like you.

Marie: It would be. And I would also say that when it comes to this type of proposal, this is where we can talk about some of the biases that we’ve talked about in other episodes where if somebody has a preference, then they’re going to look at statistics potentially that help support their argument.

Lexy: Yeah. That’s called confirmation bias.

Lexy: In confirmation bias, when you hold a position or a belief, the bias is that you will only look for information and support for your belief and you will ignore anything to the contrary. This is also to some degree what we see if people talk about kind of an echo chamber effect, especially in social media. Where they say that you get these groups of people who they’re just hearing things that confirm their own belief and you start to think that everyone thinks this. Everyone believes this. It’s Just because those are the only perspectives that you’re seeking out. That’s a confirmation bias.

Lexy: In this case, I personally liked the statistics that had been used to say, this is a great idea. Some of the things that we read in the article, which we will link below, were statistics that this would lead to a more productive workforce. That it would lead to potentially better physical activity because people are willing to go outside and walk or bike around more if the light stays out later and so forth. On the flip side, there are arguments. There are studies saying that it might not be a good idea.

Marie: Correct. Let’s preface this by saying, when we’ve looked at the data, and this might be our own confirmation bias, we see benefits to switching over one way or the other. Continuing to change our clocks to times of year essentially means that everybody gets jetlagged in the entire country twice a year. For us humans, we put ourselves through this. And then we also apparently are putting all of our pets through this as well. They don’t understand why we’re changing their feeding schedules and, you know, walk times and all of that.

Marie: So the net is that probably for the benefit of the vast majority of us in this country, if we were on one system or the other, it would be much better for all of us. That’s where we’re both starting from. I could be happy either way because eventually everybody would adjust to whatever the system would be. But if we were to go for an option that would provide more daylight earlier in the day, one of the benefits would be when I wake up, I would get to see the sunshine when I like to get up at like 6:00 or 7:00 in the morning. As Lexy shakes her head.

Lexy: And I on the other hand, could see the sunset at some time when I’m probably actually eating dinner like 6:00 or 7:00 at night.

Marie: Correct. But on the flip side, if we had more daylight in the morning, then as people were getting ready to go to work or to send their kids to school, there would be better light coverage to make sure that people weren’t potentially get in an accident early in the morning. So I do agree that there would be a benefit to having more daylight after school hours and after work hours to be able to enjoy activities post work. And I think another way to solve for that would be to move school times back. So they weren’t quite so early, which also has studies to prove that that improves performance. But that’s another topic.

Lexy: It is.

Lexy: But the whole point of this episode is talking about how we focus on the types of studies, the types of statistics, that reinforce what we want to convey.

Lexy: So for you, as a morning person, weirdo that you are, you may be more focused on finding articles or studies that show, for instance, that there would be fewer accidents or fewer potential problems with people being out early in the day. Like kids that are standing at a school bus stop that would potentially be vulnerable if somebody were not careful in how they’re driving or what have you. Or the other part of that was talking about younger drivers who are on the road going to school. So think about someone who is a teenager recently got their driver’s license and is driving themselves to school. That less experienced driver driving in the dark could potentially have a higher probability of having an accident.

Lexy: So for people who are supporting to either keep daylight savings time happening or eliminate daylight savings time, meaning it’s always going to be light earlier, that would be an argument that they might gravitate towards.

Marie: Yep.

Lexy: On the flip side, I still think that it should just stay light later. Also, I’m really tired and I’m… I’m very upset about this primarily because I used to think that the autumnal daylight savings shift was the good one. I get an extra hour of sleep. Because in theory I would already be asleep at 3:00 in the morning when the time suddenly resets to 2:00 and all is well. Except for this whole confounding factor of dogs,

Marie: Puppies!

Lexy: Punctual puppies.

Marie: Very punctual puppies. You have some of the most punctual puppies have ever been around. They know exactly when they have the allotted amount of time for them to be able to get their next feeding. They’re like, all right, we have waited x amount of time,

Lexy: But that’s not the case because at dinner there they are getting their dinner at the new 5:00.

Marie: Yeah, you’re right. Because then they haven’t waited like the..

Lexy: …the additional hour. Yeah. So yes, this is me being grumpy on the podcast. However, this is an important political issue. We should all care about daylight savings time and making sure that it’s light later.

Marie: The fact that Florida and California have both had measures talking about daylight savings time and we have other states that don’t necessarily follow daylight savings time like most of the country does – like in Indiana and Hawaii and New Mexico – shows that this is a thing that is up for debate. It’s not set in stone.

Marie: So the idea of this podcast, of this quick take, was just to say that even on a topic such as time zones and daylight savings time, that there can be different sets of data that people look at. And how people look at that information can have biases. We kind of took this as more of a traditional debate where we were on one side or the other. But again, I think we’re much closer on this topic than we’re playing this out to be. If we got rid of daylight savings time, either way, I think both of us would be happy. And you would have a situation with your puppies where you wouldn’t be this conundrum.

Lexy: Yeah. One way or the other. They would at least have a consistent schedule through the year. Which means I would have a consistent schedule through the year.

Marie: Exactly.

Lexy: Yeah.

Marie: Yeah.

Lexy: I’d still prefer it to be later.

Marie: Totally understand. So we’ll leave it there for this episode of the Data Science Ethics Podcast. Again, this is Marie Weber.

Lexy: And Lexy Kassan. Thanks.

Marie: Thanks so much.

Lexy: I’m going to go have a nap.

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