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seeking sunken ship, shrinks study stories
October 1, 2011 12:35 AM   Subscribe

Two Aussie psychologists studied the 66-year-old testimony of 70 German sailors rescued after their boat sank. The ship which sank it, the HMAS Sydney, also sank ... taking 645 sailors with it.
After analyzing the stories the shrinks - knowledgeable in the vagaries of storytelling - found that the Germans weren't lying. They crowdsourced the stories, sat down together with a map of the Indian Ocean and ...
posted by Twang (21 comments total) 22 users marked this as a favorite

 
Interesting link, cheers!
posted by tumid dahlia at 12:41 AM on October 1, 2011


Every time there was a shift in a sentence or a word, they noted it and put that change down on a graph. This produced a particular statistical profile.

Eat that soft sciences! Math is going to get you eventually.
posted by Chekhovian at 12:44 AM on October 1, 2011 [12 favorites]


This post is a double. At least, I'm pretty sure the basic gist of this story has been posted before. Maybe in February of 2008, if memory serves.

You remember?
posted by twoleftfeet at 12:50 AM on October 1, 2011 [3 favorites]


When the two ships were found, a MeFite was aboard the vessel that found them.
posted by cgc373 at 2:05 AM on October 1, 2011 [4 favorites]


Eat that soft sciences! Math is going to get you eventually.

Eh? "Soft" scientists have long been instrumental in the development of said math...
posted by Philosopher Dirtbike at 2:17 AM on October 1, 2011 [4 favorites]


That's a great story. I had two thoughts about it - first, is there a clearer explanation of how the psychologists did this? and second, how difficult to apply this to helping wife find her car keys?
posted by From Bklyn at 3:15 AM on October 1, 2011 [1 favorite]


Math is one of the humanities.
posted by LogicalDash at 5:27 AM on October 1, 2011 [1 favorite]


Thanks, great story.

I wish it had gone in to a smidge more detail about:

They arranged the 70 accounts into groups that seemed to be related to one another, then charted them on a graph.
and

"We took each point in the ocean and looked at how well it satisfied or conformed to each of these statements," Dunn says.
Are there repeatable methods behind these? If not, then who's to say they didn't just get lucky? Science: it only works when things are repeatable!
posted by benito.strauss at 6:29 AM on October 1, 2011 [4 favorites]


Also love the history of memory theory. I mean, "The War of The Ghosts?" Sounds like my own memory. Awesome.
posted by SmileyChewtrain at 7:46 AM on October 1, 2011 [1 favorite]


I wish we hadn't learned at the end of the article that their technique didn't actually locate the wreck--they were 2.7 miles off, which seems like not so much when looking at a math problem but seems like a lot more when you're out on the ocean in a boat. In the end, a regular old treasure hunter found it. But maybe as we recall this story later, we'll remember the details differently.
posted by goatdog at 7:59 AM on October 1, 2011 [2 favorites]


Are there repeatable methods behind these?

Frederic Bartlett's research on recall certainly is. Reconstructive memory seems to be pretty reliable effect, basically, as people's memory gets fuzzy, they fill in missing information in a way that makes sense and omit information present in the original that seems illogical or doesn't make sense. There's a diagnostic test for schizophrenia that relies on this, called the Babcock story recall test. People with schizophrenia have a different pattern of recall errors than people who don't have schizophrenia.

It's worth noting that Dunn and Kirsner did not use this research to find the ship. They used it to see whether the inconsistencies the sailors' accounts looked like normal recall errors or not, and, therefore, whether they could use this information to come up with probable location of the ship.

They seemed pretty surprised that the probable location they came up with ended up being as close as it was.
posted by nangar at 8:19 AM on October 1, 2011 [6 favorites]


Reminds me of John Pina Craven and his Baysian search for the H-bomb off Spain and the USS Scorpion.
posted by warbaby at 9:09 AM on October 1, 2011


They had 18 people giving a consistent story. And that's where the ships were found. It seems like the math was just about deciding that there was no attempt to conceal going on, then it was 'just' a matter of going to the most frequently reported area.
posted by SLC Mom at 9:21 AM on October 1, 2011


and second, how difficult to apply this to helping wife find her car keys?

Not terribly, provided she has ~300 distinct personalities and ~70 of them have a memory of last seeing the keys.

I wish we hadn't learned at the end of the article that their technique didn't actually locate the wreck--they were 2.7 miles off, which seems like not so much when looking at a math problem but seems like a lot more when you're out on the ocean in a boat

The idea that 2.7 miles difference isn't a direct hit seems completely absurd to me given that both wrecks were found at a depth of more than 8000 feet-- ships don't necessarily sink straight down-- and ~12 nautical miles apart.
posted by jamjam at 10:20 AM on October 1, 2011


"they were 2.7 miles off, which seems like not so much when looking at a math problem but seems like a lot more when you're out on the ocean in a boat"

Well actually, that’s really tight positioning when looking for a shipwreck. The sonar we used to locate HMAS Sydney had a swath width (how wide an area of sea floor it covers) of 6km. The reason the sonar search was successful was because when David Mearns set up the project, he decided that the German survivors must have been telling the truth about where the Sydney was when the last saw her. There had been many conspiracy theories in Australia since the time of the sinking, and without taking the German survivors at their word, it would have never been found. Both the Kormoran and the Sydney were essentially right where the Germans said they were. It’s tough to be exact about where those ships were when they went down.
posted by Kaigiron at 10:23 AM on October 1, 2011 [3 favorites]


Man I hate the term "soft science". What is that? It's either science or it's not. Sorta reminds me of "kind of pregnant" or something.
posted by Marisa Stole the Precious Thing at 10:56 AM on October 1, 2011 [3 favorites]


Psychology deals with soft things like brains and stuff. Physics deals with hard things like math. It's simple!
posted by sneebler at 11:31 AM on October 1, 2011 [2 favorites]


I just found out about the body they found floating in a life raft over a year after the sinking. They think it might have been someone from the Sydney, but just the idea of dying like that is one of those nightmare fuel type scenarios.
posted by mrzarquon at 12:01 PM on October 1, 2011


mrzarquon, yeah crazy. We discussed the body recovered on Christmas Island with Mack McCarthy, the curator of the Maritime Museum of Western Australia (who was out on the ROV portion of the Sydney search). I don’t know where the Wikipedia article source’s got their info, but maybe it’s just outdated. Mack said that they are convinced (though they couldn’t identify him) that the body was one of the Sydney crew. He had injuries, but they wouldn’t have been life-threatening. So that poor bastard would have indeed died from exposure. And all after being the only survivor of the absolute hell of the battle. Pretty sad. And yeah, what a frightening thought.
posted by Kaigiron at 12:23 PM on October 1, 2011


Well actually, that’s really tight positioning when looking for a shipwreck.

Yeah -- you need to consider this was before GPS*. Using older navigational methods, I'd say (hand-wavey) that 2.7 miles is at the outer bounds of how accurate you want your positioning to be. When you're talking about a shipwreck that could be anywhere, based on your information, in an area covering thousands of square miles, that's pretty good.

* And heck, even civvie GPS is intentionally up to 100m off. Though this can be, and has been, overcome by interpolation methods.
posted by dhartung at 12:29 PM on October 1, 2011


The other story about the Carlay float survivor is Poon Lim, who survived for 133 days on a similar raft. So this guy could have survived for a while, but since there isn't a mention of other objects or tools found on the raft with him (no water jugs, etc), he may have died from exposure within days of the sinking.
posted by mrzarquon at 3:03 PM on October 1, 2011


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