Applied Bayesianism

When I was a child, my parents took me to Atlantic City every summer. And we would always make a side trip to Longport (three towns away) to collect seashells, because my Dad said that Longport was famous for the quality of its seashells.

Last week, on a whim, my wife and I went down to Atlantic City for a few days, largely because it looked like they were having nice weather down there. In a fit of ambition, we walked the entire 16-or-so-mile roundtrip from the Steel Pier area to the far end of Longport. Along the way, I noticed no difference between the Longport seashells and the Atlantic City (or Ventnor or Margate) seashells. Moreover, we met a lifelong Longport resident (and enthusiastic civic booster) who confirmed that she had never in her life heard that there was supposed to be anything special about Longport’s seashells.

Over my lifetime, I’ve accumulated a lot of advice from my father, some of which seemed to make sense. But in light of my trip to Longport, I’m re-evaluating.

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19 Responses to “Applied Bayesianism”


  1. 1 1 Harold

    Maybe it is one of those myths we indulge ourselves with to encourage greater variety in our lives. The shells were always the same at Longport, but without that incentive the trip over would be hard to justify. But somehow your father felt it was worth it for some other “gut feeling” reason which he couldn’t quite identify, hence the myth of the shells.

  2. 2 2 Jim W K

    When as a young boy I kept pestering my father to take me to Disneyland, he thought of a clever trick to put an end to this. He drove me to a filthy old scrapyard on the outskirts of town and said “Oh no, look son, Disneyland has burned down”.

    I never asked to go there again.

  3. 3 3 ron

    ^above poster has stolen a jack handy joke without attribution

  4. 4 4 Jim W K

    Ron, I’m from the UK – I’ve never heard of Jack Handy. If anything, my father is to blame.

  5. 5 5 khodge

    Exchanging one piece of anecdotal evidence (your father’s) for two others (“I noticed” and a lifelong resident)? I think, though, that Jim W K may be closer to the truth…your father wanted to go to Longport (or otherwise extend the trip) and came up with a plausible explanation.

  6. 6 6 Joel

    Maybe someone already took all the good seashells.

  7. 7 7 Phil

    Googling … Longport has a Seashell Museum. Maybe it DID have a reputation for the best seashells?

    Or maybe the reputation is that they’re “the place for seashells,” like KC is “the place for BBQ” and Idaho is “the place for potatoes”. Is there really a difference between an Idaho potato and a Montana potato, if the farms are only a few miles apart?

  8. 8 8 David Wallin

    r/7 Is there really a difference between an Idaho potato and a Montana potato, if the farms are only a few miles apart?

    Of course there is. We must eat found from only the closest farms and millimeters matter.

  9. 9 9 Kevin Erdmann

    Joel has it. It’s shell EMH. Your father helped to bring about shell factor equalization.

  10. 10 10 Roger

    Maybe all the good shells at Longport have been all picked up. Maybe your dad was a more discriminating shell consumer, so while the shells look all the same to you, maybe the Longport shells are really better.

    Did your dad tell you about the Tooth Fairy?

  11. 11 11 iceman

    I bet his saying that made the shells seem more special to you? Call it the Dragon Scroll effect

  12. 12 12 nobody.really

    I recall someone commenting on the conventional wisdom that if you wanted to find the best food during a road trip, you should follow the truckers ‘cuz, as regular patrons, they’d know. This theory has a nice, proletarian spirit: the wisdom of the working man.
    So the speaker did in fact follow the truckers and ate where they ate. The food was crap. But the supply of hookers and drugs was excellent.
    While visiting Longport did your dad happen to slip away from the family for a time?

    (“I loved it when my old man would take me out of school for a day so we could go down to the racetracks. It was our special thing – man to man. So I figured I’d take [my son] Manny out of school so we could catch a movie. Plus I know Gloria likes it when we do stuff together, so I figure it could pay off in the bedroom, if you know what I mean. Hey – I wonder if that’s why my old man took me to the tracks? Oh crap….”

    - Modern Family, Season 1, Episode 12, “Travels with Scout,” Jay Pritchet [Ed O’Neill])

  13. 13 13 Phil

    I wish this comment system had a way to “like” or rate comments, because I feel like I’m spamming everyone by going “Ha!” in response to #12. But it deserves it.

  14. 14 14 Ron

    My (long time ago) experience with Atlantic City sea shells was that
    the number of unbroken ones were few. So, possibly the Longport
    shells were identical but intact.

    Conditions may well have changed with the influx of legal gambling.
    Much of the crowd may now be in the casinos rather than on the beach.

  15. 15 15 Steve Landsburg

    Ron: Have you been to Atlantic City lately? The casinos are empty; while we were there last week it was announced that at least two and perhaps three more will be closing this fall (in addition to the others that have recently been closed). The beach, however, is packed.

  16. 16 16 Ron

    Steve: It’s been years and years since I’ve been there. I bet
    legalized casinos in surrounding states has taken a toll as people
    don’t have to travel far to get their gambling fix. Funny (though
    not for the casinos) to see A.C. go back to what it used to be.

  17. 17 17 Martin_M

    Perhaps Steve’s father once found some shells in Longport that he really liked and ever afterward associated Longport with good shells.

  18. 18 18 Ken

    Over my lifetime, I’ve accumulated a lot of advice from my father, some of which seemed to make sense. But in light of my trip to Longport, I’m re-evaluating.

    Now you’re re-evaluating? Aren’t you a grown man with a family of your own? Certainly, you’re aware of the mistakes and the meanness you yourself sometimes show as a father. Did you think your father was any different? Your father is just a man, subject to the same flaws you see in yourself and everyone else in your life.

    It seems a little weird also that you would use the instance of sea shells to re-evaluate your father, especially given that you yourself wrote “it makes absolutely no sense … to reverse course on the basis of a single virtually insignificant data point”.

    One of the major things I’ve learned in my life is that adults are very unaware of just how ignorant children really are. Sometimes children understand that you’ve made a joke. Other times not. Sometimes adults don’t understand that children take their jokes seriously. And even when they do, adults may find it amusing and not something to be seriously worried about correcting. What your story makes me think is that your father liked going to Longport, for whatever reason (probably difficult to explain to anyone), so told this story, probably as a lark and kept making the claim because he thought it was funny you took such a goofy story seriously.

  19. 19 19 Richard

    Would you as a boy have gone to the beach if your dad told you that the shells at the beach were just as any other beach? Would you have gone to the beach at all if you knew the shells were ‘just average’?

    I bet yout dad tricked you into walking a few miles up & down the beach to look for some better spots?

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