You know winter is almost over when you’re walking to work on a Monday morning and there’s a noticeable spike in the number of moon boots (and knee braces) in the CBD. The “limping professionals” phenomenon marks the return to work of those who habitually decamp to the snowfields each year, and signals that warmer weather is coming.

If I were even less skilled at interpreting data than I actually am, I could conclude from my observations that the more people wearing moon boots, the warmer the weather becomes. I could postulate, as a consequence, that if we want the weather to be warmer, we should all wear moon boots. I might even propose a solution to climate change based on the corollary of that observation, by banning moon boots.

Right after that I’d have a tilt at the senate where I could join like-minded thinkers, including that noted proponent of “empirical evidence”, Malcolm Roberts.

Confusing correlation with causation is a trap for amateurs and it’s one I walk into all the time. I am assuming that because one event follows another, the second event was caused by the first. Post hoc ergo propter hoc, or “after it, therefore because of it”, as the … erm, Latins … used to say. It’s taken many years to learn how to recognise a logical fallacy when I see one, and although I still miss many of them, I’m getting better at it.

Like last month, there were two pieces of research released, by the SMSF Association and Vanguard respectively, on the habits and foibles of trustees of self-managed super funds. If you’ve ever met an SMSF trustee you’ll know how they can be – control freaks, mistrustful of advice and certainly independently minded. Either that or they kind of wander around in a perennially befuddled state wondering aloud how they got themselves into this “SMSF thing” in the first place. At least, that’s my experience of them, but I’m drawing a conclusion about an apparent effect from a supposed cause. If someone exists within a fog of bemusement it’s not necessarily because they are in an SMSF. (Bemusement may be the only rational response to the world we live in.)

Also, I’m drawing a conclusion about a large group of people from a small sample. The large group is the one million-plus trustees of SMSFs; and the small sample is the 12 of them I know. If research is conducted well, then it’s stupid to believe that my own observations are more accurate or relevant than that research.

Last month, what Professional Planner described as “civil war” broke out within the Association of Financial Advisers when a disgruntled group of members, operating under the Life Insurance Customer Group (LICG) banner, called for an extraordinary general meeting of the association to address grievances over the Life Insurance Framework. I imagine Brad Fox banished to a dinghy and set adrift with meagre rations, while the HMAS AFA mutineers sail away in search of loot and plunder and a magical land where 130 per cent upfront commissions can be picked from the trees.

I have an overactive imagination, but I may be falling for another logical fallacy. At first glance, 2500 people seems like a good sized group. But even if LICG actually had 2500 members, or whatever it claims, that’s still a fraction of the advice community – it’s a bit more than 10 per cent of the total number of advisers on the ASIC register.

That’s not to say they do not have the right to speak out. Clearly they do. But if we took their views – as genuine as they may be (and I express no opinion on that) – as representing the entire advice community then we might be temped into an unwise course of action, similar to basing SMSF policy on the discombobulation of a dozen trustees. Or banning moon boots.

Dixon Bainbridge may be contacted by email only since his phone was disconnected - and it's best to try in the mornings. The views expressed in this column are not necessarily those of Professional Planner, and not even necessarily grounded in reality, to be frank.
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