People make choices every day, either by deciding something or by ignoring something. Yet, mistakes are frequently made in these choices. Here are some of the major reasons for errors in making choces:
- Post hoc ergo propter hoc reasoning: meaning, afterward, therefore because of. Snow is falling, therefore global warming is a hoax. Linking cause with effect is one of the biggest challenges of science, and intuitive "experts" who are quick to jump to conclusions with weak foundations make some of the most egregious errors in decision making.
- Bias and prejudice. Strongly held views often cloud objectivity and lead to failure to recognize what is actually happening or what the results of something actually are.
- Incomplete information. Always ask, "What information is left out here?" Hunting for and relying solely on information that supports our own biases and beliefs is a chronic source of error. Sound decisions require being informed about all information relevant to a particular problem or issue. Most problems are complex and complex problems do not have simple solutions that can be resolved by gurus and psuedo experts who claim to have a magic answer.
- Self denial. Fear of facing up to what is really happening can lead to disaster. While physicians may lament some patients who ask too many questions, one doctor told me that one of his biggest problems comes from patients who won't own up to their symptoms because they are afraid of what will happen to them.
- Lack of respect for reliable knowledge. The textbook titled "Reliable Knowledge" was perhaps the most important textbook I read during eight years of college. If we get all of our news and information from sources supporting our biases, if we give short shrift to scientific methodology as opposed to psuedo science, if we are too lazy to look up the facts on all sides of an issue, we will continue to blunder along the choppy seas of indecision and error.
And these are only a few of the things that worried me at 5:00 a.m. today and made me wonder why, with all of our emphasis on education and learning, we don't also learn to have greater respect for science and for the quest for Reliable Knowledge. Maybe I'll have something else on my mind at 4:00 a.m. tomorrow morning. Have a nice day.