SmallNumberIllusions

Beware generalizations based on skimpy data! With only a few cases to look at, big statistical fluctuations are likely --- more likely than one might instinctively guess. And the natural human tendency to remember the extraordinary and forget the commonplace just makes things worse. Ambiguous dreams happen every night; we talk about the ones that "predict" events the next day and ignore the rest. Mass murders and dramatic accidents make the headlines, and scare us into irrational efforts to avoid doom. But the accumulated costs of billions of tiny decisions --- to smoke one more cigarette, to drive a little faster, to web surf instead of going a walk --- kill far more every day.

And most singularly of all, we each have just one life. We assume that our experience is typical, the norm, and that others think and choose and act the way we do. Extremely skimpy data on which to base our judgments....

Wednesday, August 04, 1999 at 06:45:07 (EDT) = Datetag19990804

TopicScience - TopicThinking


(correlates: SelectionEffects, PyramidBuilding, UnmotivatedObstreperousness, ...)