Check Availability for 2008
Happy New Year! The New York Times is off to a good start, featuring Timur Kuran and Cass Sunstein explaining on New Year’s Day how most of what we will react to in the coming year will be the effect of an availability cascade, sort of the availability heuristic on steroids. The availability heuristic, identified by Tversky and Kahnemann, is the cognitive phenomenon by which people base their estimate of the frequency or likelihood of an event occurring by how easily it is brought to mind.
The focus was on global warming alarms, and in that arena, according to the article, the brokers of the cascade will be the “what social scientists call availability entrepreneurs: the activists, journalists and publicity-savvy scientists who selectively monitor the globe looking for newsworthy evidence of a new form of sinfulness, burning fossil fuels.” The point is that even if greenhouse gases are warming the earth, and even if it that warming is dangerous (concede both for the sake of what follows), most of what gets cited as an effect of global warming is not evidence of global warming. For example, while some ice in the poles is melting, at other spots, it is at record thickness. Again, this is not to minimize global warming; it is to take stock of what is and what is not evidence of a trend.
My particular peeve in the availability cascade is the corporate governance “crisis.” I will be doing my best to assess whether I’m matching the correct evidence to the correct conclusion, and I wish the same to everybody else for the New Year. In the meantime, I’m stocking the cellar with canned food and bottled water in honor of the 100th anniversary (on June 30) of the Tunguska event.
See you at AALS.