walkitout (walkitout) wrote,

_Worst-Case Scenarios_, Cass R. Sunstein, to page 135

I bought this, IIRC, at University Bookstore in Seattle while I was visiting in May. As I have noted in earlier posts, I'm increasingly disillusioned with books on this kind of subject (why people make bad decisions, essentially). I read books on this kind of subject for two reasons. (1) People mystify me. I mean, seriously. And I'm always hoping that this kind of book might explain what other people are thinking. They do not do a good job. Either I'm not getting the explanation (possible) or they're just flat out wrong. (2) I make mistakes in my reasoning, and am interested in alternative approaches for possible (modified) adoption.

I was pretty disturbed by what can, at best, be considered a severely misleading citation of a book I have a _lot_ of respect for (Welch's _Should I Be Tested for Cancer?_) on page 19. However, between the recommendation by Bazerman (I enjoyed his _Predictable Surprises_) and the concluding pages endorsement of the idea of intergenererational neutrality (basically, you can discount future dollars, but you can't discount future lives), I was prepared to cut Sunstein a lot of slack. As of page 135 he has exhausted all of it.

Let me count the ways:

(1) Misrepresentation of the Precautionary Principle. And when I say misrepresentation, it's so breathtaking it's difficult to convey in a short sentence or two, but read on.

(2) Conflation of the Precautionary Principle (which is, basically, if you're doing something, and there is consensus that that thing might have some really bad effects, you are supposed to mitigate those effects and waiting for absolute scientific agreement/proof is no excuse for not taking those measures now) with what Sunstein describes as Cheney's One Percent Principle (which is, basically, if there's a one percent chance that something-to-do-with-terrorism, we have to treat that as a hundred percent chance of something-to-do-with-terrorism). Really not the same. See (1) for breathtaking.

(3) Treating sins of commission (say, polluting) as interchangeable with sins of omission (say, failing to allow the marketing of a new drug that might save lives) and categorizing everyone who separates these two as engaging in a basic fallacy.

(4) Acting like DDT is the only effective way to deal with malaria (because, after all, eliminating open water and supplying bed nets to the sick, pregnant, nursing, infant, aged, can't _possibly_ reduce virulence).

(5) Identifying 1970s fears of mercury in tuna as one of a series of "widely publicized 'hazards'" that turned out not to pose a serious threat to public health.

(6) His treatment of California, the West Coast in general, the mayors' in general, etc. and their efforts to reduce their production of greenhouse gases. As far as he is concerned, this costs them money and has no meaningful impact. And apparently does not counter his assertion that Americans don't much care about greenhouse gases/global warming/climate change. Oh, and they must be making some dumb calculations. He does list some additional alternative explanations, but at no point does it occur to him that California adapting in a timely fashion might serve California well in terms of being able to supply experts and technology to the rest of the world when crash programs are implemented later.

There's a level at which I feel guilty for buying this. It violates several heuristics (all male names on the reviews, author is from U Chic, that conflation of the one percent principle with the precautionary principle first appears in the introduction). I _am_ guilty for buying this. I figured since he didn't seem to be a bad guy, it would turn out okay. I was wrong. He's an apologist for some seriously bad people, whether he recognizes that they're bad people or not. And he's reactionary, whether he realizes it or not.

Learn from my mistake: don't waste your time on this one.

ETA: Want a quick summary? Sunstein is a tool.
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