Experts and damage control..

Posted on November 8, 2010

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Professor Wiggly: ” Since Og and Oola lived in a cave  and worried about where their next meal was coming from, or  whether they would end up as a  meal for a saber toothed tiger, humans have faced high uncertainty. And since then they have relied on guesses, beliefs, hunches, biases and bets concerning their future. We build imaginary bridges into the unknown, or rely on those that trusted  EXPERTS build. Og and Oola relied on medicine men and women to tell them where to hunt and how to please the Gods. But because the future is uncertain – full of unknowns and unknowables – even the smartest experts get it wrong. But they CAN’T BE WRONG because we need them to be right. Sooooo they’ve learned to build in damage control strategies – some conscious, many unconscious – to reassure themselves and us that they still know what they’re doing. So when there were no wild game where the medicine man said there would be, it wasn’t that he was wrong, no no his damage control swings into action – it wasn’t his fault. Instead one or more of the hunters must have broken a taboo and offended the Gods.  For example must have had sex the night before the hunt, or eaten fruit from the forbidden tree. Such damage control methods enabled Og and Oola to maintain trust in their medicine man and in his knowledge of the future. And enable him to hold his exalted and rewarding position”

Jenny: ” You’re saying that we need trusted imaginary  bridges in order to walk into the uncertain future, and in order to maintain trust in those fallible bridges we and experts rely on damage control strategies that help explain away our failures, and enable us to maintain trust in our own and our EXPERTS judgements and predictions?”

Professor Wiggly: “Even toddlers learn damage control – when an ‘accident’ occurs what’s the first words you hear…. ‘It’s not my fault’,  Johnny did it, or the dog did it. Adult and experts too maintain their confidence and their sanity by rationalizing their mistakes and their failures to read the future – kids do it, you and I do it, priests and scientists do it. Damage control is probably one of the most important THINGS we learn, the most important tool we have in managing uncertain futures. Can you think of any of your favorite  damage control strategies? Strategies that help maintain the belief that ‘it’s not my fault,’ maintain trust in your own or your expert’s judgements and predictions. Notice how experts carry out damage control, how they retain trust in their predictions even though they fail. Priests say: ” God works in mysterious ways”, scientist keep diddling their theories, ignore negative evidence and apply for still larger grants, doctors ‘bury their mistakes’, CEO’s still accept huge bonuses claiming that the losses would have been much greater without their hand at the wheel. Can you think of other examples?”

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Posted in: Sciencing, Yer Thing