Jane Galt's Self-Criticism
By Bryan Caplan
One of the main reasons to study psychological biases is to help us stop making them, but even many specialists don’t bother to try to reform their thought processes. But don’t give up hope. Jane Galt is a role model of intellectual integrity:
As the days go by, I find myself less and less worried about terrorism, and more and more worried about things like Lindsay Graham’s proposed bill to strip habeas corpus rights from non-citizens…
The reason for this mental shift is not because I have carefully studied the issues, and concluded that terrorism is not as great a threat as I once thought. The reason is simply that time is putting ever more distance between me and 9/11.
But this is not a good reason to believe that terrorism is less of a risk than it once was. Terrorism was a HUGE threat on September 10th, 2001, even though it had been 8 years since Al Qaeda attempted anything on American soil.
I can feel myself committing the basic decision error of believing that something that hasn’t happened in a while is therefore less likely to happen tomorrow, even though for many events, such as earthquakes, the fact that it has been a while since the last one makes it more likely, not less, that a big event will occur in the near future…
I don’t mean to suggest that my current assessment is necessarily wrong; indeed, I’m sure that my analysis of the relative risks of civil liberties curtailment and terrorism was wildly skewed in the days after the World Trade Centre was destroyed. But changing my priorities should be the result of rational analysis, not the simple passage of time.