Paul Slovic

Paul Slovic probably knows more about the peculiarities of human judgment of risk than any other individual.  His work offers a picture of Mr. and Ms. Citizen that is far from flattering: guided by emotion rather than by reason, easily swayed by trivial details, and inadequately sensitive to differences between low and negligibly low probabilities.  Slovic has also studied experts, who are clearly superior in dealing with numbers and amounts.  Experts show many of the same biases as the rest of us in attenuated form, but often their judgments and preferences about risks diverge from those of other people.

Differences between experts and the public are explained in part by biases in lay judgments, but Slovic draws attention to situations in which the differences reflect a genuine conflict of values.  He points out that experts often measure risks by the number of lives (or life-years) lost, while the public draws finer distinctions, for example between “good deaths” and “bad deaths,” or between random accidental fatalities and deaths that occur in the course of voluntary activities such as skiing.  These legitimate distinctions are often ignored in statistics that merely count cases. Slovic argues from such observations that that the public has a richer conception of risks than the experts do.  Consequently, he strongly rejects the view that the experts should rule, and that their opinions should be accepted without question when they conflict with the opinions and wishes of other citizens.”

From Thinking, Fast and Slow by Daniel Kahneman

HKO comments

The problem with central planning is that decisions delivered from a central authority ignore the incremental values we all use in a market economy.  This invariably drives costs up and satisfaction down.  Besides the incremental values we may display in the purchase of goods and services there is also an incremental value we give to our moral decisions such as sex and birth control.

Yet Kahneman also notes that we as individuals do not exercise the rationality that much economic theory assumes we do.  He also suggests that rationality and intelligence are not synonymous.