The Tl;DR Key points
WHY PHIL DIED, AND WHY YOU SHOULD CARE ABOUT IT
Today I learned that Phil Valentine died from COVID-related pneumonia. This is genuinely sad, as anyone’s untimely death is.
Phil was a well-known conservative radio host in Tennessee, known especially for his controversial views about vaccines. It is unfair to say he was an anti-vaxxer; he specifically said some people “probably need to get the vaccine”, after all.
But he did contribute to vaccine hesitancy and, as a result, possibly the deaths and illness of some of his listeners. He did this in at least a few ways:
And I find this interesting because, if he had studied philosophy—or at least relevant parts of it—then, in a very real sense, he and some of his listeners might still be alive today. So while I don’t mean to unduly bag on Phil, I do want to extract lessons from his story that may hold value for others.
The TL;DR key points
2. When we do this, people are better forecasters than it initially appeared
3. And we are able to explain and predict accuracy better than it initially appeared
Good Judgment: Why you should care about it
We all make judgments everyday. We all depend on them to make decisions and to live our lives. You might think someone is a good partner for you, and so you might marry them. Or you might think you will be happy in a particular career, and so you might spend countless hours of your life studying and working your way towards it.
But what happens if your judgments are wrong—if the person you married or the career you chose weren't good options?
We all know that this kind of thing happens: people make bad judgments and regret their decisions all the time. That is old news—and bad news, at that. What’s more, if we take a passing glance at the scientific study of reasoning, we’ll see that we are often biased in our judgments and we may not even realize it (check out Kahneman's fantastic book, for instance).
But there is good news: we can improve our judgments!
The TL;DR key points
2. Know our biases, such as overconfidence and availability biases
3. Use statistics, even simple ones
Estimating risk: Why you should care about it
Nowadays, we’re especially worried about risks—about the risk of getting COVID if we hop on a plane or go to an in-person class, or about the risk of dying if we get COVID. And some risks are worth taking, but others aren't; it depends partly on how we estimate the risks.
So, then, how good are we at estimating risk? And how should we estimate risks?