People are really bad at math.
When you start paying attention, you start noticing all the ways that humans miscount, ignore, dismiss, subvert or otherwise mangle the numbers we use to draw conclusions and make decisions.
The problem is, we think we’re being rational. But we’re not.
This kind of cognitive dissonance makes my head hurt. Especially when it comes to how we as a collective society are driving headlong towards the Climate Change cliff.
Why on earth do we continue to make such terrible, terrible choices?
Risk expert David Ropeik has a bead on the answer. He writes about the choices we make that are against our best interests and in spite of evidence to the contrary:
We worry about some things more than the evidence warrants (vaccines, nuclear radiation, genetically modified food), and less about some threats than the evidence warns (climate change, obesity, using our mobiles when we drive).
That produces what I have labeled The Perception Gap, the gap between our fears and the facts, which is a huge risk in and of itself.
The Perception Gap …produces social policies that protect us more from what we’re afraid of than from what in fact threatens us the most (we spend more to protect ourselves from terrorism than heart disease)…which in effect raises our overall risk.
Ropeik’s research is so satisfying to me because it explains why people act the way they do–sometimes inexplicably, often quixotically, frequently capriciously.
These kinds of inquires have led me to a writing partnership with Matt Polsky for GreenBiz.com. Our article series examines the pitfalls of sustainability measurements by drawing on examples from outside the business world.
Here’s part 1: What Sustainability Metrics Can Learn from School Reform