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Strong opinions, weakly held

Be suspicious of the worst-case

Bruce Schneier cautions people to be wary of worst-case scenarios:

There’s a certain blindness that comes from worst-case thinking. An extension of the precautionary principle, it involves imagining the worst possible outcome and then acting as if it were a certainty. It substitutes imagination for thinking, speculation for risk analysis, and fear for reason. It fosters powerlessness and vulnerability and magnifies social paralysis. And it makes us more vulnerable to the effects of terrorism.

Worst-case thinking means generally bad decision making for several reasons. First, it’s only half of the cost-benefit equation. Every decision has costs and benefits, risks and rewards. By speculating about what can possibly go wrong, and then acting as if that is likely to happen, worst-case thinking focuses only on the extreme but improbable risks and does a poor job at assessing outcomes.

I never really thought about the fundamental laziness involved in obsessing over the worst-case before.

1 Comment

  1. Similar lazy thinking (or another way of thinking of the same): “If we catch one terrorist, then [insert costly counter-terrorism measure] is worth it.”

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