Illusions of safety II

A couple of weeks ago I posted a very short piece about Malcolm Gladwell’s brilliant article, “Big and Bad: How the S.U.V. ran over automotive safety”. I was interested to see that Gerd Gigerenzer, who I have written about before, has also tackled the subject of illusions of safety.
In a recent piece of research ” Gigerenzer analyzed data from the U.S. Department of Transportation to find out how many fatal crashes on American streets in the three months after the attacks were due to the increased traffic. His surprising findings: 350 people lost their lives on highways because they avoided the risk of flying – more than the 266 passengers killed on all four flights of 9/11.”
What I think we can infer from Gladwell’s article and Gigerenzer’s research is not so much that people are irrational, but more that we are often mistaken. The people who buy SUVs or who abandoned the comparatively safe airlines for the dangerous roads have good reasons for their decisions. It’s just that they are ill-informed decisions, as are many of our decisions. And they are ill informed because we are ignorant.
I remember some years ago talking to someone from the WHO. His concern was that malaria was still a big killer. What worried him was that there was a lot of solid knowledge about how to prevent and how treat malaria, but that this knowledge was not widely disseminated and hence was not put into practice.
Back in February, I quoted from Brecht’s “Life of Galileo:
“Truth is the child of time, not authority. Our ignorance is infinite, lets whittle away just one cubic millimetre. Why should we want to be so clever when at long last we have a chance of being a little less stupid.”

It seems to me the task of becoming less stupid is one of the most pressing of our time. We have the tools do it. The question seems to be, do we have the will?