In the interest of availability, persistence, and my efforts not going to waste (on the off chance someone reads my blog at some point), I've reproduced my responses after the jump with minor edits so they might make sense outside of the discussion amongst classmates.
#1: Assumption of Competence
I singled out the notion of obliviously assuming that a person knows what they're talking about. Perhaps the draw is for the evocative and profoundly unfortunate nature of the case in hand, or maybe it is the pervasiveness of this classic human error; as with most things, it's probably some combination of the two. We all know what is said about hindsight, and in this case it becomes clear that the physician shouldn't have been trusted to handle with adequate deftness a topic decidedly outside of his domain. However, hindsight abandoned, I'm led to ponder in how many future occasions will we and everyone around us continue to make the same error? There is no question in my mind that the false assumption of authority is indeed common and often remains unnoticed. For instance, I'll pick on network news (as it deserves so much picking upon): everyone sufficiently knowledgeable about a scientific field knows that anything communicated to the "lay press" will get blown out of proportion, misconstrued, and eventually presented as something completely different and altogether false. Just the same, news networks actually hire people (generally more attractive than average, trained in the ways of entertainment but otherwise intellectually incompetent--aka actors) to appear and speak as though they have some kind of authority regarding the matter at hand. These are the so-called talking heads, and their inane, unfounded blather is broadcast worldwide to some large quantity of folks who eagerly take it as fact. Perhaps that wouldn't be so bad, presuming that the extraordinarily attractive hosts we call journalists do actually serve with some journalistic capacity... but then that's just the problem, isn't it? Are these people actually journalists? I submit my opinion, fully lacking in any authority, that Rupert Murdoch is well aware of the human tendency of lavishly and sloppily assuming authority, and that he takes full advantage of this. Of course, if you conclude that I have no idea what I'm talking about, I'd happily agree and instead point you to someone who probably does, like Noam Chomsky. Unfortunately his having spent several decades in aim to dismantle the widespread callous distribution of misinformation has had apparently little impact, given the rise of network news over the same period. And perhaps it's not so difficult to come up with a reason why; how do you know Noam Chomsky knows what he's talking about? In other words, is it ever possible to acknowledge authority, or is it always some degree of assumption?
Just one more thing to consider: we've encountered a number of problems so far concerning various tests and their accuracy, even the video brings up such a scenario. Here's the question: given that a test is stated by its manufacturers to be 95% accurate, what reason do you have to believe that their stated accuracy is itself accurate?
#2: The Effect of Presentation
Woe is me for having watched the video last Friday, only to forget to respond until a day too late... so it goes. One thought that this video has provoked is the effect that presentation has on our reaction. While we have seen this effect in our own class, as with the exaggerated forms of situations my professor has presented, this notion is far more widespread than just a tool for understanding probability. In the video there is expressed the idea that the physician probably wouldn't be trusted to build a bridge; likewise, I submit that a construction worker wouldn't be trusted to accurately calculate probability and statistics, even if he were to take the stand in court as an expert. Thus I presume that the expert status in court is less than sufficient to lead to a misappropriated sense of capability; what makes this situation liable to happen is beyond my own capability to adequately describe, but is fortunately also beside the point I wish to make. What I mean to elucidate is a more simplistic notion of presentation having a large impact on our interpretation, one well enough acknowledged to play a substantial part in the field of marketing. The best way I can think of explaining this is by way of example, just the same or very similar as the exaggerated versions of problems presented in class: A recent homework problem presents a strategy for winning roulette. After finding the various probabilities, we see that there is actually a pretty good chance of leaving the wheel ahead, and are thus led to believe that this is a good strategy. Then, finding the average outcome, we see that despite the good probability, over time we will nonetheless lose more than we gain. This is an odd circumstance, but it can be understood rephrased as a new, slightly different and exaggerated version: suppose there is a game where I generate a random number from 1 to 100, and you try to guess that number. If you don't guess the number, you win $1. At this point, the game is looking pretty good! Continuing, if you do guess the correct number, you lose $1,000,000. Now I doubt I'm ever going to convince anyone to play my game. However, if I were to push the numbers closer together, what I end up with is the roulette problem, and people lining up to have their money taken away. Clearly this technique of pushing the numbers closer together will only work on people marginally more sophisticated than naught in their knowledge of probability. Similarly, I highly doubt that casinos like roulette; if experience is any indication, there is a much more effective trick regarding presentation which separates people from their money much faster, that is the chance at a jackpot for some small amount. From the perspective of human nature, disregarding probability, the idea of paying $1 dollar and getting several million dollars in return is a decidedly attractive deal, and thus the ever effective lottery. Casinos largely take a slightly different, presumably more effective, approach with the slot machine: a quarter is much cheaper than a dollar, and thus easier to convince people to spend. Combine that with a fast pace and instant gratification, and those quarters add up fast! The extent of effort a casino goes to in order to facilitate conspicuous spending is undoubtedly profound (and from the bit that I know, also quite interesting), but casinos are far (far, Far) from the only businesses out there leveraging the odd circumstances which reduce our capacity to spend discriminately. In another TED video (yes, TED is awesome, I've watched most of them), the presenter discusses a certain marketing technique which goes as follows.
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