Monday, July 13, 2009

Boiling the frog.

Krugman is right on, as usual. This material on our inability to admit or perceive slow changes is hardly novel (cf. Ornstein and Erlich's "New World, New Mind" from 1989), and one can only hope that marketing efforts like those of Al Gore will bring this glitch in our thinking abilities into more common awareness.


  1. I think Krugman is right to call attention to this failure of collective rationality. But the goal should be to get past the hand wringing of labeling it a boiling frog phenomenon (which is an understandable moral response) and study it from a social science perspective. Anthropology, Sociology, Social Psychology, Social Neuroscience, etc. seem most applicable. David Brooks has written such op-eds.

    See also "Why America is flunking science" also published today and perhaps similarly ignoring relevant social science research:

    I don't claim that these failures of collective rationality have been fully accounted for by the social sciences but I think we should admit that a moral response in not sufficient to deal with the problems (even if it is entirely reasonable). My own understanding of these phenomena is informed by the supposition that 'rationality' is a vague term that only means 'reasonable-to-me'. When we come to understand belief formation, scientific and otherwise, as mostly a social phenomena and not necessarily wedded to scientific inferential standards but to much more socially pragmatic evidential considerations, what seem to us boiling frogs start to make sense. Then we can get down to the business of identifying how social considerations trump dispassionate scientific inference. And perhaps we can begin the work of understanding how to bring the pragmatic social motives for belief formation in line with good scientific inferential standards.

  2. Great talk on "psychology of global warming" (several factors that make us blind to the threat) by Dan Gilbert: