PEOPLE ARE ALREADY USED TO PROBABILITIES.

PEOPLE ARE ALREADY USED TO PROBABILITIES. I once had the good fortune to hear James Surowiecki speak about his book, THE WISDOM OF CROWDS. I asked him whether he thought it was possible that probabilistic statements could be used in analyzing foreign intelligence. He said, with a wry delivery, that a percentage might be more helpful than phrasing an issue as “slam dunk or not”, but that he found it hard to imagine that probabilistic phrasing would be used any time soon. I think the biggest objection to the use of probabilities is the belief that people are not comfortable with probabilities. Kids, when I was growing up, it was unthinkable that you could have a weather forecast which gave the probability of rain the next day. Now, everybody is comfortable with the concept of a 10% chance of rain. When we get comfortable with using probabilities to discuss policies, we can take advantage of the wisdom of crowds. And we will be reminded that often there are several future scenarios, each with a probability attached, not just: “certainly it’s black” or “certainly it’s white”.

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