Availability Cascades

Posted on December 6, 2007
Filed Under Critical Thinking, Crowd Stupidity |

Holman Jenkins has an excellent piece in the Wall Street Journal today about cascades. He asks some very important questions that any critical thinker should consider. While discussing Al Gore’s Nobel prize, he notes that:

How this honor has befallen the former Veep could perhaps be explained by another Nobel, awarded in 2002 to Daniel Kahneman for work he and the late Amos Tversky did on “availability bias,” roughly the human propensity to judge the validity of a proposition by how easily it comes to mind.

Their insight has been fruitful and multiplied: “Availability cascade” has been coined for the way a proposition can become irresistible simply by the media repeating it; “informational cascade” for the tendency to replace our beliefs with the crowd’s beliefs; and “reputational cascade” for the rational incentive to do so…

…Here’s exactly the problem that availability cascades pose: What if the heads being counted to certify an alleged “consensus” arrived at their positions by counting heads?

We obviously do not have the time and energy to investigate every single one of our beliefs in deep detail, and life without believing anything except what we have personally investigated would be a very strange way to live. So how does one avoid informational cascades that end up becoming orthodoxy only through social proof and crowd behavior? That is the kind of question I hope to address over the next few months on this blog.


One Response to “Availability Cascades”

  1. crl826 on December 20th, 2007 3:13 pm

    You should check out the Overcoming Bias blog. They work on these type of thoughts all the time.

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