Hold on to your spectacles folks as it’s time for another dose of the skepticism with episode 229 of The Reality Check. Elan leads off the show with some stories about how the cobra effect has bitten a number of people who tried to assign simple solutions to complex problems. We then bring you our final interview from Eschaton 2012, this time with Dr. Christopher diCarlo. Darren rounds out the show with a discussion of the dangers (or lack thereof?) of radon.
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The Cobra Effect
New York Times Article on Unintended Consequences
Great episode! I like that Elan has been doing some economics topics, I think there are great counterintuitive economics principles that could make good segments.
I have a cobra effect story from here in BC. We have a law here that if you find Aboriginal artifacts on your property, you need to have an archeological survey done at your expense. There have been a few instances of homeowners doing some work on their house and finding artifacts, calling the local university, then ending up with months-long archeological digs in their backyard. The bill for some of these digs have gone into the hundreds of thousands of dollars. On the other hand, the fine for not reporting an artifact is (as I recall) $5000, so you can imagine how this has played out. Rather than report anything, people just bulldoze it and risk the fine.
Like Adam, I am a government worker. It’s amazing how commonly people think the solution to a problem is some sort of law or regulation without thinking through what the actual result will be.
I think it was Adam that made a comment about how it wouldn’t make sense to shoot birds with a shotgun b/c they’re too powerful (with a caveat about how he doesn’t know much about guns or birds). I’ll agree with Adam’s caveat and point out that people use shotguns almost exclusively for bird hunting. Yeah, shotguns are powerful, and if your only experience is using them in FPS games, I guess you might think that they destroy anything they’re pointed at. But that’s only at short range, and also with buckshot (large balls of lead). People use shotguns for bird hunting because they disperse a larger spread of smallish pellets (each about the size of a BB, though pellets vary in size depending on what shells you buy), and birds are hard to hit, especially when they’re flying. If you were to use a rifle for bird hunting you’d probably do more damage to the flesh when you managed to hit (depending on caliber).
I thought it was really strange for Christopher diCarlo to frame the idea of changing human behaviour in terms of free will vs determinism. It seems to me that that it’s probably a huge mistake to frame it that way.
Nobody really believes in counter-causal free will. Everybody agrees that our actions are at least influenced by real world events. I don’t know of anybody who argues that we just make decisions for absolutely no reason regardless of anything that’s going on around us.
We don’t have to believe that the world is completely deterministic in order to understand that there are influences we can use that make it more or less likely for humans to behave in certain ways. What’s the point of making this argument hinge on the assertion that human behaviour is predetermined?
I was skeptical about Nick’s report about the B.C. law regarding Aboriginal artifacts (I thought it was some type of legal urban legend). But CBC news had a story from 2010 about a homeowner stuck with a $35,000 bill for an archeological dig in their backyard.
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