Watching Dan Gilbert’s TED talk, “Why we make bad decisions”, automatically conjured up the topic of elections to my mind. I guess all of the madness of Super Tuesday happening in the states and the perpetual media headline bombardment regarding winners and losers might have something to do with it. I just can’t help thinking: why are Americans so god damn stupid? Both camps are making a blatantly obvious mistake with their choice of candidate. But then my severe case of ‘Chan’ disease (referring to one of my professors) made me question my line of thinking. Is the decision that simple? What criteria am I basing my judgment on?
I’m going to answer this question with another question: on what criteria do we base our decision during the voting process? Well similar to a regular decision, one could attempt to compare current options with past outcomes. Looking at the current results, it’s clear that there is an anti-establishment sentiment that is driving people to avoid voting for traditional politicians, but is that really a good thing? Considering how big of a disaster George Bush was, I guess I could understand why Donald trump might seem like a demi-god. But as Mr. Gilbert has shown in his talk, such thinking is undeniably flawed and could lead to catastrophic outcomes (or as John Oliver puts it: “A litigious serial liar with a string of broken business ventures”, taking control of possibly the strongest economy in the world). This leads me to another question: where does our overall sense of neophobia begin opposing our exasperation with the status quo? It’s almost like the republican camp’s irritation has ‘trumped’ (pun intended) their fear of change. That would also explain why the democratic camp didn’t embrace the radical change proposed by Bernie Sanders and this, unfortunately, frustrates me. Although I’m assuming my choice of candidate is the better one, my point is: Why is it that we must make bad decisions, to choose better ones in the future? This is essentially the fundamental frustration of my political rant.
When faced with a decision in the research or clinical settings, I’d like to think that I would objectively evaluate each option, review past decisions and implications, and make a final and somewhat ‘sound’ decision. This avoids the whole notion of “learning from my mistakes”, since a mistake in this setting is very costly. But this decision-making scheme is based on the self-proclaimed reasonable thinking of a middle class university-educated Canadian/Egyptian who is living in a country with strong social benefits. You could almost predict my stances on debatable biomedical topics. Moreover, wouldn’t we all call our decisions reasonable? Now that I’ve been shown all these different psychological decision making flaws, however, through the TED video, I can, with absolute certainty, say I’m guilty of at least one. And so, in a high impact field such as ours, our decision making process becomes a stressful one as the margin for error needs to be minimized. It is therefore essential to put in place an objective system by which, clinicians, and researchers follow guidelines and avoid subjective decisions.