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Critical Thinking & COVID-19 VIII: The Prediction Fallacy

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As politicians and pundits debate about reopening America, some make the case that we can and should reopen soon because the dire predictions turned out to be wrong. On the face of it, this seems like good reasoning: things are not as bad as predicted, so we can start reopening sooner than predicted. To use an analogy, if a fire was predicted to destroy much of your house, but it only burned your garage to the ground, then it is time to start planning on rebuilding and moving back in. While this line of thought is appealing, it also can be a trap. Here is how the trap works. Some politicians and pundits are pointing out that the dire predictions did not come true—for example, the governor of Florida recently noted that the hospitals were not overwhelmed as predicted and he wants to allow them to return to money making elective surgery. He also, like some other Republican governors, wants to reopen very quickly. This reasoning does initially seem sensible: the pandemic was not as bad as predicted, so we can quickly reopen. There are also those who sneer at the dire predictions and are upset at what they see as excessive precautions. This can also seem sensible: the experts predicted a really terrible outcome for COVID-19, but they were wrong. We overreacted and should roll back the precautions. So, re-open America. While it is reasonable to consider whether the precautions are excessive and to update our assessment of when to re-open, there is a tempting fallacy that needs to be avoided. This can be called “the prediction fallacy.” It occurs when someone uncritically rejects a prediction and responses to the prediction when the outcome of a prediction turns out to be false. The error in the logic occurs because the person fails to consider what should be obvious: if an effective response is made to a prediction, then the prediction is going to be “wrong.” The form of the fallacy is this:   Premise 1: Prediction P predicted X (if we do not do R). Premise 2:. . .

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News source: A Philosopher's Blog

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