Fallacy of misleading vividness
By The Tribune-Review
Published: Saturday, Jan. 26, 2013, 9:00 p.m.
Mass shootings are, statistically, a very small problem. That's not to say they aren't utterly horrifying — people's lives are destroyed literally and figuratively.
But if we prioritize our political attention to topics based on how many lives were at stake, mass shootings wouldn't be on the radar.
The number of deaths from mass shootings from Columbine (1999) to the present — according to a database compiled by Mother Jones magazine —is 322. Conversely, almost 4,000 people drown accidentally every year. Last year, more than 31,000 people died from poisoning, which includes drug overdoses.
Simply, mass shootings are incredibly rare and don't kill a lot of people.
So why aren't drowning and poisoning more important social issues than gun control? Because of a psychological concept known as the “logical fallacy of misleading vividness.” That's when the thought of something is so emotionally potent — positively or negatively — that people overestimate the likelihood of its occurrence.
It's why many people are afraid to fly. They understand intellectually that crashes almost never happen and flying is statistically the safest way to travel. But the idea of knowing they're going to die for a full two minutes in free fall is so vivid and disturbing, they experience intense fear about an activity that is safer than driving to the airport.
This is what happens to us, collectively as a nation, when mass shootings occur.
Shootings are an incredible statistical deviation from the norm, resulting in fewer deaths than other fatal activities. This is an important point.
When government policy becomes based on emotional content rather than facts, we are heading in the wrong direction.
Show commenting policy
TribLive commenting policy
You are solely responsible for your comments and by using TribLive.com you agree to our Terms of Service.
We moderate comments. Our goal is to provide substantive commentary for a general readership. By screening submissions, we provide a space where readers can share intelligent and informed commentary that enhances the quality of our news and information.
While most comments will be posted if they are on-topic and not abusive, moderating decisions are subjective. We will make them as carefully and consistently as we can. Because of the volume of reader comments, we cannot review individual moderation decisions with readers.
We value thoughtful comments representing a range of views that make their point quickly and politely. We make an effort to protect discussions from repeated comments either by the same reader or different readers.
We follow the same standards for taste as the daily newspaper. A few things we won't tolerate: personal attacks, obscenity, vulgarity, profanity (including expletives and letters followed by dashes), commercial promotion, impersonations, incoherence, proselytizing and SHOUTING. Don't include URLs to Web sites.
We do not edit comments. They are either approved or deleted. We reserve the right to edit a comment that is quoted or excerpted in an article. In this case, we may fix spelling and punctuation.
We welcome strong opinions and criticism of our work, but we don't want comments to become bogged down with discussions of our policies and we will moderate accordingly.
We appreciate it when readers and people quoted in articles or blog posts point out errors of fact or emphasis and will investigate all assertions. But these suggestions should be sent via e-mail. To avoid distracting other readers, we won't publish comments that suggest a correction. Instead, corrections will be made in a blog post or in an article.
- Corbett’s choice
- ‘We the people’ are veterans
- Beneficial, irreplaceable
- Obama & Reaganomics I
- Invest in pre-K
- Islam & women