One Percent Doctrine in Real Life

John Allen Paulos column on the One Percent Doctrine;

“…Suskind describes the Cheney doctrine as follows: "Even if there's just a 1 percent chance of the unimaginable coming due, act as if it is a certainty. It's not about 'our analysis,' as Cheney said. It's about 'our response.' … Justified or not, fact-based or not, 'our response' is what matters. As to 'evidence,' the bar was set so low that the word itself almost didn't apply."…

Imagine what would happen in various everyday situations were the Cheney doctrine to be applied. A young man is in a bar and another man gives him a hard stare. If the young Cheneyite feels threatened and believes the probability to be at least 1 percent that the other man will shoot him, then he has a right to preemptively shoot him in "self-defense."

Or an older woman visits her Cheneyite doctor who, finding that the woman has suffered from a sore throat and fatigue for months, orders that she be put on chemotherapy since the likelihood of cancer is in his opinion at least 1 percent. Further tests, he might argue, would take too long.

A Cheneyite gambler would be a casino's dream. The chance of rolling a 12 with a pair of dice, for example, is 1/36, almost 3 percent, and hence would justify the gambler betting his house on rolling a 12.

And what about a Cheneyite scientist, hard as that may be to conceive? If this scientist decided that the "evidence" for some crackpot scientific theory suggested to him that its probability were at least 1 percent, the scientist would feel comfortable touting it as a reasonable alternative to established theory."

"Needless to say, standards for action or decision are generally far more stringent. For a conventional scientist running a statistical test of a hypothesis the threshold is usually 95 percent, not 1 percent. More precisely, if the scientist runs the test, and obtains, based on the tentative assumption of the hypothesis, an outcome having a probability of less than 5 percent, then he or she generally rejects the hypothesis.

And certainly in criminal trials the statistical burden is much greater; it's beyond a reasonable doubt (that is, an indeterminate, but very high probability), not 1 percent. In civil cases the probability standard is lower, but still nowhere near 1 percent….

Nor do they need consistency. A companion to the Cheney 1 percent action doctrine (if the probability is at least 1 percent, act) is the administration's non-action doctrine (if the probability is less than 99 percent, then don't act). This latter doctrine is generally invoked in discussions of global warming, where it seems absolute certainty is required to justify any significant action. Ideology determines which of these two inconsistent doctrines to invoke...”

Blogs discussing the book; Brad De Long, Kevin Drum, Mathew Yglesias, Tom Tomorrow, Radio Free Newport, Sunstein, Jon Swift
Compare with Robert Rubin’s style of thinking

Suskind with Charlie Rose, Colbert, Democracy Now, CNN
Podcast of the pressentation at the University of Virginia, Miller Center of Public Affairs


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This page contains a single entry by Paul published on August 8, 2006 1:51 AM.

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