The-Unlikely-Happens

by F.

This may be the simplest of the belief system defenses described by Tetlock in Expert Political Judgment, and could be paraphrased as, “Shit happens.”

When you’ve made a prediction x that turns out wrong, you don’t need to point to exogenous shocks or waste time thinking about close-call counterfactuals. You just bite the bullet and say that, even though you thought the alternative to x, call it ~x, was very, very, very unlikely to occur, sometimes low probability outcomes just happen to happen.

Example: Talking with your dog, you assure him that it will be sunny tomorrow and you’ll be able to go to the off-leash area. In other words, you predict that “Tomorrow will be sunny.” The alternative is that “Tomorrow won’t be sunny”—it will be rainy, drizzly, tsumami-y, or whatever. The next day, as you and your dog are leashing up, it begins to pour rain. You dog gives you the look: stupid owner. Now you just shrug and counter with, “Shit happens.”

Sample Language for Humans: “Sure, the alternative to my prediction was unlikely. But shit happens. Don’t blame me. People do win lotteries, after all. It’s unlikely. But it happens.”

Sample Language for Dogs: “Woo-woo. Woo-woo woof. Gr. Woof. Gr.” Then lick yourself.

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