Just How Good At Assessing Risk Are You?

One of the things which is often frustrating about working in politics is the ability of the public to be sure of “facts” that are just flatly wrong. The rise of Fox News and its all spun-facts or fact free reporting has exacerbated this trend on the Right. The level of real knowledge that the folks who watch those outlets have is shockingly low. The best examples of this are the persistent belief that Saddam Hussein and Iraq had anything to do with 9/11 or the fact that 1/3 of Republicans really do believe the President was not born in the United States.

For all that, this is not a problem confined to the political Right, there are those on the Left who have facts that are flatly wrong as well. A good example is the many on the left who still believe, contrary to overwhelming amount of evidence that autism and vaccinations are somehow linked. Still, the problem is not just having facts that are wrong, the real problem, to me, is the level of surety which people will put forth what they consider to be the facts.

There is an arrogance in data. When you are sure you have the right answer or know the something for an established fact, you can speak about it with a high level of confidence. The issue is, how sure are you that you are right? If you are unwilling to entertain the idea that you might be less than 100% sure of a fact then you put yourself in a position where you can’t back down.

Our culture has come to really value these flatly assertive statements. We have built this myth of the confident speaker to the point where we have the kind of ideological gridlock we see in Congress. Take a look at the Abdulmutallab case. Republicans have been braying from Christmas Day that Mr. Abdulmutallab should have never been treated as a criminal suspect, insisting that by doing so we have wasted a chance to get actionable intelligence from him and touting it as clear sign of the Obama Administrations failure in National Security. Now it turns out that the actions of the DoJ have actually produced good actionable intelligence that has resulted in arrests already. However, they Republicans are unable to back away from their statements.

This is what two researchers, Dylan Evans and Benjamin Jakobus, call poor “Risk Intelligence”. They define Risk Intelligence as:

Risk Intelligence Quotient (RQ) is a measure of a person’s ability to estimate probabilities accurately. People with high Risk Intelligence tend to make better predictions than those with low RQ.

When a banker guesses how likely it is that a customer will repay a loan; when a doctor estimates the chance that a patient has a particular disease; and when you try to figure out whether or not to take your umbrella with you when you go out for a walk – all these tasks require risk intelligence.

They have also created a test, which they are using to research levels of Risk Intelligence. It is fifty questions that you rate by how sure you are they are true or false. The cool thing about this test is that it does not matter what your level of knowledge on these questions are, it is measuring your confidence in your knowledge and how willing you are to say your confident.

You can take the test here. Itook it and scored an 88, which just goes to show that I am is pretty sure that I am not very sure about anything. On the other hand, if you are feeling more generous, that I’m willing to admit that what I know could be wrong.

In any case the I’m urging everyone to take this little test. It takes about five minutes and you can decide to have your results be part of the research or not. At the end you will still get your results and find out if you have a high or low ability to judge the likelihood of your facts being correct.

So, go on and take the test Fire Pups! Share your results in comments. It should be interesting to see how this community does in Risk Intelligence. If nothing else it will give you an indicator of how good your punditry might be.

The floor is yours.

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