Fallibility, facts, and puzzles

In response to my note on human fallibility day before yesterday, I received this question – “So you’re saying you think people who are hesitant to take a vaccine are stupid?”

I’ll start by sharing my note back.

I think a big part of what makes us human is our propensity to gravitate toward stories that we want to believe in… and then to keep finding avenues to confirm these stories.

Our response to COVID-19 around the planet – starting from masks to vaccine hesitancy being just a new example – has been a constant reminder of our fallibility.

Fwiw – I’m no model of rationality. Very few humans are. I’ve made my own irrational mistakes through this process and exhibited my stupidity.

I’m just frequently amazed at the extent of the fallibility. Especially when I hear some of what’s going on in India re: the vaccines.

As I thought about this some more, I was reminded of two excellent recent resources.

The first was reading this article by researcher Zeynep Tufecki titled – “Facts are Pieces of the Puzzle, not the Puzzle itself.” If you haven’t heard of Zeynep Tufecki yet, her articles about the importance of wearing masks early into the COVID lockdown influenced eventual CDC guidelines and probably saved tens of thousands of lives.

In her article, she deconstructs reporting on vaccines and thoughtfully works through the actual implications of the data. She ends by making a powerful point – Going forward, it’s going to be important to examine such vaccine breakthroughs—failures and edge cases can be greatly illuminating. They should, of course, be reported on. People want to understand the details. But facts don’t just float around by themselves, they are pieces of a puzzle. The better we are at understanding that puzzle, and putting the pieces in their correct location, the closer we can be to seeing the broader picture of that puzzle.

The second is an excellent 5 minute video that Juan recommended. It is titled – “What wrapping a rope around the world reveals about the limits of human intuition.” It is a great watch – especially for anyone interested in psychology/behavioral economics.

Both of these illustrate how some of our cognitive biases get in the way of us understanding what is actually going on.

And, if you’ve spent enough time studying human behavior, you realize that there isn’t a solution. These biases make us fallible and, in many ways, stupid. That stupidity is how inbuilt – and helps us do other irrational stuff (like falling in love) that makes us human.

That doesn’t mean we can’t do better. But, it starts by accepting and embracing our fallibility.