Light Switch Thinking

We have added another page to the right side panel. It deals with the gradual nature by which issues are solved by different policies and institutions. A failure to recognize these increments is a logical fallacy that Jeff calls "Light Switch Thinking." The page is posted at length below:

I emphasize careful data analysis in all cases, regardless of my own preconceptions or feelings on a given issue (see Politics).
In doing this analysis, my fundamental principle is to avoid thinking
in black and white. Qualifying data in different shades of gray
provides far greater opportunities for insight.

One major post where I discuss my careful analytic method is Thinking Like an Economist: When Does it Pay Off?  (April 8, 2010). A small excerpt:

I was recently asked to participate in a poll of bloggers that had a number of dubious questions.  Typical was whether the Las Vegas City Center complex would add new traffic or would cannibalize the existing base.

This was an awful
question — typical "light switch" thinking.  It is what you see on
financial TV and opinion blogs.  It encourages a terrible habit for
investors — thinking that something is black or white, instead of a
distribution of results.  The honest answer (a little of both) does not
make for an exciting story.”


I further explore the impact sensationalist journalism has had on how we view the economy in The Economy: Problems and Solutions (January 14, 2008):


“Most market
pundits see this as a black-and-white, light switch kind of problem. 
There is an economic problem.  It is up to the Fed to act.  They should
cut rates aggressively.  The Fed does not see what we do, therefore
they are slow in acting.”


I support my  ideas with an insightful comment by Maria Bartiromo in the post How to Win a Recession-Predicting Contest (April 2, 2008):


“’[T]he truth is,
[‘Today’ co-anchor] Meredith [Vieira], it doesn't matter if we’re in a
recession,’ Bartiromo said. ‘We can talk ourselves into a recession,
and that seems to be what we’re doing right now and that certainly
begets more weakness.’”


I was once interviewed (June 3, 2010) by Charles Kirk of The Kirk Report. Amongst other things, I discussed the issues with light switch thinking when it relates to criticizing economic models.


“It is
fine to be skeptical, to look for bias, and to challenge information.
Nearly everyone goes too far in this direction — way too far. It is
what I call “light switch” thinking. It is far wiser and more
profitable to get the best information from each source.

I am particularly
troubled by the reaction to formal models. The criticism of models
comes mostly from those who know nothing about them.”

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