Rather than try to recall more examples of cognitive biases in politics, as I did here, I thought I’d just blog them when I saw them. I thought I’d seen one today, though as I think about it, the initial irritation was more from poor critical reasoning or lack of statistical ability issue than a real cognitive bias.
There has been much talk about the proposed government ID card system. I saw an article on the BBC today (here). It talks about a government report that said “as with any cost estimates covering a ten-year forward period, there are considerable uncertainties” and that “there is a significant probability that the estimates will change in the light of further experience”. Mr Clegg, the Lib Dems’ home affairs spokesman, responded with: “It is becoming more and more clear that identity cards are going to be a vast waste of taxpayers’ money.” (maybe true), but then went on “The fact that the cost keeps changing shows how loose a grip the government has got on the finances of this ill-judged scheme.”
This seems like a erroneous response to what seemed to me like a very sensible assertion that 10 years future spending plans carried substantial uncertainty. It is terribly naive to pretend otherwise as Mr Clegg seems to want to do, or maybe just a poor choice of words.
He then added that ID cards should be scrapped in favour of “something that will actually cut crime – more police on the street”. I’m not sure of the UK figures, and whether this is backed up, but do recall from Freakonomics that in the US more police on the street does more to drop the perception of crime than crime itself. This may well be a cognitive bias mistake – specifically, an Attentional bias (defined as the neglect of relevant data when making judgments of a correlation or association). Or it could simply be saying what he thinks people want to hear. Or maybe he does have the data to back up the assertion.
BTW, I suspect that the economics of ID cards are bent, and it wouldn’t surprise me if there is as much mis-information and wilfully sloppy thinking on the proponent side.