“Heuristic is an algorithm in a clown suit. It’s unpredictable, it’s more fun, and it comes without a 30-day, money-back guarantee.”
– Steve McConnell


Heuristic (from Greek “Εὑρίσκω”, “find” or “discover”) refers to experience-based techniques for problem solving, learning, and discovery that find a solution which is not guaranteed to be optimal, but speeds up the process of finding a satisfactory solution via mental shortcuts to ease the cognitive load. Availability Heuristics is an example of a mental shortcut that occurs when people make judgments about the probability of events by the ease with which examples come to mind. In this case, the danger of Ebola is more dominant in the news feed, and hence in the mind, than smoking, alcohol and overeating related death tolls. Even though overeating, smoking and alcohol kills more than 800.000 people each year in the US while Ebola has only killed 1 so far.

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3 Responses to Heuristics

  1. Hariod Brawn says:

    Good points well made. It’s worth noting though, that in the Cytokine Storm that was known as the 1918-1920 flue pandemic, the mass media minimized early reports of illness and mortality in Germany, Britain, France, and the United States. The pandemic ended up infecting 500 million people, and killed between 3% and 5% of the world’s population (50-100 million dead). We’ll see how Ebola plays out over the next 18 months or so, though I’m not sure there’s much to be deduced from the current mortality stats, nor from the pronouncements of politicians and the mainstream media.

    • diplopi says:

      Thanx for a thoughtful reply, and I’m sorry I’m don’t have the time to reply the same day.
      The Spanish flu was indeed a catastrophic influenza pandemic, which killed up to 100 million people. But that was an airborne virus, while the Ebola is infected through blood and spit. Therefore I don’t think the Ebola virus will have the same impact on the “western world”, with its modern health care and regulated society, as an airborne virus would have. But, nonetheless, Ebola is scary enough, and I guess we will see millions of dead in poorer countries with worse health conditions and not so regulated societies in the months/years to come. Lets hope an effective and inexpensive vaccine will be found in a short time!

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