Don’t Let Evidence Get in the Way of Safety

Don’t Let Evidence Get in the Way of Safety

imageWhen it comes to faith-belief, evidence rarely works. This is the primary discovery of Festinger et. al. in their study of Cognitive Dissonance. You can download When Prophecy Fails here

The idea that people will make a ‘paradigm shift’ (Kuhn – The Structure of Scientific Revolutions) just because evidence is presented to them assumes that all decision making is logical and rational, which is rarely the case. This was discussed extensively in my book Real Risk, Human Discerning and Risk and also in the video presentation on the ‘Cognitive Dissonance Cycle’ (https://vimeo.com/202589604). Unfortunately Safety tends to promote Cognitive Dissonance as some sense of discomfort in the face of contradiction, ambiguity, ambivalence and paradox. Such an understanding totally distorts the context of Festinger’s work. Again, good on Safety for another effort in dumb down. I will present more about this in my next Newsletter which comes out in a few days.

When something is a faith-belief and is invested with much sunk cost and identity, it becomes a religious-like commitment. From then on, it is highly unlikely that there will be any paradigm shift just because a logical argument and evidence is presented. This is the case for any of those who ‘believe’ in ‘safety differently’. There is much more going on than just rationality when it comes to things like zero harm and safety philosophy. So, to jump from safety to ‘safety differently’ is something more akin to a religious conversion than a change in idea.

Let’s look at the evidence regarding something simple like wearing bike helmets. Surely it makes sense to wear head protection when riding a bicycle? New fines introduced in 2016 in NSW shows that the NSW Government are serious about the wearing of helmets when riding a bicycle. (http://www.dailytelegraph.com.au/news/nsw/new-cycling-laws-one-of-the-first-bike-riders-hit-with-319-fine-for-not-wearing-a-helmet/news-story/2301f9cec9572e76555fe372da7a6a38). NOT! All the evidence demonstrates that wearing helmets when cycling is less safe (http://irishcycle.com/2016/09/23/6-reasons-bicycle-helmets-shouldnt-be-any-governments-policy/).

When the NSW Government (and Victorian Government) entered into a religious binary commitment toward safety (http://roadsafety.transport.nsw.gov.au/campaigns/towards-zero/index.html) they raised the sunk cost and faith-belief in a binary philosophy. Binary philosophy is fundamentalist philosophy, all logic then becomes black and white and any element of sophisticated thinking is eliminated. As the NSW Transport advertisement asks: what is a suitable number of road deaths? Here we see the championing of ‘dumb down’ at its best, only safety could think up such a dumb question. Like, ‘when did you stop belting your partner?’ or ‘do you support the war on terror?’

The chance of changing zero once it is introduced is much more difficult to shift, regardless of the evidence. And, the evidence already shows that zero harm campaigns not only don’t work, they make things worse (http://www.canberratimes.com.au/federal-politics/political-news/carnage-on-the-roads-is-complacency-to-blame-for-australias-rising-road-toll-20170412-gvjdbb.html). They have a social psychological affect on a population that drives complacency and creates a religious fixation on minor risk. Zero ideology infuses the culture with binary logic when it projects thinking about risk. Interestingly, when there was no philosophy of zero in the semiosphere, the road statistics were coming down steadily.

Zero target thinking and zero mentalitie requires religious-like commitment in spite of the evidence. Indeed, any evidence thrown against zero is attacked with religious fervor as a death wish and anti-safety. Like suggesting that head protection is unsafe https://www.safetyrisk.net/banning-head-protection-is-safer/.

So, as Governments spend more money on road improvements they also invest in a philosophy that creates a ‘collective unconscious’ that mitigates the effectiveness of their budget investment, clever!

Dr Rob Long

Dr Rob Long

Expert in Social Psychology, Principal & Trainer at Human Dymensions
Dr Rob Long

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Dr Rob Long
PhD., MEd., MOH., BEd., BTh., Dip T., Dip Min., Cert IV TAA, MRMIA Rob is the founder of Human Dymensions and has extensive experience, qualifications and expertise across a range of sectors including government, education, corporate, industry and community sectors over 30 years. Rob has worked at all levels of the education and training sector including serving on various post graduate executive, post graduate supervision, post graduate course design and implementation programs.

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