All species with some form of cognition, especially humans, have a cognitive bias that we almost never consider. We focus almost exclusively on what exists, if you will, what we see, hear, feel, and believe we know exists, not on what doesn’t. This sounds supremely rational at first glance, but it’s not, because we ignore the impacts and the costs of what is not present, but might otherwise be.
What brought this to my attention was a demonstration of canine skills by the local police organizations’ canine [K-9] units. One of the points that emerged was that while trained police canines are not cheap, they save lives and money, at least in our region. Just over the last ten years, there have been more than a score of documented cases where armed suspects who were involved in narcotics, armed robberies, and other stand-off situations would not surrender to police officers, but who immediately or quickly surrendered when they were faced with police canines. This not only likely saved the lives of officers, but also saved the lives of the suspects. Even those suspects brought down by canines came out better off, suffering at the most the need for a few stitches, rather than being shot and likely severely wounded or killed. The medical costs alone that were avoided in these cases likely far exceeded the costs of acquiring the dogs and training these K-9 units, not to mention the costs of deaths and burdens on families that were also avoided, but I’ve never seen even an estimated quantification of costs that were avoided.
A study whose results were just published in New Scientist attempts to quantify in general terms how U.S. elections would be different if the death rates and imprisonment rates of African American males were the same as those of Caucasian males, and according to the analysis the effects of the absence of those dead and imprisoned blacks, as well as those who died prematurely because of health factors, would have been significant. You might say it’s another unquantified effect of how black lives matter.
I mentioned in an earlier blog how American aerospace R&D is decreasing. What’s not decreasing are the R&D efforts of major players outside the U.S. What’s not there – more basic research and development – will definitely have an impact in years to come, but I doubt many will trace it back to what wasn’t spent on R&D over the past few years.
Today, everyone in politics and business talks about cost-effectiveness, about how to do more with less, but I don’t see anywhere close to the same enthusiasm about asking what investments that we are not making could reduce costs. And sometimes, I suspect, what isn’t there just might be more important than what is.