- Review: Deadly Decisions: How False Knowledge Sank The Titanic, Blew Up The Shuttle, and Led America Into War
Review: Deadly Decisions: How False Knowledge Sank The Titanic, Blew Up The Shuttle, and Led America Into War
Norm Goldman, B.A. LL.L, is the
Publisher & Editor of Bookpleasures, which he created in 2002.' Practicing law for over 35 years enabled Norm to transfer and apply to
book reviewing his many skills that he had perfected during his career in
the legal profession and as a result he became a prolific free lance
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Author: Christopher Burns
Publisher: Prometheus Books
As mentioned in the introduction, “The biology of the brain, the behavior of groups, and the structure of society provide surprising clues as to why individuals and groups succumb to wishful thinking, information overload, and the unintentional twisting of facts.” If we have a better understanding of the way we handle information and look at how it is altered or exchanged while at the same time becoming more sceptical along the way, we may be able to make more intelligent and successful decisions.
Central to the book is its focus on
the Information Age and how it challenges us to be more truthful in
our daily work and discourse particularly as related to such
incidents as the 9/11, the Titanic, the Iraq War, Three Mile Island,
the space shuttle Challenger and the USS Vincennes.
Through innumerable examples Burns shows that the quality of
information (truth) is in reality a responsibility shared by all
members of the group and that we can learn to manage it more
thoughtfully and directly, thus preventing future disasters.
According to Burns, we must consider three elements that are present
in assessing truth: facts, values and concepts-what might be, what
ought to be, and what is. Unfortunately, the intelligence and
judgement of the decision makers are sometimes overpowered by their
personal biases and faulty truth systems.
As pointed out, many of these individuals have been taught over a long period of time that all facts are equally true and that the quality of reason automatically increases with rank and accountability. We have to recognize that in reality “truth is not a product; it is a process.” Furthermore, as Burns explains, the volume of information a group is able to handle has its limits, and we those limits are exceeded, information becomes indiscriminately ignored, just as the thresholds in the nervous system rise to prevent an overflow of sensations. This is what happened in 9/11 where for years prior to this horrible event, there were warnings that pointed to the possibility of airplanes being used as weapons that would cause thousands of deaths. However, as we are informed, the war again al Qaeda terrorists in 2001, the United States made nearly all of the mistakes we have come to recognize as information disaster. “When the only reality is appearance, its is tempting to go around the battlefield and put lipstick on the dead.” And that is what happened after 9/11. Those responsible for the failure were tireless in their campaign to distort the facts and suppress reports that would have placed them in an uncomplimentary light.
Although Deadly Decisions: How False Knowledge Sank
The Titanic, Blew Up The Shuttle, and Led America Into War is
somewhat detailed, it certainly cannot be described as bland or
doctrinaire but rather an intelligent collection of sound arguments.
Burns is a leading authority on modern information management. For over thirty years he was a news executive and independent consultant to government and the private sector advising clients on emerging information, management technologies and the evolution of the information economy. He has held positions with the Washington Post Company, the Minneapolis Star and Tribune and the United Press International. Reading Burns is truly an insightful experience and anyone who does so is sure to walk away with a vastly enhanced sense of the subject. His arguments and evidence make for a powerful case that we need major reforms in the way information is processed in order to avoid future tragedies.