"Probability neglect": why policy-makers are constitutionally incapable of formulating evidence-based anti-terrorism policy

A Policy Maker's Dilemma: Preventing Terrorism or Preventing Blame (PDF), a study in Organizational Behavior and Human Decision Processes, argues that counterterrorism policy fails to address real terrorist threats because politicians and bureaucrats perceive more risk from being punished by voters if they preside over an attack than they do in attacks arising from actual, probable sources.

Although anti-terrorism policy should be based on a normative treatment of risk that incorporates like-
lihoods of attack, policy makers’ anti-terror decisions may be influenced by the blame they expect from
failing to prevent attacks. We show that people’s anti-terror budget priorities before a perceived attack
and blame judgments after a perceived attack are associated with the attack’s severity and how upsetting
it is but largely independent of its likelihood. We also show that anti-terror budget priorities are influ-
enced by directly highlighting the likelihood of the attack, but because of outcome biases, highlighting
the attack’s prior likelihood has no influence on judgments of blame, severity, or emotion after an attack
is perceived to have occurred. Thus, because of accountability effects, we propose policy makers face a
dilemma: prevent terrorism using normative methods that incorporate the likelihood of attack or prevent
blame by preventing terrorist attacks the public find most blameworthy.

A Policy Maker's Dilemma: Preventing Terrorism or Preventing Blame (PDF)

(via Schneier)

(Image: Border Patrol Checkpoint in *New Hampshire* - 2, a Creative Commons Attribution (2.0) image from chrisdag's photostream)