Saturday, September 24, 2011

Potentially Fascinating Trial Averted

A New York judge has tossed out a case alleging Larry Silverstein should've foreseen 9/11 and thus should've forbade occupants of WTC7 from installing gas-fueled generators. The burning gas was a likely contributor to the building's collapse.

If only the judge hadn't done that.

One of the most stable findings in psychology is the hindsight bias, which is precisely what it sounds like: Now that 9/11 has happened, people tend to think that 9/11 was eminently foreseeable. They're wrong, and they're especially wrong if their point is that some partial leaser of property near the sight of an unprecedented terrorist attack with no responsibility for national security (or even, technically, the protection of the building's occupants from terrorism).

Seeing a court case paper trail detailing precisely what it means to be unable to foresee something would be fascinating, to me anyway. I love risk. It is my specialty. As concepts, risk and uncertainty are my bread and butter (this is rather ironic, as I'm such a boring guy generally). Having documentation on hand to demonstrate to people the vast chain of improbabilities disconnecting Larry Silverstein's liability from the tragedy would have been very interesting. I love reading the intellectual non-entities in the 9/11 denial movement asserting that person X should've foreseen event Y given some vastly skewed probability distribution. Norman Mineta should've had flashbulb memory. The USAF should've had a fully fueled, fully armed squadron of fighter pilots armed and hot on the tarmac to shoot down a civilian aircraft at a moment's notice. Give me a break.

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