You’re reading Skeptic Ink, so you’re probably a skeptic, and there is a decent chance you are already aware of various way in which we cannot trust our brains. One of these ways is known as the availability heuristic, a sort of mental shortcut which allows people to roughly estimate the relevance or intensity of various phenomena by assessing the ease with which specific examples spring to mind.
What you may not yet know is that humans coordinating together in large crowds give rise to the possibility of an availability cascade, in which this (occasionally useful but statistically inaccurate) mental heuristic is harnessed (deliberately or not) to create a socially viral mass delusion.
The original paper by Timur Kuran and Cass R. Sunstein on this surprisingly widespread problem may be found here. Those of you familiar with the social phenomenon of moral panics and moral entrepreneurs will not be terribly surprised by their findings.
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