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Decision Making by the Public and the Authorities Essay (Critical Writing)

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Updated: Nov 28th, 2021

21st Century has been marked by an unending debate on whether the public can have the knowledge and expertise to make decisions that would positively implicate their lives. Psychiatrists, mathematicians, business and economics scholars have tried to point out their positions which, eventually, have been met by resistance. However, one position remains common in both camps. Decision-making is an essential part of human lives. Poor decision-making can have adverse results on the well-being of an individual or society as a whole. On his part, Michael Bond, in his article, Risk School, highlights the major arguments presented over this issue from both sides. Considering the presented arguments, this paper seeks to point out that the public cannot make the right decisions on their own neither can decisions be made from above. The best approach to decision-making is a collaborative approach that will allow both the public and the authority’s active participation during decision-making.

Why is the public assumed to lack the capacity to make decisions? In most cases, an individual, due to perceived danger or benefits, will tend to take instinctive reactions which are not rational. As neuroscientists have found out, two brain systems make up the main form of the human decision-making process (Pratt, 1994, p. 42). These are the instinctive and rational parts of the brain. The instinctive part is usually operational without consciousness inclusion. In most cases, it is founded on emotional instincts. Contrarily, the rational part of thinking involves all the situations that require deliberative analysis. Unfortunately, the instinctive part of decision-making seems to be stronger than its rational counterpart. Accordingly, individuals are tempted to use this in the situation that actually required deliberate analysis. This is the reason why the public is considered to lack the capacity for decision-making. This being the foundation, Thaler and Cass Sunstein have felt that irrespective of the efforts by the scholars to help the public develop decision-making skills (Bond, 2009, p. 1184).

The problem still remains unsolved. With the public discredited with the ability to make decisions while at the same time being believed to be unable to learn the required skills to make rational decisions, the role, therefore, lies upon the authorities to make decisions for the public. Unfortunately, the authorities are made up of the same individuals that make up the public (Kuonen, n.d, par. 4). Equally, they tend to have similar weaknesses as exhibited by the general public. The authorities have also failed to possess the required knowledge that will allow them to make sound decisions that are free from bias. According to a study carried out on 160 gynecologists by Gigerenzer, it was found that a very small percentage of these professionals had an accuracy of knowledge in their field of specialization. When asked about the chances of a woman developing breast cancer after having received positive results on her mammography test, the correct answer was received from only 21% of the respondents. This is the sad picture of the authority upon which the public is expected to put their trust in decision-making (Bond, 2009, p.1186; Lapin, 1987, p. 53).

Considering both positions points out that they both have weaknesses. This means that none of them can be totally entrusted the role of decision making. However, they both have a chance of learning that can make them improve on their skills. Accordingly, if the two worked together, there are high chances that the decisions made would be comparatively better. For instance, Thaler and Sunstein (2008) argue that the public can make informed decisions if they are exposed to ways that steer their rational decision-making part of the brain to consider the situation. They argue that the government should change its approach to decision-making by adopting what they refer to as ‘libertarian paternalism. Instead of allowing the public to make the decision of involving in an issue, the government should force the public in their decision but allowing them to opt-out of it. This is to say, the role of the authority should be making decisions and allowing the public to make their rational thinking while in the government’s program and hence opting out if they find the programs not favorable.

On its part, the public should be imparted with knowledge on decision making. Studies have found out that knowledge of statistics improves the judgment of certainty and uncertainty, it is important that this is implemented within the education curriculum so that students’ decision-making skills are sharpened. In addition, exemplary numeracy skills in an individual have been found to improve his ability to interpret real-world situations. Consequently, these two educational approaches should be emphasized upon so that the authorities get knowledge of decision making through improved statistical and numeracy skills. Then, the authority should promote the knowledge of the general public by emphasizing numeracy education and also by allowing the public to make decisions in what is referred to as the nudge approach.

By using this approach, the public will be empowered to make decisions while at the same time the authorities will be in a position to ensure that the public makes decisions that promote their well-being. This is the only way that good decisions can be made; Collaborative participation by the two players, the authorities and the public.

Reference List

Bond, M. (2009). Risk school. Nature. 461: 1189-1192.

Kuonen, C. Managing Uncertainty to improve decision making. Web.

Lapin, L. (1987). Statistics for modern business decisions, New York: Harcourt Brace Jovanovich.

Pratt, R. (1994). Introduction to statistical decision theory. Michigan: MIT Press.

Thaler, R and Sunstein, C. (2008). Nudge: Improving Decisions about health, wealth and happiness. Connecticut: Yale University Press.

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