The Psychology of Belief
June 9, 2010
Why has it been so difficult for concerned parents to get government officials, the media, and other community members to take their concerns seriously?
The answer may lie in a quirk of human psychology that David Leonhardt, a New York Times journalist specializing in economics, has recently written about:
Here's the essence of Leonhardt’s theory on errors in risk estimation, which applies perfectly to the Gulen school situation:
"We make two basic — and opposite — types of mistakes. When an event is difficult to imagine, we tend to underestimate its likelihood. (...) On the other hand, when an unlikely event is all too easy to imagine, we often go in the opposite direction and overestimate the odds."
The risk of Islamophobia is overestimated because people have experienced it many times before here in the US and it has received considerable publicity. Yet in reality, it is an improbable event among a demographic such as parents at a Gulen charter school, since true Islamophobes would in all likelihood never have registered their children at a school with a high concentration of Turkish Muslim teachers and administrators to begin with.
The risk of a publicly-funded charter school being secretly run by a global foreign conspiracy is an unlikely event that no one has experienced before and that is very difficult to imagine. So the risk is greatly underestimated - in fact, estimated to be zero by many, since they won't even entertain the possibility of it being true.