When are weak clues uncomfortable?

Robin Hanson asked, "What is the common element of topics where people are uncomfortable with weak clues?" I will hazard a guess:

There are situations where even considering (deliberating about, giving conscious attention to) some possible course of action sends a bad signal. Sometimes taking that sort of action might be necessary. But ideally, you don’t want to be considering whether to take that action unless you really will take the action. In such cases, you may be uncomfortable with weak clues. If you notice and acknowledge such weak cues at all, they force you to consider whether they are strong enough that you need to take the dread action; yet they are likely too weak, so you won’t take the action after all. All you have done is to send out the bad signal.

Consider examples such as accusing an employee of stealing, a spouse of cheating, or declaring war on a neighboring country. Sending the signal that you are thinking about whether the weak clues you have are sufficient to warrant embarking on these drastic courses of action may well sour your relationships. In these cases, weak clues can be worse than useless.

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  • Doug S.

    Perhaps one sign of when weak clues are uncomfortable would be when the consequences of a false positive are perceived to be dire? I imagine that the examples you described would fall into this category as well.

  • I would say that the common element is when the clues you have are such that the expected cost of making the allegation (in the case that it’s false) is greater than the expected gain of discovering that the allegation is true. And since people find it hard to be aware of things that they hide from others, they’ll often just ignore the clues rather than observe them and let the clues accumulate until the overall evidence is stronger.

  • Richard Pointer

    The last two posts suggest you are playing poker. Yes?

  • Doug S.

    I don’t play poker much because I suck at it, but I am familiar with it and have played it before. Magic: The Gathering is my preferred game.