When Probability is Not Enough
Smith (Martin)
Source: Oxford University Press blog, 31st January 2016
Paper - Abstract

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Author’s Introduction

  1. While out driving one afternoon, I notice a bus speeding down the road towards me. As it approaches, the bus drifts into my lane, forcing me to swerve and strike a parked car. The bus doesn’t stop and, while I glimpse some corporate logo on the side, I’m shaken and I don’t manage to make it out. Later, when I’ve recovered myself, I do some investigating and find out that of all the buses operating in the area on the day in question, 90% were owned by one company – the ‘Blue-Bus’ company – with the other 10% owned by rival companies.
  2. Should I take the Blue-Bus company to court and demand compensation for the damage caused? If you were presiding over the case, would you make them pay? When people were presented with cases like this in a series of psychological studies, the majority thought that the company should not be held liable just because they happened to own the majority of buses in the area. And judges and lawyers seem to agree – this example is based upon a real, unsuccessful, lawsuit.
  3. But there is something curious about this. After all, my evidence against the Blue-Bus company seems very strong – it makes it 90% probable that the bus involved was a Blue-Bus bus. Why isn’t that enough? Surely we don’t have to be 100% certain before we make the Blue-Bus company pay up – we’re rarely 100% certain of anything. Also, it seems that we would be willing to hold the company liable on the strength of other kinds of uncertain evidence.


Text Colour Conventions (see disclaimer)

  1. Blue: Text by me; © Theo Todman, 2019
  2. Mauve: Text by correspondent(s) or other author(s); © the author(s)

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