There must be an academic paper about this somewhere. Something along the lines of Statisticians map algorithmic triggers for assumptions in high and low stakes contexts.
Why would I care? Well, I made an assumption today. One which led to some anxiety. I made the surmise based on the coincidence of two, as far as I know, unrelated events. The anxiety for my personal safety seems (gratefully!) to have been wasted, but I actually stand by the conclusion I jumped to because I suspect I would not have made the assumption based on only one events. (I’m using my apparent requirement of ‘at least two’ dodgy events to trigger an assumption of ‘not safe to be here’ as evidence that I’m not a ninny. But wondering what other people’s requirements might be. Are there assumptions for which I require three events? So on and so forth. Yes, I’m a big ol’ nerd.)
I live next to a large cemetery in a residential neighborhood. There is clear evidence that people drink and fornicate there after hours. You can smell the pot when you walk by parked cars sometimes. I found a syringe once. I don’t think it was for insulin. Many of the people who use the cemetery are dog walkers, joggers, mourners, or taking a short cut to work. But there’s clear evidence that some people are there for vice. Today when I walked in –alone, near dusk– I was very aware of a pick-up truck driving a small circuit in one section of the cemetery. He wasn’t lost or seeking a specific marker. There was no slowing in different areas or getting out to read the headstones. He just made about eight circuits of this one corner and eventually left. I thought this was odd, but he wasn’t following me so I left it alone. One dodgy event = no assumption.
Fifteen minutes later a chopper was circling overhead. Now I try very hard not to jump to conclusions, but the last two incidences of choppers doing more than a routine sweep over this cemetery were:
- a multi-victim homicide, ultimately thought to be linked to Tamerlan Tsarnaev; and
- the manhunt after the Boston Marathon Bombings for Dzhokhar Tsarnaev
When the helicopter did not leave after a few passes, I decided that I should probably get back in my house. Two dodgy events = assumption of something (possibly dangerously) wrong within three miles of my house.
The Twitter finally told me that the helicopter was news and not police, getting footage of a car which had crashed into a BJ’s and was stuck behind a trash compactor. The BJs is exactly a mile from my house.
Because today won’t quit, there are now two emergency response vehicles just down the street. My spidey-sense isn’t tingling. One dodgy event = no assumption. But, you know what? I’m glad I’m inside.