The example of the dangerous crosswalks in NYC reminded me of the classic exchange between Lisa and Homer Simpson concerning the effectiveness of “bear patrols” in their town:
Later, a full-force Bear Patrol is on watch. Homer watches proudly.
Homer: Not a bear in sight. The Bear Patrol must be working like a
Lisa: That’s spacious reasoning, Dad.
Homer: Thank you, dear.
Lisa: By your logic I could claim that this rock keeps tigers away.
Homer: Oh, how does it work?
Lisa: It doesn’t work.
Lisa: It’s just a stupid rock.
Lisa: But I don’t see any tigers around, do you?
[Homer thinks of this, then pulls out some money]
Homer: Lisa, I want to buy your rock.
[Lisa refuses at first, then takes the exchange]
Homer incorrectly links causality of a tiger-free Springfield to the mention of the rock. This may be a result of Lisa’s status as a generally intellegent and trustworthy source of information. As a result, Homer trusts her reputation blindly and accepts her logic. This particular example is somewhat ridiculous (who would buy a rock to keep away tigers?), but perhaps the political popularity of bear patrols in Springfield gives an insight into how we might misplace the importance of threats in our own society.
The biggest example that I can conjure is the war in Iraq. Sure there were no major terrorist attacks in the US while the war carried on, but was such a costly endeavor a cause of the security that we enjoyed? Perhaps we might have saved thousands of lives and would have not ruined so many others if we had been able to resist the collective urge to retaliate on any available foe after the September 11th attacks? The crowds were wildly in favor of the expansion of war, but they were incorrect in assessing the reality of the threat that Saddam Hussein actually posed.