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When Humans Make Poor Choices Based on Faulty Information


People have been making poor choices based on faulty information from the time that Adam allowed himself to be convinced by Eve to eat the forbidden fruit. However, there are many other examples of this happening and most of them have had very bad consequences.

For example, in the year 1347, a dreadful disease struck the world. Infected people often ended up with pustules or swellings filled with pus, headaches, high fever, coughing, shaking, dizziness, and ultimately, death for most. People didn’t know what the illness was or how it was spread, but entire communities were wiped out by the illness. By 1400, a third of the population of Europe was dead from the disease, but not before people made the problem far worse.

You see, without knowing anything about the disease except that it usually ended in death, people clutched at any excuse. One of the most commonly believed causes was witchcraft. Many suspected witches were put to death, including by being burned at the stake. Of course, that didn’t slow down the disease and even burning the bodies of the dead didn’t help.

So the people turned to a secondary and equally faulty assumption. It must be caused by cats, which were, after all, familiars of witches. Hundreds of thousands of cats were slaughtered. Almost immediately, the problem escalated and spread. 

We now know of that pandemic as the bubonic plague or the black death. We also now know the cause; a bacterial disease due to a bacteria called Yersinia pestis that came from the bite of rat fleas. Cats were among the few animals that were actually keeping the rat populations in check. Fewer rats meant that there was less chance of contracting the bubonic plague. Killing thousands of cats caused the rat population to flourish, vastly increasing the number of people who died from the plague.

Thousands of animals were slaughtered because of faulty information in an effort to save human lives, but in the end, that poor choice caused the death of countless other human lives.

People still make poor choices based on faulty information. Thankfully, though, most of the poor choices don’t involve such dire consequences. Oh, and by the way, the bubonic plague hasn’t been eradicated and people still die from it, just not in huge numbers because we now know the cause and there are treatments available that save about 85% or more of the people who contract the disease.

  • Did you know that the bubonic plague probably would have been held in check if cats hadn’t been killed?

    • Yes
    • No


What do you think?

12 points

Written by Rex Trulove

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  1. Thanks for sharing this. I didn’t know about that. There were really many incidents like this happened due to wrong information.

    This makes me think about many parenting choices. There are parents making decisions based on what they were told by their parents, friends or “parenting experts”, some of them even ignored their own parents’ instinct but just merely followed others.

    • That is quite true. In fact, I find it incredible that so many parenting experts have no children and so many marriage experts aren’t married. As for the plague, that was around since ancient Greek and Roman times, so it wasn’t like it was a totally new, unheard of disease.

  2. We have that problem today with so many other issues. The reality of the world is there are those who spend the time to figure out what is wrong (like you used to on the helpdesk!) and those who let others tell them what is wrong.

    The killing of cats was not a well planned endeavor and allowed a horrible disease to nearly destroy Europe.

    • The interesting part of help desk was that most of my work was focused on teaching the techs how to troubleshoot, rather than helping the customers directly. Way too often, people who are presented with a problem try to solve the entire problem in one chunk, rather than breaking it down into more manageable ‘bite-sized’ pieces. I loved the work, mainly because I was able to teach the technicians how to properly troubleshoot.

      The deal with killing the cats is a great example of poor troubleshooting. People tried to solve the entire problem all at once, rather breaking it down and isolating what things had nothing to do with the problem. If they’d done proper troubleshooting, few cats would have been killed (some would have been, no doubt since there will always be the ID 10 t factor, but not nearly as many would have been killed). It is also likely that the illness wouldn’t have lingered for a half-century.

  3. Making faulty decisions upon faulty information can also be said that people simple panicked and clutched at any hope there might be. That is why when people sometimes ask would you like to go back to a certain period of time? I say I prefer to stay where I am. I have enough problems during this time I don’t need to go back to a time I don’t understand anything about.

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