Information has occupied the center of decision-making in human societies since ancient times. In the modern world, the political and social structure have gained immense complexity while the biological mechanism for information-processing in the human nervous system has remained more or less in place – liable to distortion, deletion, improvisation, and other errors that transform the original information in different ways, thus giving rise to what Christopher Burns terms as ‘false knowledge’. In Deadly Decisions (Prometheus Books 2008), Burns unveils and explains in detail the mismanagement of information that led to historical disasters like the sinking of Titanic, the destruction of the space shuttle Challenger, and – more recently – the 9/11 terrorist attacks followed by Iraq War.
In addition to the meticulous research of the book’s author, revealing the inside story of the widely known disasters, this book explains the biological basis of false knowledge and the nature of truth systems. The latter covers the philosophical concepts of truth and its role in society as discussed by renowned thinkers and writers – Kant, Voltaire, Rousseau, Struass, and Durkheim. Burns shows the relation between information handling/mishandling, human understanding/confusion, and the combined impact of both these on human existence.
With the horrors of a potential pandemic – the avian flu – hanging like the Damocles’ Sword on humanity, receiving, processing, and presenting information with maximum accuracy has become equivalent to the very survival of our species on this planet. The need to improve our information processing systems is thus the cry of the hour and the author of Deadly Decisions daringly appears with the case file for revising our attitude toward information handling in order to avoid making disastrous decisions. The Internet is one global network of information sharing in our time and Christopher Burns is hopeful that the World Wide Web can prove a satisfactory solution for ironing out the seams in information management.
Deadly Decisions is fully referenced, highly critical, and shockingly revealing. It blows the whistle and warns humanity of future catastrophes that can be prevented by ensuring the efficiency of information handling systems. There is much to learn from this book, and a lot to discuss.