What happened to the Malaysian plane?

I have read many of the accounts and I am following this story with interest.  As to what happened, I don’t care to hazard a very particular guess.  But I wish to make a general point about puzzles.  When an event appears extremely puzzling, there are often a few ways out:

1. One or more of the agents in the story has a capacity to behave more irrationally than you might think.  Even if you believe people are reasonably rational, by examining a puzzle you are to some extent selecting for a situation with irrational behavior from some of the participants.  And sometimes the line between irrational behavior and totally incompetent behavior is a thin one or it is absent altogether.

2. Our own ability to use the argument from exclusion (it cannot be A, B, or C, therefore only D remains) to reach reliable conclusions is extremely dubious and limited.

3. There are more conspiracies than we are usually aware of, and sometimes these conspiracies shape events.

I tend to favor #1 and #2 over #3. The core insight perhaps is that it is easier for coordinated events to fail to happen than to happen.  That does not explain what went on, but it does slant me away from some of the more extreme (and worrying) scenarios.

The fate of the plane and its passengers is of course a matter of intrinsic interest.  But I also find interesting the question of whether a social scientist, or an economist, should have a systematically different interpretation of what might be going on, if only stochastically.  And if we don’t…what good are we?



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