Seattle Windshield Pitting Epidemic

Book cover of I'm reading the book"Nudge: Improving Decisions About Health, Wealth, and Happiness" by Thaler & Sunstein. Their subject is "choice architecture" and how, in the case of difficult decisions with little feedback, choices can be designed to help people choose the best option for themselves without too much analysis. They call this "paternal libertarianism."

In one chapter they remark how people can take things for granted without even noticing them until it's brought to their attention. They choose the Seattle Windshield Pitting Epidemic as an example.

I'd never heard of this. It began in Bellingham, WA in 1954. There were several reports of mysterious pits in car windshields. The police were asked to investigate. The incidences of pits started to travel south to Seattle. People started freaking out and thinking the pits were a result of cosmic rays, radio waves, or sand fleas.

So, what caused the epidemic? The answer is: the pits were there all along. People just didn't notice them until the "epidemic" broke out.

Here's a good account of the full story.

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