[MCN] Built to burn: Getting real about houses built in fire's way

Lance Olsen lance at wildrockies.org
Sun Nov 25 13:44:11 EST 2018

Excerpts: Jack Cohen <http://wildfiretoday.com/tag/jack-cohen/> was a few years out of graduate school, and a recent transplant to California at the time of the fire. He was working as a research scientist for the Forest Service, studying fire behavior, and he was interested in how the Panorama fire had destroyed so many homes — especially when there was such a robust firefighting response.

One of the first things that Cohen did was to listen to emergency dispatch tapes from the day of the fire. And as he listened, he began to notice a pattern. People were calling in about houses on fire long before the fire front ever reached their neighborhoods.

It wasn’t a huge revelation that wood roofs were flammable — people had known that for ages. But for Cohen, it was a big moment. Because when he shifted his focus to the design of the homes, suddenly he found himself wondering if we were framing the whole problem of wildfire in the wrong way. Cohen wasn’t the first to have that thought, but he was the first to do extensive research into exactly how homes burn in wildfires.

His subsequent work would put him at odds with some of the main fire fighting agencies in the U.S., as well as with hundreds of years of fire policy and tradition.

https://99percentinvisible.org/episode/built-to-burn/ <https://99percentinvisible.org/episode/built-to-burn/>
“That social influences shape every person’s practices, judgments and beliefs is a truism to which anyone will readily assent. …. For psychologists, group pressure upon the minds of individuals raises a host of questions they would like to investigate in detail.

“How, and to what extent, do social forces constrain people’s opinions and attitudes? This question is especially pertinent in our day.”

Solomon E. Asch. Opinions and Social Pressure.

Scientific American. November 1955


“Thirty-five years ago, Yale psychologist Irving Janis published an essay in the Yale Alumni Magazine explaining how a group of intelligent people working together to solve a problem can sometimes arrive at the worst possible answer.”

"Members consider loyalty to the group the highest form of morality.”

“Nobody today says, My area is groupthink. But what emerged subsequent to groupthink was an area called "judgment and decision making," which is one of the most important areas in all of psychology. In fact Danny Kahneman won the 2002 Nobel Prize based on his research into how rational people make irrational decisions.

Philip Zimbardo '59PhD
Professor Emeritus of Psychology, Stanford University


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