Dr. Paul Slovic is a professor at the University of Oregon who has written about decision making, human judgement, risk perception, and the limits of human compassion that entails something called psychic numbing that causes us to ignore mass atrocities, among other important aspects of human psychology.  He has worked with Daniel Kahneman and Amos Tversky, the two main characters in Michael Lewis’ The Undoing Project.

I was hoping to connect with Mr. Lewis, and here’s my letter to Mr. Slovic:

Be a nuisance where it counts. Do your part to inform and stimulate the public to join your action. Be depressed, discouraged, and disappointed at failure and the disheartening effects of ignorance, greed, corruption and bad politics—but never give up.” ~ Marjory Stoneman Douglas

Hello Mr. Slovic,

I recently read The Undoing Project by Michael Lewis and am asking for a long shot.  I’m guessing that you and he might occasionally keep in touch, or at least you have his contact information.  Could I be so bold as to ask you to pass this E-mail on to him?  Thank you in advance.

I’m a fish biologist who thinks a lot about psychology and the implications it has on our many environmental quandaries.  I didn’t become a biologist until late in life – i.e., my late 30’s when I graduated with an undergraduate degree from the University of Wyoming.  I was quite naïve and wanted to “save the fishes”, which I’m passionate about.

Several years later I found myself in central Idaho working for the Forest Service doing “combat biology” because the Chinook salmon had recently been listed as threatened under the Endangered Species Act.  What a rude awakening that was!  Sadly, the dwindling Chinook would soon be accompanied by steelhead and bull trout; eventually Chinook were upgraded to endangered status…all of which made the spotted owl issue look like a walk in the park!

I don’t know if you’re familiar with Robert Lackey from Oregon State, but he wrote a provocative article titled Defending Reality that had a huge impact on me (I’ve attached it here in case you’re interested).  Between Bob’s article and my contentious experiences with loggers, gold miners, ranchers, fishermen, and fellow Forest Service employees – I realized that not only could I not save the salmon of the Pacific Northwest, but maybe no one could…at least not using the same old approaches.  That’s when I started to focus on the psychological underpinnings that lead to our ubiquitous environmental conundrums.

Eventually I left Idaho and went back to Wyoming and worked for the US Fish & Wildlife Service at their fish hatchery in Jackson Hole.  One day while cleaning a holding tank full of skittish cutthroat trout fry, someone suggested that I go back to school for a master’s degree.  I didn’t see it in the cards, but responded by saying, “If I did, I’d take psychology classes to better understand why people do what they do…or more importantly, why we humans keep doing the harmful things that we do!

To me, most things are merely a matter of scale.  The personal biases and mentalities that I saw at work against the fishes are the same ones that keep Homo sapiens (i.e., “the wise ones”) from solving larger issues like climate change.  I contend that the human race, on several fronts, is flirting with calamity like never before if we don’t collectively get in charge of ourselves psychologically – and that’s the theme of the movie I’m pushing.

As noted previously, I’m hoping to somehow get in touch with Mr. Lewis because I’m looking for help with a movie treatment and he likely has contacts with highly talented screenwriters, etc.  Please believe me, I’m not in this for fame or fortune; my efforts are for the resources that can’t speak for themselves and future generations that will probably find themselves asking, “How did those past generations get us in the pickle we’re in?”.  They might phrase it a little differently, however.

I see this film as a way of conveying the dire state of the environment and the sense of urgency necessary to address mankind’s most pressing matter – in a way the average person can understand…in part because they’ll be able to empathize with the protagonist’s struggle to overcome seemingly insurmountable hurdles in his attempt to make a difference…a difference that no one has been able to make since Rachel Carson.


Dave Cannon

Aniak, AK