Thanks to a friend’s tip (thanks, Andreas), I have been reading a fascinating 2002 study by Christian Morel entitled Les décisions absurdes: sociologie des erreurs radicales et persistantes. The book begins with a number of examples of absurd decisions, involving for example avoidable plane and ship crashes. Whilst travelling up the west coast of the US this summer we came across a perfect historical example of an absurd decision: the 1923 Honda Point disaster (picture), the largest peacetime loss of US Navy ships, in which nine destroyers raced at full speed in fog onto Honda Point, with a loss of 23 lives. An early radio navigation system had warned of the danger but had not been trusted. Morel’s learned treatise develops a typology and a sociology of such decisions. They tend to involve a collective (Morel writes about the collective rationality of absurd decisions), over-confidence in people’s judgements and a tendency to believe one’s own sight- or sensation-based perceptions rather than an external authority. Morel’s analysis reminds me of Russell Ackoff’s observation that ‘Most large social systems are pursuing objectives other than the ones they proclaim, and the ones they pursue are wrong. They try to do the wrong thing righter, and this makes what they do wronger. It is much better to do the right thing wrong than the wrong thing right, because when errors are corrected, it makes doing the wrong thing wronger but the right thing righter.’ In any case, we should all be aware that absurd decisions occur more frequently than we would like to believe and hence be wary about the nonchalant certitude of authority.