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outlier

In statistics an outlier is an extreme atypical case which is assumed to often arise from unique conditions of that case, and is typically discarded in analysis. Less abstractly, in a herd, the outlier is the individual who explores out the furthest, to a point beyond the comfort of the rest of the herd. Another member of the herd, the bellwether (a term likewise from statistics), is more cautious and will follow the outlier to a point, tending to determine the direction in which the whole herd will move. In any discussion of politics itself one may find outlier positions and bellwether positions, with some obvious dynamics between them.

The dialectic between outlier and bellwether positions, for instance, a debate between extremists and moderates, can reframe a debate and slowly alter more commonly held positions, if this particular tension becomes the long term focus of debate.

Without outlier positions, debates and issue statements tend to be incomplete or fragile. Ron Dembo and other financial risk management experts emphasize the need for scenarios including some which are thought unlikely or even impossible. Craig Hubley differentiates between a utopia or dystopia, both thought to be impossible, and a best case and worst case which might actually occur. According to Hubley, all four play a role in forming vision and making actual risk decisions:
  • without being allowed to state explicit utopias, extreme views of what is possible are not exposed, and best cases are limited in scope
  • without being allowed to state explicit dystopias, hazards and very negative possible outcomes remain unstated and feared, and beliefs that they are possible remain unstated, causing chaotic reactions at key moments
  • changing beliefs about what is possible and what is not do not tend to alter the scenario analysis, rather, they simply move cases from one scenario to another
  • the low-probability high-impact outcomes, typically ignored, can be assigned a standard low probability for analytic purposes, say 0.1%, whereas in analysis without dystopia/utopia they'd have 0, and remain invisible too long even if their probability dramatically rises
    • for example, after 9/11, the odds of using large vehicles as weapons rose drastically - leaving analysts scrambling to redefine their risk analyses at exactly the worst time - hard cases make bad law; had a scenario of 0.1% probability of flying airplanes into large buildings have been officially sanctioned, even with no one actually believing in it, raising that probability from 0.1% to 10% would have required radically less re-analysis than did occur.
  • with a culture open to broader and more speculative risk analysis, and not afraid of debating extremely negative speculative outcomes, panic at least among those familiar with scenarios, is reduced, and confidence among the population that their leaders at least knew an event was possible, is higher - meanwhile use of fiction as a means of assessing the outlier tends to become more common and can overcome the tendency of bureaucracy and SJ personalities to ignore events they have never seen actually occur themselves.