Lewis Thomas (1983), in his medical history treatise, describes the case of an early 20th-century physician who was eerily accurate in diagnosing typhoid fever in his patients. Only much later did people realize that the physician himself “was a more effective carrier . . . than Typhoid Mary” (p. 22), because he was examining his patients using only his bare hands, transmitting the disease to everyone he touched. In this story, the complex environmental conditions of disease transmission hid the true causal relationships and led to erroneous conclusions. Thomas wanted to make a point with his example: Such wicked environments, in which things are not as they seem, can greatly impair people's ability to correctly infer causes. In the physician's case, people mistook his medical carelessness for diagnostic genius.

Political scientist Chris Bail (2021) provides social media as a more modern example of wicked environments in...

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