Taking decisions in the face of uncertainty

Everyone takes decisions without having all the information available to make absolutely sure of making the right decision. Basil Barnett has been involved in creating the science and rules for decisions in the face of uncertainty. Two examples are given below.

1.The marriage problem

You are an eligible bachelor and meet a number of eligible ladies. If you do not propose to a lady that you meet, you may well lose her to someone else. How do you decide when to propose?

2.The cancer researcher

You are a cancer specialist and think that you have found a miracle cure for a type of cancer. The cure requires a patient to take a pill every day. You set up a double blind trial where half of the patients have a placebo (a pill with no effect) and the other half take the new miracle cure. As the trial takes place, some patients with the placebo die, as do some patients who are taking the miracle cure. However, the death rate for those taking the miracle cure is less. When do you, ethically, have to stop the trial because the miracle cure is clearly better and it is not correct to let patients continue with the placebo?

See: Biometrika (1965), 52, 3and4, pp. 507-532