The Halo Effect: Why It's So Difficult To Understand The Past
On a summer evening in 1978, three teenagers were driving a Ford Pinto down US-33 in northern Indiana.
Judy Ulrich, a recent high school graduate, was behind the wheel, ferrying her little sister Lyn and cousin Donna to a church-sponsored volleyball game. Around 6:30 p.m., the girls decided to pull over.
They started to slow down and turned on their hazard lights, but the driver behind them was distracted and didn't notice. His Chevy van rammed into the rear of the Ford Pinto.
At first, the accident didn't seem that bad. But then, the Pinto started to leak gas. There was a flicker of flame from the rear of the car, then an explosion. One witness said it looked like a napalm bomb going off.
By the time state troopers arrived on the scene, Lyn and Donna were dead. Judy was taken to a hospital burn unit, where she died about nine hours later.
A few years before the crash, a 26-year-old engineer and recent MBA grad named Denny Gioia was given the job of recall coordinator at Ford Motor Company.
On the job, Gioia twice raised concerns about the Pinto. Both times, he looked at the evidence on hand, and voted not to recall the car.
"In certain circles, I'm a certifiable villain," says Gioia, now a professor at Penn State's Smeal College of Business. "Guilty of not protecting innocent, unsuspecting people driving a patently dangerous car."
And yet, more than four decades later, he's still not sure if he made the right decision. "It's impossible to look at this case with 20/20 hindsight," Gioia explains.
This week on Hidden Brain, the tale of the infamous Ford Pinto and the former Ford insider who voted twice to keep the car on the road. We explore what this story reveals about how we look back on the past, and why we often struggle to evaluate the role we play in the most important events of our lives.
Everything Is Obvious: How Common Sense Fails Us by Duncan Watts, 2011.
" Pinto Madness" by Mark Dowie, Mother Jones, 1977.
" The Myth of the Ford Pinto Case" by Gary Schwartz, Rutgers Law Review, 1990.
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