Debunking fake news in a post-truth era: The plausible untruths of cost underestimation in transport infrastructure projects
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© 2018 Elsevier Ltd The methodology, analysis, and the unfounded conclusions presented in the paper “Underestimating costs in public works projects: error or lie?” by Flyvbjerg, Holm, and Buhl (2002), published in the Journal of the American Planning Association are critically questioned. Flyvbjerg, Holm, and Buhl attribute the cause of cost underestimation in transport infrastructure projects to delusion (optimism bias) and deception (strategic misrepresentation). The bifurcation of the cost underestimation problem into error or lie presents a false dichotomy – an either/or choice that is invalid when juxtaposed with the real-world nature of procuring large infrastructure assets. Put simply, the conclusions presented by Flyvbjerg, Holm, and Buhl are akin to being fake news. Unfortunately, the persistent reverberation of these convenient narratives and factoids in both academia and media has led to these explanations becoming an accepted norm. In this paper, the claims made by Flyvbjerg, Holm, and Buhl are debunked. A call is made for policy-makers to embrace and utilize evidence-based research so that informed decisions about capital cost estimates and potential risks can be better ascertained at the front-end of major transport infrastructure projects.
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