other thoughts


[Tuesday 10th: 3 miles; Thursday 12th: 2 miles; Saturday: 5.25 miles]

After my blood donation last week and the time change, my running was a bit off. But I staggered through three miles on Tuesday and a cold 2 miles on Thursday. Saturday’s 5 was a bit slow but not dreadful. So I hope to be back up to regular speed maybe in another week.

So, the main topic of conversation at work and at home and everywhere else is this corona virus thing. It had me thinking about the building and erosion of trust.

It was not that long ago that TV weather men were a bit of a joke. They could almost tell you what the weather was , or recently had been. The TV weather reports when I grew up were mostly historical in nature: “the temperature in Tuscaloosa today was 55”.

Over many long years they have become much more reliable. Now we seem to have a good handle on what is coming about 5-7 days in advance. It is not unusual to have events cancelled or postponed based on a 5 day weather forecast. People have developed a level of trust in the scientists who do the forecasting, and even expect them to be correct.

We have also had recent re-visiting of the somewhat unreliable nature of election predictions.

The communicable disease experts have been in the news giving us their forecasts based on their mathematical models and I think that generally people have been showing a strong trust in those experts and their work.

That’s a nice thing. It is nice to have experts that are generally considered above corruption and are attempting to not only predict but advise on what actions should be implemented to improve outcomes.

A mathematically minded person can go pretty far following the reasoning of a modern weatherman or a communicable disease expert. That’s good too. It is nice when the experts can communicate with common people. But a lot of people can’t get there, they pretty much have to take it on faith.

People’s lives may well depend on the advice of experts and also their level of faith in that advise. Which makes it sad when there is an erosion of that trust.

Take the general issue of climate change for instance. A lot of people just don’t have much faith in the expert proclamations in that field. I think there are two reasons: first is the public mocking that has come up against those experts; second is the misuse of those opinions to overreach into doomsday predictions which, fortunately, have not come to pass. Note that the weather forecasters also had to survive years of mockery.

The weather men have come up with some pretty good techniques for developing a warning without falling into hype. I remember on the lead-up to Hurricane Katrina reading a weather forecast which said that storm surge into New Orleans could be at the the second floor level of houses. And when I read that, I believed it. It wasn’t couched as a pumped up pronouncement of doom. It said this could happen. And within a few days they had a comparison with the actual outcome and a reasonable explanation for the (happy) discrepancies.

So here we are, nobody within miles of where I live has been diagnosed with Corona virus. (That is somewhat dependent on the lack of testing resources to prove it one way or the other.) But lots of people are betting time and money on the advice of the experts. I hope the experts are right, not only because I don’t want people to get sick, but I’d like to see their role as experts remain useful to the nation.

One last point about the mockers. Mocking is fun. But it comes at a cost. Mockery is a destructive action, it destroys trust. And it excites emotional responses like anger and pity which cloud reasoning and wisdom. The Bible says don’t sit in the seat of the mockers.