‘I’ ON CULTURE
I now officially hate “experts.” They are supposed to be the ones who truly understand and give wise opinions. We hear constantly, “Listen to the science.” But what happens when the science seems to change every day? Isaac Newton came up with the theory of gravity in the early 18th century, and it lasted without much change until Einstein a couple of hundred years later. We still base our knowledge on the solar system on the work of Copernicus from nearly 500 years ago.
However, when it comes to COVID-19, facts seem to change day by day. My extremely intelligent daughter assures me that is because science keeps changing, but how can we depend on anything coming from science when on Monday we’re warned to watch out for the virus left on surfaces only to hear on Wednesday that it’s not that big a deal?
We were told first it couldn’t be passed from person to person, and then the experts changed their minds. We were also told back in mid-March that the whole thing would last a few weeks. That, of course, was two months ago. We’ve been told all sorts of things that were true one day and then false the next. We cut ourselves off from the world, and we really don’t know if it was all necessary. After all, the models haven’t turned out to be so accurate!
A lot of this comes from predictive models. Computers are used to predict what will happen, and they are so much faster than us. But are they right? Computer users know the old adage “GIGO,” which means “garbage in, garbage out.” Unfortunately, there is a new version of GIGO, which is “garbage in, gospel out.” No matter what goes into the computer, we are expected to follow the results. Science should be based on facts, not what gets pushed into a computer program with limited chances to check its validity.
A British fellow named Neil Ferguson created the Imperial College model that everyone was relying on at the start of this whole mess. If we do not isolate ourselves, there would be millions of deaths in the U.S. So, we all hunkered down. Recently, other experts looking at his computer program reported it may have errors and may have reached the wrong conclusion. To add to the fun, Ferguson later tested positive for the virus and may have passed it to others. That was another useful lesson: the people who order the shutdowns don’t always feel they should be bothered by the rules we peasants must live by.
The governor of Illinois demanded no travel between families; grandparents could not drive to their grandchildren. But his wife and daughter drove off to leave the state on a nice vacation. Then, after ordering a shutdown of most construction, he sent state workers to his horse farm in Wisconsin to do some work while many in his state were locked down. The mayor of Chicago closed down hair salons but then had her hair done to look good for television. A commentator on CNN left his self-isolation to go for a nice long walk in a nearby town and got into a loud argument with someone there. The governor of Michigan asked (at least did not order) people in her state not to drive to summer homes, only to have the family car photographed when she arrived at her summer place.
And government orders have been baffling. There are very few young people who have died from the disease. Yet we closed the schools and kept the old age homes going, and a gigantic proportion of the dead are people in those facilities. Happily, here in Florida, we worked to clean up assisted living facilities and isolated infected seniors and have had far fewer deaths.
And once this is over — and with different states and governors, that will be at different times — is there anyone foolish enough to believe that the next time someone comes up with a model, those who wonder about its effectiveness will be called “anti-science?”