The wrong sort of evidence

Many years ago, on my commute home from London to Wendover, we used to get get regularly delayed by “leaves on the line” or “the wrong sort of snow”. Those days are long behind me. The experiences left me with a determination to avoid commuting like the plague.

Right now however, we have plagues of sorts, but the thinking that drove me away from commuting remains.

Over the years, we have developed an obsession with evidence based decision making.

My local council will not entertain measures to calm traffic along rural ‘rat run” routes without evidence of enough accidents. I assume that somewhere in their policy there is a CQ (“Carnage Quotient”) level that must be exceeded. A quality of evidence based that conveniently ignores the probability of an accident that will at least ruin someone’s day – if not their life – is high, but we need evidence.

We have known about the probability of a pandemic for decades, but in the absence of precise evidence as to when and where, we sidelined it. I guess we have evidence now. That’s OK then.

We know, beyond reasonable doubt that climate change, demographics, technology, and our current forms of capitalism all have high probabilities of causing increasingly disruptive events.

The wait for deterministic evidence is a form of predatory delay (great phrase – thank you Raj Tharotheram). A delay designed to procrastinate whilst we finish strip mining the planet for the benefit of a very few. Waiting for the evidence that this is so is likely to be life changing for many, if not lethal.

it’s about time I think we took the hint, and redefined our idea of evidence to incorporate something altogether more integrated.

Probabilistic as well as deterministic, or as my Grandmother would say as I passed her the eggs, sheer bloody common sense.

If we wait for those whom predatory delay benefits to finish strip mining before we take action, or for the bureaucrats for whom likelihood means an estimate of ROI is more difficult, we will wait a very long wait.

Over the next months, as we deal with the fallout of this crisis, we have a choice as to whther we go back to the old, fragile normal, or a new, less precise, less traditionally evidence based, less assymetric normal.

As we recover, we can choose who to work for, what to buy, how to live. It doesn’t need to be instantly radical, it can be incrementally radical. People obsessed with infinite growth will start to get the hint. The strip miners who uproot everything in pursuit of a very small part of what they excavate, leaving the rest as forms of social slag heap will start to get the hint.

We can decide what form of evidence we will accept as cause for action.


There’s a space between what we’re doing now and what we’ll be doing next. Some of that gap we can measure in time, like the timing between two notes on a musical score.

Then there’s a more complex, nuanced version. The quality of what is happening in that space. The energy. The things that affect the nature of that change.

The combination of these two qualities – time, and nature- create a tension, an energy, between one beat and the next.

That tension cannot be measured, only sensed. To sense it, we need make space for it.

That tension is increasing. For any given time period, the change energy is increasing. The difference between 2020 and 2021 is likely to very different to that between 2018 and 2019.

The issues we are seeing are not isolated from each other. They will combine and morph into new forms in a similar way to viruses adapting to defeat antibiotics.

We need to pay attention to this liminal space in which these issues combine. If we pay attention only to the symptoms, we’ll miss the cause and if do that we are far more likely to be disadvantaged than energised.

Whatever time you put aside for reflection and research, double it.

The Well Trodden Path

We like well trodden paths. They are familiar, comforting and we recognise the scenery. We know them so well we could travel them with our eyes closed.

That’s the problem. We become wilfully blind, seduced by our habits. The scenery may not look as if it is changing, but it is.

Changes small enough not to be noticed day to day, but which like compund interest, build until they are huge.

If we’re investing in the future, compound interest is wonderful. If we’re borrowing from it, it will probably kill us.

We need to know the difference. Although the market sometimes changes quickly and disrupts us, more often it changes incrementally until we find ourselves irrelevant..

We need to understand where we are, and to do that, sometimes, we just need to get lost.

To step off the well trodden path.

“Why do you go away? So that you can come back. So that you can see the place you came from with new eyes and extra colors. And the people there see you differently, too. Coming back to where you started is not the same as never leaving.”

Terry Pratchett – Hat Full of Sky