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.

Waiting in Line

If you’re waiting for a bus, waiting in line is fine (and if you’re British, compulsory)

On the other hand, waiting for permission to air an idea, to make an observation, to exercise your genius is not.

We now have the largest and most educated population in human history.

Technology has ensured that the growth in ideas, connections, possibilities has been exponential. And yet, most of them are unheard, submerged beneath a tradition of waiting in line for the boss to say OK.

There is an old adage; that the logs at to top of the logpile need the ones at the bottom to be very, very stable. Their position at the top requires it.

If you wait in line, you’ll wait a very long wait, but you’re unlikely to be noticed, with all the risk that bothering the logs at the top incurs.

If, on the other hand you want to make the difference only you and a very few others can make, waiting in line is a waste.

Those important to to you will never know.

But you will.