Tears of a Clown

False forecasts are not without consequences. How to think about this?

Opposition to “Crying Wolf” is growing. A report by a British MP claims the World Health Organisation and other public health bodies have “gambled away” public confidence by overstating the dangers of the flu pandemic.

“This decline in confidence could be risky in the future,” says the report, seen by the Guardian. “When the next pandemic arises many persons may not give full credibility to recommendations put forward by WHO and other bodies. They may refuse to be vaccinated and may put their own health and lives at risk.”

False financial prophets are called ‘clowns’ by Nassim Taleb, I suppose in reference to the grotesque parody of reality, and their entertainment value only. He argues that excessive reliance on flawed Value-At-Risk models of portfolio risk directly contributed to the Great Financial Recession. How many are still suffering from this forecast failure?

I have been hard in the past on experts who claim forecast ability using speculative assumptions, particularly massive extinctions, drought and sea level rise, but there are many more.

By some reports, governments and others have been recklessly investing in green energy and projections of climate models that by objective criteria are useless. More costly consequences:

Instead of spending just $1.3 billion on a new dam on the Mitchell River, this Government wasted $3.5 billion on a desalination plant that will produce a third of the water. And for insurance it’s wasted $750 million more on this pipeline to steal water from irrigators.

The State of the Climate report stated without reservation that:

“Australia will be hotter in coming decades”

“Much of Australia will be drier in coming decades”

Some statements in the report have been heavily criticized, on the blogosphere at least, here and here and here. Moreover, there is a history of forecasts by CSIRO scientists of increasing drought due to global warming, here. But the issue is not settled, as shown by other CSIRO scientists who disagree.

The question can be asked whether scientific organizations issuing authoritative statements of “fact” are acting ultra vires — beyond their mandate. Putting aside the issue of whether the BoM and CSIRO’s fact sheet is misleading, by what right do they issue a document presenting controversial claims as settled fact?

Questions are also being asked about the undue influence of groups such as the WWF, renewable energy and carbon trading interests over policy decisions.

Or as Peter Berger said: “It seems plausible that folly and fools, like religion and magic, meet some deeply rooted needs in human society.”

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0 thoughts on “Tears of a Clown

  1. There is a comment on the above mentioned thread at 08:21:53 on 27/03/2010 form Peter Hearnden saying – ‘I did not make this post.It’s…..by a troll’.

  2. There is a comment on the above mentioned thread at 08:21:53 on 27/03/2010 form Peter Hearnden saying – 'I did not make this post.It's…..by a troll'.

  3. While it may be true that some members of the public will be desensitized to future warnings of possible pandemics, public health authorities did not overstate the danger from the present pandemic. They did not predict that there WOULD be a devastating pandemic, only that the conditions for one existed. It was simply impossible to predict how this novel influenza virus would behave. The virus has portions of the genomes from swine, bird, and human influenza strains, the population was immunologically naive, and the virus was attacking outside of the typical flu season – a highly dangerous set of circumstances. The virus behaved differently from the routine seasonal flu, targeting unusual segments of the populations. It killed people and it killed substantial numbers of people though not nearly as many as might have been. Substantial numbers of people were spared illness and death due to the responsible, heroic even, and highly appropriate efforts of public health professionals worldwide. In the end – actually, it isn’t over – the severity of the pandemic was less than expected, but this is not a benign disease. We dodged a bullet. We may not the next time, but there is no way to predict in advance what will happen. We should all be grateful for the efforts of so many people who worked hard day and night to protect us, and pray that they will be there next time despite our grumblings about over reaction. They didn’t over react, it could have been much worse.

  4. While it may be true that some members of the public will be desensitized to future warnings of possible pandemics, public health authorities did not overstate the danger from the present pandemic. They did not predict that there WOULD be a devastating pandemic, only that the conditions for one existed. It was simply impossible to predict how this novel influenza virus would behave. The virus has portions of the genomes from swine, bird, and human influenza strains, the population was immunologically naive, and the virus was attacking outside of the typical flu season – a highly dangerous set of circumstances. The virus behaved differently from the routine seasonal flu, targeting unusual segments of the populations. It killed people and it killed substantial numbers of people though not nearly as many as might have been. Substantial numbers of people were spared illness and death due to the responsible, heroic even, and highly appropriate efforts of public health professionals worldwide. In the end – actually, it isn't over – the severity of the pandemic was less than expected, but this is not a benign disease. We dodged a bullet. We may not the next time, but there is no way to predict in advance what will happen. We should all be grateful for the efforts of so many people who worked hard day and night to protect us, and pray that they will be there next time despite our grumblings about over reaction. They didn't over react, it could have been much worse.

  5. While it may be true that some members of the public will be desensitized to future warnings of possible pandemics, public health authorities did not overstate the danger from the present pandemic. They did not predict that there WOULD be a devastating pandemic, only that the conditions for one existed. It was simply impossible to predict how this novel influenza virus would behave. The virus has portions of the genomes from swine, bird, and human influenza strains, the population was immunologically naive, and the virus was attacking outside of the typical flu season – a highly dangerous set of circumstances. The virus behaved differently from the routine seasonal flu, targeting unusual segments of the populations. It killed people and it killed substantial numbers of people though not nearly as many as might have been. Substantial numbers of people were spared illness and death due to the responsible, heroic even, and highly appropriate efforts of public health professionals worldwide. In the end – actually, it isn't over – the severity of the pandemic was less than expected, but this is not a benign disease. We dodged a bullet. We may not the next time, but there is no way to predict in advance what will happen. We should all be grateful for the efforts of so many people who worked hard day and night to protect us, and pray that they will be there next time despite our grumblings about over reaction. They didn't over react, it could have been much worse.

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