Courage vs Cowardice, Action vs Talk, Knowledge vs Speculation.
Let’s Stop Hiding and Start Learning
On Saturday, May 30th, 2020, two astronauts will risk their lives in an experiment. They will be the first humans to fly into space aboard the new SpaceX Crew Dragon vehicle mounted atop NASA’s Falcon 9 rocket. Meanwhile, billions will not fly in much simpler and safer vehicles — airplanes — out of fear of spreading a virus whose contagiousness in airplanes is not known.
A civilization such as ours can only be built by taking such risks. And it can’t sustain itself for long without continuing to take risks.
And, yet, five months after the world was hit with a new virus, our cowardice, inaction and unsound speculation have left us without confident answers to the most basic questions about it. Questions such as “is it safe to fly?” or “is it safe to go to parks with others?” or “to school?” or countless other situations. Instead of counting on brave people of action to subject themselves to the experiments necessary to answer these questions, billions have sheltered in place and, worse, prevented those who would take the necessary risk to find out the answers from taking those risks.
Let us look at just one example:
There is no way to get an accurate answer to a question like “How likely are you to catch this virus from flying?” without actually starting with a base of data of people who have flown on planes with others known to be infected. Experiments would yield data that would allow for analysis that would allow people to make informed decisions.
But our society has shockingly put a ban on taking risks to generate the data to make informed decisions, because, in its supremely cowardly stance that any risk at all is unacceptable, it has said “no flying (but for essential purposes).”
As a result of this our civilization’s capacity for flight – the knowledge of how to build aircraft, operate them, maintain them, make them available to people who wish to travel, and the countless other support efforts behind air travel are ground to a halt. The people with this knowledge are not employing it, not adding to it, not practicing it. It is becoming forgotten.
And this tragedy of wasted human potential and productivity is repeated at a scale thousands the size of this as every other frozen industry undergoes the same damage.
It is not that we lack the know-how to answer our questions. It is not that we lack people who would take the risk to themselves be the test subjects to find out. It is that we have defaulted to cowardice and are thus preventing ourselves from finding out.
Jonas Salk, inventor of the polio vaccine, injected himself with it to verify it worked. He did not hide from its potential unknown effects. And in courageously taking that risk, and learning from it, he saved billions from paralysis, shortened lives and death.
Today, we have taken an opposite approach to Salk’s. Instead of experiments, we have built computer models based on assumptions and a world view we know does not correspond to reality. Instead of conducting brave experiments like he did, we have hidden away and forced those who would take risks to not do so. As such, we have frozen our ability to gain knowledge that would allow us to take on further experiments and fuel this virtuous cycle of courage ⇒ experiment ⇒ learn ⇒ repeat.
This is the behaviour of ignorant cowards. When we possess knowledge we laugh at ignorant cowards. We look at them as uncivilized barbarians. We are becoming them.
It’s time to let the courageous and intelligent stand up, come out of hiding and do proper science. Science that involves experiments – with humans who volunteer to be part of those experiments.