Sitting in an English garden waiting for the sun. If the sun don’t come you get a tan from standing in the English rain. I am the eggman, they are the eggmen. I am the walrus, goo goo goo joob goo goo goo goo joob. It’s hard to figure out who is the Walrus in New York City this week for there were a lot of eggmen. After having closed down the entire state of New York, Governor Andrew Cuomo has egg on his face. Mayor DeBlasio, having declared that the City was going to experience the worst snow storm – well ever – has egg on his face as well for having closed schools down for a modest snowfall. To be non-partisan the same is true of New Jersey’s Governor Chris Christie.
The Beatles song I am the Walrus was written by John Lennon in 1967 after he received a letter from a student. According to the letter, the student’s teacher was making his class analyze Beatles’ lyrics. Lennon was so amused by the idea that anyone would spend time trying to understand the band’s songs that he purposely decided to write a song with lyrics that were purposely confusing and senseless.
Confused and senseless is how one can describe elected officials in the New York Metro area as they all overreacted to what The Weather Channel called Winter Storm Juno. While the storm dumped all of maybe 8 inches of snow on New York City, in response, the City and State of New York banned travel, closed down the entire transit system and shut government offices and schools. Because nobody could travel throughout the metropolitan area (mind you not because of snow, but because the roads and trains were closed), pretty much every business in the City was also closed costing employers, shareholders and workers millions of dollars.
One can’t totally blame to politicians, because they were reacting to what the meteorologists at the National Weather Service were telling them. Had the City been slammed with three feet of snow, the measures taken might have been considered to be heroic. But with just a few inches, they appear silly. The politicians will all say better safe than sorry, but that attitude assumes that only one type of error matters. The fact is that one can commit an error by doing something that is incorrect. But they can also commit an error by not doing something that they should do. In this case, the politicians did something that was incorrect while trying to avoid not doing something that they should.
What the reaction to Winter Storm Juno really shows is that important decisions, particularly those that impact other people, should not be made based on hysteria, emotion, or more often than not, on what scientists say. This is because most science contains a significant margin of error. For example the three main weather forecasting models predicted dramatically different snowfall totals for New York City, with one suggesting a historic storm, and other suggesting a minor snow total. Decision makers should take that measure of variability into account. So rather than ban travel, maybe the Governors should have encouraged people to avoid unnecessary travel. Rather than close the transit system, maybe the Governors should have simply limited service. By doing this, they could have better reacted to the facts on the ground, rather than to the incorrect and inaccurate information that they were receiving from certain weathermen.
Juno provides an important lesson to all of us. When we hear the President say that the debate is over when it comes to global warming, or when a bio-statistician tells us that some food product will kill us, or when activists say that DDT kills birds or so called GMOs will turn us into zombies, it is important to remember that so-called facts are not always what they seem. Political leaders used to rely on Court Astrologers to help in their decision making, George Washington was bled to death to help cure a cold, and horrific acts have been justified based on the science of eugenics. This is not to say that politicians should not rely on experts, but rather that they should not accept dogma simply because it is provided by a so-called expert. Decisions are always best when they are flexible, when they minimize negative impacts and when they are changed when the facts on the ground change.
Sometimes it’s better to be a walrus than to have egg on one’s face.