Monday, February 3, 2014

Who Do You Trust?

Why am I surprised?  I guess I am just not ready to become a complete cynic and write off the hope for the resurgence of critical thinking.  The latest example comes from an ABC article on the weather, of all things, one of the safest topics available for small talk.

Apparently rumors have been circulating on social media, Facebook and Twitter, that a storm predicted for tomorrow will drop 20 to 30 inches of snow on the Midwest.  This rumor was “rampant” before Saturday when the news appeared both on line and in print.  Indianapolis “and other Midwestern weather bureaus have been getting calls from people worried about dire storm predictions.”  The experts call these predictions "EXTREMELY premature & improbable.”

Anyone who regularly follows weather predictions from reputable sources knows that the National Weather Service and other experts rarely post expected snowfall (or rainfall) amounts earlier than the day before an event.  Probability percentages of precipitation change from one forecast to the next and are likely to be different from one source to the next – all the TV weather people have their own models and their own interpretations of those models.  That’s why any prediction by amateurs or hobbyists in January for a storm on February 4 is “EXTREMELY premature.”

It would be “EXTREMELY improbable” because the record snowfall for an entire month in Indianapolis, for example, is 30.6 inches.  The most snow to fall ever in a 24-hour period in Iowa and Nebraska is less than 30 inches.

These facts don’t seem to impede the spread of social-media rumors or deter people believing them enough to be worried nearly a week in advance.  Why turn to the experts when the information is readily available from your Facebook friends or celebrity tweets?  This is the same lack of critical thinking, the same blind faith that causes people to worry unnecessarily, foolishly and often irresponsibly about the dangers of vaccinations, to accept the efficacy of untested ancient oriental remedies and magic bracelets, to rely on the healing power of dietary supplements, to stress over non-existent poisons in our food supply, and, in general, lose sleep based on marketing and political hype and propaganda that challenges our ability to do simple research and flies in the face of common sense.

Incidentally, as of noon Monday, the snowfall predicted for Tuesday and Tuesday night is less than 1 inch for Indianapolis, about 3-5 inches for Chicago and 4-8 inches for Des Moines.  (Source: National Weather Service –

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