Complexity: Don’t Listen to the Media Hype

The lunatic fringe isn't the only group that is obsessed with eschatology. To listen to the media, you would think we are going to kill ourselves by running out of oil, cooking the atmosphere, losing precious species, and spending ourselves into massive debt. Are we? I don't know, and that's why I don't like to write much about politics. I think politicians take extremely complex problems and try to simplify them into silly absolutist mantras. I believe they overestimate their understanding of these problems.

This article from Michael Crighton is a must read. It takes a look at complex systems, shocking statistics, and how by and large, people are wrong about these things. Some quotes:

I set out to write a novel about a global disaster. In the course of my preparation, I rather casually reviewed what had happened in Chernobyl, since that was the worst manmade disaster in recent times that I knew about.

What I discovered stunned me. Chernobyl was a tragic event, but nothing remotely close to the global catastrophe I imagined. About 50 people had died in Chernobyl, roughly the number of Americans that die every day in traffic accidents. I don't mean to be gruesome, but it was a setback for me. You can't write a novel about a global disaster in which only 50 people die.

Undaunted, I began to research other kinds of disasters that might fulfill my novelistic requirements. That's when I began to realize how big our planet really is, and how resilient its systems seem to be. Even though I wanted to create a fictional catastrophe of global proportions, I found it hard to come up with a credible example.

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