“When a big wildfire hits a community resulting in loss of life and property you can be sure emotions will run high in the aftermath. You can also be sure a range of strongly held opinions will be expressed on what should be done in the future to prevent such disasters happening again. What you rarely see, however, is a long, hard examination of the evidence.” (Philip Gibbons, a professor at The Australian National University in Canberra introducing a piece in the Natural Hazards Observer, July 2012)
The last few days has seen a blossoming of social media lampooning Donald Trump over his “raking” comments. Trump is a master of distraction – of misdirection. Lampooning him is to fall directly into his hands and lower the conversation.
In the same piece (2012) Gibbons wraps with “Evidence is not as timely as opinion. Evidence is not as entertaining as opinion (my emphasis). Evidence isn’t as black and white as opinion. And while opinion is delivered with confidence and certainty, evidence must be presented with caution and uncertainty.”
What characterises evidence, among other things around methodology, is that it has its basis in information. Information, by inherent definition, “informs” – it reduces uncertainty. It is fundamental to good risk management.
In the raking over of the coals, over the next months – indeed over the next years – we will see again the struggle between opinion and evidence. Will we see an open and challenging approach which informs future choices? Does the evidence to date indicate a willingness for such an approach? I am yet to be convinced that such a culture will prevail.