Episode 18: Wading Into Change

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When I have a choice between wading or swimming I will invariably choose wading.  It has many advantages over swimming.  You don’t have to get completely wet and might not even need a towel once you get out of the water.  You an often go to places where the landscape around the pond or creek (and it’s pronounced crick!) is absolutely stunning.  There is always wildlife to find in and around wading areas like fish, minnows, tadpoles, crawfish, chipmunks, squirrels, varieties of birds and more.  If you need to cool off more you can simply sit down in the water.  You can find different depths in streams and rivers that let you pick deep or shallow.  The varieties are endless, unlike swimming where it’s a flat-bottomed pool with a consistent depth and not much interest.

Not everyone sees the world the way I do.  Sometimes I’m called a bit of a wading lover when swimming is easily more popular, hence all the pools.  Why is it that I can speak so highly of wading without ever saying anything bad about it, yet I can disparage swimming at any time?  I think people misunderstood me and maybe I didn’t offer enough detail.  Sure, wading lets you see the local wildlife, but not all of it is enjoyable.  There are mosquitos and biting black flies, spiders and snakes to worry about.  It’s not all fun.  Therefore, I think swimming is fine, I don’t have any problems with it.

I didn’t seem to convince anyone though.  Why not?  What we have here is a case where a change to one part of a whole does not alter the whole.  I gave lots of praise to wading and had nothing but bad remarks for swimming.  After saying just one part of the wading praise needed some amending I did nothing to counter the rest.  It’s reasonable to assume that I still really like wading over swimming.  Since I said one negative thing about wading that does not mean I automatically like swimming, even if I tried to make it sound that way.

If the above sounds familiar, then you must watch the news as it’s a staple in political discourse.  A person, group or party may have a history of thinking and acting one way, but when called out they will offer one item or correction as a change in the hopes it will affect everything about them.  It does not.  Depending on the length of history involved, more and more evidence and corrections are needed to create a serious change.  If someone has 20 years of history voting on advances for mini-bars in tanks and then says they don’t drink anymore that history isn’t changed.

Politics aren’t the only place this happens.  Science deals with this same problem, but often in the opposite direction.  It’s far too common to see headlines like “New experiment shows speed of light isn’t constant, physicists across the world freaking out!”.  Physicists probably aren’t freaking out.  One experiment or finding can’t replace decades of rigorously researched and tested results.  Findings will require independent verification, re-running of experiments and if something new is found lengthy discussions of it’s impact.  Often some study may purport to drastically change our understanding of some part of a theory, like relativity.  But, it offers only information about that part without addressing the whole.  It must address the whole.  In this way it’s like the political example, one small change does not affect the whole history.

Do not automatically discount anyone (or piece of evidence) that seeks to show a change.  Look at it against the whole story or theory.  Politicians are routinely held against their history, even if they’ve shown multiple changes or evolution of thought over their careers.  Someone may have started out on the side of tank mini-bars but over their career realized it was a bad idea and worked to change that.  Even though they supported it in their past does not mean they do anymore and we should see if they have history to prove that.  In the same way we shouldn’t immediately discount new scientific evidence.  Perhaps the new evidence had some independent testing and is creating an unexplained result.  It may not upend all our scientific knowledge but it is worth considering.

Keep on the lookout for someone wanting to sway your judgement by offering only one change when lengthy history exists.  It is unfortunately meant to trick you.  Look at the history, consider the whole story and then decide if the change is meaningful or not.  If you don’t you may never leave the pool and realize there is some cool stuff in a nearby stream.