A significant snowstorm has hit the front range of Colorado. In downtown Boulder it looks like we have about two feet of very dense wet snow accumulated at 4pm Mountain Time.
It however came about 36 hours later than predicted. And this has caused significant consternation. A good chunk of social media in Colorado yesterday turned into “snow truthers” dunking on meteorological work being a scam. Some folks made weed jokes. The National Weather Service even took time to scold the skeptics.
Even a slight miscalculation in timing seemed to break trust as it looked like the hype wouldn’t match the reality for a day. This despite the storm arriving with exactly the quantity predicted and blizzard conditions that closed the major freeways including I-25 and I-70.
I couldn’t help but notice the similarities between the skepticism of meteorology and the current distaste for the epidemiology profession. The tone was distinctly similar to culture warrior angst about how scientists continue to get forecasting wrong. And yes getting it wrong is to the detriment of freedom and business. Except that in both this storms case and with Covid19 it’s been directionally correct. The impacts of policy has been the issue but not the direction of the data.
I’m not the first to worry about people bloc distrust of institutions and their information. I engage in plenty of skepticism on a range of issues from medicine to monetary policy. But no longer trusting basic information on timing, duration and impact no matter what the field because “the powers that be” are always inherently untrustworthy is getting to be exhausting. This is going to cost us lives as we begin to distrust even the banal and easily verifiable.
Public policy isn’t the same thing as public forecasting and we’ve lost sight of that. We should always be updating models and assessing impact. It just seems like a shame that we’ve decided any error in predictive work now negates the entire body of work.
The storm came in Colorado. It was a little late. Covid was a global epidemic. I guess the only upside is that it’s a little harder to dismiss two feet of snow. Truthers eventually got snowed in just like the rest of us. We’ve already seen the consequences of not having the evidence right in your face with covid. Whole portions of the population have split out their realities. The chaos of complete institutional distrust will come to be a defining feature of the next decade. I don’t have a clue how we get it back.