About one in twenty car­toons by Michael Ramirez is actu­ally worth a read; most of the time he pro­duces far-​​right nitwit­tery that, rather than pro­vid­ing bal­ance or nuance to my openly social­is­tic and lefty views, sim­ply rep­re­sents cog­ni­tive noise. It’s unfor­tu­nate, too, because Ramirez is actu­ally one hell of a skilled illus­tra­tor. He clearly puts a lot of time and effort into his single-​​paneled gibes, but that seems to be the extent of his effort involved in cre­at­ing them.

Case in point is this sim­ple fal­lacy. See if you can spot the prob­lem (and in this case it has noth­ing to do with his politics):

What Ramirez seems to be miss­ing here is that the Y2K bug, the H1N1 out­break, and the I-​​405 prob­lems didn’t come about because there was a hell of a lot of work done to pre­vent them hap­pen­ing in the first place.

We’ll start with Y2K. Indubitably it was true that mod­ern soft­ware was capa­ble of han­dling a double-​​nought in the year field; how­ever, quite a lot of embed­ded and entrenched sys­tems had not been mod­ern­ized for years prior to 2000. Those sys­tems were, in fact, quite vul­ner­a­ble to year-​​related errors, and it was only the work of a large team of engi­neers that pre­vented a wide­spread fail­ure of these sys­tems. That noth­ing bad hap­pened is evi­dence of their suc­cess, not the unre­al­ity of the problem.

H1N1 has a sim­i­lar story. There was in fact a threat to human pop­u­la­tions from a vec­tor of avian flu a few years ago; again, it was a cam­paign of edu­ca­tion and immu­niza­tion which fore­stalled wide­spread out­breaks — not a Chicken Little (so to speak) over­state­ment of the threat.

Finally, the I-​​405 mod­i­fi­ca­tions … are recent enough his­tory that I don’t think I need to go into what hap­pened there. Public aware­ness cam­paigns obvi­ously worked.

Why does this even mat­ter? Because as soon as we begin to take as fact that averted threats were noth­ing we needed to worry about in the first place, we’re apt to become com­pla­cent, and down­play the real­ity of other per­ceived threats — pos­si­bly to our ruin.

If we want to mock pos­si­ble threats, it’s prob­a­bly safer to mock the idea of sur­gi­cally implanted bombs in ter­ror­ists (or the sex­ual assaults per­formed daily by TSA) than to make fun of mea­sured, sen­si­ble, nuanced responses to sit­u­a­tions that are gen­er­ally agreed to be valid problems.

Can you think of any­thing else that might be a prob­lem which is being down­played (by right-​​leaning inter­ests, as it hap­pens) as insignif­i­cant despite over­whelm­ing evidence?

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