The “I Don’t Know” of Good Governance

by Dr. Jordan Vaughn and Dr. Stewart Tankersley

Three words are essential to science. Three words were missing from our leaders and pundits over the past thirty months. Three words inform patients of integrity. Those words: I Don’t Know.

During this crisis, it was easy for experts to pontificate about their knowledge of information about past phenomena. In many ways, this led to the belief that this information was predictive of the days and months ahead. As news media and governmental officials salivated for a drop of information that might help them understand the crisis, public health officials failed to inform them of the most important concept in the field of medicine and, more specifically, public health, uncertainty. As Michael Osterholm said in a recent California state Senate hearing, the three most important words he uses are: I Don’t Know.

Looking back over the past 24 months in assessing many of our public health authority’s responses as well as press conferences and interviews, the general public was given information constantly, and it was given with the certainty as if the sun was going to rise tomorrow. However, very few of our authorities attempted to transmit the certainty, validity, or reproducibility of this information.

Most of what was being relayed and broadcast was nothing more than consensus opinion or, for that matter, outright conjecture. Amid a crisis, especially with the outbreak of an entirely new disease, it is to be expected that much of the response is opinion based, and even with ‘expert’ modeling, the results are always just speculation. The problem lies in failing to communicate the truth, which is, that we don’t know


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