Ted Williams, Nuclear Weapons and Our Dear Leaders

  • by Pete O'Brien
  • 05-24-2020
What’s the probability Ted Williams will get a hit at his next at bat? And while we’re at it, what’s the probability that Mario Mendoza will get a hit at his next at bat?
Ted Williams - Marine fighter pilot and Red Sox outfielder - had a lifetime batting average of .344 - 7th highest all time, and an on-base percentage of .482 - highest all time, 9 points ahead of number 2, a guy named Ruth. Mario Mendoza, had a lifetime batting average of .245 and holds the distinction of lending his name to a term for defining the line between the acceptable and unacceptable (the Mendoza Line).
In a world where every sports statistic possible has been parsed and re-parsed, it would seem the probability of getting a hit at the next at bat would be something that the “experts" could produce. If you listen to them, it sometimes seem as if they do know. Do they? No. As it turns out, the actual answer is .5, as in .50000 - for Williams. And for Mendoza. And anyone else. Statistically, it can't be broken down any further. You can get into all sorts of analysis: did the batter get a hit during his last at bat? Is he facing a lefty or a right-handed pitcher? What inning is it? Is it raining? How many on base? And on and on and on, seemingly ad infinitum. But in the end, the answer remains Ted (or Mario) either will or will not; .5 and only .5 - not a fraction in either direction. And no “expert,” no matter what he claims, can get more accurate than that.
When I was working at US Strategic Command, we would occasionally be visited by teams of nuclear physicists from the big labs: Lawrence Livermore and Los Alamos. Several times per year they would arrive at the command at the same time - by design. The 4-star would sit in on the ensuing discussion (the Admiral called it “dueling physicists), in which the physicists - all of whom were literally the top scientists in their fields - would debate issues concerning the nuclear force. In the end progress was made, but it was slow and often "painful.” In short, even a field as heavily studied and as narrowly defined and “scientific” as nuclear weapons was subject to a great deal of debate among experts.
In fact, in the overwhelming majority of cases where an expert stands up and says: “such and such is so,” there’s a fair number of other experts yelling that he’s wrong. This is as true with nuclear weapons as it is with meteorology, medicine, or economics. And every other science. 
I have on my shelf a book on logic written by a Jesuit priest more than 100 years ago and in it the author makes a wonderful distinction, one that made perfect sense when I first read it, but 40 years later appears to me to be true genius, words more akin to holy writ: Science is found in labs and text books; but once you take the science out of the lab and apply it in the real world, it becomes as much art as science.
Yet, we’re told, seemingly every day, that we need to leave the big decisions to the experts; expert economists, expert doctors, expert eco-scientists, etc., etc., etc.
But if that’s so, why are you encouraged in your own health care to always seek a second opinion on major issues? And sometimes a third?
Why ask more than one carpenter for an estimate, and a plan, to fix the roof?
Why do you take the car to a second garage to get another appraisal of what’s wrong? And another estimate of what it will cost to fix it?
And while, we’re at it, why do you vote?
In fact, the experts are often wrong. As Richard Feynman - one of the honest-to-God smart guys of the 20th Century - noted: “Science is the belief in the ignorance of experts.” If Galileo had simply said: “Well, the experts all agree, the earth is the center of the solar system, so what I’m seeing is obviously wrong,” he might have gotten into a lot less trouble. But, then he would have been wrong, just like all the "experts."
Most egregiously, this idea that: “experts” really need to be “trusted” has spread into the idea of government. Yet, rule by experts is really just one small step away from the Divine right of kings. “You must never question the King,” has been replaced with “You must never question the Doctor.”
Now we have governors standing up and throwing the prognostications of some doctor at us as if we must accept it all as divine truth. Even as every week we come upon another finding that re-defines everything we’ve been thinking for the last 3 months.
Leading to this: last week the editors of the major Tidewater paper published an editorial defending the governor’s “go slow” plan and stated that: “We [the citizens of the Tidewater] need to earn the governor’s trust” before we go any further.
Let’s get a few things straight here: we don’t work for him, or for his “experts," they work for us. We don’t need to trust them, they are required to trust us. We shouldn’t bow and scrape before earthly kings - or earthly doctors.
Meanwhile, suicides are up - apparently way up, but the numbers are hard to find. Treatments for cancer are way down. The incidents of domestic violence are up, as are rates of depression - as unemployment continues to rise.
Meanwhile, “Emperor” Northam continues to pontificate, like some Dear Leader from some “People’s Republic.” Instead of pronouncements, how about 1) following your own rules, and 2) show us your plan to fix the problems this shutdown have caused.
Really, maybe it’s time for our “Dear Leader” to earn our trust.