How False Knowledge Sank The Titanic, Blew Up The Shuttle, And Led America Into War
When I first read the title I assumed this was a conspiracy book, a genre that I love, but do not always buy into. But I was wrong, Deadly Decisions is by no means a conspiracy book, it is a long hard look at how the ‘truth’ can, and is, manipulated to fit the circumstances.
As a reporter, albeit, one of those dreaded online people, I found great comfort in this book. Christopher Burns affirms all of my theories. I know that when I write a story, I write it with spin, spin is easy to impart, merely using negative rather than positive descriptive statements can alter the meaning. It is subtle, but it is there. For example, compare how we use the terms ‘innocent’ and ‘not guilty’, at first sight they mean the same thing, yet subconsciously they relate to very different concepts, innocent means exoneration whereas ‘not guilty’ leaves room for question.
Deadly Decisions is a great look at some of the major disasters that have occurred in recent times, and disasters that could have been averted if ‘spin’ had have been left out. Often one finds that it is greed or fame that fuels the need to ignore common sense and take a course that is less than ideal.
In the case of the Titanic, it was not a single failure, but multiple failures that created the disaster, a belief in the invincibility of the ship, the need to break the record on a transatlantic crossing. Even when distress rockets were launched, a nearby ship opted to ignore the flares, the captain preferring to just roll over in his bunk and go back to sleep. This action cost many lives, yet the logic at that moment seemed sound. We become conditioned, we learn to accept what we think is the truth. No one is being evil, it is just that the truth becomes blurred by information.
The space shuttle Challenger story is likely the ‘poster child’ of a disaster that could have been avoided. Once again ‘false truths’ were at work. NASA needed to launch, if the shuttle did not fly that day it would be grounded for several months until the next suitable launch window, this would throw the entire years launches into disarray, worse still it could effect long term funding. Thiokol the manufacturer of the booster rockets was also under pressure. The engineers at Thiokol were most unhappy at launching on a cold day, they understood the problems with the o-rings very well. Thiokol managers rather than engineers were the ones to make the fateful decision that the weather was not a factor.
No one deliberately lied, no one acted out of malice, it was merely that they were selective with the data that was used to analyze the situation.
Author Christopher Burns is also very critical of the events that led up to the latest conflict in Iraq. The springboard was undoubtedly the events of 9/11. By using spin and selective truths Iraq was portrayed as being a major player in 9/11. Also by cherry picking data, Iraq was seen as having weapons of mass destruction, huge stockloads of biological agents, and actively working on a nuclear bomb. All of this has since been proved to be untrue, but the ruse worked. The public played along with the wishes of the government.
Deadly Decisions is an interesting read, and one that works on several levels. You can take it merely as a chronicle explaining the background behind some of the biggest failures of the last 100 years, on a deeper level though it is a look inside our thinking process, and how we selectively choose the data to fit our preferred outcome. The Titanic sank not so much because of incompetence of the captain, but because of his urge to please people by breaking the transatlantic crossing record.
Truth at times is an inconvenient item that gets in the way of our desired result. As a ‘truth’ peculates up or down an organization, or population, it gets subtlety altered. Each layer adds their spin, it may be in the form of expanding the ‘truth’ or condensing the ‘truth’. Either way the ‘truth’ is altered. Many, many years ago while I was in college a professor demonstrated this phenomena to us. He whispered a sentence in a students ear, and in turn each of us passed the ‘same’ message on to the next person. After 30 layers of interpretation the message had indeed changed quite substantially. It was not changed on purpose, it is just human nature to interpret the information to fit our own needs.