October 4, 2019 JV

Who can you trust?

John Eales holding the elusive Bledisloe Cup

John Eales is an Aussie sporting Icon.  Here are some stats: Eales captained Australia on 60 occasions, 55 times in Test matches.  He played 20 Tests against the All Blacks, winning 11 and losing 9.  He won the Rugby World Cup twice and raised the Bledisloe Cup in 2001 after kicking the winning goal in the final match of the series in 2001.  In 2007, he was inducted into the International Rugby Board Hall of Fame.  He was a great captain, a great leader; a man who would stare adversity in the eye, remain cool under pressure and stay focussed on the goal.  John Eales is someone who can be trusted.

How does such a common opinion develop?  It’s not just about performance, is it?  Many great sportsmen have chequered pasts; even some we’ve immortalised.  However, nothing untoward has emerged from the life of Mr. Eales.  He seems to have done everything well and has much going for him.  Not only is he a sporting superstar, tall and handsome, but also intelligent, articulate, humble and approachable.  On two separate occasions, I’ve seen John Eales around airports and spoke briefly with him about rugby.  He even wrote on the back of my boarding pass: ‘Hi Phil, too bad you couldn’t be here with JV and with me.”  Phil, a previous boss of mine was a huge John Eales fan and got a big chuckle out of that one.  A recent acquaintance who knows John Eales well told me that “he doesn’t seem to know (or care) that he’s John Eales.”  I believe it’s that sense of humility and servant-leadership that has engendered the level of trust we have in him.  I reckon that if John Eales ran for public office, he could become the PM.

Trust is a very interesting commodity that I learnt about very early in life.  When I was 12, I decided that I wanted, like most boys, to follow a rugby league team.  I asked my good friend, John, who played footy and followed the Rabbitohs, for advice on who I should support.  He recommended that I not follow the Dragons, despite the fact that 97 % of Illawarra schoolboys did.  In case you didn’t know, the Illawarra has been a feeder for the St George rugby league system for decades and we had just seen an 11-year winning streak for St George end in 1966.  Can you imagine just how many Illawarra dads encouraged their sons to follow the Dragons?

Anyway, John showed great maturity and wisdom as a 12 year-old and his advice to follow the Roosters since 1973 has served me well.  Thanks, Mort!  Key lesson learnt: a 97 % consensus of so-called experts is not a good predictor of future performance!

Fast-forward a few decades.  When my old plumber retired and I needed to find a new one, guess what I did?  Well, I didn’t consult a comparison web site.  Instead, I asked an expert in a related field; my builder friend Phil who has created an enormous “trust” account balance by doing high-quality renovation work for me over several years.  “Do you know a good plumber, Phil” I asked.  He said “try Matai” and so I called him.  Good plumber.  That’s how trust works.

We convey trust from one person to another as a risk mitigation strategy.  If you are dealing with things of little consequence, say trying a new flavour of potato chips, it won’t matter if you get it wrong.  You simply bury the mistake in the rubbish bin and move on.  However, when the consequence is high, you really need to mitigate the risk by narrowing the range of possible likelihoods.  You need the advice of someone you can trust; an expert who has proven themselves to be “trust-worthy.”  For every-day decisions, you surround yourselves with friends, relatives, colleagues and confidants; people like John, Phil, Damien, Finis and LeRoy.  But what happens when the issue at hand is so complex that you don’t have a trusted friend in a related field of expertise?  Here is my advice.  Don’t rely simply on the majority position; seek out an informed maverick who cares little for their own reputation but is steadfast in pursuit of the truth.

Space Shuttle Challenger disaster –
28th January, 1986

Do you remember the Challenger Space Shuttle disaster in 1986?  It exploded 73 seconds into its flight due to a failed O-ring on the right solid rocket booster.  I’m sure that most of you know something about it.  What I learned recently was just how much of a kerfuffle Richard Feynman caused on the investigation committee. 

Rogers Commission hearing

The 1965 Nobel Prize-winning scientist refused to follow the commission rules.  His style of investigation and unwillingness to abide by the commission schedule put him at odds with Rogers, the chairman, who once commented, “Feynman is becoming a real pain.”   What I found to be intriguing was how Feynman’s terrier-like probing discovered some seriously bad science on the part of NASA staff.  For example, early booster rocket tests resulted in some of the O-rings burning a third of the way through.  Rather than registering this as a “Fail” and searching for a better-quality O-ring, NASA managers gave the component a “safety factor” of 3.  Seriously.   Feynman demonstrated that the Challenger disaster was no accident, rather, it was a disaster waiting to happen.  As a result of his investigative approach, Feynman won himself few friends with the establishment, but was able to highlight a seriously flawed approach to calculating risk based on bad science and vested interest.  NASA management’s use of these two attributes in determining safety factors for Engineering components was sophomoric and as we’ve seen, downright deadly.

So why should Feynman’s work on this commission be lauded?  Was it because he is a Nobel Prize winner?  Well, no; even Al Gore has one of those.  Rather, when he was dealing with matters of such high consequence, he was unwilling to comply with the conventional investigative approach.  Instead, Feynman pushed and prodded until he was able to get to the root cause.  He exposed the fundamental weaknesses of the Challenger design process – bad scientific technique and vested interest.  Feynman was not looking out for his own interests.  He didn’t care if people thought he was a “real pain.”  As a true scientist, he demanded that the scientific process be respected and used dispassionately.  That’s the way humans can progress in their understanding of the world around them.  Where NASA leaders didn’t or wouldn’t practice good science or hid behind a vested interest, he called them to account.  The stakes in manned space flight are too high to permit anything else!

Was Al Gore expecting a balmy Northern Hemisphere winter?

If we are going to talk about high stakes, let’s move onto Climate Change.  You have no doubt heard that “97% of scientists” believe that the Carbon Dioxide level in the atmosphere has a significant impact on climate change.  A similar proportion of media pundits have amped up the rhetoric and promote the narrative that polar ice caps are melting, polar bears are drowning, beachfront homes are becoming the new Atlantis and the world as we know it will be destroyed in the next 12 years.  That’s a pretty big deal!  However, if you are old enough, you may also know that similar claims have been made (and debunked) for decades.  It’s a travesty that children like Greta are being traumatised by such claims.  Perhaps they would not be so anxious about the future if they received a balanced education concerning the causes of climate change.

The UN IPCC claims that “the science is settled” and anyone who shows scepticism should be labelled a DENIER!

Did you know that after Einstein postulated his Theory of General Relativity, one hundred authors published a collection of various criticisms in the book “Hundert Autoren gegen Einstein” (A Hundred Authors Against Einstein).  Einstein responded, asking why were 100 needed?  If he were wrong, then “one author would have been enough.”

OK, then, who are some climate scientists that can help sort fact from fiction regarding the climate and mankind’s impact?  Who can we trust?  I’ll offer my advice on this in a future article.  Stay tuned.

Trust is a crucial thing.  The more serious the consequences, the more important it is that we place our trust in those most able to lay a sure foundation; those who can provide some certainty about future events.  I’d like to end with one more story.

In 950 BC, David, the King of Israel was forced, as a young man, to flee from King Saul who was hell-bent on murdering him.  David placed his trust in God and survived Saul’s evil intentions.  In the 9th Psalm, verses 9-10 David wrote: “The Lord is a refuge for the oppressed, a stronghold in times of trouble.  Those who know your name trust in you, for you, Lord, have never forsaken those who seek you.”  He went on to be Israel’s most successful monarch.

Whether as a nation or an individual, navigating a successful future in life can be a daunting task.  Knowing who to trust is a great first step.

Comments (3)

  1. Rob Royters

    John, you are a bit of a maverick. And I am the richer for it.

    I’m not going to agree with everything you are going to say, but I look forward with great anticipation to the sequel and the science behind it!!

    I myself like this maxim – “Its not so much the faith that we have, but the One in whom we have faith”.

    Best Regards, Rob.

  2. Rob Royters

    Hi John.

    Compelling reading, and looking forward to the next installment…
    A good maxim I go by “It’s not so much the faith we have, but the One in whom we have faith”

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