Admitting Mistakes, New Homes, Faith, Giving, Homeless No More, Arriving Home to a Sparkling Clean House
"The best of us must sometimes eat our words."
— J.K. Rowling
Good morning, good afternoon, good evening, or whenever you find these words. I trust you are doing well and have a fabulous day planned. I have a light day today, a few meetings, all virtual; I'll be working from home; I might head into the office to see my wife and have lunch; I'll play it by ear.
Yesterday was a great day; I had a 10:00 a.m. meeting, so I headed to my friends to use their conference room to hold my virtual board meeting. I had an 11:00 with our management team and then worked with a client to review their risk management needs.
We left for lunch and had some excellent Thai food; we talked about life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness. Greg and Rob are entrepreneurs, fathers, husbands and have a hell of a sense of humor; they are my kind of people. We spoke about new homes, faith, and giving; it was a good time.
I left there and headed to my 2:00 p.m. virtual meeting. I was driving, so I ran this one from the car. I arrived home about 3:00; the cleaning crew was finishing up; I stopped by the neighbors, got our gear, brought it home, and then took PVHT for a walk. We had plans to dine Italian with our friends Josh and Paula; my wife got home, refreshed, and headed to meet up. We ate at Maialia's, one of the fantastic local restaurants.
We got home at 8:00 and watched an hour of television before hitting the bed at 9:00; I got 9 hours and 32 minutes of sleep; my OURA ring said to rest a little more; I took her advice. I spoke to a friend yesterday that has trouble sleeping; the older I get, the better I sleep; I rarely wake up; according to OURA, my sleep last night was optimal. So I'm buying my wife an OURA and recommend anyone interested in their health look into the product.
I got an article from a friend; Tom has become a good friend in 2021, we will continue our friendship for life. It's about pundits and their predictions. What is a pundit, you say? According to Goog, a pundit is "an expert in a particular subject or field who is frequently called on to give opinions about it to the public."
So how did the "experts do in 2021?" David Leohardt did some work, and I'd like to share. He highlights the many times that "pundits" are wrong but never admit their error and gives an example of a thankfully wrong person with her prediction. He tackles three areas, breakthrough cases, waning immunity, and inflation. His words resonated, and so without further ado, here is David's assessment of his predictions.
Jennifer Nuzzo is a health expert who has become nationally prominent during the pandemic. She is the leading epidemiologist for Johns Hopkins University's much-cited data collection on Covid-19 testing. She is active on Twitter and frequently quoted in the media. She can explain complex ideas in clear terms, and she has often been prophetic about Covid.
Nonetheless, she took to Twitter last May to criticize herself. She had expected Texas' ending of its mask mandate to lead to a surge in cases, and it had not:
Nuzz's small exercise in self-accountability highlighted the inherent unpredictability of this virus. (Masks do reduce its spread, but the effect can be too modest to be visible across an entire community or state.) Her tweet made a more significant point, too: People with a public platform should be willing to admit when they're wrong.
There is no shame in being wrong at times. Everybody is, including experts. The world is a messy, uncertain place. The only way to be right all the time is to be silent or say nothing interesting.
The problem isn't that people make mistakes; so few are willing to admit it.
Many experts instead post aggrandizing praise of themselves on social media. They claim that each new development — be it on Covid, the economy, politics, or foreign affairs — justifies what they've been saying all along. They don't grapple with the weak points in their arguments and hope nobody notices their past incorrect predictions.
We journalists commit the same sins. More than a decade ago, to do better, David Weigel of Slate (and now of The Washington Post) introduced a concept he called "pundit accountability." It describes articles in which journalists highlight their own mistakes — and not minor factual errors, which often get corrected, but errors of analysis, which don't.
Toda's newsletter is my annual attempt at pundit accountability. Below, I'll link to other writers who have written similar articles in recent weeks.
Looking back on the past year of Morning newsletters made me feel proud of our coverage, especially on Covid, and I'm grateful to the many readers who have come to rely on the newsletter. But that's enough self-aggrandizement, as Nuzzo would say, accountability time.
I, too, underestimated the unpredictability of the virus.
Before the Delta variant emerged, infections among vaccinated people — known as breakthrough infections — were rare. I assumed that the pattern would probably continue throughout 2021. If it had, huge new waves of disease would have been impossible as the current one.
Instead, Delta led to an increase in breakthrough infections, and Omicron has more significant growth. Symptoms are usually mild, but they can lead to bad outcomes for a small share of vaccinated people whose health is already vulnerable, like the elderly. Moreover, the surge of breakthrough infections means Covid still dominates everyday life.
I have since tried to absorb the lesson of Covid's uncertainty and have emphasized it in more recent newsletters. As Michael Osterholm of the University of Minnesota — who has long emphasized Covid's unavoidable unknowns — has said, "We still are really in the cave ages in terms of understanding how viruses emerge, how they spread, how they start and stop, why they do what they do."
2. Waning immunity
I was too skeptical of the early signs of waning vaccine immunity and the importance of boosters.
Toward the end of the summer, some researchers began pointing to data suggesting that the power of vaccines waned after about six months. Other researchers doubted that case, saying that the information was unclear — and that pharmaceutical company had an obvious incentive to promote waning immunity and boosters. But the case for boosters now seems clear.
Amid uncertain evidence, I try to avoid automatically assuming the worst. Often, that's the right approach. (A lot of early Covid alarmism — about the virus's effect on children, the contagiousness of Delta, and the severity of Omicron, for instance — has proved to be misplaced.) Sometimes, though, the ominous signs are the ones worth heeding.
Another lesson: The quality of Covid data in the U.S. is poor, often clouding early judgments. It can make sense to look to Israel, where the data is better. Experts there quickly recognized that waning immunity was absolute.
Inflation has been higher and more enduring than I expected.
This piece of 2021 analysis bothers me most in retrospect because I did recognize a significant underlying cause of inflation. On several occasions, I argued that Congress's stimulus packages seemed wasteful: The government was sending checks to the vast majority of American households even though most people's finances were doing just fine.
A more targeted approach — delivering more help to the unemployed and people struggling with child care and less assistance to everyone else — seemed better matched to the pandemic's economic effects. Yet Congress, with bipartisan support, kept sending out tens of millions of checks.
The checks arrived when many families also spent less on services, like travel and restaurant meals. As a result, their spending on physical goods spiked, contributing to shortages and the highest inflation since 1982.
I was lulled into complacency because inflation had not been a problem for decades. The people who had been warning about inflation, like Wall Street economists and many conservatives, had been proven wrong repeatedly. The economy had been too weak to spark inflation for the first two decades of the 21st century — until things changed.
I found his work interesting; maybe you did as well. As I've stated in the past, if you see something you think I might enjoy, please forward it; I like finding good nuggets and found this article reassuring that some are willing to share when they are wrong.
I hope you have a great day; I will be gearing up for a few appointments tomorrow, working with my team, recruiting more talent for our deep bench, and catching up on some reading. I think the lesson today is to learn to admit when you are wrong, you can prove the value of your character when admitting the error of your ways. Cheers, I'll see you tomorrow.
"The best of us must sometimes eat our words."
— J.K. Rowling