Meyer’s Musings from Confinement, Part II
REV. PHILIP MEYER, PASTOR EMERITUS
The Sum of Our Numbers Is Making Us Crazy
I don’t remember where I first came across this idea because it has been a few years ago. The author made the point that we are drowning in a world of data. We live in the information age and there is more information available than any one human being can digest. It seems that everything has been quantified simply because it can, and that’s not always good.
Every day I get a blog article from Rum Bunter, a baseball publication which has a dedicated portion to the Pittsburgh Pirates. During the winter months it was fun to read because it looked at minor league prospects, potential trades, and who might be heading north at the start of the season. All of that has been put in the freezer. But since then there has been more information that I have given up trying to decipher. When I was a kid all of us knew our statistics. We knew batting averages for our team players, how many home runs he hit, how many stolen bases he had. For pitchers we could recite won-loss records, ERA, and strikeouts. We didn’t keep track of innings pitched or pitches thrown. Today there are statistical terms that I don’t know and really don’t care to know, such as FIP, WHIP, OPS+, WAR, wRC+. Batters no longer have a simple batting average, they now have stats like this: .277/.367/.569. The statisticians log hard-hit percentages, exit velocity, and how high his home run arched.
All of this information has led to a change in the game. Decisions are now made by “metrics,” that is, what the computer analyses say. Take a pitcher out because the computer says it’s time. Why have managers any more if a computer can do it? Goose Gossage, a player from the 1970s said that baseball is getting to be like a Socialist Nation where a central committee decides everything. He says he doesn’t watch any more. Statisticians have ruined the game. Just another grouchy old guy, I guess, but count me with him.
But this musing isn’t really about baseball, but I really miss baseball! Yet, all those meaningless [to me, anyway] stats would certainly help ease the anxiety of our days and nights right now. We’d be watching baseball or golf or whatever instead of watching or reading as the media puts fear into our hearts.
The sum of our numbers that is making us crazy is the daily Wuhan virus body count. Computers and the 24 hour news cycle tell us every single person in the world [!] who has contracted this virus and every single person who has died from it, as far as doctors can be certain it was the virus and not some underlying health condition.
The experts are always touting computer models. We get not only numbers but percentages and sometimes we can’t make sense of it. If the death count goes from two to four in one day the media shouts, “100% rise in death rates!” Computer models are continually being revised, many times per day.” The computer models say this or that. Next day it’s old news. And almost always the new “news” is more alarming. The media are making us crazy with their constant statistics. Many psychologists and therapists are advising us to turn off the news. Do something else. Read, take a walk, bake something with your children. For those who live alone this is much harder. We need social interaction, albeit from a physical distance. We could be doing that.
I want to be very clear that I am not minimizing the death toll. Why is it that one always has to qualify such a thing? Are we afraid that someone will accuse us of not caring enough? And who are these people who put themselves in positions of judgment? We live in a nation of 330 million people. As has been said by so many statisticians, more people die of the flu every year than most other diseases. And yet, many people never get a flu shot. I’ll guarantee that when the vaccine for Wuhan flu is put out there will be long lines to get it! And of course the elderly are always at increased risk. We’re older and our bodies don’t function like those of 25 year olds who believe that they are invulnerable. We’ve learned a few things along this journey called life. At least many of us have. There are still the chance takers and they’ll always be with us. They’re just the adolescents who never got wisdom.
The media uses these numbers and we’ll tune in, eyes glazed over in fear because “we’re all gonna die!” One of our LCMS pastors wrote to his congregation just a week or so ago: “We are all going to die.” He wasn’t being alarmist but he was reminding them that the death rate is still 100%. It has been since Adam and Eve fell into sin. Even those persons whom Jesus raised from the dead in his earthly ministry died again. When Jesus raised Lazarus from the dead the Jewish leaders wanted to kill him. Can you imagine what was going through Lazarus’ mind at that point??? Yet, Lazarus did die again as did his sisters Mary and Martha. Yet, they died knowing that there is a certain and sure resurrection because Jesus is the Resurrection and the Life.
The sum of our numbers can make us crazy with fear, but Holy Week began today and we anticipate the celebration of our Lord’s triumphant resurrection from the grave. It’s the sure and certain promise of our resurrection, too. Perhaps I can simply say that the number that matters most is one. One rose from the grave on Easter morning and that One is our Savior, our Lord Jesus Christ. And because of Him, all those other numbers seem much less important.
“Surely I am coming soon.” Amen. Come, Lord Jesus!” [Rev. 22.20]