Friday, December 31, 2004

Fear of being wrong 

As part of its coverage on the Indian Ocean tsunami, The Straits Times referred to a report from the Financial Times on the reaction of Thailand’s meteorological department to the impending disaster:

Thai weather officials under attack for lack of warning
Thailand was on Wednesday grasping the magnitude of the tsunami disaster amid criticism that meteorological officials had been too hesitant to warn of the risks of a sea surge in case they were wrong.

Thailand's meteorological department knew by 8.10am (local time) on Sunday about an hour before the first waves hit that a powerful earthquake had struck near Sumatra, and they discussed the possibility that the quake could cause large sea disturbances. The department had already distributed information pamphlets several years ago explaining the risks of tsunamis around southern Thai beach resorts.

But without definitive proof of an imminent tsunami, the meteorological department dared not issue a national warning lest it be accused of spreading panic and hurting the tourism industry if the disturbances did not materialise...
Sins of omission can often be as serious as sins of commission. Unfortunately, whenever we harp on people’s mistakes, we may be unwittingly encouraging a fear of committing mistakes and fostering a culture of timidity. Harm done is usually more obvious than benefits missed.

Sadly, not in this case.


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