The problem with Eureka!

I’ll begin by saying I do not intend to belittle the science museum in Halifax, nor do I wish to disparage Archimedes although he has something to do with this.

It is certainty mixed with solution that causes me the problem.

Supposedly back in the day, Archimedes was sitting in his bath, with the water over-flowing when he struck upon the solution to a problem relating to volume and water-displacement.

archimedes bath.jpg

That was a certain type of ‘I have found it’ which, for the times I would suggest was OK; indeed, in many mathematically complex areas of life (Man on the Moon, Channel Tunnel, iPhone) is appropriate when you have reached the solution; (man on the moon, France, conversation & internet) – Sudoku, crossword puzzles and the like also fit this mould.

The problem, and my point, is that this complexity/simplicity is often misapplied to areas of life that do not have a straightforward solution – or, even a solution at all.

I have been reading recently about HSMR – that is, Hospital Standardised Mortality Ratios (how many people are expected to die/the number who die x 100) and the ins and outs of a failing NHS in Seamus O’Mahony’s book, ‘Can Medicine Be Cured?’ in which he reflects on the failings of the application of statistics, or maths, to the complexity of health and care; such that, hospital A is 105 and B is 95, so you had better go to B as your chance of dying is less.

This is poppycock (not a word I often use) and a gross and over-simplification of the complexities of health and disease.

If I go to hospital A with a short-lived, self-limiting illness, potentially classified as something more serious – ‘sepsis’ is the current favourite and live, I will help their figures, whereas if I go to B with something benign, say, tummy pain, and die, their figures will be elevated.

It is all much more complicated than this and in general has to do with ineffable components of organisational life such as culture, leadership and team-working, none of which fit into a number-schema.

Our culture is better than yours is as absurd as comparing cancers or diseases – it is the details that matter.

And this, going back to our Greek fellow is the reason for my concern about eureka; it is an almost daily occurrence that we either read in the papers, online or hear on TV about a breakthrough in cancer, dementia or obesity, some quick-fix that will make everything right, all of which tend to overlook the complexity of each of these conditions – dementia, for example is more than a broken gene, it is how society acts and behaves, it is relationships between families and friends, nothing a pill can magic.

And thus, when people suggest ‘I have it’ probably the best advice is to beware.

Don’t necessarily take a pantomime approach, ‘Oh, no you haven’t!’ more, listen, but accept that there is always more going-on;

I have it, the answer to Brexit!

Cure cancer!

Get rich quick!

Super skinny you in…

All of these are snake oil that appeal to something fundamental within us, a deep-rooted wish for simplicity, when the reality is always more tricky.

‘I have it!’

‘What do you have?’

‘The answer to waiting times/patient flow/side-effects/rudeness/intransigence’

‘Go on, explain/discuss’

not

‘Forget the past, let’s do it!’

Enjoy today and sometimes miracles do happen!

eureka halifax.jpg

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