I don’t know anything

I spent a not insignificant part of my formative years in Michigan cowering in a school basement, or under a desk, curled up in a fetal position and waiting patiently for disaster to be visited all about me. But not upon me.

We were being trained how best to survive a nuclear disaster. Or a tornado. Duck and cover. It was drilled into us on a regular basis. Signs on walls and ads on television made sure I knew what to do when the end of the world was near. We all knew what to do.

When I moved to California, I brought my knowledge of how the world worked with me to earthquake country. My wife and I taught it to our daughter, and put it to good use when the 1994 Northridge earthquake jolted us from our beds and sent us scurrying to the doorjamb in the kitchen. We cowered beneath it as the walls shook and the floor rocked, secure in the knowledge that we were taking all the proper precautions under difficult circumstances.

But just the other day, I received an e-mail from a friend who forwarded me an article from “rescue expert” Doug Copp, who had crawled through 875 collapsed buildings, worked at a high level for the UN and was a member of the world’s most experienced rescue team. He categorically refuted everything I ever knew about surviving the Big One.

He called his method The Triangle of Life.

Falling buildings crush big things and everything under them. Don’t get under things. Lie next to them. Don’t go to the center of a building. Cuddle up to a wall. Don’t curl up under a doorjamb. It will skewer you to death. The only safe place was in the space next to objects, beneath the triangle of wreckage. About all the two approaches agreed on was that when disaster struck, it was OK to assume the fetal position and regress back to the womb.

Copp shot a video of a staged disaster that validated all his natural experience.

Once again, the conventional wisdom had proven to be the wishful thinking of people who felt the desperate need for safe, concrete solutions in a world of deadly uncertainty. Like the efficacy of vaccines, the insights of Keynesian economics and the lasting value of a good smoke, yet another unshakable truth was replaced in short order by its diametric opposite.

If only they knew this in Haiti, how many lives might have been saved, I wondered.

But I didn’t wonder for long. Another friend e-mailed that their father, an aerospace engineer, was skeptical of this most unconventional wisdom. He detailed a number of specific objections to Mr. Copp’s article and linked to a U.S. Geological Survey website that linked to, uh, this.

And just like that, I had yet another new contradictory set of facts.

In a world of diminishing returns and growing uncertainty, it’s good to know that the unceasing flow of information, streamed at us our entire waking lives, will continue to provide an unending supply of simple truths.

They’re cheap. Help yourself.

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