Critical Thought Symposium a rare look behind the scenes

Thursday, March 21, was the date of the live scenario open to the public. The volcano located in Yellowstone National Park has shown increased activity. Does that mean an explosion? Will the explosion destroy half of the United States or only the immediate vicinity? The science team struggled, and ultimately failed to provide, an answer to these questions. Should we evacuate the would-be affected areas in Idaho and Wyoming? How will we provide humanitarian relief? The local government panel, demanding answers from the scientists, heatedly debated these questions. What should we tell the public? Will they panic? Riot, even? The presidential group wrestled with these concerns throughout the one and a half hour deliberation in the Duke Energy Auditorium, after which the (simulated) President of the United States gave an address to the nation in which he failed to delineate every possible outcome, yet diplomatically announced a raised level of concern.

The main lesson I learned from the debate is that a singular issue, and the response to that issue, can affect a vast array of people, agencies, and areas. The governor of Wyoming and director of FEMA desperately wanted to move their people to safety and provide them with everything they needed, though shared the concern of the White House Press Secretary about creating havoc in the public sphere. Meanwhile, the scientists cared about the raw data, frustrating themselves and their colleagues with the impossibility of providing a definite answer or even conclusive data.

All in all, the opening of the Critical Thought Symposium was an interesting and intellectually stimulating evening. I was inspired to apply for the opportunity myself, when it becomes available in a year or two.

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