17 September 2021

The Petri Principle

Many are familiar with the Peter Principle (which has been vociferously opposed by many academics purporting to study "business" who, almost uniformly, turn out to have either undisclosed conflicts of interest or a different definition of "business success" than ordinarily accepted, and all too often both). In one popular — sarcastic — version, the Peter Principle states that managers rise to the level of their incompetence. The slightly more nuanced version is that during an initial period after promotion, the demands of the new position inhibit a manager from utilizing those competencies developed in earlier positions, leaving an impression of incompetence (and all too often actual incompetent results).

The conduct of… various groups and individuals… regarding COVID–19 leads me to posit the more-damaging Petri Principle:

Politicians rise to their level of ignorance of basic science, especially biology.

This is dangerous because so many of them — including, at time, Supreme Court justices — not only rise to the level of their biological ignorance, but never improve it (or make any effort to do so, however important to their current position… let alone any higher position aspired to). In the spirit of the original 1968 expression, they couldn't recognize a Petri dish, let alone explain what it's for, how it works, or its limitations.

The ignorant/theocratic/greed-driven cryptolibertarian segment of the population is also simultaneously fond of the aphorism that "Your rights end at the tip of my nose." By willingly acting as Petri dishes for variants of COVID–19 (through resistance to vaccines and/or masks and/or minimal self-isolation far below the level of a quarantine), your evolved exhalations are not stopping at the tip of my immunocompromised nose — they are travelling right up inside it. All because it would be inconvenient, and perhaps somewhat more costly than you are willing to bear, to acknowledge my rights. Let alone Grandma in the nursing home, or Salim recovering from a bout of chemotherapy, or Reginald ExcessivelyLong-HyphenatedSurname IV who was born with severe immune deficiencies to The Right Kind of People and deserves nothing but sympathy and support.

Unlike some of the critics of the Peter Principle, I do not consider this "satire." It's merely nonscientific because it's based in anecdotal evidence that, however persuasive and consistent it is in its individual instances, has not been subjected to analysis of either data integrity or statistical validity. And that, too, is a corollary of the Petri Principle: I'm not willing to make policy on the basis of unvalidated data, which obviously makes me unfit to be a politician in the current environment.