“You Better Go to Raw Data”

People operating complex machines and systems–ships, aircraft, and nuclear power plants, for example–are often dependent on information that has been processed or filtered in some way. The same is true of people exercising their responsibilities as citizens in a large and complex society, inasmuch as they  cannot directly and personally observe most of the relevant facts and events.  Disasters that occur in complex physical systems can serve as a metaphor to help shed light on disasters–actual and potential–in the political sphere.

On June 9, 1995, the cruise ship Royal Majesty was on a routine voyage in good weather.  The vessel was equipped with GPS, which displayed latitude and longitude position…which the crew diligently plotted..and also drove a moving map overlaid on the radar scope.

Unfortunately, the information being displayed and plotted bore little resemblance to the actual reality.

As the gray sky turned black veil, the phosphorus-lit radar map with its neat lines and digital indication seemed clearer and more inviting than the dark world outside. As part of a sophisticated integrated bridge system, the radar map had everything–from a crisp radar picture, to ship position, buoy renderings, and up to the last bit of data anyone could want–until it seemed that the entire world lived and moved transparently, inside that little green screen. Using this compelling display, the second officer was piloting a phantom ship on an electronic lie, and nobody called the bluff.

The bluff was finally called by reality itself, at 10 PM, when the ship jerked to the left with a grinding noise.  It was hard aground on the Rose and Crown Shoal, and could not be backed off.

It was quickly determined that the cable to the GPS antenna had come loose, and the system was not actually obtaining the real, current positions. The captain ran to the LORAN unit, a completely separate electronic navigation system. The position accurately displayed on the LORAN differed from the displayed GPS position by 17 miles.

The GPS unit had in fact honestly disclosed its lack of current information: it did this by displaying the characters ‘DR’…for Dead Reckoning, ie, extrapolating the current course and speed..but the annotation appeared in small characters and was not noticed. The crew thought they were getting an actual portrayal of the current reality, rather than an estimate that would progressively become a guesstimate with the passage of time.

To use the term which has become common in media and political circles, the GPS and its associated display units were creating a convincing narrative…a narrative so convincing that no one, evidently, took the trouble to cross-check it with the LORAN, or to do a celestial fix.

How many American citizens live in a media and information environment which is as closed and as convincing as what the crew of the Royal Majesty was seeing on their bridge?  Consider how quickly overwhelming media narratives were put together concerning, for example, the Hunter Biden laptop or the murders of the women in Atlanta.  In most such cases, you could watch CNN, MSNBC, and some of the old-line tv networks, you could listen to NPR, you could look at the memes being circulated on social media–and they would all be telling you the same story, an overall narrative which for most people will be as consistent and as convincing as that phantom world displayed on the Royal Majesty‘s radar scope and plotted on the paper charts was that ship’s Second Officer.

As disasters go, the Royal Majesty affair was a fairly minor one: embarrassing and expensive, but no one was killed or injured.  Here’s a case which was much worse–the approach of a Delta Airlines flight into Boston Logan Airport, on July 31, 1973.

At 11:40:07, the Captain advised the First Officer, who was doing the flying for this approach:

You better go to raw data.  I don’t trust that thing.

“That thing” was a Flight Director, an instrument which displays the calculated actions needed to follow a desired flight path.  Both Captain and the FO had become concerned about indications on this instrument which didn’t seem to make sense.

It was too late.  25 seconds later, the plane slammed into the seawall. There were no survivors.

The NTSB determined that the Flight Director’s ‘mode’ switch was incorrectly set: while the Captain and the FO believed it was displaying the calculated actions required for the airplane to follow the Instrument Landing System radio beam down to the runway, it was actually doing no such thing.  “Raw data” refers to the display of the plane’s actual, physical vertical and horizontal deviation from where it should be on the ILS beam…and would have shown that the airplane was not where it needed to be.  The Raw Data was not, however, so prominently displayed on the instrument panel as were the Flight Director commands.

Convincing displays, convincing narratives, can be very dangerous.  New information tends to be absorbed into the overall picture.  When the navigating officer of the Royal Majesty observed the radar reflection of a buoy on his radar screen, and, shortly thereafter, the passage of a buoy was reported on the ship’s port side, it confirmed in his mind that it was the ‘BA’ buoy, which marks to entrance to the Boston traffic lanes…and the whole GPS-derived picture became even more convincing.  But it wasn’t really BA–it was actually the Asia Rip buoy, anchored to a sunken wreck, which marks the Rose and Crown Shoal.

In the political/media sphere, the misleading narratives that are convincingly presented are not the matter or mechanical or human error, they are a matter of human design.  Some of the people and organizations propagating these narratives know they are false, some would rather–for career or social reasons–not think about it too deeply, and some actually believe the narratives. It happens on both/all political sides, but happens a lot more, and more effectively, on the Left, because the Left/Woke dominance of media is so nearly complete.

The pilot and copilot of Flight 723 had only a matter of seconds to question and cross-check the ‘narrative’ that they were seeing on their Flight Director.  Citizens, operating in the political/media sphere, have less time pressure…but the time available is not infinite.  Multiple sources of information are more available than at any point in history–but the Narrative of the like-thinking media and its influence strategies is overwhelming, especially for people who don’t have a lot of time to follow political matters.  Confirmation bias, too, plays a strong role.

Will a sufficient number of people, metaphorically check the displayed GPS position against the LORAN, or check the Flight Director command bars against the raw localizer and glideslope data?  And will they do so before it is too late for recovery?

(More on the Royal Majesty incident at my post here.  Detail on the Delta Flight 723 accident is provided in the NTSB report.)



32 thoughts on ““You Better Go to Raw Data””

  1. As the man said- “It isn’t what you know and it isn’t what you don’t know, it’s what you know that just isn’t so”.

    Modern technology makes it possible to present absolute BS to 15 decimals.

  2. First on the ship grounding, celestial is a bit of a lost art these days. I have been told that the Navy is starting to go back to celestial and paper charts after the McCain disaster.

    My experience on large ships is limited to a couple of cruises but I have spent years navigating in the coastal waters of California and Mexico. The latter has very unreliable aids to navigation. For example the light at the tip of Cabo San Lucas is located high and far inland. The legend, according to experienced sailors, is that Mexico got annoyed at Japanese factory ships sailing into the Gulf of California to fish Mexican waters. As a result, the Mexican government “neglected” to inform the Japanese government when the Cabo light was moved a mile inland. There was a Japanese factory ship on the beach at Cabo for years.

    I also used Loran C, which is reliable near the coast of California and some distance down the coast of Mexico but not in approaching the Hawaiian Islands from the east. I did use a sextant crossing to Honolulu before GPS.

    My partner, an experienced ocean fisherman, was on his way out for albacore tuna one time, about 60 miles west of San Diego. His son and a friend were on watch and had not noticed the radar was set on short range mode. They were going 30 knots when they saw a small freighter crossing their course ahead. Because of the radar setting the freighter was much smaller and closer than they realized.

    They hit the freighter going 30 knots. Their Uniflight 30 foot boat had the bow smashed back to the deck hatch, about 8 feet. My partner and his wife, asleep in the bow, were not injured and the boat did not sink but they had to back the boat to San Diego for about 5 hours.

    Another example of confusion due to bad data was Air France Flight 447.

    The BEA’s final report, released at a news conference on 5 July 2012, concluded that the aircraft crashed after temporary inconsistencies between the airspeed measurements—likely due to the aircraft’s pitot tubes being obstructed by ice crystals—caused the autopilot to disconnect, after which the crew reacted incorrectly and ultimately caused the aircraft to enter an aerodynamic stall, from which it did not recover.[2]:79[3]:7[4] The accident is the deadliest in the history of Air France, as well as the deadliest aviation accident involving the Airbus A330.[5]

    The airspeed indicator was iced over outside and the inexperienced second officer stalled the plane, not understanding why the airspeed dropped.

    At the same time, he abruptly pulled back on his side-stick, raising the nose. This action has been described as unnecessary and excessive under the circumstances.[66] The aircraft’s stall warning briefly sounded twice due to the angle of attack tolerance being exceeded, and the aircraft’s indicated airspeed dropped sharply from 274 knots (507 km/h; 315 mph) to 52 knots (96 km/h; 60 mph).

    I agree with the principles of the post. We are getting bad data and there are too many people who do not understand. It is worse than bad data. We are being lied to.

  3. I have no personal knowledge of these things, but pilot friends insist to me that NOT following your instruments and believing that you know better is the primary source of problems.

    We have had only three American fatalities since 9/11, I think, and two of those were pilots on a cargo plane. That’s a pretty good record.

  4. AVI…in instrument conditions, which existed at the time of the Delta accident, the pilot does indeed need to follow his instruments, or he literally may not be able to tell which way is up!…not to mention how far he is from the ground. But some instruments are more ‘primary’ than others. A Flight Director is not required in order to conduct an instrument approach; it may make things smoother (it will, for example, calculate when you need to start your turn in order to intercept and follow a new course, rather than leaving it to intuition/judgment), but it is not essential.

  5. When computer systems that used to work are no longer working, sometimes a factory reboot is necessary. Of course if it shuts down in the midst of that you can get left with nothing but a non-functional brick.

  6. To extend the analogy, it is not simply that we as citizens are being fed unreliable information. The controls are disconnected too.

    Our situation is rather as if the captain of the ship or the pilot of the plane could heave appropriately on his controls — and nothing happens.

    What are we going to do? We can “vote” about things — but it is entirely up to the Democrat Establishment whether they bother to count our vote before pronouncing themselves winners. We can see fear & spinelessness in the majority of the “Supreme Court Justices” — but we can’t remove them; even any attempt simply to shame them would instantly be deplatformed by Pravda media.

    All we can do as individuals is try to get a little closer to the lifeboats before the Fools In Charge run the ship of state onto the rocks.

  7. Glenn Reynolds often remarks that most of the media consists of ‘Democratic operatives with bylines.’ But I’ve been wondering lately if this formulation might be backwards. Maybe the media (social and traditional) are really in the process of becoming the ultimate decision-makers, with the power to determine who the governing class may and may not incorporate.

  8. The media is full of morons. They may be gatekeepers, but they’re certainly not decision makers.

    One thing that is most amazing about the last several years is the extent to which senior IC members have openly joined the media, compared to their previous approach of just leaking anonymously. That is extremely abnormal and unhealthy.

  9. Maybe the media (social and traditional) are really in the process of becoming the ultimate decision-makers, with the power to determine who the governing class may and may not incorporate.

    Yes, but who is telling them what to say? It may simply be a nomenklatura run amok, which is mostly what happened to the USSR. Towards the end, a few smart KGB agents became oligarchs who now have 300 foot yachts. Most of the Soviet citizens were left behind. Assets were stripped.

    In the case of the US, the economy has been pretty much “financialized” since 2006 or so. Real production of “things” has given way to manipulation of money. Nicole Gelinas’ book, “After the Fall, tells much of the story. Of course, all the bad actors got bailed out after 2008. They are still running things, I believe. Unfortunately, I don’t think they are any more competent than the Politburo was in the USSR.

    I do agree that the Middle Class are the Kulaks, especially small business, which is 98% Republican run.

  10. Something that I’m tempted to write nearly every day:

    “I wish to inform you that we now have this thing colloquially known as “the internet”, and the veracity of what you have written &/or broadcast may be easily confirmed or disconfirmed.

    Please note that: (tick all that apply)

    ☐ In the video excerpt presented, the speaker was quoting what someone else had said in order to criticize or comment upon it, he was not making the statement as something he believed himself.

    ☐ The video you claim to have been “deceptively edited” is an excerpt from hours of continuous video that the hidden-camera reporters have posted in their entirety. Anyone who wishes to do so can see that the excerpt does not distort, and indeed the courts that have considered this have said that the excerpts are not deceptive.

    ☐ The study is available ungated, and does not say what you say it does

    ☐ The court decision is a public document. The reasoning of the justices in deciding as they did is explained quite clearly, and has little relation to what you stated their ‘motivation’ to be.

    ☐ What you state as the ‘facts of the case’ bears little resemblance to the facts as presented in the court documents, and that includes the submissions by ‘your’ side.

    ☐ while your transcript is a plausible mishearing when considered in isolation, when considered in context there are clearly better-fitting words in the part you purport to be controversial

    ☐ The book “how to lie with statistics” was intended as a corrective, not an instruction-manual.

    ☐ The raw data is available at the fred.stlouisfed.org FRED – Federal Reserve Economic Data website.

    ☐ Your statement “The USA is the only country that has (x)” is easily demonstrated to be false

    ☐ Etc.”

  11. Reading about the Cultural Revolution, as a battle between various forces for control of the state, and then from there to Djilas’ New Class, is all so reminiscent of today. This book that Tyler Cowen referenced a few months ago also sounds extremely relevant:
    The Autocratic Middle Class: How State Dependency Reduces the Demand for Democracy (Princeton Studies in Political Behavior, 11) Paperback – December 1, 2020
    by Bryn Rosenfeld (Author)
    “In pursuit of development, authoritarian states often employ large swaths of the middle class in state administration, the government budget sector, and state enterprises. Drawing on attitudinal surveys, unique data on protest behavior, and extensive fieldwork in the post-Soviet region, Rosenfeld documents how the failure of the middle class to gain economic autonomy from the state stymies support for political change, and how state economic engagement reduces middle-class demands for democracy and weakens prodemocratic coalitions.”

    Who was driven most insane by Trump? White liberals with graduate degrees, in and out of government employment, that’s who. They’re also the same people who most support CRT, as a way to secure their positions and prevent competition from those without the right credentials/attitudes.

  12. I agree with Brian above and here is More evidence of the trend.

    To those who haven’t spent many years in and around the restaurant industry, it’s very, very frustrating. First, the safety circus act, now my private health data? Now our friends and loved ones can’t join us? No to those with religious objections, or those who are rightly concerned that these treatments’ effects on pregnancy and fertility aren’t understood?

    But before anyone thinks to get angry at your manager or business owner, stop — it’s often not their fault. They’re captives; small business in America is captive.


  13. “How many American citizens live in a media and information environment which is as closed and as convincing as what the crew of the Royal Majesty was seeing on their bridge?”

    Pretty well everyone is lied to, manipulated and herded every day by what you call your news. Its mostly lies, especially in America where this has been elevated to a fine art.

    It is possible to get a fairly accurate picture of what is happening but you have to go quite far afield and process a lot of the information you find there, against the rest of that information you come up with, to winkle out the most egregious lies. This takes time and effort. Nothing true is handed to you. ;)

  14. Coincidentally, I’m in the midst of listening to two long (6 + 7 Hr. egad) audio books. They are simply transcriptions of interviews of low rank German soldiers that were occupying the landing beaches on D-Day.

    They were conducted by a German journalist in about 1955. In June 1944, he’d been working for what seems like the German equivalent of Stars and Stripes, interviewing soldiers on the Normandy “Wall” and tracked down survivors of the same units and, in one case, the same man.

    What stands out ten years after the end of the war was that these perfectly reasonable sounding men, several previously wounded in Russia or Italy, was that some still seemed resentful that they had been attacked when all they were doing was defending their French allies from aggression. This sounds like a joke until you hear it in their own words.

    For some of these men, none of the revelations of Nazi atrocities seem to have registered. A pilot recounted with satisfaction his destruction of a column of Churchill tanks and then cut the interview after describing the aftermath of an a attack on a German column. None were asked whether they had been party members. Most were low rank enlisted, so far only a couple of lieutenants, so I doubt many were.

    Still, ten years after the war, only a couple say anything that would have been out of place in a 1944 propaganda film. It’s frightening to see the effectiveness of propaganda that, from here, looks not so much unbelievable as grotesque.

  15. To extend the instrument flying metaphor a bit, consider the concept of “cross-check”. As a pilot, you have primary instruments such as the attitude indicator, compass, airspeed, and vertical velocity indictor to enable you to know what your airplane is doing. You always reference the interplay of these primary instruments throughout your flight. For instance, when you enter a bank, you expect the compass to reflect a change in heading. When descending for landing on an ILS approach, your vertical velocity should reflect a steady descent rate, commensurate with your airspeed, crosschecked with the ILS raw data. A careful pilot watches how the various data he receives make sense with all his other indicators.
    The Air France 447 crew lost situational awareness by being overwhelmed with computer generated warnings, and closing track of the raw data, in this case, aircraft attitude and engine power output.
    In a time when Lester Holt can tell you with a straight face that “Fairness is Overrated”, a good cross-check is absolutely vital.

  16. remember that midling bond picture, with jonathan pryce playing a bargain basement murdoch manque, he hired ricky jay, to hack the navigation of a british frigate, so it looks like it’s farther in international waters

  17. Does your analogy also apply to the stock market? What is real and what isn’t? What signals we want to see and what ones we should notice?

  18. Ginny: Boeing can’t will the plane to stay in the air, the government can will the market to go up. Keep destroying the currency till you get Dow 5000000!!!

  19. But I’ve been wondering lately if this formulation might be backwards. Maybe the media (social and traditional) are really in the process of becoming the ultimate decision-makers, with the power to determine who the governing class may and may not incorporate.

    This is right on the money. Think about the structure of ObamaCare, if the state can exert control of the health system via regulation, then the step of taking full overt control of the health care system isn’t really necessary. Same process with the corporate world when it comes to control of assets and ownership of assets – one doesn’t often need to own 50.1% of the stock to control the corporation.

    Who sets the damn agenda – the Democrats who hold office or the media? Which party is holding the hoop and which party is jumping through the hoop? Is it the politicians who detect an issue and then start acting on the issue, thus getting the attention of the media who work to amplify the issue or is it the reverse, the politicians are running from the back of the parade to get in front on an issue that matters to the hive mind of the media?

    America, the West in general, are Kakistocracies, media is filled with low-brow thinkers and idiots, and they’re running the show.

  20. MCS…there’s an interesting and depressing book (“Account Rentered,” by Melita Maschmann) by a woman who began working in a local Nazi office when she was 17 and rose to a fairly high level. (She was involved with the dispossession of Polish farmers and helping German families to settle on their confiscated land.) After the war, she was arrested as a war criminal and was shown pictures of the German atrocities in the concentration camps. Her reaction was that these photos had been faked by the Americans, and it took her at least a couple of years to accept the reality.

  21. In the second book, “D Day through German Eyes Book 2” by Holger Eckhertz, they go a little more into that with varying reactions. If the transcript is accurate, Eckhertz has the most low key, neutral style of questioning imaginable. He’s perfect at letting his subjects speak for themselves and staying in the background. This seems to have gone out of style lately.

    They were hugely surprised by no horses, endless Allied aircraft and no German ones.

  22. All may not be well in Xiland.

    Since taking power in late 2012, Mr. Xi has realigned Chinese politics with his domineering style and a top-down drive to forge a centralized state under the Communist Party. But his efforts are running into an old foe: bureaucracy.

    Party observers say the drive for centralization in a sprawling nation too often fosters bureaucratic inertia, duplicity and other unproductive practices that are aimed at satisfying Beijing and protecting careers but threaten to undermine Mr. Xi’s goals.

    Indeed, some local officials have become so focused on pleasing Mr. Xi and fulfilling party mandates that they can neglect their basic duties as public servants, sometimes with dire results.

    As the new coronavirus spread in Wuhan in late 2019, for instance, local authorities were afraid to share bad news with Beijing. That impeded the national response and contributed to the death toll, according to a Wall Street Journal investigation.

    Who could have imagined this ?

  23. LOL. The Wall Street Journal.

    You can believe whatever you want. Its just not the best way to extract truth, as information from a complete foe of your subject matter, will make that information less than useful. ;).

  24. This is the fundamental reason why any ideologically-bound system fails. Doesn’t matter if you’re talking some tin-pot South American tyranny or Communist Slobovia–The information flow is polluted by ideologues who refuse to recognize or transmit reality from their locale to whoever is higher in the hierarchy, and then the friction from that causes more and more things to go wrong until the entire shoddy edifice collapses.

    You see it in capitalism, just as much–But, the damage is usually localized to an individual company or organization. The fantasy that so many have that “money is evil” results in a lot of stupidity because nobody recognizes that what money actually is is information–And, the flow of it tells you a lot. Company “A” is doing a good job of serving the needs of its customers? Company “A” makes money… Company “B” isn’t…? Then, Company “B” won’t make money. Unless it suborns the regulatory power of government to somehow disadvantage Company “A”…

    Bad information results in dysfunction. The schools tell kids that they need to have a college education to succeed, when that isn’t actually a fact? Well, gee… Why do so many college graduates have trouble succeeding, when they could have gone into a trade and made better money? Bad information, handed out by their guidance counselors and teachers… Who all have an interest in propping up the educational industry. Funny, that…

    Reality gets concealed by obfuscation and misinterpretation. Some of that is deliberate, some accidental–But, the end result is the same. You get poor information or are just lazy and poorly informed? Then, you’re gonna get shafted when that information leads you to make poor decisions that will inevitably catch up with you like so many wakened furies delivering the wrath of God upon you.

    You have to learn how to evaluate information’s sourcing and the interpretations that the parasite media class put on that information. Nine times out of ten, there’s falsity somewhere in everything, and if you can identify it, you can parse out a better picture of reality.

    You also have to be able to remember things, and make connections. I can remember reading, years and years ago, about the promise of mRNA vaccines. I also remember reading about the many and varied problems with getting those vaccines certified for human use, and what the timeline was for their approval–Which was, optimistically, seen to be likely not until the mid-2030s.

    Imagine my surprise when I read about these things getting rushed approval for COVID-19, and my distinct suspicion about the convenient timing. Maybe they were excessively cautious about approving it before the crisis hit, maybe not… Don’t worry, though: The experts know best.

    I’m pretty sure there are more than a few “Black Swan” events lurking out there in the shadows, for everybody. China included–The way Xi punishes the bearers of bad news, I strongly suspect that there are a lot of things he’s not being told, or that he’s being told are so while the reality is far different. Same-same with our glorious President Xiden–They’re both ill-equipped for the unexpected, and I suspect we’re all going to suffer for it.

    I’m going to repeat something I’ve been saying for a long time–The only way to avoid these problems is not to rely on hierarchy or ideology. Empiricism and pragmatism both provide better solutions–If it works, it works. If it does not, it does not–And, to be bound by ideological chains when evaluating these things is the path to ruin. You have to maintain an open mind, and be able to say “Yes, that was a bad idea… Let’s try something else…”. You marry your ideas, you’re dooming yourself to long-term failure, even if you don’t experience it immediately.

  25. Mike K: “But his [President XI’s] efforts are running into an old foe: bureaucracy.”

    An old foe, indeed! Apparently, the reason Chairman Mao launched his Great Proletarian Cultural Revolution was to overthrow the growing bureaucracy in Communist China — but the bureaucracy won.

    Of course, this is not a peculiarly Chinese problem. A big part of the reason the US has lost its industrial base is over-regulation in the US. And any honest appraisal of the last 50 years will identify that the big growth in employment has been in government and government contractors — most of whom are functionally overhead, not contributing anything to the economy.

    Taking a further step back, the growth of bureaucracy is not special to China or the US. Joseph Tainter in his book “The Collapse of Complex Societies” assembles quite persuasive evidence that the rising burden of excessive government has been the underlying cause of most prior civilizations coming to an end.

    Back to the present. As long as we in the US (and more generally in the West) depend on China for everything from toilet brushes to solar panels, we had better hope that China finds a way to contain the bureaucratic impulse. Lord knows, we have failed to do it.

  26. Gavin, the malignant bureaucracy began with WWII. You could make a good argument that it began with the New Deal, or with the New Deal going to war.

    I highly recommend David Brinkley’s book, Washington Goes to War.

    By 1945, the war was still in doubt over the complexity of trying to move the Army from Europe to the Pacific. Eisenhower saved the Battle of the Bulge by ruthlessly requisitioning JCH Lee’s enormous administrative tail to the fighting army. Lee had set up an enormous bureaucracy and was referred to as “Jesus Christ Himself Lee.”

  27. the perverse thing, in the I love big brother, or mandarin cognate, is xi’s father was caught up in the cultural revolution, as was xi himself, in a small part, yet he’s the one who went back to study marxism in the 90s, like some dead language,

  28. “People operating complex machines and systems–ships, aircraft, and nuclear power plants, for example–are often dependent on information that has been processed or filtered in some way.”

    We in nuclear power plants are indeed dependent on processed information to operate the reactors. Sometimes the raw data, like ex-core neutron detector output, are completely useless and unintelligible without processing.

    That’s why we tell my colleagues to do regular cross-checking. Does the generator output match the steam generator flows and pressures? Does the cooling seawater temperature match the thermal efficiency calcs?

    A critical question – does the plant status make sense?

    Back to the neutron detectors – a reactor has about 300 of them and the raw output is in milliamps. This data HAS to be processed and filtered and adjusted!

    But those systems are made to be pretty darn simple and reliable and to do internal cross-checking.

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