Canaries were used for about 75 years in coal mines of the United Kingdom, Canada and the United States to detect carbon monoxide and other toxic gases before the gases hurt humans.
Today, I see many things around us which are screaming out as early warnings for attention. But we are not fully comprehending these. We see the data if we want to see it. But I don’t see the willingness to put the data together to understand what information this portrays.
The broken wheels of healthcare: In the United States we are proud of our healthcare quality. We also do not want European “socialized medicine.” Why? Because in Europe they have to wait to get a treatment, while here we can readily access the best healthcare in the world.
But looking at it from a different perspective, I see a different picture. In the United States a health issue can easily push someone into bankruptcy, unlike in Europe. We also have excellent facilities for treatments, but that is not available to everyone. And, just like in Europe, we also have to wait for treatments. The current wait to get access to a mental health professional is four-five months.
And, yes, we already have the so-called “death committees” who decide which patient gets the treatment and who doesn’t. They are called insurance companies. Inequities and inefficiencies in our healthcare system are staring at us-- if we are willing to look at it, and are brave enough to listen what this is telling us.
The death of truth: I grew up devouring news from all over the world. Besides the local and national newspapers, I tuned in to the BBC, Radio Australia, and Voice of America using shortwave radio. My print sources included Time, Newsweek, and Readers Digest. When I came to the United States for college, I was surprised that most of my dormmates looked at only the comics and the sport section of the local newspaper, and got no foreign sources of news.
Fast forward to today, and I see a nation where we gravitate to the news we want to hear. The left- and right-leaning media outlets of MSNBC and FOX tell us stories from their vantage point and purposes. Even within social media, people tend to subscribe to sites which stoke their viewpoint. This creates a diverging population which moves forward with differing narratives of the same topic.
The result is an inability of many of us to even listen to a differing viewpoint, to believe in the absolute truth about something where we have already made up our minds, and to label everything else as untruths. This cannot bode well for any nation.
The stifling of science: Over the last few years funding for scientific endeavors within government agencies have been cut 6%-37%. The NIH, CDC, the universities, and NASA all have played a major role in the development of many technologies. Now, there is an accelerated shift toward privatization of research and technology.
During the last presidency some of the government organizations deemphasized the publication of scientific data if that ran counter to government policies. With COVID, we saw politicians and state leaders co-opting messages and directives from the scientific community to fit their own political goals. And even today, there are politicians who are using “Fire Fauci” as a slogan for their election bid.
If science, and results of scientific research, are to be bent for the expediency of political motives, what does that say about the ability of a nation to learn from scientific data and rely on the scientific community for guidance to keep us safe, make our lives better, or propel innovation?
Lessons learned: Our nation has historically been a hotbed of discoveries and innovation, largely fueled by research, the incubation of ideas, the national spirit of taking chances, and the grit of making things work. But how are we doing when it comes to self-reflection, learning from our mistakes, or lessons learned? For example, what have we really learned from the COVID epidemic? Are we really any better prepared as a nation for the next public health crisis?
Similarly, with every mass shooting I hear the same worn-out rhetoric of “never again,” “this must not happen,” or “no family should have to go through this again.” However, the headlines soon fade, only to be replaced by the next headline on TV and print media.
Every day we also hear stories about how difficult it is for businesses to find workers, and how businesses are being forced to increase salaries just to attract and retain workers. If someone works a fulltime job, should that person be able to have a family and maintain a livelihood? For someone earning $15 an hour, that is not possible. So, in the land of opportunity, what is that person supposed to do? And what does that mean for millions of people and families who are unable to make ends meet even if they are working full time?
Obviously, I don’t understand everything, and no one person has all the answers. But I do see so many situations in our cities, communities and states where the dead canaries are crying out for some sensible self-reflection, backed by action for change, to deal with the dangers facing us.
The key question remains: are we paying attention to the fate of our canaries?