What You See is Not Always What You Get

A couple of days ago I thought of Gary Larson’s Far Side cartoon, the one with the toggle switch in a passenger airplane cabin seat with the message “Wings Stay On; Wings Fall Off.” I googled it just for fun and found that it spawned a lot of web articles obviously trying to reassure the flying public that airplane wings don’t just fall off.

What brought the “Wings Stay On; Wings Fall Off” cartoon to mind were a few events in the last two days. Day before yesterday, Sena took our lease car to one of the local dealership’s car wash. She does this all the time without incident but this time she noticed that the “soap” didn’t rinse off. She drove it home and still couldn’t get what appeared to be soap film off the car. She finally drove back to the dealership and discovered that the car wash attendant had accidentally pressed the hydraulic oil lubricant button instead of the detergent button. A number of other car wash customers also had been victims of the mishap and were complaining to dealership management.

So, what had looked like soap film actually turned out to be hydraulic lubricant meant for the car wash motors. It turns out that accidents like these can happen. Could the button for the lubricant have been situated so close to the detergent button that the attendant accidentally pressed the wrong one? By itself, that reminded me of the Larson cartoon. If the systems analysist for the car wash design was asleep at the desk on the day of manufacture, I guess all you can do is think before you act. And what you see is not always what you get.

The next day, Sena and I were at the dealership sitting in an agent’s office. We noticed a tipped over cup of coffee. I reached over to pick it up, mentioning that he must have had a little accident. Much to my surprise, both cup and mess came up as a spill prank, which I had never seen before, believe it or not. The joke capitalizes on our human tendency to sometimes act before we think.

Finally, a couple of on-line news items caught my eye this morning. They were both about white tail deer in Iowa, discovered by Iowa State University (ISU) researchers to have somehow picked up the Covid-19 virus. One story was much shorter than the other.

The longer story by the Des Moines Register had a lot more ISU research detail in it and didn’t stress certain facts that might reassure readers that there was low likelihood that humans might be vulnerable to catching the virus from deer.

The shorter story by the KCCI news network didn’t present as much of the ISU research details and basically said as long as you used gloves to dress the animal in the field and thoroughly cooked the meat, you were in no danger of infection. Both stories basically carried the same message that there was low likelihood of infection to humans. But there was a slight tendency to overemphasize the risk in one article and maybe a tendency to underemphasize it in the other. These might illustrate the “spin” phenomenon for which readers should just be on the alert.

By the way, the CDC web site carries a message saying the risk of catching Covid-19 from wild animals is generally low.

What you see is not always what you get, especially at first glance. And it pays to think before you act.

Author: James Amos

I'm a retired consult-liaison psychiatrist. I navigated the path in a phased retirement program through the hospital where I was employed. I was fully retired as of June 30, 2020. This blog chronicles my journey.

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