Animals - Perils of jumping to conclusions

By: Steve McAulay

I was intrigued the other day when one of our farmers reported that his bank manager had brought along a consultant on the latest visit to his farm. The consultant was a specialist in critical thinking. I quizzed the farmer as to whether the critical thinking consultant was there to evaluate the farmer’s decision making or the bank manager’s. The farmer replied that either conclusion was possible. A good conclusion, I thought, being open to more than one conclusion.

As a veterinarian, we get training in making subjective evaluations (what we see and think) and objective evaluations (what we see and can measure). We assess the two evaluations and then plan potential diagnoses and treatments. The idea is not to jump to one conclusion and then find all the information to support that potentially wrong conclusion. We frequently have clients who have already reached conclusions. It might be a farmer deciding that a summer crop chosen “was a waste of time” and they are not going to replant that crop because it was “useless”, when the real issue with the crop was that it was planted four weeks later than was ideal. Or the client who thinks that a certain flea product was “useless and doesn’t work” when the real issue was that the time interval between flea treatments was greater than the product required. Eli Goldratt, author of The Goal suggests that the best approach is not to directly attack the conclusion, but question the assumptions made to reach that conclusion.

Farmers are being blamed for being significant greenhouse gas producers and we’re being told that farming is bad. Our government has made a significant commitment to reducing greenhouse gas emissions by 2030. Many farmers have concluded that “they aren’t going to do it”, and many urban people have concluded that “it’s the farmers who are bad, we don’t have to do anything”. Both are poor conclusions. We all need to re-evaluate our environmental footprint.

Thomas Ingenlath, the chief executive of Polestar, recently admitted that their Polestar 2 (an electric vehicle) has a carbon footprint of 26 tonnes when it leaves the factory, compared to the 14 tonnes for the Volvo XC40 SUV. Also, there is a carbon footprint associated with disposing of the battery at the end of the electric vehicle’s life. Yet many people and politicians believe that all new cars should be electric to “save the environment”. A lot of the power generated in New Zealand is from water or hydroelectric, but some is generated from fossil fuels, mostly natural gas. Increasing the demand for electricity will result in more natural gas use because the hydroelectric and water sources of electricity are already maxed out. Many New Zealanders conclude that electric cars are better for the environment, yet if tomorrow we suddenly replaced all the cars in New Zealand with electric cars, our carbon footprint would increase significantly. When considering these issues, critical thinking and re-evaluating conclusions is a good place to start.

Stephen McAulay, CEO and head vet, Wellsford Vet Clinic


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