An Editorial About Face

Around five weeks ago I made a decision for us to not write at all about Covid-19/Corona Virus. I had seen the fear on the sunken faces of friends and seen mathematical models that were terrifying. At the same time, disinformation was abundant as was a kind of ‘fog of pandemic’ that muddled everyone’s thinking and decisionmaking. As a person, I found it difficult to grapple with this virus as a thought, as something I couldn’t control and as something that may or may not “happen.” It was also at the time impossible to know if this would be a localized Wuhan thing, a China problem or a global disaster. All in all would this kill thousands, tens of thousands, millions? How would it effect us all? In that context to write about how it was leading to the cancellation of 3D printing events or how it would affect our industry felt contrite. It felt unethical to seek clicks caused by panic and possibly the defining disaster of our times. Wherever I sought information I could find very little. I was not equipped to deal with or predict or model this in any way. A busload or carload of victims could, if not caught, potentially overwhelm a healthy health system in a number of weeks. At the same time, I didn’t have the information to assure myself or you that panic was warranted. Did I really want to risk freaking everyone out over something that could be a local event? The first thing that Covid broke in my life was not my freedom but my confidence in my own ability to assess risk.

I felt a bit like Icarus soaring right at the moment when he must have seen the first wax melting. The system of the world could collapse or go on unencumbered and even something as black and white as this boolean possibility was unknowable. I’m reminded of Nicolas Taleb who introduced many of us to Black Swan risks through his book of the same name. Unknowable risks that could not be calculated or taken into account. If these risks were provided for then the world would change and heroes would be seen as boys who cried wolf. What you may not know of Nicolas Taleb is that he started a black swan hedge fund that slowly lost money every day, the idea was that a huge unforeseeable crash would happen eventually and then the fund would recoup its losses and then some. Nicolas closed the fund, called Empirica, in 2005.  Only a short while before the Great Recession. His advisory role to another fund, Universa Investments later did well. But, it is notable that the guy who popularized Black Swan risk assessment also mispriced his own risks and because of it now has not ridden a double market fall into billionaire-dom.

You, Nicolas Taleb and I all suck at risk. Me especially, since during a global respiratory infection, I, a permanent world traveler, who could conceivably be anywhere, am in Quito at 2850 meters. Overwhelmed with options, interpretations, and data I was unable to find an optimal decision. Instead, I was left with uncertainty, regret and confusion. And now a month or so after a local problem has become a global one we have all been overwhelmed with data. There is so much information but very little knowledge. If we sift through the noise looking for signals we could find some but what is our level of certainty in the knowable? At least about this confused state I was right. I didn’ want your local authoritative 3D Printing source of knowledge to spew forth nonsense, especially not if it would drive you into being complacent or motivate your panic. In the face of noise and with lack of knowledge I made a decision to not publish anything about COVID for the past weeks.

Events have forced me to change my mind, however. We are still faced with a storm of unknown danger or duration but our agile and inventive industry has been busy indeed. You’ve been fostering open source projects, making parts and finding solutions. Whereas I’m a firm believer in “given enough eyeballs, all things are shallow” and indeed my obsession with 3D Printing is motivated by the fever dream of it being a solution to almost any problem, I’m rather skeptical of the efficacy of many of the 3D Printed initiatives in COVID now.

Indeed some of you have shown yourselves to be wretched, vile, unethical, scumbags. You are COVIDbaggers, sleazy despicable swindlers who promote ineffectual and silly thinly-veiled marketing ploys that you hope will see you profit from the suffering and worrying of millions. Fuck you. We will never write about you again. Others are perhaps, in the face of working medical products, hopelessly naive or optimistic. Generally, we see no work on testing and very little thoughts on sterilization and the like.

But, all in all, our industry is launching many initiatives that are valuable, interesting and possibly very helpful (if executed with diligence and forethought). On the whole, our industry, and individual makers worldwide have made us all very proud. The iterative agile nature of our technology can lead us to play a pivotal role in solving unforeseen problems in this trying time. I’m still skeptical if and what will work to what degree, but you have given me hope with your efforts. This has lead us to over the past days begin writing about COVID.


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