Speculation about accidents is helpful, it’s just not enough (e.g. Dreamworld)

“Speculation is not helpful”.  Regarding accidents, YES, or NO?

On the NO side.  The Safety Institute says no. “Safety Institute of Australia calls for calm in relation to Dreamworld tragedy“.  Kevin Jones argues a similar theme.

I say YES. I see the point of the Safety Institute article.  I think it is to caution against jumping to a conclusion.  But the phrase “speculation is not helpful” caught my attention.
But when trying to work something out, speculation is helpful.  More than that, it’s vital.  Speculation is where it begins.  Possibilities need to be eventually evaluated – tested with science, engineering, logic, facts, analysis – but the process begins with ideas, guesses, hypotheses, questions, hunches – speculation.  A narrowing or testing of these possibilities is then needed.

While it is not a good idea to jump to a conclusion, it is a good idea, to consider many possibilities about where to jump in the end.  Speculation is what is needed, it’s just not enough on it’s own.


This photo is from The Straits Times @STForeignDesk

About John Culvenor

Hi, Thank you for taking a look at this blog. I work in engineering, ergonomics, creativity, design, training, etc. Often this is about helping solve legal puzzles through accident analysis. Sometimes it is about thinking up better designs for equipment, workplaces, and systems. This blog is about good design and bad design, accident analysis and how it can be done better, and how we can make a better, safer world by design!
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16 Responses to Speculation about accidents is helpful, it’s just not enough (e.g. Dreamworld)

  1. Samantha Novak says:

    John, I absolutely agree with the view that “speculation” is necessary to explore many potential causes / failures when it comes to conducting risk assessments and in investigating incidents. However speculation through media only fosters hysteria, presumption and negative impacts to businesses and innocent families based on actions taken by the general public, who at the time are not privy to all the facts. The media should keep speculation and rumours of what occurred out of it, until the investigation is finalised and the complete set of facts behind what occurred are known.

    In my view the media coverage of this tragic incident has been in poor taste almost every moment beyond the coverage of the statements of facts provided by the CEO, ambulance and police representatives on the day of the incident. Below is just some of the unpalatable reports I have seen on social networking sites, television and printed media.

    – the ‘rant’ that a previous Dreamworld visitor reportedly had placed on Facebook about 5 rides at Dreamworld being closed when they had paid good money for annual passes seemingly should be interpreted to mean Dreamworld has an ongoing poor maintenance record.
    – I question if the media are suggesting we should call the department of community services on those families interviewed on a morning program attending other theme parks today for knowingly putting their precious young children’s lives at such high level of risk after what occurred at Dreamworld.
    – The particular ride involved in the incident was reported that with ongoing proper maintenance would last 30 years. Are they suggesting that we should be demanding that we have and check the expiry date of everything we use as well as what we eat.
    – Allegedly an 18y.o on his / her first day at a new job would seem was tasked with operating what the media reports as one of the tamest and most automated rides at the park. If this in fact is all true, this individual through no fault of their own except that they were new, has now been trialled by the media and the jury (us) influenced to find them guilty of being a point of failure. This then can be used to justify the associated failure back to Dreamworld for how they employ and train new personnel.

    This type of media speculation does little to help the families, workers, first responders, witnesses and others involved in dealing with their grief nor aid in achieving our human need for closure and answers. Most importantly it does not create safer theme parks. Let the experts “speculate” as part of doing their jobs, have belief in our justice system, and accept the undeniably sad truth that both of these things take time.

    I do not discount that journalists may add value in keeping businesses / government agencies / politicians honest, transparent and accountable to the wider community expectations. But think, if it is not to much to much to ask, that they should keep it tasteful, factual and relevant.

  2. Hi Samantha, Thank you for the contribution. The negative side of speculation is well-put. Perhaps the answer is that all things need to be done well. That is, speculation can be helpful, I say essential, but needs to be done well. Almost anything good in principle can be bad if done badly. If done badly, distastefully, recklessly, etc, then like anything that is potentially beneficial, it might not turn out that way.

  3. Rodney says:

    Speculation is completely nessecary to be able to function in an investigive state. Speculation is not only nessecary, but a natural function of an investigation. Police and other investigative services, science and explorers alike could not reach satisfactory conclusions if they didn’t explore in a speculative manner. If we didn’t speculate we would never be able to reach the truth in many cases or be prepared for what we find.

    • 🙂 Thanks for the contribution Rodney. That’s what I was trying to say! Your explorer example seems to be a good one. “What’s over there?” Then go and have a look.

      • Rodney says:

        Yes John, an explorer must speculate as he doesn’t really know what’s there. He has very little facts, and acts and proceeds accordingly to uncover and document the facts.
        And if he assumes, he is declaring he knows most of the facts about his journey, which positions him in a state of ignorance, and may well perish. So speculation is a safer way to proceed.

  4. Rodney says:

    Further, the media need to speculate as it creates interest and helps them drive their profits etc. if their speculation causes uproar or hysteria it creates interest in what they sell hence their bottom line, so why wouldn’t they allow speculation, it’s a big part of their business plan. If the media didn’t speculate it would be history.
    To me this is all about our perceptions from where we a stand. By the passing of a few months our perception will be shifted, and most will forget about this incident and focus on other things….which is why a lot of tradgedies like these happen in the first place…..unfortunately.

  5. Steve says:

    I don’t agree, speculation is the same as assuming. Everyone can make up their own minds on what has happened. But as we are not part of the investigation we don’t know the facts. I don’t think it is fair to the families involved that the media and public make all these assumptions and speculations and cause more grief.

    Wait till the investigation has completed and we get the facts on what happened from the investigators, and then draw you own conclusions and assumptions from that.

    • Thanks Steve. It makes sense. I suppose the “but” is that the speculation remains necessary among the investigators. Further, sometimes investigators don’t get it right.

    • Rodney says:

      Maybe your statement Steve about the media speculation and assumptions being unfair to the families would be described as an assumption, which is defined as it being stated by the assumer to be a true statement.
      Where as speculation is a suggestion, not based on truth that the families may be treated unfairly, but is not considered to be the reality and not entirely a true statement in the sense as such. That’s the differences of the two.
      I think these definitions are confused when people comment, especially on emotional or tradgic issues or events.

  6. Justin says:

    No speculation is required when considering if this accident was handled incorrectly by the parent company.

  7. Pingback: Dreamword – better to keep the ride | safedesign

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