As an occasional dilettante in rock climbing, hang gliding, and a few other activities commonly perceived as dangerous, I share some of Alan Flippen’s sentiments regarding an excessive aversion to risk in our culture. However, Princeton’s decision to cancel the P-rade should not be held up as an example of collective milquetoasting.
Flippen would do well to remember some of lightning’s properties. Above all, it is capricious, sometimes striking miles from the central thunderstorm (the FAA advises pilots to remain 20 miles clear of thunderstorms). Relying on weather-radar apps with their inherent delay can instill false confidence, and the fact that 99 times out of 100 nothing happens, provides confirmation bias for risky behavior (see “black swans”). I’ve been caught in several life-threatening lightning situations on fourteeners [mountain peaks at least 14,000 feet in elevation] in Colorado and in the California Sierra, including an episode where a dozen people were struck. I’m continually slack-jawed by the cavalier attitude held by many toward lightning.
My personal decision to advance or retreat may be made differently than the University’s, where thousands are potentially at risk. That said, the decision was poorly communicated and haphazardly implemented, and should be reviewed.