Ricochet is the best place on the internet to discuss the issues of the day, either through commenting on posts or writing your own for our active and dynamic community in a fully moderated environment. In addition, the Ricochet Audio Network offers over 50 original podcasts with new episodes released every day.
Early in the COVID pandemic snarky left-of-center types often compared leaders who tried to balance the costs of NPIs (“non-pharmaceutical interventions”) against presumed benefits in stopping the spread of COVID benefits to Mayor Larry Vaughn of Amity in the movie Jaws (1975) and Jaws 2 (1978). He is used as a kind of meme to represent blind allegiance to business and profit at the expense of public welfare according to the zeitgeist that possesses enlightened persons.
I think in fairness, we should review Mayor Vaughn’s record in detail at each stage of the crisis.
Handling of the initial report of the shark attack: Much like the scope of COVID-19 itself, fatal shark attacks (much less multiple such attacks in one location) are an exceedingly unusual phenomenon. Fewer than 14 attacks occurred along all US coastlines in 1974, the year before Jaws was released in theaters. The last fatal shark attack in New England before the Amity incidents was in 1936. After the first Amity attack (which was not confirmed until the arrival of an expert), Mayor Vaughn chose not to reveal the unconfirmed possibility of a shark as the cause of the fatality so as not to cause a panic about a risk he probably rightfully regarded as minuscule.
Martin, it’s all psychological. You yell “barracuda”, everybody says, “Huh? What?” You yell “shark”, we’ve got a panic on our hands on the Fourth of July.
-Mayor Larry Vaugh, July 2, 1975
This is similar to the initial response by Dr. Anthony Fauci and the (China-influenced) World Health Organization to COVID-19.
This is not a major threat to the citizens of the United States and this is not some that the citizens of the United States should be worried about. -Dr. Anthony Fauci January 21, 2020
While not unreasonable overall, we should perhaps fault Mayor Vaughn for not ordering some additional fact-finding and for not informing other elected officials on Amity. Ordering Sheriff Brody to remain silent was inappropriate in retrospect but perhaps not as bad as CDC higher-ups denying permission to their experts on the ground to test the returnees from Wuhan and the Diamond Princess, a denial done to quash the frightening notion of asymptomatic spread.
Mayor Vaughn: B-
Response to Alex Kintner’s death: A boy on a raft in shallow water in a crowd is killed by a shark. It is not unheard of for great whites to attack persons paddling on rafts, boogie boards, or surfboards but not in shallow water (less than 5 feet) or in a crowd of bathers. A decision is made to place armed watchers on small boats and in the observation tower on the beach but to keep the beaches open otherwise. Note: There were no additional beach shark attacks for the rest of the movie.
In retrospect, the decision not to warn of this risk, however unlikely, appears to have been a mistake.
Mayor Vaughn: C+
Response to the Ben Gardner death: Mayor Vaughn’s position is unchanged by the report of a fatal attack on Ben Gardner’s fishing boat in that no proof was recovered (Matt Hooper dropped the tooth) and an open-ocean adverse event probably has little bearing on beach risk assessment. This was on balance, not an unreasonable reaction.
Mayor Vaughn: B
Response to the leg removal/death in “The Pond”: On the one hand, this could certainly be taken to prove that there had been an inadequate overall risk assessment with respect to the likelihood of return shark visits to a relatively small area. However, beach closings would not necessarily have affected the estuary/small craft harbor considered to be too removed from the open ocean to be dangerous (e.g., Chief Brody’s assessment that “the pond” was a safe place for his own child to sail his boat.) This fatal event was followed by closings and the authorization of hiring of Captain Quint, (analogous to fast-tracking the vaccines) so while theoretically preventable in 20/20 hindsight, the response thereafter was entirely on point and highly proactive.
Mayor Vaughn: A-
We know that Amity beach closings, much like the lockdowns and mask mandates ultimately had little to no effect. Turns out in the case of COVID-19 we were all in the Pond and the threat was unabated by NPIs just as the Amity danger was not relieved by NLPs (“non-lethal shark preventions).
From a risk-benefit perspective, the loss of business for a single summer week in Amity was like a month or month for a year-round business compounded by the fact that the entire island community’s well-being was at stake. Given what is known of shark behavior, an attack in Amity should not have been any more probable than on Marth’s Vineyard, Cape Cod, Block Island, or any other New England summer locale so sending bathers elsewhere should not have greatly lessened their personal risk, especially given the likelihood of Jaws sequels and knockoffs. Wading in the ocean in these other places should carry a virtually identical minuscule risk of shark attack than in Amity.
However, fully informed consent to risk is a basic right, and the failure to disclose was a breach. Although, exactly when that duty accrued for Mayor Vaughn is not clear.
Larry Vaughn did not have the benefit of internet access but if he had, he would have known that the author of the novel and the movie scriptwriters had stuck him with a highly improbable series of events and that his responses were entirely reasonable in real-world terms. His situation with the scriptwriters was not unlike the fictionalized versions of events that appear in the MSM concerning the COVID actions of Trump and/or any Republican governor.
So RIP, Mayor Vaughn, a good fellow in a near-impossible situation. B+Published in