Apologies for the German headline, but the pun is too good to miss. In a dossier coinciding with the New Year, the German weekly newspaper Die Zeit asks „Was ist morgen“ – „what is tomorrow“ – and answers the question with an article that has an almost perfect Ring Structure.

This is a list of the various constituents of the Ring, with capital letters indicating their correspondence:

  • A: Climate prediction models and the general difficulty to predict events: Fukushima, 2016 US Elections, COVID
  • B: A case of cancer and the odds of survival
  • C: History of mathematical stochastics
  • B‘: Testing and predicting the effectiveness of cancer therapies
  • A‘ models of climate change
  • D: Statistics on the double murder of two babies or sudden infant death syndrome
  • D‘: Where do false forecasts come from?
  • A“: Climate prediction models, Fukushima, 2016 US elections, COVID
  • Latch / C‘ Can you know what a dice will show? Heisenberg’s uncertainty principle
  • Latch: Hope against all odds – three men survive three nights in a snowstorm

This is a classical „Ring with a latch“ (Mary Douglas), i.e. a ring that, after its completion, is followed by one or more elements that can’t be subsumed under the ring structure. While the chapter on the unpredictability of certain phenomena (C‘) may have its counterpart in the chapter on stochastics, the final episode of four men being rescued from a snowstorm has nothing of the kind. This is one common variation of the Ring pattern.

One ring or two?

The first part of the article forms a perfect ring structure, with the last element being the first if a second ring. This should hint at the intended Central Loading, i.e. the role of mathematics in predicting the future and its ever-increasing effectiveness.

The second half also forms a ring around the question of false forecasts resp. mistaken maths. Together with the first part of the Latch, it seems that the Central Loading of both rings is the same – how mathematical and stochastic models can indeed predict the future.

Ring gone askew

However, this doesn’t quite work out, and it is due to the double ring structure. The double ring that shares elemen A‘ effectively puts Climate change in the center, dislocating the Central Loading in favour of what was intended as one example. Instead of two rings we get one, encircling Climate Change front, left, and center.

This was not lost on the commentators who all but ignored the other parts of the article, or its purported aim, certainty and uncertainty of predictions. Out of 24 commentaries, 13 focused on climate change. None actually commented on maths or stochastics.