Ich bin ein Berliner

by Roderick

As a matter of principle I believe it is important to evaluate all information from primary sources when making decisions of significance (e.g. the presidential election, the question of whether the event is actually significant notwithstanding, i.e. accepting the assumption that it is). This is the only way to avoid being misled by deliberate or accidental misinformation. Examples of the former include basically anything from Faux News, anything out of the Bush administration regarding FISA/PAA, and so on. Of the latter, a general example would be inaccurate popular science, such as the “Equal Transit theory.”

But a tremendous hindrance exists, making this principle difficult to put into practice: we (as a people) are not well educated. To be sure, many of us will come to be proficient in a particular discipline, while some will never be very knowledgeable about anything at all. But we are called upon to make decisions that would ideally require extensive knowledge in practically every discipline. This makes it incredibly difficult to evaluate all issues with which we will be faced, unless we manage to confine ourselves to a world in which all we have to decide is whether Britney Spears should ever have more children.

For instance, who actually understands global warming? In attempting to weigh the consensus view against dissenting ones, I realized that I don’t know the first thing about how to analyze or approach the data. And I would be highly skeptical of anyone who claims to understand the scientific bases of the global warming issue, unless they are able to support such a claim by explaining the mathematics behind the models.