As a teenager, I thought that the problem that congress and other
legislators faced was information overload -- just too many bills, too many
pages, too many implications to be able to cover it all even at the lowest
Later I concluded that some of the bills were so clearly flawed that the
problem just had to be stupidity. Listening to any call in program will
I went through inability to reason, lack of scientific knowledge, evil
people, evil ideas, graft, the corruption of power, and probably several
others searching for the nature of the difficulty.
Whatever the problem is, I can tell you definitely that it is a systems
problem with a large number of interacting variables rather than anything
admitting of a "single point" solution (fix this and it will all get
There are always individuals in a large enough group that exhibit nearly any
of a wide range of the problems above, but the question I am working on now
boils down to "how does it happen that a group can make decisions that are
worse than the decisions that would be made by nearly anyone in the group?"
Clearly simple diversity causes some of the problem -- enough different
approaches that the ones that show a lot of support are often not the best,
but there is more.
Deming claimed that more then 85% of the output of an organization was due
to the structure of the organization rather than to the expertise or lack of
it of the people. That certainly appears to fit with my recent observations.
The apparent paradox of having some of the best scientists and a general
population that is scientifically ignorant has several features.
In a book called "Innumeracy" John Allen Paulos points out that the best
scientists of, say, Belgium, may be as good as those anywhere else, but that
since the United States, with a far larger population, creates so many more
scientists than the smaller country, there will be more U.S. scientists than
Belgian ones. He sees at least a part of the issues as a lack of
understanding of the statistics of the problem.
While I also decry the level of ignorance in this country, are there any
studies showing that it is better in the rest of the world? Science, indeed,
thinking in any form has always been the province of a rather small
percentage of a population. As society allows for more and more people to
spend time that is not just trying to stay alive, the percentage of the
population that have the time to spend thinking about anything increases,
but once those with the inclination to think have been accommodated, the
increase in the number who do think drops off dramatically.
The discrepancy between our college system and our primary education is
amazing and nearly inexplicable. It appears that primary schooling
throughout Europe is superior to ours, and yet some of our universities rank
among the best in the world.
Clearly, improving the ability of the electorate to think about and reason
about issues and to obtain information readily is a valuable effort. Even
with the internet in increasingly wide use, it is still difficult to get raw
information on any topic of social debete. Once a discussion polarizes, it
is nearly impossible to be heard unless you are arguing for one of the
extreme positions. If you try to determine what the facts are, you will be
attacked by all the polarized factions who will try to beat you into
submission with their conclusions.
Polarization happens in populations and in many people. I don't know how to
approach that except through better education ... and that topic has been
polarized so that it is difficult to find the truth of what really works.
Garold (Gary) L. Johnson
----- Original Message -----
From: "Grant Bowman" <email@example.com>
Sent: Friday, August 24, 2001 4:37 PM
Subject: Re: [unrev-II] Science Education Paradox
> * Jack Park <firstname.lastname@example.org> [010824 10:47]:
> > http://www.techreview.com/magazine/sep01/reviews.asp
> > [...]
> > The electorate. Now, there's an OHS/DKR usecase if there ever was
> Yes, I agree! Allowing the storage of scientific knowledge and facts to
> be used by the electorate is increasingly important as the rate and speed
> of information needed to solve a "wicked" problem increases.
> Thanks for brining this forward, Jack.
> -- Grant Bowman <email@example.com>
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