Posting in Cities
Smart should not be controversial. But smart means seeing the world's problems as complicated, solutions as interconnected. It also means taking responsibility for unintended consequences.
For that reason I have been reluctant to write about IBM, or to criticize the company. The former might represent a conflict of interest, the latter a threat to the site's well-being.
I am not going to criticize the company here, either. Not in what they're doing, what they're selling, how they make their money.
IBM has, over the last 20 years, succeeded in making itself non-controversial, even while raising its profitability. It's one of the greatest transformations in the history of American business. (Absolutely full disclosure. My IRA bought 100 shares years ago.)
My concern is about this whole idea of smart. Or smarter. As in "IBM is making a smarter planet." The proposition IBM offers here and in its advertising.
The commercials seek to make this non-controversial. Traffic lights that let traffic flow. Using data to cut crime. Making green technologies profitable. Helping people live longer.
Who can be against smart?
A lot of people. I detect it in the talkback threads here, as well as those at ZDNet, where I write blogs on open source and healthcare.
I am often struck, for instance, at the number of respondents who see global warming, or health reform, as a grand conspiracy by liberal academics and bureaucrats interested only in making more money for themselves.
Consider "climate gate," the theft of e-mails mentioned here last week. Some now claim it proves a conspiracy exists to boost the idea of global warming. They claim climate science now is not settled, or that global warming is a myth.
This is stupid. Anyone who can read a thermometer or look at satellite pictures of ice caps knows what is happening. The Earth is heating, the seas are rising, just as Al Gore predicted. Storms are becoming more violent. I have yet to see a night temperature in Atlanta below freezing, and it's December. Unheard of.
Then let's look at motive. Scientists are corrupt because they're working under contracts? What about the billions of dollars earned every year by oil companies, chemical companies, coal companies? We know where a lot of it goes. You don't need to be Sherlock Holmes to figure this one out.
But there is an immense appetite out there for magical thinking. Even though night-time temperatures in every American city are 3-4 degrees hotter than in their suburbs, we want to pretend that what we do doesn't matter.
Well, that heating is the product of science, of smart people working over centuries to create technologies that would make life easier and longer. Without those smarts the critics would be trailing horses and looking desperately for cigarettes to take away the stench of droppings on the street and rotten food without refrigeration.
Or dropping like flies from diseases smart people have learned to cure or (better still) prevent.
Smart should not be controversial. But smart today requires that we see the world's problems as complicated, and solutions as interconnected. It also means taking responsibility for unintended consequences.
This may indeed be the problem. A century ago, two centuries ago, problems could be isolated. The Galapagos Islands were isolated. Industrial centers were isolated, and there was clean country to be found out of town, even wilderness.
Today, in order to answer any really important question, we have to look at systems, in all their complexity. You can't really answer problems of traffic except regionally. You can't answer the crime problem without looking at entire social systems. You can't cut health care costs without looking at lots of profitable, complex industries, each jealous of its prerogatives.
Smart, in the 21st century, means dealing with complexity, dealing with systems, and learning how one man's solution can easily become another one's crisis.
Smart is hard work.
It's so much easier to be stupid, and to pretend we can keep going along stupid, as we "always" have. Never mind that "always" has not been very long, even by the measure of American history, and that ignorance carries a price.
Once upon a time the land now known as Afghanistan was the cradle of civilizations. India's great civilization arose out of Central Asia, as did Iran's. Once Afghanistan was green and prosperous. (From Indology Research Blog.)
Then the unintended consequences came, and the smart of that time could not keep up, and ignorance rose up and overwhelmed the land. It holds the land still, and all the armed might of the smart world may not be enough to turn that around.
Want to move there? Stay stupid, argue for stupid, vote stupid. You'll get there, faster than you think.
As for me, I vote for smart, with eyes wide open, knowing that smart means accepting complexity, and unintended consequences, that smart can be wrong sometimes, which means all of us need to get smarter.
Dec 1, 2009
When I was a boy, there was still in existence a group called "The Flat Earth Society". They claimed to be able to prove that "The Earth Really is Flat" and that all the maps were a lie and part of some giant conspiracy. I don't think that group still exists, at the very least they have had to retreat into the shadows given the overwhelming onslaught of things like GoogleEarth. But then in the 70's another group arose, and they are still active even today. This group purports to be able to prove that we never landed on the moon, that it was all done with Hollywood fakery. I know some of those people personally. They have what passes for "normal" intelligence. And yet when I try to point out to these people the many many problems with their theories, such as the primitive state of Hollywood technology at that time; or the total impossibility of creating the behavior of the dust, my words fall on deaf ears. Sure with Hollywood technology today, the moon landing could have been faked convincingly, "Avatar" is the proof that it is now possible to fake anything, but that capability did not exist until a few years ago. Meanwhile there is a serious disconnect happening with people's brains, they are simply incapable of grasping reality through their distorted filters of perception. The sad thing is that nothing gets in, their ears are deaf, their eyes are blind; and they are very unlikely to ever change in their beliefs. In my physics book, every chapter started out with a quote from a famous person, I've forgotten most of them, but the one that I shall never forget is the one from Issac Newton. He said that "Sometimes the greatest contribution a scientist can make to his field, is to die and get out of the way and let more able minds take his place". The reality is that Newton had to fight very hard to get his ideas accepted, and until reading that quote I had never realized how hard it had been to establish the fundamental principles that we now take for granted. But the real eye-opener for me was when I watched "The Story of Longitude". Because suddenly the shoe was on the other foot, now it was Newton who was at the top of the heap and he was dismissing and blocking the invention which ultimately succeeded. He became the thing he had previously fought against, a person blinded by their beliefs and unable to see the reality in front of them. Science is no panacea. Nuclear Power is a nightmare that no sane person would have ever approved of. What people somehow fail to grasp is that the true cost of waste disposal and storage is in the trillions of dollars and if waste disposal were ever figured into the price of the electricity the honest cost would be in the realm of a million dollars per kilowatt hour generated. But everybody likes to pretend the cost of waste disposal does not exist. It's the same thinking that caused them to build storage tanks with a 20 year lifespan, because certainly 20 years will be long enough to figure out what to do with the stuff and besides, by then all of the people responsible for the mess will be safely retired and it won't be their problem any more, they have their fat pensions and fancy houses, they don't care that our children's children's children's children are still going to be paying to clean up the mess that they created. I've heard various numbers for the half-life of nuclear waste, but the range is from millions to billions of years. Most of these mountains haven't even been around for that long and we are just going to dig a tunnel -- on land that we don't even own (and that the people aren't willing to sell), and stick this most vile and toxic substance there and expect that we won't run out of room and that it will stay there safe and sound, without ever leaking, for millions of years.... what demented thinking!!! By the way, those 20 year designed lifespan storage tanks are now 50 years old and they have been leaking for over 30 years with disastrous consequences -- such as radioactive oysters, which we are only starting to become aware of. People are right not to trust scientists too much. It was scientists who gave us this nuclear nightmare and for another example, it was scientists who for years so aggressively suppressed findings that were contrary to their now discredited pet theory of archeology, that they earned the name "Clovis mafia". The saving grace of science is that after people do finally die or retire and get out of the way, then the new generation of scientists do have an opportunity to get it right. But people are wrong to use the failings of scientists as an excuse to deny the reality that is abundantly clear all around them. You have only to look at the photos of glaciers melting or watch a documentary on the crisis in Greenland in order to know that global warming is happening. You could also even try applying some logical thinking... what happens if you take a closed container and you continually add heat and release gas into it??? What happens when a large quantity of ice melts and releases it's thermal mass and moisture into the atmosphere??? It's so obvious or should be... The two fundamental problems that are at the root of absolutely everything else that is facing the human race are avarice and over-population. Well of course those problems would be trivial to solve if people's brains actually functioned properly, but for all of our much vaunted and self-proclaimed intelligence and superiority over mere "animals". I see little indication that people are even willing to tackle these issues much less solve them. And until we do solve these two problems, I believe that we are on an inexorable course toward extinction.
I don't disagree with you, except perhaps on our relative educations. You seem more than smart to me. I agree that the scientific process is often muddled, but when a consensus is reached, based on data, trying to pick it apart through political argument is useless. A scientific consensus is not believed. It is accepted as the best explanation of the facts at hand, by more than a mere majority, by an enormous majority in the field of study. Only a very tiny minority of scientists hold against global warming theory, and much of their argument is based on "belief," which is not scientific. Show me the data that proves your thesis. At which point they go political and claim that everything is relative. Since many of the people holding to this view are moral absolutists, it's actually funny. Except it's destructive to the planet.
My former post wasn't meant to prop up Creationism type thinking. If the facts don't support one's theory, then the theory is obviously false, or incomplete. When the facts can support more than one theory, then that is when the problem crops up. In a perfect world, both theoretical camps can agree to disagree until definitive date are collected to verify or falsify one or both theories. In the real world, especially before that definitive data are collected, ego and politics have a large sway over matters, whether we want it that way or not. Science doesn't exists in a hermetically sealed state outside of society. To that end, the pilfered emails. Of course their revelation doesn't debunk climate change or render it a big conspiracy. But it does show the power of ego and politics, even in a world that is supposed to let the facts speak for themselves. Your basic premise I whole heartedly agree with. You're no doubt a much better educated man than myself, and seeing the every day twisting of science for individual or political gain is no doubt frustrating. I guess my argument is that we will never be rid of that, because we are all human. All we can do is make allowances for our failures, and hope that in the end we are "smart" enough to muddle through to the correct answers as a society, before it is too late. Respectfully, Brendan-
Uh, no. Absolutely not. "Empiricism and raw data are the starting point. What you do with them is politics." Absolutely as wrong as you can possibly be. Theories are discarded not when they lose a political argument, but when they don't prove out based on further data. Example. When I was in college Fred Hoyle lived at my dorm. He was a fervent advocate of the "steady state" theory of the universe. He was losing the argument, but we treated him with the utmost respect. He was a scientific giant. But on that one, further research indicates, he was wrong. Big bang explains the data collected since then better. It wasn't "politics" that proved Fred Hoyle wrong. It was data. It was the scientific method. By equating the scientific method to politics you give yourself an out -- you can argue against science with politics. Only you can't. They're different. There is politics in science, but in the end science proceeds based on data, not on politics. If it didn't the products of science wouldn't work. You couldn't engineer things based on politically-correct science and come up with anything useful. The idea that science is politics is willful, deliberate, ignorance. And it's what I argued against in this post.
Separating politics from Science is wishful thinking, if you ask me (and you didn't). Empiricism and raw data are the starting point. What you do with them is politics. As this thread demonstrates, for any given fact presented, honest people of good will can and will interpret that fact differently. Sciences is the history of this tug-of-war. The only solution is more investigation, and more data. In the mean time, the factions will bicker and fight, and sometimes call each other "not smart." And Science may not be a democracy, but it is also not the arbiter of political policy. For scientific recommendations to become policy, they must be "sold" to the average person, even the "not smart." Those who don't like that fact can start their own nation, where Representative Democracy is thrown out in favor of a strict Meritocracy. I'll stay here, thank you.
The source is the National Hurricane Center. In some years -- like this one -- there are few strong storms in the Atlantic. But there are always strong storms going on somewhere. In Australia. In the Pacific. In Burma. Add them all together, compare the DATA to data collected earlier, and the fact becomes inescapable. Storms are getting stronger.
Your inference is incorrect. It's not the intelligence that matters. It's the data. Argue all you want about politics or religion. But don't argue with science except from a scientific basis. You argue with science from a political or religious basis and you get nowhere.
You're right about the end of the end. But you're absolutely wrong on everything else. When we substitute politics for science, or religion for science, we lose the basis on which we enjoy what we have now. Which is scientific knowledge. Were the Founders to suddenly pop up among us they would find most of what we take for granted to be indistinguishable from magic. Taking the benefits of science and then pretending that science is politics when it discomfits you is the heart of stupidity. It is willful ignorance. It's like the peasants in "Monty Python and the Holy Grail" burning the witch because she weighs the same as a duck.
You started with a great point -- few things are ever totally "settled" -- and then went into the weeds. We have to use what a consensus of scientists conclude in order to make useful new discoveries and solve our problems. We can't argue science like it's politics. It's not. Got data? Bring it on. Don't got data? STFU. At least where science is concerned.
Please provide evidence that "Storms are not becoming more violent." was a typo, I intended to say: Please provide evidence that "Storms are becoming more violent." Which is a common statement these days in climate debate, but to which I never see evidence. It is also highly reminiscent of apocalyptic religious sermons where the crowds are exhorted with similar unfounded rhetoric such as, "look at all the tornadoes and hurricanes and earthquakes of late, surely this is the end!" Nonsense. "While I agree it is relatively preachy, given the content that seems relatively acceptable considering that I don't think the author is attempting to educate "smart" people any further, but rather trying to give.. not-smart? people a reason to perhaps further educate themselves on the situation." I believe by this statement you're taking stance with the author that disagreeing with the author is "not smart" and agreeing with him "is smart." True science is not afraid to be questioned, and actual "smart" does not say, "I'm right because I said so." See LizardSF's comment for a more articulate expression of my thoughts. Thanks Lizard, your points are excellent.
//What you seem to suggest is that important things are too complicated to be left to the masses, that a modern day Intelligentsia is required. And maybe that those who don't understand or agree with that Intelligentsia should either be quiet or get out of the way.// i have no objections to that statement. Science is a Meritocracy, not a Democracy.
Wow, it's amazing how must Stupid there is an article allegedly defending Smart. Is this some sort of Swiftian satire? Let's see... we have argument by anecdote ("It's hotter where I live, therefore, it's hotter everywhere!") and false extrapolation ("It's hotter today than it was yesterday, therefore, the seas will boil in a month!"), false dichotomy ("People say scientists might be corrupt! But look at big corporations! They're the ones that are corrupt!") and a whole bunch of other examples of poor and fractured logic. Further, the author seems to be defining "smart" as "agreeing with me", which is another common fallacy and a variant on the old Emperor's New Clothes. ("All smart people agree with me. If you don't agree with me, you're not smart. You don't want to be not smart, do you?") It is also worth noting that the author uses a lot of buzzwords and circumlocutions. When he/she says "We have to look at social systems to stop crime", what he/she means is "Oh, we can't put people in JAIL for being violent thugs, they're just victims of society!" The "complexities" of health care reform? Just venal profit-seeking "special interests". Etc, etc, etc. Basically, the author is spitting out doctrinaire knee-jerk leftist ideology, under the rubric of being "smart" -- so any non-leftist is "anti-smart" or "afraid of smart". Very satisfying, I am sure, to the author's ego -- but not a very good argument for intelligence in general. Let's see the author write a post on a different from of anti-smart -- the anti-vaccine hysteria promulgated by mostly-leftist Hollywood types and aimed at the Evil Pharmaceutical Corporations. Something tells me I'll be waiting a while. Let's see if I'm wrong.
CO2 is by definition a greenhouse gas, so it traps more heat than than other gases. It's part of why venus is so many times hotter than the sun. Through the burning of fossil fuels, man emits millions of tons of CO2 per year, and it has been doing so for nearly a century now. Because global warming happens all over the globe, any argument that focuses on a specific city or country can rightfully be viewed with suspicion. But of two things we are sure: the world's average temperature is increasing, and CO2 concentration in the atmosphere is higher than it's been in the past 600,000 years. Something is wrong with us for being so skeptical of man's ability to alter the atmosphere's chemistry. If you're suspicious, try breathing from behind your car's exhaust pipe with the engine on. Then imagine how many millions of cars are on the road in your country, then around the world. Then think about how the earth's gravity is responsible for keeping the gases in place that let us breathe?they don't escape into space. The ocean absorbs a lot of CO2, but it has a limited capacity, and it's getting more acidic the more CO2 it has to take in. Trees help absorb CO2, but we're losing forest in the Amazon alone at the rate of 1.7 million acres a year. Does that help you get the picture? The Earth is a closed system except for the sunlight (and other rays) we get from space. The gases we're putting out aren't going anywhere. Good luck in your new home.
CO2 is by definition a greenhouse gas, so it traps more heat than than other gases. It's part of why venus is so many times hotter than the sun. Through the burning of fossil fuels, man emits millions of tons of CO2 per year, and it has been doing so for nearly a century now. Because global warming happens all over the globe, any argument that focuses on a specific city or country can rightfully be viewed with suspicion. But of two things we are sure: the world's average temperature is increasing, and CO2 concentration in the atmosphere is higher than it's been in the past 600,000 years. Something is wrong with us for being so skeptical of man's ability to alter the atmosphere's chemistry. If you're suspicious, try breathing from behind your car's exhaust pipe with the engine on. Then imagine how many millions of cars are on the road in your country, then around the world. Does that help you get the picture?
Yeah the Atlanta not freezing is a terrible argument. But Wisconsin didn't get frost until last week. _Wisconsin_ We had a mild summer, but that mild summer started early, and ended very very late.
I must have missed this new age scientific Luddite movement, wishing to throw out reason and logic in favor of base human fear and suspicion. It's pretty lucky that there are Smart people like those here to act as the guardians of all that is good. Or could this just be a rhetorical construct to elevate your positions on various matters above debate? What you seem to suggest is that important things are too complicated to be left to the masses, that a modern day Intelligentsia is required. And maybe that those who don't understand or agree with that Intelligentsia should either be quiet or get out of the way. If my inference is correct, then that is disturbing.
We're all going to die. The earth is going to end. Humanity will evolve and devolve as do all species. Eventually existance as we know it will end. That end will likely be the beginning of another existance evolutionarily quite different from ours. I'm not a prophesizing anything. The sun will reach end of life, as it enters Red Giant phase and begins in billion year death scene it will engulf the better part of the solar system. If we haven't packed up and found someplace else to obliterate by then we'll be what's cookin. Smart people would realize that there are many things going on that spell doom for all of us, within a given context. The economic instability combined with social frustrations of the people will be our ultimate downfall. The almost cultlike devoltion to a political party and willing subjectification to directly stilted articles (such as this) keeping us in a constant state of fear is not assisting the level headed thinking of anyone. A SMART person would realize that social strife, international turmoil, economic down turns, war, and environmental concerns are just a part of life. Unfortunately in most cases. Yet we continue to grasp for one of these as an 'enemy of the hour.' The political parties choose one of the most 'currently obvious' ones and sells it as the latest 'fix all' for society. The bottom line is that there are a great many of us who just wish to be left alone and NEITHER party is willing to do such a gastly thing. Instead my mileage goes to shit because my car wasn't built to run on 15% corn syrup and I have to study the anatomy of sex in detail with my child since it's 'wrong' to teach anatomy in school. Our system is lose/lose and remain so until someone has the intelligence to suggest that people strive to be independant of and from the government. I don't think that anyone who can't see the broader picture is neither smart nor worthy of listening to.
Ahh and I would also like to point out something that is very easily being misconstrued insofar as I can see. Using the term "Global Warming" over the term "Global Climate Change" is quite possibly a bad idea. For instance, the multiple references to Atlanta having the coldest July in recorded history.. while granting that the climate of Atlanta is, at best, having been recorded for a short period of time (a most 200 years or so) Global Climate Change easily allows for this. While smaturin13 is correct in providing that temperature change on a limited demographic is "not relevant to a global data-set", it is somewhat telling when you compared to the global average temperature variations of the last decade. And I must question smaturin13, did he not say that storms WERE becoming more violent? Perhaps re-reading the article is in order. While I agree it is relatively preachy, given the content that seems relatively acceptable considering that I don't think the author is attempting to educate "smart" people any further, but rather trying to give.. not-smart? people a reason to perhaps further educate themselves on the situation.
//Religion is inherently unsettled, and it's by accepting that fact and going beyond it that religion gains its comforting strength.// Incorrect, religion is not only settled, but it is settled to the point that it absolutely cannot adapt to new evidence or to changes to society, which is why all religion can do is distort the findings of science to its own ends and to ignore laws given down by their creators once society finds them untenable. Religion isn't the acceptance of the nature of being, it's the declaration that there is no reason to probe further into it because the answer is already at hand (God did it). Science however is capable of adapting to new evidence so long as it's users are capable of accepting it, however as we find new evidence we also find there are more things that must be explored. Essentially the progress of science can be summed up as humanity learning more and more and yet discovering that they know less and less about the universe.
I'm in awe of your ability to preach in such an ignorant manner, during a sermon about 'smart' of all things. Please provide evidence that "Storms are not becoming more violent." Your thermometer in Atlanta is not relevant to a global data-set spanning anywhere from thousands to millions of years. Your subjective opinions are not science, nor smart. They're beliefs. If you want to argue faith and belief, I'm up for it - but don't even pretend you're talking about something more rational, reasonable, or factual.
Oh! I forgot to mention that I agree it is a shame that "Smart" is considered so threatening and worrisome to so many people. I by no means consider myself an intelligent individual, but I do believe that through simple logic anyone can at least create a guise of intelligence. A shroud of reason is always better than blinders of fear.
While there have been both carefully thought out, and poorly chosen responses to this article, I would at least endeavor to promote the idea that regardless of whether or not climate change is primarily human caused or inevitable, it stands to reason that our actions over the previous century have not done much to help the matter. Though it is a natural system, and it is likely we will not be able to completely displace the cycle, does it not at least seem reasonable that we do what we can to prolong the coming of its more detrimental effects in order to devise a plan with which we can survive or potentially even benefit as an entire race from the upcoming "catastrophes"? I understand that the road ahead will be difficult, but that does not mean we should dismiss logic for the benefit of blind naivete.
Great article! I am always shocked by how much people want to stay stupid and ignorant. But then you just have to look at history and human nature to see that smart = out of the ordinary = scary (so burn it with fire!). As for the global warming controversy.... Global Warming is a fact. But the earth does go through ice ages and warm ages. If we are in the beginning of a warm age can we really do anything to stop it? Have we just accelerated the process and will all the money spent just slow down the inevitable and not prevent it?
"Very little in science is ever 'settled', [sic] that's why it's science and not religion." That line of argument throws up a huge red flag in my mind. I've always been taught that science's highest ideal is proof and that religion's greatest strength is in confronting the unsettling nature of being. Religion is inherently unsettled, and it's by accepting that fact and going beyond it that religion gains its comforting strength. (I've probably been reading too much Kierkegaard. But what do I know? I'm just a Kool-Aid drinking liberal-pinko-communist.)
Many people smart in some domains are not knowledgeable about others. In this case, your arguments that the temperature in Atlanta is evidence for global warming is an instance of that. The set of all temperatures in all cities in the globe is very large, and one would expect that there would be some, indeed many, places that are unusually warm. Humans naturally find instances in large datasets to support their preexisting beliefs, which is one reason statistical methods were invented: to counteract that kind of cognitive bias. Likewise, the major flaw of climate scientists like Jones et al. is that they manipulated huge datasets without a good grasp of the statistics or data management problems that go along with doing so. They attempted to use their intuition, and wound up being victim to various poor data management and statistical fallacies. It's no accident, by the way, the IPCC had no statisticians or computer scientists on their panels, to my knowledge: had they had any, the statisticians could have warned them away from various paradoxes of confirmatory bias, and the computer scientists could have explained to them that their software was unreliable.
//They claim climate science now is not settled// Very little in science is ever 'settled', that's why it's science and not religion. All we have are best guesses given the evidence that we have and can change at any time should a better explanation pop up. I define a smart man as a man who knows the limits of what he knows, but what do I know, I'm just some dumb ebil conservative who is slightly disturbed about the amount of certainty among scientists that humanity is the primary cause for the earth's current warming cycle and that we must immediately find ways to reverse the warming cycle and that there are absolutely no moral or practical concerns in reversing it.
Nice job reading a good article, than missing the whole point and trying to refute the whole thing by attacking one nonimportant sentence. Yay smart.
I have yet to see a night temperature in Atlanta below freezing, and it?s December. Unheard of. 'We' actually had the coldest July on record this year. Let's be sure of our facts before we start claiming the sky is falling.
I have yet to see a night temperature in Atlanta below freezing, and it?s December. Unheard of. Yes, and did you also notice it was the 'coldest July on record' (google search the string)? Unheard of as well.
Just wanting to poke at something you said about Atlanta tempature... Atlanta is colder than average this year, and the average low in Atlanta for November is 44 and December is 36 degrees. Not trying to deny global warming, but due to El Nino conditions much of the USA this year has been experiencing cooler than average conditions where conversely, other parts of the globe are warmer than usual.
Saying that global warming exists because it hasn't yet reached freezing in Atlanta is pretty stupid. Not that I'm denying GW.
While I think there's a lot of lies that go along with Global Warming, most having to do with improperly weighing man's influence on warming, I agree that choosing smart and the complexities associated is the way to go, and I also choose not to use my cynicism about the leftist eco tree hugger movement as an excuse for me and my family to act with impunity when it comes to green issues. So I choose to act responsibly and continue to be skeptical of the left. That a fair enough compromise?