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Geeks In the Public Forum? 326

Posted by Soulskill
from the ask-not-what-your-country-can-hack-for-you dept.
cedarhillbilly writes "In his new book The Geek Manifesto, Mark Henderson 'pleads for citizens who value science to force it onto the mainstream political agenda and other main walks of life.' There are some important questions that need answers: 'Do you have to give up your tech practice to undertake a public role?' Also, 'Is political life (compromise, working by consensus, irrationality) antithetical to the "geek" values?'" The Guardian's coverage sums up the idea nicely: "What I desperately want is a move toward an evidence-based culture in politics. Politicians are free to say: 'I think people on drugs should be punished because drugs are immoral.' That's a moral call, albeit a rather stupid one in my opinion. What they shouldn't do is say: 'I want to reduce drug use, and sending all users to prison is the most cost-effective way to achieve that.' That's not a moral call, it's a factual statement; as such it should be evidence-based, or else the person making it should shut the hell up."
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Geeks In the Public Forum?

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  • Technocrats (Score:5, Interesting)

    by MyLongNickName (822545) on Friday May 18, 2012 @11:01AM (#40041225) Journal

    In short, Mark Henderson wants Technocrats not Politicians running our system. I tend to agree.

    • Re:Technocrats (Score:4, Insightful)

      by Anonymous Coward on Friday May 18, 2012 @11:10AM (#40041335)

      And the environmentalists want environmentalists running the system, the banks want financial people running the system, large corporations want businessmen running they system, and so on and so on. Yea, we all wish that politicians had our point of view, but it's not realistic. To get elected, you need to be able to convince more than half the population that you would properly represent them. If you're too focused in one area, then you'll have a real hard time getting support from people not in that area.

      • by Anne_Nonymous (313852) on Friday May 18, 2012 @11:19AM (#40041449) Homepage Journal

        What's always surprised me is why we can't have more pimply-faced, basement-dwelling virgins running the system.

      • Re:Technocrats (Score:4, Insightful)

        by bky1701 (979071) on Friday May 18, 2012 @11:41AM (#40041723) Homepage
        Technocracy allows variation within it. It is more a methodology than an ideology. Environmentalists are largely monolithic; they vary on some issues, but it is an ideology. You can still have Democrats, Republicans, Libertarians... but it is about using fact-based arguments over appeals to emotion.

        Will that ever work? Doubtful. Is it becoming more likely in the US? Hell no. But it is more complicated than "I want politicians who think like me," and it's disingenuous to paint this that way. We would be much better off if we didn't have the witch hunts, security theater, censorship, racism, and all other unfortunate little problems caused by people thinking with their crotch and not their head.
        • Re:Technocrats (Score:4, Insightful)

          by MozeeToby (1163751) on Friday May 18, 2012 @12:08PM (#40042103)

          Put another way, it isn't "I want politicians who think like me", it's "I want politicians who think". The idea is, in my mind at least, that any proposed course of action should have evidence, or at least a verifiable theory, to back it up. And, almost more importantly, results should be reviewed and fed back into the system, something that seems sorely lacking in today's political climate. A technocracy or meritocracy can have division over what is the correct course of action, just like you can have two software engineers who are both experts in their field disagree about the best way to solve a problem. It isn't about finding the one true path forward, it's about evaluating the possible paths based on reality instead of ideology.

          • by causality (777677)

            Put another way, it isn't "I want politicians who think like me", it's "I want politicians who think".

            This was beautifully stated.

            A technocracy or meritocracy can have division over what is the correct course of action, just like you can have two software engineers who are both experts in their field disagree about the best way to solve a problem. It isn't about finding the one true path forward, it's about evaluating the possible paths based on reality instead of ideology.

            Those two engineers may debate each other about which of (let's say) 3 good solutions is the best one. They would agree that the other possible solutions (which could number in the millions) are all faulty and wouldn't waste time and resources trying to implement them. That's the important part. We'd end up with either The Very Best Possible Solution EVER ... or at least a very good one. That sounds good to me!

            If politics worked this way, we'd have all learned the lesson o

          • by rtb61 (674572)

            This is simply a call for factual truth. If a politician wants to make a statement of fact then they must be able to prove that statement, if they can not, then they should be held liable and pay a penalty, either a fine, imprisonment of both, considering the responsibility they are seeking to take and the consequences. Politicians are free to voice opinions no matter how crazy but they should be bound by statements of facts and of course promises they make.

            Contractually any promises they fail to keep sh

      • Re:Technocrats (Score:4, Informative)

        by houghi (78078) on Friday May 18, 2012 @11:58AM (#40041969)

        In a two party system you are right. You must have a majority and then you can ignore all the others.

        In a multi party system, you can not ignore them and that means compromising.
        Yes, that means that nobody gets 100% what they want. However many more will get more or less what they want.

    • What an elitist (Score:5, Insightful)

      by Anonymous Coward on Friday May 18, 2012 @11:14AM (#40041371)

      In short, Mark Henderson wants Technocrats not Politicians running our system. I tend to agree.

      “Anti-intellectualism has been a constant thread winding its way through our political and cultural life, nurtured by the false notion that democracy means that 'my ignorance is just as good as your knowledge.'”
        Isaac Asimov

      • There's no point for democracy when ignorance is celebrated
        Political scientists think the same one vote that some monkeys are inbred
        Majority rule, don't work in mental institutions
        Sometimes the smallest softest voice carries the grand biggest solutions

        What are we left with?
        A nation of god-fearing pregnant nationalists
        Who feel it's their duty to populate the homeland
        Pass on traditions
        How to get ahead religions
        And prosperity be a symbol to culture

        -- Fat Mike, NOFX The Idiots Are Taking Over

        • Re: (Score:2, Troll)

          by swillden (191260)

          There's no point for democracy when ignorance is celebrated Political scientists think the same one vote that some monkeys are inbred Majority rule, don't work in mental institutions Sometimes the smallest softest voice carries the grand biggest solutions What are we left with? A nation of god-fearing pregnant nationalists Who feel it's their duty to populate the homeland Pass on traditions How to get ahead religions And prosperity be a symbol to culture

          -- Fat Mike, NOFX The Idiots Are Taking Over

          If Fat Mike would like to make statements decrying anti-intellectualism, he should first learn to compose a coherent sentence.

          • If Fat Mike would like to make statements decrying anti-intellectualism, he should first learn to compose a coherent sentence.

            No argument against what the poet said, so you resort to lowest-common-denominator, ad hominem attacks on his sentence structure?

            Ever hear of artistic license? [wikipedia.org] Obviously not.

          • One line needs correction:

            Political scientists think the same one vote that some monkeys are inbred

            should read

            Political scientists get the same one vote as some Arkansas inbred

            So, if that's the one you are complaining about, mea culpa. That's what I get for trusting a website for song lyrics.

      • by cpu6502 (1960974) on Friday May 18, 2012 @11:34AM (#40041621)

        Strange that Asimov spent a lot of time writing about corrupt societies (Caves of Steel, The Naked Sun, The Galactic Empire).

        The problem is that a lot of these "technocrats" or regulators as we call them in the U.S. are horribly, horribly corrupt. They use their knowledge not for the benefit of the common man, but for their own personal benefit (and landing future jobs with RIAA or Bank of America). The regulators are in bed with the industries they are supposed to be regulating. And the industries are buying-off the regulators to get favors or exemptions (like MF Global not being prosecuted for stealing funds from customer accounts).

        I would sooner put the power in the hands of the People who, in their everyday market decisions, will decide which products succeed and fail. It's the closest thing we have to democracy with people "voting" directly with their dollars.

        Of course we need agencies like OSHA to protect the workers, and the EPA to stop dumping of chemicals in waterways, and FTC to keep investment banks (gambling houses) separate from savings banks..... but we should try to keep these things as minimal as possible. When they start arresting people for choosing to drink natural milk, then they've gone too far and need to be downsized.

        • Re:What an elitist (Score:4, Insightful)

          by causality (777677) on Friday May 18, 2012 @12:31PM (#40042399)

          Of course we need agencies like OSHA to protect the workers, and the EPA to stop dumping of chemicals in waterways, and FTC to keep investment banks (gambling houses) separate from savings banks..... but we should try to keep these things as minimal as possible. When they start arresting people for choosing to drink natural milk, then they've gone too far and need to be downsized.

          A technocrat in the real sense wouldn't ever do that, because there is no evidence that drinking natural milk is a law-enforcement problem. The only thing a real technocrat would be concerned about is that milk of any kind is labelled accurately so that customers know what they're buying. There'd be nothing for them to do unless misrepresentation/fraud were taking place.

          • by Hatta (162192)

            The only thing a real technocrat would be concerned about is that milk of any kind is labelled accurately so that customers know what they're buying.

            Unless there's evidence that people dont' read warning labels (they don't), and if there's evidence that banning has a superior outcome than labeling.

            If the technocrat's mandate is "keep as many people healthy as possible", then he could easily eschew labeling for a ban if the evidence indicates that's more productive.

      • by cpu6502 (1960974)

        Another change I would make is to convert the House (half of the Congress) into a direct vote. The representatives would still be there, debating with one another and crafting the actual bills, but when it came to the final vote, the Reps would step aside and the people would vote directly (via computer). If we had that, TARP and the other bailouts would have never passed..... per the will of the people.

        The Senate would remain the same as now (the Member States' legislature).

        • by Talderas (1212466)

          Horrible idea. Look no further than California to understand why.

          • Thats not so much about the people, as it is about the process. For example I was offering this as a part of my state legislative campaign. But the caveat was that you would have to either read an article with a question on the bottom, or watch a youtube video about the topic in question, before you had the ability to provide me with your vote. This way Its actually providing the expertise along with the personal opinion of the constituency. Furthermore there is no funding requirement for spending increases

        • by Beardo the Bearded (321478) on Friday May 18, 2012 @12:30PM (#40042391)

          Uh, excuse me, I have a problem with the "Beardo Gets Kicked in the Nuts and Everyone Else Gets $500 Act."

          passes 137,000,000 to 1... you guys are jerks.

      • by Phusion (58405)

        "You know I've noticed a certain anti-intellectualism going around this country ever since around 1980, coincidentally enough. I was in Nashville, Tennessee last weekend and after the show I went to a waffle house and I'm sitting there and I'm eating and reading a book. I don't know anybody, I'm alone, I'm eating and I'm reading a book. This waitress comes over to me (mocks chewing gum) 'what you readin' for?'...wow, I've never been asked that; not 'What am I reading', 'What am I reading for?' Well, goddamn

    • by AmiMoJo (196126)

      I tend to agree.

      But will they? He says he wants an evidence based approach, but how often is the evidence clear and agreed upon by a large majority? Look at climate change. Look at the medical profession, particular mental health.

      You would need some way of judging evidence too. Peer review is fine but even then it is often fooled or simply gets the wrong answer and is later itself reviewed and found lacking.

      Democracy is highly imperfect but still the least bad choice.

    • In short, Mark Henderson wants Technocrats not Politicians running our system. I tend to agree.

      I haven't read this book and I think the article discussing it doesn't accomplish much aside from briefly agreeing with the author on everything. I think this whole argument is sort of a nonstarter. Oftentimes I try to look at "soft" issues as an ethical engineer and I come to the conclusion that you can approach a lot of hotly debated issues from two sides. And, like the limit as x approaches zero in y(x) = -1/x [wolframalpha.com], you can sort of logically come to two extremely different conclusions. As an oversimplified example, take anti-trust laws. From the left we start with something really innocuous like it's the government's job to protect an individual's basic rights which means that if they wish to enter a market then other individuals shouldn't be able to collude to keep them out of that market by price fixing which means that we should have government regulations against it ... and we're at positive infinity. But if you approach from the right you start with something really innocuous as well like governments should enable individuals to follow their dreams and if their dreams are price fixing so be it because the free market will decide whose product is better and the consumer will be smart enough to buy the new product if it is indeed made better and the price fixing will result in a loss to the colluding parties and so therefore we need to make the free market freer and truly free to alleviate all these issues ... and we're at negative infinity. Both sides are clamoring for one extreme and the engineer is just sitting there saying "Technically it's undefined."

      Basically, two strong narratives will ruin an ethical engineer's best intents.

      Another topic that I'm not sure how it is addressed is that you only get one experiment. There is no control group for your political policies. On top of that a negative stigma has been attached to people being used as lab rats so don't even try to divide your populace into statistical experiments -- they have to do that themselves. If an engineer does not have absolute control over an environment, he or she usually considers the experiment flawed and the resulting data potentially worthless. This is one of the defining hallmarks of our political process -- no one person controls all of the variables.

      I'm left wondering why any ethical engineer would desire to be a technocrat.

      I am 100% behind pushing science in the public forum and seeking more data and more models. I will argue, however, that the first decision an engineer makes in office will likely be as emotionally, personally and financially motivated as it would had Governor Evil been there instead.

      • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

        by cpu6502 (1960974)

        I think Jefferson summed-up your thoughts eloquently: "If it were possible we would have no government. It is only to protect our rights that we resort to government at all."

        In other words the ideal would be no government or regulation at all (anarchist), but since that's impractical, we create a minimal government to protect basic rights like not being harmed by others (libertarian). BTW I side with the free market viewpoint, since I don't see why there's need for government to regulate products, except

    • by MobileTatsu-NJG (946591) on Friday May 18, 2012 @12:04PM (#40042061)

      Well it would mean we'd get Firefly back, that's for sure.

  • Policy analysis generally uses longitudinal analysis as well as qualitative analysis to provide data to decision makers with the information they need to make informed decisions. Unfortunately, politicians generally don't always pay attention to factual evidence but this isn't the fault of the staff working the projects.

    There's also the fact that factual analyses are influenced by interpretation of data. This is always a grey area which is impacted by morals, etc, etc, etc.

    This is a much bigger problem than

  • No chance in hell (Score:2, Insightful)

    by Anonymous Coward

    The same skills that get your laid also get you elected...

  • Okay. I understand logical statements, but what we need is Hypothesis, Tests, CONTROL GROUPS, etc. The scientific method should be applied.

    I want to reduce drug use, and sending all users to prison is the most cost-effective way to achieve that.

    Who gives a flying fuck what you think. If we did science this way we'd still be fighting against flat-earthers. TEST RESULTS, or STFU.

    • by fortfive (1582005)

      The problem with letting science decide is that science cannot make normative decisions. That is, science cannot tell us whether one outcome is better than another.

      Consider water pollution. Science can tell us that if we put *x* mcg of Hg into a stream, *y* number of trout will get contaminated and *z* number of people will get sick, and it will cost the plant *a* number of dollars, which will lead to *b* number of layoffs, and *c* number of people going on food stamps, etc.

      What science can't tell us is w

  • That's Democracy (Score:5, Insightful)

    by Sloppy (14984) on Friday May 18, 2012 @11:10AM (#40041333) Homepage Journal

    Politicians say things that they think will cause us to vote for them. When they say stupid shit, the fault isn't so much in the limited realm of "politics" but rather the much wider realm of all of us. Do most people argue in terms of evidence? You're not going to make politics become evidence-based, until you can answer that last question with a confident Yes.

    • Excellent points, all.

      So then, at this point the question becomes, how do we get most people to argue in terms of evidence (and thus, logic)?

      Therein lies the real challenge.
    • by bky1701 (979071)
      The problem with democracy is that it makes people in general feel responsible for the mistakes of the government, when usually, they had few options and were lied to. It is basically a pressure release to allow corrupt systems to exist without boiling over into revolution.
  • Every time some politician gets a brainwave for a law, it needs to be tested in the real world. Laws are the programs for social order. To make them and roll them out without testing is as mad as writing a computer program and rolling it out without testing.

    • by doston (2372830)

      Every time some politician gets a brainwave for a law, it needs to be tested in the real world. Laws are the programs for social order. To make them and roll them out without testing is as mad as writing a computer program and rolling it out without testing.

      Politicians already know better answers but continue with poor policy because a business interest is benefitting. You'll find that's true of most bad social policy. A better way is known, tested and studied, but since that solution is cheap, easy and effective, it's not instituted because the policy conflicts with some entrenched, costly and inefficient business interest. What you're talking about is great and it's already been done and ignored. What you're talking about would require the end of capital

  • I agree with Henderson's point. I also think that we should make basic education in statistics part of the math curriculum in schools. When you don't understand statistics, don't know what a standard deviation from the mean is, don't understand the concept of "statistically significant," etc., it's very easy for someone to lie to you by manipulating numbers or misrepresenting study results. Newspaper reporting has never done a particularly good job of accurately reporting study data or scientific findings,

    • by JDG1980 (2438906)

      I agree with Henderson's point. I also think that we should make basic education in statistics part of the math curriculum in schools. When you don't understand statistics, don't know what a standard deviation from the mean is, don't understand the concept of "statistically significant," etc., it's very easy for someone to lie to you by manipulating numbers or misrepresenting study results.

      What if the average person doesn't have enough raw brainpower to understand statistics?

  • Federalism (Score:5, Insightful)

    by mdarksbane (587589) on Friday May 18, 2012 @11:16AM (#40041409)

    Theoretically, this is one of the arguments in favor of Federalism. Local communities can beta-test new ideas before they go into general deployment.

    Doesn't always quite work that way, but that's the idea.

    • by swillden (191260)

      Theoretically, this is one of the arguments in favor of Federalism. Local communities can beta-test new ideas before they go into general deployment.

      Doesn't always quite work that way, but that's the idea.

      I think that was one of the understood and therefore unstated goals of the designer of the US system: to enable n parallel experiments in government, with the ability of individuals to vote with their feet if they realized that too many of their local fellows disagreed with their personal theories. Unfortunately, one of the legacies of the civil war was a drive toward national unification, and not just in terms of keeping all of the states in the federation. Over a roughly 50-year period after the war, s

  • Politicians are free to say: 'I think people on drugs should be punished because drugs are immoral.' That's a moral call, albeit a rather stupid one in my opinion. What they shouldn't do is say: 'I want to reduce drug use, and sending all users to prison is the most cost-effective way to achieve that.' That's not at moral call, it's a factual statement; as such it should be evidence-based, or else the person making it should shut the hell up."

    This is a terrifying position. The government should never ever

    • The government should never ever regulate morality.

      Every proposition of "should" is moral, and every decision (and certainly every policy) is based on a proposition of "should" (often, but not always, along with empirical considerations.)

      Empirical considerations can tell you what outcomes are most likely from a different course of actions, but unless you have a value framework, you have no way of choosing among those actions.

      Politicians absolutely should say, 'I want to reduce drug use, and sending all user

  • More FORMER scientists in public office is great. But don't start politicizing science. For the same reason you don't want to politicize the military... it has serious negative consequences.

  • politics and logic have no place together in our time. Except for the insanely rich... and those who have no morals and will kiss butt rather than work hard to achieve success. Oh wait - that's politics.
  • I am deeply involved with party politics in my state. There is a deep need to get more technical people involved. Many friends I have talked to either "don't have the time" or think "it's so broken it can't be fixed". I say that the only reason it requires so much time and is so broken is precisely because normal everyday people aren't getting involved.

    Politics takes time and energy, but it is run by those who show up. Please take time and get involved. I really couldn't care less which party you choos

  • my take (Score:5, Interesting)

    by Tom (822) on Friday May 18, 2012 @11:24AM (#40041525) Homepage Journal

    I've been working fulltime in an elected, political position for about six years, so I kind of know what I'm talking about here:

    If you get the chance, do it. This is a real win-win for everyone when it happens. It will help you do things with real meaning and bring about some important changes. I'm modest when I say that my approach to the office revolutionized it and most of the methods I developed are still in use today, four years after I left. That is the "evidence-based" approach TFA talks about, but more. Geeks in general have a less ideological approach to methods and procedures: We tend to have it easier dropping stuff that doesn't work instead of clinging to it "because we've always done it this way". That does get you into political fights sometimes, when you unceremoniously dump the pet method of someone, but it works and that's where you get the credit and trust you need to push more changes through.

    And it also benefits you tremendeously. My social skills advanced greatly in this time. Instead of sitting at a computer most day with occasional meetings, my job suddenly was mostly about meeting people.

    Negotiations are the greatest thing, ever. A geek with some negotiation training is most opponents worst nightmare. Most of us don't care enough about our own image to be tricked with the various ad hominem dialectics, and we have a great ability to cut through the bullshit and hit the facts of the matter. And since numbers and math are our friends, we aren't easily fooled by bullshit statistics.

    And finally, you will almost certainly find that law is not the evil enemy, but just a different type of code. After a few years on the job, I was regularily discussing with full-time lawyers at eye level. A basic understanding of the law - not of any particular law, but the way the law in general works - is a benefit that will pay you back for the rest of your life.

    So yes, yes, yes - if you geeks find an opportunity to enter politics, by all means do it. It doesn't have to be a for-life choice. I would've certainly been re-elected for a third term, but decided not to run again because I'd had enough. It isn't always easy, and sometimes all the politics and the people with their pet agendas and all the personal crap gets on your nerves, a lot. I wouldn't want to do it for live, but it was more than worth it doing it for a few years, and I know that both myself and the office profited from it.

    Did I say you should go and do it?

  • by doston (2372830) on Friday May 18, 2012 @11:25AM (#40041531)
    Years ago -- maybe thirty five years ago -- around the time Nixon's first War on Drugs was called, there was a big study by the army and the RAND corporation (the main, outside advisory research bureau) analyzing the effects on drug use of various approaches to it. They studied four. The one that came out the most cost effective was prevention and treatment by a large margin. Next, much more expensive and less effective, was police work. Still less effective and more costly was border interdiction. And least effective and most costly was out-of-country operations like chemical warfare in Columbia. Well, the methods that are used are the exact opposite. Most of the funding goes into cross-border operations (least effective, most costly,) next, interdiction and police action, and least to prevention and treatment. Rational people don't keep pursuing a policy that's failing when they know there's a better policy unless there's some other reason, and I think the other reason is not terribly hidden.

    Out-of-country operations are just a cover for counter-insurgency, or for clearing land in Columbia and driving out peasants so multi-national corporations can come in for mining, and resource-extraction, and agribusiness, and macra production, and so on. Which is why you have (outside of Afghanistan) probably the largest refugee population in the world in Columbia. The War on Drugs is not effecting drug production. In fact, it's going up.. But it's going to continue because that wasn't the purpose.

    Here in the United States, the drug war has been associated, clearly, with a very sharp rise in incarceration. If you go back to 1980, the prison population in the United States, per capita, was approximately like other industrial countries -- kind of toward the high end, but not off the chart. Now, it's five to ten times as high and still going up. And most of it is drug related (also, length of sentences, and repeated sentences, and so on.)

    And it mostly targets what are called the "dangerous classes," the poor, minorities, and so on. So like, black males, is astronomical. On the other hand, drug use among wealthy people is barely prosecuted. So it's a class-based form of control of superfluous population, and for that purpose, it seems to be working.

    It's also making a lot of money for commercial enterprises. What some criminologists call the prison-industrial complex has been a pretty substantial development, especially for rural counties, it's a Godsend. When they build prisons, it brings in construction work, jobs, and surveillance. A couple of years ago, maybe still, the fastest growing white-collar profession was security officer, and it gets rid of people you don't want anything to do with. They don't have a place in the current industrial system. And there's also racial elements involved. So you can say the drug war is a success for what its real purpose is, but not for its proclaimed purposes. -Noam Chomsky

  • by alen (225700) on Friday May 18, 2012 @11:29AM (#40041569)

    the US Constitution was a result of months of bitter argument and bickering. same with politics in almost every democracy on earth. except that you will normally have a party win 40% or so of the vote and they will have to make a coalition with lots of smaller parties and make political deals as a process

    this is called life. the US has 300 million people. say almost 200 million adults who can vote. almost everyone will have different opinions on every subject based on their home location, upbringing, etc.

    to pass laws that affect different people you have to make political deals

    this childish star trek fantasy of an all wise council making the right decision is just a fantasy. there is no right decision for most people

  • Ummm, no... (Score:5, Interesting)

    by MikeRT (947531) on Friday May 18, 2012 @11:37AM (#40041653) Homepage

    You know who has societies where "geeks" (engineers, mainly) are highly placed throughout government? China, Iran and many other closed societies run by authoritarian states. Geek arrogance toward the common man combined with political power is an extremely dangerous combination. Thanks, but no.

    "Scientific government" sounds great until you realize that in practice it'll be run by people who think statecraft and philosophy are nearly worthless endeavors and that it'll likely have an attitude of "hey, let's try this radical restructure of people's lives because the theory sounds great and looks applicable on paper."

  • by hackula (2596247) on Friday May 18, 2012 @11:37AM (#40041665)
    The "evidence" is typically found in an envelope discretely left on a senator's desk. What more does one need to make a decision? The more zeroes, the better the evidence!
  • by wcrowe (94389) on Friday May 18, 2012 @11:41AM (#40041725)

    "That's not at moral call, it's a factual statement; as such it should be evidence-based, or else the person making it should shut the hell up."

    Right there is the problem. Geeks are often, by nature, chock full of hubris. Assuming that you have all the evidence, and that all your evidence is correct, and that you have interpreted the correct conclusion from your evidence, and therefore anyone who questions your evidence should just "shut the hell up", is not conducive to compromise or cooperation. It is precisely THAT attitude that got the U.S. into Iraq, to cite a recent example ("We KNOW there are WMD's, and we KNOW Saddam is going to use them, so we're going to invade Iraq and the rest of you can just shut the hell up.").

    This is a constant problem at my office, where the .Net developers are so bloated with hubris that they think their applications are perfect, and always want to blame the DB2 database first when something goes wrong. And they continue to do this, even though evidence indicates that 99% of the time they have a bug in their application.

    "Evidence" is not always objective, or correct, and geeks are just as prone to ignore facts as anyone else.

     

  • by Oloryn (3236) on Friday May 18, 2012 @12:06PM (#40042077)
    Good luck getting an evidence-based culture developed in the face of the entrenched Bulverism [google.com] of modern political discourse. Even more generally, we don't argue over the issues at hand, we argue over why the other side shouldn't be listened to (and Bulverism is just one tool in that arsenal). Not even the geeks or the scientists are immune. If you really want to move to an evidence-based culture, you're going to first have to pull people's focus off of defeating the opposition, and onto actually investigating the truth or falsity of particular issues. As C. S. Lewis put it "Until Bulverism is crushed, reason can play no effective part in human affairs". There's your assignment. Get to it.
  • by KGBear (71109) on Friday May 18, 2012 @12:34PM (#40042435) Homepage
    The people who run the world are the ones who want to rule the world. They do what it takes. People want to hear familiar ideas framed in familiar terms. Politicians and marketers deliver just that. Moving to an evidence-based society, if accomplished, would remove all the alpha-male characteristics from leadership. It would favor hard thinking and research, and it would not favor personality and manipulative abilities. The world is as it is. I know deep in my heart that Facebook is evil, that people could be doing exactly the same thing without relinquishing their privacy, and that what people are doing on Facebook is idiotic in any event. That does not change the fact that influencing people and weaving a web of social relations is what people want to do, and what they will do. Denying human social traits is stupid, in politics, in social networking, in religion, and everywhere else. People are what they are. If geeks want to change the game, they need to learn to play the game. To be manipulative, to believe that the end justifies the means, and to not let ethics interfere. Yes, wielding power is incompatible with geek values. The sooner we learn that, the better.
  • by frank_adrian314159 (469671) on Friday May 18, 2012 @04:15PM (#40045527) Homepage

    It [wikipedia.org] didn't gain support back then; it won't gain support now.

    The bottom line is that people have an inherent distrust of those who are smarter than them, worrying that the other person might use superior intelligence to take advantage of them. They'd much rather have someone who might be less smart, but that they can understand, in charge than someone who might do a better job, but whose actions are incomprehensible (and, thus, unpredictable) to them. Welcome to our politics.

Mathemeticians stand on each other's shoulders while computer scientists stand on each other's toes. -- Richard Hamming

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