from the world's big
Why Do Some of Our Best Minds Speak "Higher Twaddle"?
Why do some smart folk spout such bad ideas? Marilynne Robinson says it's because we teach them "higher twaddle.” She's right, but the situation is worse than she fears.
1. We teach "higher twaddle” to our best minds, says the ever insightful Marilynne Robinson. I think she has a point—many smart folk are now educated into error—but the problem is worse than she fears.
2. Robinson’s complaint that colleges teach students to “master… twaddle” and thereby “to think... badly,” focus mainly on the humanities, but worse twaddle is taught in fields whose ideas are less ivory-tower quarantined.
3. STEM disciplines teach a dazzling faith in “the data” and the pretty precision their tools promise. But they also risk a method-level fall for the “McNamara Fallacy,” and much math-swaddled twaddle.
4. Named for Robert McNamara’s metrics-obsessed management of the Vietnam War, this disastrous recipe (aka the “Quantitative Fallacy”) goes as follows: measure what data you easily can, then to handle what you can't, arbitrarily estimate, or better, declare it minor, or nonexistent. And don’t adjust for exclusions, it fogs up the faux-clarity.
5. To see how far teaching and tech have spread McNamara’s number-struck folly, consider these cases.
6. Experts who excel at seeing only what can be “read on a spreadsheet” often skip other plainly important factors, to the point that great “companies can be wrecked by idiots with MBAs” (Rory Sutherland).
7. Business schools preach the same spreadsheet-blinder metric-mad mentality, which can sometimes encourage “immoral profit strategies" (Duff McDonald) and the ruthless “financialization” numbers game behind “how Wall Street destroyed Main Street” (Rana Foroohar).
8. Algorithms enact McNamara-on-steroids logic, vastly amplifying techno-twaddle’s reach (see Cathy O’Neil’s “Weapons of Math Destruction”).
9. Much economics (the world’s operating system) builds on textbook McNamara-moves. Paradoxically, preferring highly precise methods, but used in a way that ensures they’ll almost always be widely wrong. Economics “equation filters” away whatever won’t squeeze into its algebra, then fails to adjust for exclusions (see “Few Maximize. Most Muddle”)
10. Even babies know what many educated experts ignore: People aren’t biological billiard balls. Toddlers use different thinking tools for objects versus agents, but many math-manacled minds use the same treasured nerd tools (algebra, stats, and data) for all pattern types.
11. Amazingly, the well-educated are taught to characterize behaviors known to be collectively self-destructive as “rational,” to profit by preying on and damaging what they (and their communities) need to survive.
12. And many smart folk are educated into ignoring how communities work by “social contract” thinking, which, despite its shiny logic-like appeal, is self-evidently anthropologically incoherent. Hume called it “implausibly individualistic” (it’s really more an asocial contraction than a realistic contract).
15. It’ll take many emperor’s-new-clothes moments to reveal all the naked folly, math-wrapped myopia, and data-driven drivel that can parade as intelligence in these highly techno-twaddle-ridden times.
Illustration by Julia Suits, The New Yorker cartoonist & author of The Extraordinary Catalog of Peculiar Inventions
Join multiple Tony and Emmy Award-winning actress Judith Light live on Big Think at 2 pm ET on Monday.
Construction of the $500 billion dollar tech city-state of the future is moving ahead.
- The futuristic megacity Neom is being built in Saudi Arabia.
- The city will be fully automated, leading in health, education and quality of life.
- It will feature an artificial moon, cloud seeding, robotic gladiators and flying taxis.
The Red Sea area where Neom will be built:
Saudi Arabia Plans Futuristic City, "Neom" (Full Promotional Video)<span style="display:block;position:relative;padding-top:56.25%;" class="rm-shortcode" data-rm-shortcode-id="c646d528d230c1bf66c75422bc4ccf6f"><iframe type="lazy-iframe" data-runner-src="https://www.youtube.com/embed/N53DzL3_BHA?rel=0" width="100%" height="auto" frameborder="0" scrolling="no" style="position:absolute;top:0;left:0;width:100%;height:100%;"></iframe></span>
Frequent shopping for single items adds to our carbon footprint.
- A new study shows e-commerce sites like Amazon leave larger greenhouse gas footprints than retail stores.
- Ordering online from retail stores has an even smaller footprint than going to the store yourself.
- Greening efforts by major e-commerce sites won't curb wasteful consumer habits. Consolidating online orders can make a difference.
A pile of recycled cardboard sits on the ground at Recology's Recycle Central on January 4, 2018 in San Francisco, California.
Photo by Justin Sullivan/Getty Images<p>A large part of the reason is speed. In a competitive market, pure players use the equation, <em>speed + convenience</em>, to drive adoption. This is especially relevant to the "last mile" GHG footprint: the distance between the distribution center and the consumer.</p><p>Interestingly, the smallest GHG footprint occurs when you order directly from a physical store—even smaller than going there yourself. Pure players, such as Amazon, are the greatest offenders. Variables like geographic location matter; the team looked at shopping in the UK, the US, China, and the Netherlands. </p><p>Sadegh Shahmohammadi, a PhD student at the Netherlands' Radboud University and corresponding author of the paper, <a href="https://www.cnn.com/2020/02/26/tech/greenhouse-gas-emissions-retail/index.html" target="_blank">says</a> the above "pattern holds true in countries where people mostly drive. It really depends on the country and consumer behavior there."</p><p>The researchers write that this year-and-a-half long study pushes back on previous research that claims online shopping to be better in terms of GHG footprints.</p><p style="margin-left: 20px;">"They have, however, compared the GHG emissions per shopping event and did not consider the link between the retail channels and the basket size, which leads to a different conclusion than that of the current study."</p><p>Online retail is where convenience trumps environment: people tend to order one item at a time when shopping on pure player sites, whereas they stock up on multiple items when visiting a store. Consumers will sometimes order a number of separate items over the course of a week rather than making one trip to purchase everything they need. </p><p>While greening efforts by online retailers are important, until a shift in consumer attitude changes, the current carbon footprint will be a hard obstacle to overcome. Amazon is trying to have it both ways—carbon-free and convenience addicted—and the math isn't adding up. If you need to order things, do it online, but try to consolidate your purchases as much as possible.</p><p>--</p><p><em>Stay in touch with Derek on <a href="http://www.twitter.com/derekberes" target="_blank">Twitter</a>, <a href="https://www.facebook.com/DerekBeresdotcom" target="_blank">Facebook</a> and <a href="https://derekberes.substack.com/" target="_blank">Substack</a>. His next book is</em> "<em>Hero's Dose: The Case For Psychedelics in Ritual and Therapy."</em></p>
Chronic irregular sleep in children was associated with psychotic experiences in adolescence, according to a recent study out of the University of Birmingham's School of Psychology.