The Weekender: April 14, 2012
Welcome to The Weekender, April 14th 2012 edition. This week, we’re reading…
Complexity is Bad for Your Health, by L. Gordon Crovitz, Wall Street Journal:
The Supreme Court has long had the role of declaring what the law is. That’s becoming a harder and harder task thanks to the White House and Congress concocting laws so complex that no one knows their meaning before, during or after they’re passed.
Perhaps ObamaCare will be remembered as the breaking point for top-down planning. There is not enough information available for the government to micromanage a system as complex as health care, which represents more than 15% of the economy. Austrian economist Friedrich Hayek wrote some 50 years ago about the “pretence of knowledge,” meaning the conceit that planners could know enough about complex markets to dictate how they operate. He warned against “the belief that we possess the knowledge and the power which enable us to shape the processes of society entirely to our liking, knowledge which in fact we do not possess.”
What Henry Told Harvard, by Stephen M. Walt, Foreign Policy:
In an interesting conversation at Harvard, Henry Kissinger offered some advice to students who want to pursue politics: “the best academic preparation for government service was training in philosophy, political theory, and history… training in political theory taught you how to think in a disciplined and rigorous manner, and knowledge of history was essential for grasping the broader political context in which decisions must be made… [and] as essential for understanding how different people see the world.”
But I’ll take it further and say that this advice stands for everyone, especially for a vocation: learn a science to think rigorously, learn history to not repeat mistakes, and learn an art to foster your creativity.
Kissinger also added that “he was not as ‘self-confident’ in some of his judgments as he had been when he was younger. But then he said he wasn’t sure this greater wisdom would make him a better policymaker. The reason, he said, is that being a policymaker requires a powerful sense of self-confidence, precisely because so many decisions are not clear-cut — they are 51/49 judgment calls. As he put it, ‘You don’t get rewarded for your doubts.’”
Technologists and Muckrakers Pursuing a More Perfect Union, by Sean Carlson, Google:
The Techraking summit is full of good ideas:
This gathering is meant to inspire muckraking by exploring tools that help reporters tell stories with greater interactivity, opportunities for long-form journalism to thrive in new mediums, best practices for verifying information and fact-checking online and much more throughout the course of the day. Think of it as the intersection of science and art when it comes to converting information into knowledge.
Which is interesting as it coincides with an article on how YouTube and Twitter are changing memory & electoral politics, with Mitt Romney as the first possible victim.
On Fang Lizhi (1936-2012), by Perry Link, New York Review of Books:
Fang Lizhi, a Chinese dissident, astrophysicist, and human rights advocate left a strong legacy in using science as the foundation of his human rights thought:
1. “Science begins with doubt,” whereas in Mao’s China students were taught to begin with fixed beliefs.
2. Science stresses independence of judgment, not conformity to the judgment of others.
3. “Science is egalitarian”; no one’s subjective view starts ahead of anyone else’s in the pursuit of objective truth.
4. Science needs a free flow of information, and cannot thrive in a system that restricts access to information.
5. Scientific truths, like human rights principles, are universal; they do not change when one crosses a political border.
Fang’s legacy remains as such: To paraphrase one admirer, Fang was to the Chinese communists what Galileo was to the Catholic Church.
The Dangers of the Minimal Viable Product, by Scott Anthony, Harvard Business Review:
The concept is pretty simple. Because it’s next to impossible to be sure that your idea is good until you bring it into the marketplace, don’t waste time trying to fine-tune a product that is destined to be wrong. Instead, put something “good enough” in the marketplace. Let real customers use the product and learn from their feedback.
“Good enough” is a great way to start the innovation journey because it enables learning in the most important laboratory of all — the marketplace. But it’s hard to build a compelling business with something that’s just barely adequate. Customers might be intrigued enough to try it once, but they won’t come back.
Crowdsourcing Innovation, by Laura Kornish, Fast Co. Create:
Crowdsourcing ideas can be the best source of market research; that’s a huge takeaway for people in the crowdcrowd: not novelty, but strength in numbers.
Crowdsourcing competitions can draw huge results, but the most valuable end game might not be free inspiration for a multi-million-dollar Super Bowl spot or a best-selling gadget. Rather, the most valuable prize might be the insights lurking in the collection of the submissions…
It wasn’t just awhite60, the My Starbucks Idea (MSI) community member who posted “Please keep the Caramel Brulée Latte” in December 2011, who drove Starbucks’ decision to keep the flavor going past the holiday season. Starbucks surely also noticed that the idea had nearly 4,500 net votes and more than 50 similar requests, spanning four years. The community has spoken.
Two Lists You Should Look At Every Morning, by Peter Bregman, Harvard Business Review:
Everyone should have two lists, writes Peter Bregman: one to remind you what you’re going to do, and the other to tell you what you should ignore. Most people have the first one, but very few have the second one. But the list of stuff to ignore is possibly even more important: with so much stuff vying for attention, we need to manage our own filters.
The Risks of Research, by Andrew Jack, Financial Times:
“Dual-use research” is one of the most persistent philosophical problems of knowledge: what do we do when our work can be used for both good and bad? While Iran’s nuclear energy/nuclear weapons standoff has been leading the debate recently, Andrew Jack looks at it from the academic side: what happens when a scientist publishes a way of making bird flu… more contagious, more dangerous? Ultimately, the argument moves between two poles: ”too little, too late, is just as bad as too much, too early,” and that “People trust the machines more than their own hands or thinking. The greatest risk is that people underestimate risk.” Where do you stand?
The Wire, in Painstaking Detail, by Teressa Iezzi, Fast Co. Create:
Aside from creating a fitting tribute to the style of a great show, Erlend Lavik really hits the spot in why digital education is so different, and so important:
One of the main reasons I wanted to explore the video essay format was that I felt it could help bridge the gap between academic and journalistic film criticism. Film scholarship has become so highly specialized [...] that much of it does not even attempt to speak to anyone outside of the research community. Journalistic film criticism, on the other hand, often lacks ambition, I think, and functions merely as a form of consumer guidance. …
The video essay I made is obviously meant for people who have already seenThe Wire, but I hope most of those who are familiar with the show will be able to follow my arguments and observations. I certainly don’t think anyone will find it totally incomprehensible. But so what if there’s something you don’t understand? You’re watching it online, so Google it! Coming across something you don’t comprehend is not a cause for offense, but an opportunity to learn.
Well put, Mr. Lavik! Thinking may still be hard work, but there is no more excuse for ignorance.
Sam Spade at Starbucks, by David Brooks, New York Times:
Are you familiar with the idealists who have accomplished so much on their own, and think they can bootstrap the the rest of the world through their entrepreneurial philanthropy? David Brooks nails them dead on: we have to think about holistic, system change, and for that, politics is unfortunately unavoidable.
It’s hard not to feel inspired by all these idealists, but their service religion does have some shortcomings. In the first place, many of these social entrepreneurs think they can evade politics. They have little faith in the political process and believe that real change happens on the ground beneath it.
That’s a delusion. You can cram all the nongovernmental organizations you want into a country, but if there is no rule of law and if the ruling class is predatory then your achievements won’t add up to much.
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This Weekender has been compiled and excerpted by Roman Kudryashov, S. Garrity Guenther, and Rostislav Roznoshchik. Thank you for reading!
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