Quotulatiousness

April 17, 2017

Why big organizations act like idiots (United Airlines is only the most recent example)

Filed under: Bureaucracy, Business — Tags: , , , — Nicholas @ 03:00

Charlie Martin knows about big corporations making themselves look foolish … and far too often doubling down on the stupid:

This whole recent thing with United Airlines has me thinking, once again, about how big organizations act like idiots. […]

Like all good consultants, I have a Model, mostly cribbed from others, based on two observations:

  • The SNAFU principle: the farther up a hierarchy information has to travel, the more information is lost. This is because no one likes giving people bad news, so the news tends to get better the farther up it goes.
  • The Peter Principle (modified): people rise in a hierarchy to the limits of their competence in rising in a hierarchy; further, the skill of rising in a hierarchy is largely independent of the skills needed to deal with actual issues.

Of course, the implication of this is something I’ve called Carl’s Corollary (for a friend and co-worker Carl Madison, who first pointed it out). Carl’s Corollary implies that most decisions are being made by people less and less competent to deal with the situation, using increasingly bad information.

Naturally, this results in bad decisions being made. The usual result is that once the bad decision has been made, someone is identified to be responsible, that person is punished, and a new policy is issued to make sure no one makes that mistake again.

[…]

United, though, has a different scheme, clearly. They have a Book, and it Must Be Followed. No one on the ground in Chicago — at least no one in reach of the gate — had the authority to do anything but offer an $800 voucher, which just wasn’t enough. (I can relate. I used to be a “45 weeks a year” road warrior, and there were some nights where if they’d have tried to bump me off a flight home, I would have either killed someone or just thrown myself on the floor of the terminal screaming.) So they followed the Book, and when they couldn’t get Dao to leave, they followed the book again saying he was disruptive, and then the mall airport cops went all Cartman on him…

https://media.giphy.com/media/B1TMcmoBAaSZi/giphy.gif

… and the rest was history.

Now, imagine if, instead, the gate people had the authority to offer more. And the gate agents knew their primary responsibility was to make customers happy and not get bad publicity.

April 12, 2017

United Airlines implies that the beatings will continue until customer morale improves

Filed under: Business, Humour, USA — Tags: , , , , — Nicholas @ 03:00

One of several videos from other passengers on the flight:

Some reactions from around the net to a United Airlines initiative to treat their customers like unruly prison inmates:

Reason‘s Brian Doherty:

The world is rightly abuzz over an awful incident yesterday in which a man was beaten and dragged off a plane by police at Chicago’s O’Hare airport for the crime of wanting to use the seat he’s paid for on a United Airline flight getting ready to leave for Louisville.

The man claimed to be a doctor who had patients to see the next morning, explaining why he neither took an initial offer made to everyone on the plane to accept $400 and a hotel room for the night in exchange for voluntarily giving up his seat nor wanted to obey a straight-up order to leave, in an attempt on United’s part to clear four seats for its own employees on the full flight.

No one considered even the $800 that was offered after everyone had boarded enough for the inconvenience, so United picked four seats and just ordered those in them to vacate. But the one man in question was not interested in obeying. (Buzzfeed reports, based on tweets from other passengers, that the bloodied man did eventually return to the plane.)

While United’s customer service policies in this case are clearly heinous and absurd, let’s not forget to also cast blame on the police officers who actually committed the brutality on United’s behalf. NPR reports that the cops attacking the man “appear to be wearing the uniforms of Chicago aviation police.”

However violent and unreasonable the incident might appear to us mere ignorant peasants, the CEO assures his minions that beatings of this sort are totally within normal procedural guidelines:

The head of United Airlines said in an email to his employees Monday that the security guards who violently dragged a passenger from his seat were following “established procedures for dealing with situations like this,” according to a tweet by CNBC reporter Steve Kopack.

“As you will read, the situation was unfortunately compounded when one of the passengers we politely asked to deplane refused and it became necessary to contact the Chicago Aviation Security Officers to help. Our employees followed established procedures for dealing with situations like this,” wrote Oscar Munoz, CEO of United Airlines.

Munoz’s message to staff comes amid public scrutiny after a passenger refused to relinquish his seat on an overbooked plane and was violently dragged off the plane by three security officers.

Surfaced videos of the incident have since gone viral.

March 25, 2017

QotD: Why I hate Big Oil

Filed under: Business, Politics, Quotations — Tags: , , — Nicholas @ 01:00

For many years now, I – and many sceptics like me – have been accused by climate alarmists of being “in the pay of Big Oil”. But even though we deserve it for promoting fossil fuels so enthusiastically and fighting their critics so heroically, few of us have ever received even a penny for our troubles. That’s because Big Oil is far too busy trying to greenwash its image – as Shell itself did by sponsoring the Guardian’s environment pages for many years – to waste time on the plucky, outspoken heroes who do a better job for Big Oil’s PR than the Big Oil’s paid PR departments do.

Mainly, though it’s disgust. Big Oil has this public image of being an industry for fearless, no-nonsense manly men who aren’t afraid of getting their hands dirty or braving the environmentalists’ wrath in order to do their ugly but important work supplying the world with much-needed energy.

Yet it’s an image almost entirely undeserved.

Almost everyone at a senior level in Big Oil is a craven, simpering, politically correct, spineless, surrender-monkey corporate shill. They’re cowards who are scared of free markets, won’t speak up for capitalism, won’t even defend their core business.

James Delingpole, “Why I Totally Hate Big Oil – And Why You Should Too…”, Breitbart.com, 2017-03-14.

January 8, 2017

The worship of NASA

Filed under: Bureaucracy, Science, Space, USA — Tags: , , , , , — Nicholas @ 03:00

James Miller is more than a bit skeptical of those who unabashedly sing the praises of NASA and more generally the “I love science sexually” crowd:

I’ve never understood the slobbering love affair many have with outer space and, more specifically, NASA. Sure, the moon landing was an incredible feat demonstrating American strength at time of conflict with a competing superpower. But I’m in agreement with Gary North: It was the “most expensive PR stunt in American history,” with little other benefit. We have yet to put a man on another moon, let alone another planet. It’s been a half century since Neil Armstrong made history, and the federal government still fails at running a simple website.

The saccharine lengths some go to to express their admiration for NASA has always made me queasy. Like all government bureaucracies, it wastes an incredible amount of money. Yet conservative lawmakers like Ted Cruz never miss an opportunity to remind us that conquering new galaxies is paramount to our national survival.

If the windbags in Washington can’t put a stop to the caliphate of killers in the Middle East, what hope is there for putting a colony on Kepler-186f?

My antipathy for space travel goes hand in hand with my overall distaste for science worshipping. The celebrification of the study of the natural world has been as infantilizing and degrading as Richard Nixon’s clownish appearance on Rowan & Martin’s Laugh-In. “I fucking love science”? I’d much rather string celebrity science guy Neil deGrasse Tyson up by his thumbs.

H/T to Kathy Shaidle for the link. Kathy also throws shade at Star Wars and praises the heck out of Star Trek:

If Star Trek was actually set on Antarctica (and here, it is) I would watch the hell out of that (and have.)

But I also love how this fictional universe (which I would HATE to live in because they’ve abolished money, wear ugly clothes, and pretend to believe in peace and love and shit) has inspired real world, well, enterprises.

Yes, space travel is stupid. But it’s amazing that a black woman decided she could and would become an astronaut because she saw an actress do it on her TV when she was a kid.

I totally get that, and just get off on the phenomenon of people taking a sliver of fiction, and having seen this fake, plastic, non-functional prop, worked to create a functional version (and a multi-billion dollar industry.)

It’s like cargo culting, except by, well, smart people with way more resources who actually want shit to work.

Star WARS on the other hand is just life-wasting masturbatory etc EXCLUSIVELY.

Star Wars is nothing but escapism.

It has had no real world impact except that negative one. Star Wars has been a net negative on society while Star Trek has been a net positive:

December 16, 2015

Chipotle gains “green cred PR opportunities” and worse health outcomes for customers

Filed under: Business, Health, Science, USA — Tags: , , , , , — Nicholas @ 03:00

Henry Miller on the Faustian bargain Chipotle willingly made and is now paying for:

Chipotle, the once-popular Mexican restaurant chain, is experiencing a well-deserved downward spiral.

The company found it could pass off a fast-food menu stacked with high-calorie, sodium-rich options as higher quality and more nutritious because the meals were made with locally grown, genetic engineering-free ingredients. And to set the tone for the kind of New Age-y image the company wanted, Chipotle adopted slogans like, “We source from farms rather than factories” and, “With every burrito we roll or bowl we fill, we’re working to cultivate a better world.”

The rest of the company wasn’t as swift as the marketing department, however. Last week, about 140 people, all but a handful Boston College students, were recovering from a nasty bout of norovirus-caused gastroenteritis, a foodborne illness apparently contracted while eating Chipotle’s “responsibly raised” meats and largely organic produce.

And they’re not alone. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention has been tracking another, unrelated Chipotle food poisoning outbreak in California, Illinois, Maryland, Minnesota, New York, Ohio, Oregon, Pennsylvania and Washington, in which victims have been as young as one year and as old as 94. Using whole genome sequencing, CDC investigators identified the DNA fingerprint of the bacterial culprit in that outbreak as E. coli strain STEC O26, which was found in all of the sickened customers tested.

Outbreaks of food poisoning have become something of a Chipotle trademark; the recent ones are the fourth and fifth this year, one of which was not disclosed to the public. A particularly worrisome aspect of the company’s serial deficiencies is that there have been at least three unrelated pathogens in the outbreaks – Salmonella and E. coli bacteria and norovirus. In other words, there has been more than a single glitch; suppliers and employees have found a variety of ways to contaminate what Chipotle cavalierly sells (at premium prices) to its customers.

November 7, 2015

DND briefings to the new minister

Filed under: Cancon, Military, Politics — Tags: , , — Nicholas @ 03:00

It would be fascinating to find out if the Department of National Defence briefing to incoming minister Harjit Sajjan are quite as blatantly PR-focussed as the documents provided to former minister Jason Kenney when he took over the portfolio in February:

A new Liberal defence minister will inherit a self-conscious department that seems more than a little concerned about how it’s perceived by the public.

When Jason Kenney took over as national defence minister in February 2015, he was briefed with a thicker stack of papers about public opinion and media operations than about the North Atlantic Treaty Organization, the North American Aerospace Defense Command, Operation Reassurance and Operation Impact combined.

Embassy obtained the transition books for Mr. Kenney through an access to information request. Similar documents may be provided to a new minister when prime minister-designate Justin Trudeau names his Cabinet Nov. 4.

In a book about “Key Strategic Issues,” about 70 pages long, there are 17 pages worth of public opinion and media analysis, complete with graphs tracking Canadians’ perceptions of the department over years of polling data.

Conversely, only two pages of the document appear to be entirely devoted to Operation Reassurance in Central and Eastern Europe, two pages to Operation Impact in Iraq and Syria, four to NATO and two to NORAD.

[…]

Another transition book, titled “Who We Are and How We Work,” provided a broader departmental overview to the new minister of national defence.

Just shy of 70 pages, it includes information about ongoing Canadian Armed Forces operations, including all international engagements. It also gave the incoming minister a handy guide to key department officials, complete with photos and biographies.

A brief on strategic decision-making acknowledges that a prime minister or defence minister can make unilateral decisions on defence policy.

Cabinet does not need to sit together as a whole for major decisions to be made, the document explains.

“In some cases, a deployment decision will be made by a cabinet committee and, in others by the prime minister, or by the minister of national defence alone, or in conjunction with the minister of foreign affairs,” the transition book states.

H/T to MILNEWS.ca for the link.

October 30, 2015

QotD: Maybe the Minnesota Vikings should also change their name

Filed under: Football, History, Humour, Quotations — Tags: , , , , , — Nicholas @ 01:00

After the fiancée-punching scandal the NFL suffered this fall, the league is working on an anti-domestic-violence campaign; a new public-service announcement featuring about two dozen pro footballers debuted this Thursday during the Chargers–Broncos game. But the question persists: How can the NFL paint itself as progressive while it permits one of its franchises to use a patently offensive team name? Calling a team “the Vikings” is grotesquely insensitive to everyone concerned about domestic abuse. Minnesota might as well call its team “the Pillagers” or “the Rapists.”

Of course, the public’s attitude toward Vikings has changed over the years. According to a piece in The Spectator by Melanie McDonagh, “the Vikings-as-peaceful-traders approach has now been academic orthodoxy for two generations.” But according to an Aberdeen University historian named David Dumville, whom the piece quotes, “We’re being invited to forget vast amounts.” Dumville “puts the fashion for cuddly Vikings squarely down to ‘Swedish war guilt about not participating in the [second world] war and American political correctness.’” In fact, McDonagh writes, “the Vikings’ cruelty and joy in battle put them in a class of their own.” Per the article’s title, “the Vikings really were that bad.” And according to the Huffington Post, new research done at the University of Oslo suggests that Vikings’ slaves and sex slaves would be beheaded and buried with their deceased masters. Is the NFL promoting rape culture?

Josh Gelernter, “Cleaning up the NFL”, National Review, 2014-10-25.

October 28, 2015

The WHO’s lack of clarity leads to sensationalist newspaper headlines (again)

Filed under: Health, Media, Science — Tags: , , , , , — Nicholas @ 05:00

The World Health Organization appears to exist primarily to give newspaper editors the excuse to run senational headlines about the risk of cancer. This is not a repeat story from earlier years. Oh, wait. Yes it is. Here’s The Atlantic‘s Ed Yong to de-sensationalize the recent scary headlines:

The International Agency of Research into Cancer (IARC), an arm of the World Health Organization, is notable for two things. First, they’re meant to carefully assess whether things cause cancer, from pesticides to sunlight, and to provide the definitive word on those possible risks.

Second, they are terrible at communicating their findings.

[…]

Group 1 is billed as “carcinogenic to humans,” which means that we can be fairly sure that the things here have the potential to cause cancer. But the stark language, with no mention of risks or odds or any remotely conditional, invites people to assume that if they specifically partake of, say, smoking or processed meat, they will definitely get cancer.

Similarly, when Group 2A is described as “probably carcinogenic to humans,” it roughly translates to “there’s some evidence that these things could cause cancer, but we can’t be sure.” Again, the word “probably” conjures up the specter of individual risk, but the classification isn’t about individuals at all.

Group 2B, “possibly carcinogenic to humans,” may be the most confusing one of all. What does “possibly” even mean? Proving a negative is incredibly difficult, which is why Group 4 — “probably not carcinogenic to humans” — contains just one substance of the hundreds that IARC has assessed.

So, in practice, 2B becomes a giant dumping ground for all the risk factors that IARC has considered, and could neither confirm nor fully discount as carcinogens. Which is to say: most things. It’s a bloated category, essentially one big epidemiological shruggie. But try telling someone unfamiliar with this that, say, power lines are “possibly carcinogenic” and see what they take away from that.

Worse still, the practice of lumping risk factors into categories without accompanying description — or, preferably, visualization — of their respective risks practically invites people to view them as like-for-like. And that inevitably led to misleading headlines like this one in the Guardian: “Processed meats rank alongside smoking as cancer causes – WHO.”

October 20, 2015

The economics of wind power in the UK

Filed under: Britain, Economics, Media — Tags: , , — Nicholas @ 04:00

James Delingpole on the sleight-of-hand employed by the media to pretend that wind power is far more economical than it really is:

Wind power now UK’s cheapest source of electricity – but the Government continues to resist onshore turbines.

That was the headline in the Independent this time last week. I’m not suggesting for a moment that you’re an Independent reader but suppose for a moment you were: what do you think your reaction might have been?

Mine, I suspect, would have been not dissimilar to that of the eight thousand readers who decided it was worth sharing – and indeed that of the two or three who used it to needle sceptics on Twitter.

“Take that, evil deniers!” I would have gone in my smug, Independent-reading way. And it would never have occurred to me to question the premise for a number of reasons.

1. It was written by the Environment Editor on a reasonably well-respected national newspaper. And people with responsible jobs like that don’t make shit up, do they?

2. The data came from Bloomberg New Energy Finance – “the world’s leading provider of information on clean energy to investors, energy companies and governments.” Well if they say so it must be true. Bloomberg – they’re kind of a big deal in financial information, right?

3. It wasn’t just the left-leaning Independent that ran with the story. The story also appeared in the Guardian which, though also pretty parti-pris where environmental issues are concerned, does tend to pride itself on its accuracy and integrity (relative, say, to its arch-enemy the Murdoch press) and its willingness to rectify even the slightest mistake in its Corrections section. And more significantly, it ran in the unashamedly free-market City Am which, you might have imagined, would never dream of writing a headline like “Wind power now the cheapest electricity to produce in the UK as the price of renewable energy continues to drop” without first checking to see whether the press release was accurate.

Well, since the story ran, Paul Homewood has been doing a bit of homework. And guess what? Yes, that’s right. Wind power isn’t the cheapest source of electricity in the UK or anywhere else in the world. Not by a long chalk. It’s at least twice the price, for example, of electricity generated from that hated but remarkably cost-effective fossil fuel, gas.

March 27, 2015

Adrian Peterson’s public image

Filed under: Football, Media — Tags: , , , — Nicholas @ 12:00

The fans still hold Adrian Peterson in high regard … but not as high as they did before September, 2014. His agent’s antics along with a steady drip of news through a few key media folks and rumours possibly originating with his family and friends are slowly corroding that public support. I think he’s probably still got more supporters than detractors among the Vikings fanbase, but it looks like he’s losing (or has already lost) the benefit of the doubt from the local Minneapolis-St. Paul media. For example, here’s Star Tribune columnist Jim Souhan’s latest:

(more…)

February 5, 2015

How not to do media relations, NFL style

Filed under: Business, Football, Media — Tags: , , , — Nicholas @ 05:00

Unusually, in one of his last Tuesday Morning Quarterback columns of the season, Gregg Easterbrook actually talked more about football than usual:

In the run up to the Super Bowl, Marshawn Lynch received a huge amount of attention for insisting he just wanted to be left alone. If he’d actually just wanted to be left alone, he would have gone to the podium, offered a few sports platitudes — “the Patriots are a fine, fine football team” — and everyone would have left him alone. By making a great show of appearing in very dark glasses and ignoring questions, Lynch drew attention to himself. Which, one presumes, was what he wanted all along.

Many pro athletes don’t like having to face the media; Bill Belichick* doesn’t like to, Roger Goodell doesn’t like to. Their contracts require them to, because professional sports fundamentally are a form of entertainment, and fans find the media conferences entertaining. (Lord knows why.) Many players came from high school and college environments where the local sports media consisted mainly of homers: scandals were downplayed, the toughest question was, “How do you explain your brilliant success?” At the NFL level, players can be surprised to encounter sharp questions and hostile tones.

Not, certainly, because NFL games are more important than prep or college contests — NFL games are strictly entertainment, the outcomes are irrelevant to society. It’s just that at the NFL level, the sports reporters are at the top of their profession, too. They ask tough questions. Most players and coaches learn it’s the path of least resistance to play along, even when the questions veer into the absurd. Smart players and coaches discover that beginning a media conference by bantering with reporters about their careers rapidly turns them from attack dogs to lap dogs.

Then there are the players who would radiate hostility toward the sports media, such as Lynch. In 2009, he was suspended by the league for three games. Lynch seemed to expect sports reporters would act like team publicists and change the subject; instead he got abrasive questions. Since then, including last week at Super Bowl media events, he has accused the sports media of printing lies about him: “You all can go make up whatever you’re going to make up.” I’d venture a guess Lynch actually does not know what the sports media is saying about him because he doesn’t read the newspaper. He may prefer to believe himself the victim of some vast sports-media conspiracy.

The odd thing is that Lynch has a sense of humor, as he displayed in his Skittles parody. If he’d only show that humor at a media conference, the ice would melt. Instead he says things like this from last week, when he was supposed to take questions: “I come to you all’s event, you shove cameras and microphones down my throat. I ain’t got nothing for you all.” Reporters and spectators don’t get angry at Lynch when he expects them to attend games: for him to get angry when he’s expected to fulfill a contractual obligation involving cameras and microphones shows bad manners. At media conferences Lynch acts like a spoiled brat, which reflects poorly on him and his team.

When Thurman Thomas couldn’t find his helmet at a Super Bowl, then the Bills lost, for a while he was angry at the media because reporters kept bringing this up. One day he walked into a media conference with a basket of miniature helmets that he handed out to reporters, and told a couple jokes about himself. For the rest of his career, Thomas had the sports media eating out of his hand: When it was time to cast Hall of Fame votes, Thomas got a landslide of votes. Somebody in the Seahawks’ organization should tell this story to Lynch.

January 1, 2015

QotD: Henry Ford and the doubled wages – the real story

Filed under: Business, History, Quotations, USA — Tags: , , , , , — Nicholas @ 00:01

In 1913, turnover reached an unbelievable 370 percent, and Ford hired more than 50,000 people to maintain an average labor force of about 13,600. When profits swelled, he paid well for labor, creating an uproar when he doubled the basic wage to $5.00 a day, which triggered a virtual stampede of job seekers. Paying higher wages for labor was not altruistic in Ford’s eyes. Moreover, it wasn’t simply that Ford was trying to pay his workers “enough to buy back the product,” although he did preach a high-wage doctrine after the stock market crash in 1929. Rather, paying relatively high wages was, for Ford, a matter of smart business. He regarded well-paid skilled workers as important as high-grade material. By paying workers well, he effectively lowered his costs because higher wages reduced turnover and the need for constant training of new hires. (At the time, the newspapers saw Ford’s wage increase as an extraordinary gesture of goodwill.)

Mark Spitznagel, The Dao of Capital: Austrian Investing in a Distorted World, 2013.

June 8, 2014

CANSOFCOM develops habit of secrecy, even for events in the news

Filed under: Cancon, Middle East, Military — Tags: , , , — Nicholas @ 11:56

David Pugliese says CANSOFCOM remains unwilling (or unable) to discuss things that even our allies talk about publicly:

I’m not sure what’s happening at the Canadian Special Operations Forces Command (CANSOFCOM) these days. The command used to be open to the extent it could, particularly on non-classified issues like international exercises. In the old days that would have openly talked about Exercise Eager Lion, the annual exercise in Jordan. This year’s exercise includes countries from five different continents and more than 12,500 participants. The exercise provides multilateral forces with the opportunity to promote cooperation and interoperability among participation forces, build functional capacity, practice crisis management, and enhance readiness, according to Jordan’s military.

I asked CANSOFCOM about the training going on in Jordan (it had been reported by CTV) and was told the command couldn’t talk about it.

But thankfully the U.S. military understands what true OPSEC is about as well as the value of publicity. The article below is from the U.S. military public affairs (by Sgt. Melissa Parrish, with her photos as well).

May 22, 2014

How politicians are like soccer goalkeepers

Filed under: Media, Politics, Soccer — Tags: , , , — Nicholas @ 07:33

At Worthwhile Canadian Initiative, Stephen Gordon talks about the odd distribution of goalie decisions on penalty kicks and how they’re quite similar to politicians:

Goaltenders jumped in more than 90% penalty kicks in the sample: the frequency of staying put was only 6.3%. Kickers, on the other hand, distributed their targets in roughly equal proportions.

The goaltenders’ strategy was not wholly ineffective: when the kicker aimed left or right (71.4% of the time), goaltenders guessed correctly 6 times out of 11. But the fact remains that the frequency of the goaltender staying put (6.3%) is much smaller that the frequency of kicks aimed down the middle (28.7%).

[…]

This doesn’t mean that goaltenders should never jump. What it does mean is that goaltenders jump far too often. Why?

Bar-Eli et al suggest an explanation: ‘action bias’. This is presented as an example of Kahneman and Miller’s (1986) [PDF] ‘norm bias’. Goaltenders believe is is less bad to follow the ‘norm’ (i.e., to jump) and fail than to not jump and fail. In other words, goaltender think that jumping and missing is less costly than not jumping and missing.

Which brings us to economic policy. Politicians are continually demanded to ‘do something’ about a kaleidoscopic array of grievances, and the norm in these cases is to promise to do something. As far as politicians and most voters are concerned, doing something is better than doing nothing — even when doing nothing is the correct response.

In many cases — possibly the majority of cases — doing nothing is the smart move. A recent example is the concern about the so-called ‘skill shortage’. When firms complain that they can’t get the workers they want at the wages they are willing to pay, the correct response is to do nothing: the market response to a labour shortage is to let wages increase.

But doing nothing is almost always bad politics: it is invariably interpreted as a lack of concern, and this perceived indifference will be pounced upon by other political parties. A politician who promises to act polls better than one who promises to do nothing.

A goalkeeper who fails to jump looks like an idiot if the ball goes left or right. The fans roar their disapproval and the keeper learns that doing the dramatic-but-wrong thing is better for his reputation than the non-dramatic (but more likely to be correct) non-action. Politicians also learn that the media will turn themselves purple denouncing the lack of action (even when that’s the correct decision) and short-term polling numbers move in the wrong direction.

As Calvin Coolidge is reported to have said, “Don’t just do something; stand there.” But even if you’re right not to take action, it will be harder to bear up under the criticism of the “do something” crowd.

April 16, 2014

Thought experiment – in media reports, replace “scientist” with “some guy”

Filed under: Media, Science — Tags: , , , — Nicholas @ 08:38

Frank Fleming makes an interesting point:

Our society holds scientists in high esteem. When scientists say something — whether it’s about the composition of matter, the beginning of the universe, or who would win a fight between a giant gorilla and a T. Rex — we all sit up and listen. And it doesn’t matter if they say something that sounds completely ridiculous; as long as a statement is preceded with “scientists say,” we assume it is truth.

There’s just one problem with that: There are no such things as scientists.

Okay, you’re probably saying, “What? Scientists are real! I’ve seen them before! There’s even a famous, blurry photo of a man in a lab coat walking through the woods.” Well, yes, there are people known as scientists and who call themselves such, but the word is pretty much meaningless.

[…]

Which brings us back to our problem. So much of science these days seems to be built on faith — faith being something that doesn’t have anything to do with science. Yet everyone apparently has faith that all these scientists we hear about follow good methods and are smart and logical and unbiased — when we can’t actually know any of that. So often news articles contain phrases such as, “scientists say,” “scientists have proven,” “scientists agree” — and people treat those phrases like they mean something by themselves, when they don’t mean anything at all. It’s like if you wanted music for your wedding, and someone came up to you and said, “I know a guy. He’s a musician.”

“What instrument does he play?”

“He’s a musician.”

“Is he any good?”

“He’s a musician.”

You see, when other occupations are vaguely described, we know to ask questions, but because we have blind faith in science, such reason is lost when we hear the term “scientist.” Which is why I’m arguing that for the sake of better scientific understanding, we should get rid of the word and simply replace it with “some guy.”

It’s not exactly a new phenomenon: Robert Heinlein put these words in the mouth of Lazarus Long, “Most ‘scientists’ are bottle washers and button sorters.” It was true then, and if anything it’s even more true now as we have so many more people working in scientific fields.

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