Thursday, February 16, 2017

Merchandizing Science (and other things...?)

We cannot act on information alone; the information must first be understood, then interpreted for relevance, and finally command belief and commitment. But what if the citizen cannot assess the truth of the available information or its import for action? --- Harry S. Broudy, Truth and Credibility. The citizen's dilemma (New York: Longman, 1981) p. 13.
Information: Food or Sewage? The expression "GIGO," Garbage in, garbage out, used to have some meaning even beyond the world of IT enthusiasts. Now, even though it is more widely recognized, it becomes evermore reduced in cogency. Broudy's comment above was, in 1981, still merely a worry; it was dismissed by many who persisted in letting a smile be their umbrella.

However, Broudy's comment rings true as we see long revered, even though lip-serviced, standards of decency, civility and authority publicly, blatantly disregarded; especially, by self-proclaimed "pragmatic" leaders. The distinction between the concepts of "leader" and "usurper" has become increasingly blurred. (See Leadership as Usurpation)

Foresightfulness, consideration, tolerance, fairness, compassion and, especially, memory are — often publicly and with celebration — cast aside, as "activists" of all persuasions rush to exercise their roles as "change agents" or "disrupters" under the banners of "democracy," "liberty," "Amendment-protection," "entrepreneurship," "greatness" and "social justice."

There seems to be a bias in our culture that anything characterized as research is akin to Godly Revelation. But it's no news that RESEARCH can be badly planned, badly executed, off-target or trivial. And, increasingly, individuals from scientific, religious and governmental communities either rush to participate,or, more passively, support the scramble with contributions that result from their own self-serving miscreation, e.g. tampering with research, faking news reports, ignoring critical violations of law or producing, often dangerous, sub-standard products. (See Retraction Watch)

Why does this happen? It seems that it is because we treat failure as the greatest of disgraces. Individual persons or (usually small) enterprises are expected to take great risk with their resources to provide social benefits without a compensating safety net should they fail. Yet ridicule awaits them as "losers." This anti-failure taboo is so great that even celebrities would rather be caught publicly in a lie about their attempts, than to own up about their failures. (See Barbara Ehrenreich's (2009) Smile or Die ISBN:9781847081735)

Example: The Mysterious "Impossibility" of Multitasking. President Gerald Ford used to be characterized by some as "unable to walk and chew gum at the same time." However, considered judgment held it that the intelligent and accomplished Mr. Ford had been targeted by animadversion. He was not only able to walk and chew gum at the same time, but, like most of us, do many more complex things by multi-tasking.

But -- according to some highly-degreed pundits, we were wrong! Multi-tasking is impossible! RESEARCH proves it! So it is dangerous to multi-task because we are likely to make many more mistakes because we have to switch attention too much to be accurate while we multi-task.

When do we risk such mistakes? When we multi-task! But then, we CAN NEVER make such mistakes, because as RESEARCH shows, multi-tasking is impossible! We CAN'T DO IT! And since it is, and supposedly has ever been impossible, we COULDN'T HAVE DONE IT! So Gerald Ford's detractors, who were no doubt composing their thoughts as they were typing them up while telling them to listeners and judging their reactions were -- in other words -- multi-tasking. (Is there no longer any sensitivity to self-contradiction?!)

There Are Three Problems within this "debate." The first is that to say that we can't multitask assumes there are clear, generally accepted boundaries that distinguish one task from another. That, when humans who use the word, "task," they are invoking the same criteria of identification that researchers do. This is unconvincing because the latter's conclusions about multitasking are so different from what many intelligent practitioners in various fields think about it and DO with it. Multitasking research offers, apparently, not a correction to our language, but a redefinition. The claim that it is impossible to multitask attracts attention, it seems to be an effective marketing tool. But is essentially a bait-and-switch maneuver. (See Low Cost Interventions for a Better World: Reform by Redefinition?)

The second problem is that multitasking research appears to assume that the human brain is something like a computer with only one processor, so that parallel processing, which many computers employ, doesn't exist for humans. But, even though NPR (Think You're Multitasking? Think Again)
may doff its hat to Multi-tasking Impossibility theories, many others have made similar criticisms to the ones here. (Psychology Today (3/30/11) Myth of MultiTasking)

The third problem is that the debate really deals with paying attention to the implementation of goals. Many tasks we undertake may have become for us, to some extent, automatic. This doesn't mean that they are no longer tasks. And of course breakdown in implementation may occur if we have too many things to pay attention to. This realization, once comprehended, does not promise to have much market impact.

Does a Pluralistic Democracy Require "Sleight-of-Tongue" to Persist? Even if the ambiguities of promotional language have some desired market impacts, this in no way guarantees that we will find more people cooperating on the same page of the same agendas. Nor does it promise eventual reduction of conflict or improved leadership. (See Buffering: Enhancing Moral Hazard in Decision-Making?.) It is snake oil for our societal forebodings.

Is there a future for a nation of persons who will not be concerned beyond their own individual (or familial, or tribal) interests? Are we doomed to a perpetual war of every person against each other? Many people seem to think so to judge by their willingness to put some kind of Leviathan in public office.

Nicholas Rescher in Pluralism. Against the Demand for Consensus. (Clarendon Press. 1993, p.180. ) writes
The key consideration for the conduct of interpersonal affairs is that the activities of people can harmonize without their ideas about ends and means being in agreement. (See also, page 7 on coming to terms with realities of individual difference.)
It's easy to say that we have to learn to get along with each other. But will mental analgesics, happy talk, get us to The American Dream? Or can we just work, one day at a time, at living with a lot of fussin', feuding', and fightin' as we stumble toward our Alabaster Cities, toward Making America Great? Let us be patient, think clearly and hope so.

To follow up on these ideas, see It’s Effective? Effective For What? Maintaining working relationships.

Cordially
--- EGR