Wednesday, 31 August 2011

Is this big enough for you?

Is The Economist becoming radicalised? Or was J.F. just stating the obvious yesterday when, wondering why conservative Americans "lament the loss of the America they grew up in," they tagged conservatismǂ and racism as currently inseparable

I tend to agree with the sentiments in the above article. Conservatives can readily be viewed as a group who are "loss[ing] of their own social privilege" and trying to claw it back.

This idea ties in very nicely with a post today, by W.W., and shows just how this idea of social privilege is perpetuating World problems.

In summary W.W. is replying to an an article by the USC's Neal Gabler (seemingly the sociologists' everyman) which claims that: "Big ideas are almost passé."

In a wonderful rebuff W.W. quotes an article by NYU economist Michael Clemens which argues that "barriers to emigration place one of the fattest of all wedges between humankind’s current welfare and its potential welfare."

W.W. takes this further, saying "policies that restrict free human movement and cooperation create a stupendous amount of preventable poverty and suffering."

W.W. almost presents a manifesto for the Open-Source movement "breaking big problems into smaller problems and tackling them in a socially distributed way by means of a reliable, shared method of inquiry would tend to suggest that that the declining "size" of the average idea is correlated with increasing accuracy in distinguishing the true ideas from the false ones."

Or to put it more simply: Many hands make light work.

The Open-Source movement sinks Mr. Gabler's claim that "thought-provoking ideas that can’t instantly be monetized are of so little intrinsic value that fewer people are generating them and fewer outlets are disseminating them." The Linux community is a case-in-point, there are almost 25,000 accounts on alone, all contributing small parts to a big idea, of massive value, but is not "instantly monetized." (A more impressive example; there are almost 1.5 million accounts on the Ubuntu forum.)

Mr. Gabler then complains that recent Big Ideas come from "scientists and empiricists rather than generalists in the humanities," and are therefore "crowded out [of the main stream media]." Surely this is a good thing. Scientists know how to test their ideas. And they tell the World how they developed and tested these ideas (although publishers can get in the way, all the more reason for open standards).

This brings me back to emigration. Because people like Mr. Gabler are ignoring the importance of scientists they are not just being crowded out of the media, they are also being crowded out of the work-place. In fact Dame Jocelyn Bell Burnellᶦᶦ and Prof. Keith Campbell* have said that science graduates should emigrate in order to find work in their discipline. Science graduates working in something they have been trained to do are likely to be more productive, generating both: a) more ideas; and b) more solutions to poverty and suffering. Mr. Gabler highlights one of a myriad of ways that we are "shooting ourselves in the foot."

Greater freedom of movement, and greater appreciation of the sciences, may go a long way to building a better world.

I think I'll just emigrate (again).ˠ

ǂ I use the term conservative in the "small c" sense, ie. those resistant to change. Rather than Conservatives, some of whom are currently enacting radical change in the UK. (Or at least, radical within the typical framework of small incremental changes which usually prevail in UK legislation)

* Who created Dolly the Sheep. Two Big Ideas there: cloning and animal research.

ᶦᶦ Who helped discover pulsars. Big Ideas: Time, the Universe & Everything.

ˠ I have a doctorate to finish first, it may be a while.

The Economist's articles may not work for you. If so they are cached as follows: J.F. & W.W..

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