When Science Wins, We Will Be Its Bitch…and Like It

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In the past two episodes of The McFuture podcast, I mused about why bullshit won and why smart, powerful elites don’t just eliminate the uneducated, powerless poor. So I thought you’d enjoy my response to a listener who commented on the topic.

Here’s what he wrote:

“Excellent podcast. I don’t think the problem is that we, as a society, are forced to move only as fast as the slowest person. I think it’s much, much worse than that. It’s that the slowest person has the power to veto the smartest. That’s the real problem.

Take climate change. The entire scientific community can spend decades conducting experiments and collecting data, using increasingly elaborate scientific equipment to back up their theory that climate change is man-made, that increasing levels of CO2 are being pumped into the atmosphere, and the Earth is reaching dangerously high temperature levels. But then, all it takes is a bunch of dumb, scientifically illiterate politicians, and a dumb scientifically illiterate electorate to come out with something stupid like “It was snowing outside my house today. So much for global warming,” and all that work, research and years of experimentation is out the window. And all by people who don’t even know the difference between weather and climate. How is this even possible?

That’s just one example. There are many more. To use Jim’s train analogy, it’s not that we’re moving forward very, very slowly, it’s that we’re in serious danger of finding ourselves moving backwards.”

My response

I agree this implicit veto power is a problem, as is denial of truth.

In “Why Bullshit Won“, I mentioned some evolutionary reasons why stupidity appears to be winning. The big one is our diminished reliance on truth for survival. Like children went from necessity to luxury good, so has truth. Other reasons include our innate, but increasingly rudderless tribalism, and externalized validation.

There are also tactical reasons why truth is suffering. A big one is how we do science is fundamentally broken. Shady corporate funding, conflating causation with correlation, terrible methodologies, and broken incentives for academics to publish at all costs. In fact, most attempts to replicate “peer-reviewed” studies produced no more than a 50% success rate, across disciplines. So science (or our approach to it) is undermining itself – the same way news has by baiting clicks and allowing editorials to taint the actual facts.

The good news is I think this situation is temporary. The longer-term trend is towards truth and rationalism. Though we will take some detours. (Why I called the show The McFuture…).

So, what are our options?

In the short term, I’d be wary of over-correcting. Over-corrections for temporary problems will linger, then cause worse distortions than the original problem.

The one exception is making education better. It needs to focus on critical thought, collaboration, and unrelenting adaptation. Even that will never reach more than 30% of the population. Even the best schools have a bell curve with plenty of C-students and below.

“Control over what can hurt us – and what we can hurt ourselves with – is slowly being taken away from us by technology.” – Steve Faktor

The saving grace – and unsettling reality – is much of the control over our lives is being automated away. Control over what can hurt us – and what we can hurt ourselves with – is slowly being taken away from us by technology. Soon, we won’t even be driving. Cars will do it themselves. Data & surveillance will allow us to predict and prevent most crime. And AI will know more about what we should do next than we do.

We will be entertained, pacified, led, and then obsolete – in the most luxurious way imaginable. And the smart people building our container are – and always will be – driven by facts. Science wins and we will be its bitch…and kind of like it.

Hope you keep listening to the show. I’ll be covering all these themes in depth in upcoming episodes.

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Provocative predictions & prescriptions on where innovation, economics & culture will take us. Fearless. Funny.