Tuesday, October 27, 2015

Ben Carson and the Specificity of Knowledge

Something I see coming up a lot in discussions of the Republican field of candidates is mystification over how Ben Carson can keep saying so many dumb things. "But he's a brain surgeon!! You need to be smart for that!!1!!1!!1!one!"

What people are missing on this is something my undergraduates have trouble with all the time: knowledge in one area, even very advanced knowledge, does not give one any knowledge in any other field. Sure, it takes a fair bit of smarts to be a brain surgeon (though in many ways it's as much about working hard as it is being smart, but that's another post for another day). But nothing about brain surgery teaches you about American history, or about the tenets of democracy, or the about the constitutionality of various ideas, etc.

As I always take care to explain to my students the first week of every class I teach, not only should you always check to see if any given source is credible, but if it's credible on that specific issue. The example I always use is of myself and an Ear, Nose, and Throat (ENT) physician. Both of us are doctors, but we're very different kind of doctors with very different kinds of expertise. So even though I'm a doctor, if you came to me for advise on your strep throat, I would be pretty useless. Just like if you went to the ENT and asked about best practices in post-conflict police reconstruction.

Both I and the ENT are people who are experts about one thing. That expertise is non-transferrable -- sure, this hypothetical ENT or myself may have some good knowledge of other subjects, but that knowledge is completely coincidental to our credentials.

So why does Ban Carson keep saying such stupid shit constantly? Because electoral politics is literally not brain surgery. He's shown that he's quite adept at the latter, but fucking terrible at the former. And that's not confusing, it's just a demonstration of the basic fact that one highly specific set of knowledge does not guarantee one has even basic knowledge of any other subject.

Wednesday, October 21, 2015

Hey, It's That Day From That Movie

In case you don't have access to the internet, but instead only read selected web pages printed out for you by your special internet butler, well…first, I'd like to say thank you for including this blog in your internet print outs. But secondly, today is the day Marty McFly travels to the future in Back to the Future II (that's the one where his mom doesn't try to have sex with him, but not the one where he's in the Wild West).

In classic internet fashion, for the last two years there's been about a billion photoshopped images of the Delorean's time machine display trying to trick people into believing that was the day featured in the film. So much so that enterprising people set up websites just so you could fact check that completely useless fact.

(On a semi-related topic, I've always been fascinated by people who do such things. I mean, what's the end game? The presumably incredibly slight smug satisfaction you feel for fooling strangers into believing the incorrect date of something that happened in a 30 year-old film? Who are these people so enraptured by fooling others into believing completely plausible falsehoods that have no effect on anything other than giving people slightly incorrect information about a film?)

But thankfully such meaningless photoshop hoaxes will presumably die down, as we have reached the actual date from the film. Hopefully this will also kill the sub genre of internet articles devoted to either what the movie got right about the future or complaining that reality does not match what a middling old film said it would be.

In any event, the one bit of Back to the Future ephemera clogging the internet today that I actually enjoyed is this video. Yay for cynicism!

Monday, October 12, 2015

Happy Indigenous People's Day

It's all true
Columbus sucks and was a huge asshole and committed genocide and pretty much everyone knows all that by this point.

And yet somehow Columbus Day is still a thing, although many places are starting wake up and replace it with a far less stupid day.

But hey, maybe you get the day off of work or something. So that's cool, I guess.

Anyway, to celebrate, I used my advance photo manipulation skills to create what is sure to be the hot new viral meme for you all. You're welcome.