Saturday, May 2, 2015

There are 10 types of people in the world...

...those who know base 3, those who think this joke only works with binary, and the rest. The second group is the worst. – My new twitter header.

Yes, another post about people who "like STEM" as a way to assert their in-group identity – as long as they don't actually have to learn any STEM.

The standard joke is "there are 10 types of people in the world, those who understand binary and those who don't." It's been productized in a number of ways, including on a ThinkGeek t-shirt. My version is a little more elaborate, since it uses base 3 coding. The "second group" part has to do with poseurs who make the binary joke without understanding it.

The motivator for the new header was the media circus following the Tesla Power Wall announcement. Namely, all the ignorant bleating about "Tesla killing nuclear power." I made a short tweet-storm about it,

but my issue is not with Tesla or the pundits lacking the basics of electrical and chemical engineering,  economics, and the realities of bringing a product to a mass market. These are problems of ignorance, and ignorance can be addressed. That's what education and information are for. Between MOOCs and library books, there are plenty of educational opportunities around.

The problem is the attitude that knowledge, even information (basic tech specs), is not necessary for expressing an opinion. Loudly. As long as it's the right opinion. The opinion that the right people must have. The opinion that must not be questioned.

And that's a serious problem: we live in a society ever more dependent on technology – based on science and engineered into products. And the foundational attitude of science and engineering, respect for physical reality, has been replaced by compliance with an identity-based narrative.

So I now engage in knowledge-based attitude guerrilla: fighting identity-based ignorance by undermining the credibility of that identity. Like so:

– "Yes, yes, science is very important. By the way, why do we need a different flu vaccine every year?" [Silence.] "So, your entire knowledge of evolution is limited to saying creationism is wrong?"

– "Ah, a quote by Neil 'Hayden gift shop' Tyson. How fast are we moving relative to the center of the Earth? Our latitude is around 38 degrees, Earth's radius is around 6400km."

(These are not "gotcha" science questions, they require no more than middle-school education.)

There are plenty of sources motivation out there, like this video by astronaut Samantha Cristoforetti. All that's needed is to fight the attitude that thinking, knowledge, and information are superfluous.

For a successful technological society, reality must take precedence over narrative, for Nature cannot be fooled. (Adapted from the last sentence here.)