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PostPosted: Tue Feb 05, 2013 5:07 pm
 


http://reason.com/archives/2013/02/01/d ... -truth-era

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"Everyone is entitled to his own opinion, but not his own facts," the late Sen. Daniel Patrick Moynihan (D-N.Y.) famously quipped. But when it comes to social and environmental problems nowadays, nearly everyone thinks he is entitled to his own facts, and an army of experts is on hand to manufacture and promote the carefully curated truths they require. The Progressive Era dream of empowering nonpartisan experts to solve social, economic, and environmental problems has failed spectacularly. What happened?


Breakthrough Institute founders Ted Nordhaus and Michael Shellenberger grapple with this question in their recent essay "Wicked Polarization: How Prosperity, Democracy, and Experts Divided America," which in turn highlights insights from a 1973 paper by the urban planners Horst Rittel and Melvin Webber. Rittel and Webber drew a useful distinction between "tame" and "wicked" social problems. Tame problems are the sorts of issues that are routinely addressed by scientists and engineers: sanitation, higher agricultural productivity, electrification. They aren't necessarily easy, but they can be clearly defined, relevant information can be gathered, and the effectiveness of proposed solutions can be tested. Solving such problems resulted in improved health and greater affluence, leaving the public and policymakers to focus on less tractable social and environmental problems—that is, wicked ones.

The hallmark of a wicked problem is that the way an expert conceives of it determines the solutions she recommends. For example, Rittel and Webber observe, "'Crime in the streets' can be explained by not enough police, by too many criminals, by inadequate laws, too many police, cultural deprivation, deficient opportunity, too many guns, phrenologic aberrations, etc. Each of these offers a direction for attacking crime in the streets. Which one is right?" Forty years later, each theory still has its devotees.

Rittel and Weber conclude that people's judgments "are likely to differ widely to accord with their group or personal interests, their special value-sets, and their ideological predilections." When claims about a social or environmental problem do not agree, the duo noted, "The analyst's 'world view' is the strongest determining factor in explaining a discrepancy, and, therefore resolving a wicked problem."

In the years since the planners' paper appeared, Nordhaus and Shellenberger point out, "wicked problems would proliferate along with experts in think tanks, universities, and government agencies who set out to define them." Partisans can find copacetic experts to affirm what they already believe about vaccination, genetically modified crops, drug policy, nuclear power, salt consumption, public transportation, international trade, AIDS, R&D subsidies, school curricula, synthetic chemicals, automobile safety, organic crops, fracking, and so on, practically ad infinitum.

Progressives who believe that corporations are unfairly denying workers a living wage can point to research by analysts at Institute for Research on Labor and Employment to argue that higher minimum wages do not increase unemployment. Free marketeers can turn to the Employment Policies Institute for evidence that boosting minimum wages increases unemployment among the youthful and poor. The pro-immigrant Migration Policy Institute can report that Washington "spends more on its immigration enforcement agencies than on all its other principal criminal federal law enforcement agencies combined." The Center for Immigration Studies, which favors strict immigration enforcement, can denounce the study as "bogus" and "riddled with false statements, cherry-picked statistics, and inappropriate comparisons." Climatologists at the University of Alabama in Huntsville can assert that the atmosphere "has not warmed noticeably since the major El Niño of 1997–98—giving us about a decade and a half of generally stable temperatures." Researchers associated with the Potsdam Institute for Climate Impact Research can report that the warming rate has been "steady" since 1979.

Rittel and Webber also observe that "many societal processes have the character of zero-sum games"—that is, they are processes in which one group's gains result only from another group's equivalent losses. That fact, I suspect, explains why wicked problems are proliferating.

For decades, an increasingly large percentage of our economic output has been moved from the positive-sum game of markets and private property to the zero-sum game of government and politics. According to the Office of Management and Budget, total government spending in the U.S. rose from 17 percent of GDP in 1948 to 35 percent in 2010. As public choice theory predicts, the more resources government bureaucracies control, the more lobbyists, crony capitalists, and entitlement clients will appear seeking to divert handouts into their pockets. Such would-be beneficiaries need experts to construct the facts that they use to justify to political patrons and agency bureaucrats why they deserve a share of the government's largesse. To the extent that we live in a "post-truth era," it is in good measure because it pays so well to dissemble, exaggerate, and spin for government grants and favors.

Ultimately, Rittel and Webber conclude, "There are no value-free, true-false answers to any of the wicked problems governments must deal with." Nordhaus and Shellenberger agree. "The problem is not that we are in a post-truth age," they suggest, "but rather that we have not learned to adapt to it. Perhaps a good place to begin is by recognizing our own biases, perspectives, and agendas and attempting to hold them more lightly."

That would indeed be a good start, but Rittel and Webber hit on a better way to adapt. One "approach to the reconciliation of social values and individual choice," they note, "is to bias in favor of the latter. Accordingly, one would promote widened differentiation of goods, services, environments, and opportunities, such that individuals might more closely satisfy their individual preferences." Instead of entrusting decisions to purportedly "wise and knowledgeable professional experts and politicians" who aim to impose the "one-best answer," individuals should be allowed to pursue their own visions of the true and the good.

The institution best known for increasing the differentiation of goods, services, environments, and opportunities and for enabling people to express their differing values is the free market. Markets don't need to be run by experts. Any entrepreneur with a new idea, service, or product can pursue and try to profit from what they believe to be the truth.


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PostPosted: Tue Feb 05, 2013 5:09 pm
 


I should sue the pants off these guys. I was talking about this in my blog all last year (The post-onbjective era, I called it). I'll have to get my hands on that tame/wicked paper. Haven't come acorss it before.


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PostPosted: Tue Feb 05, 2013 5:13 pm
 


Zipperfish wrote:
I should sue the pants off these guys. I was talking about this in my blog all last year (The post-onbjective era, I called it). I'll have to get my hands on that tame/wicked paper. Haven't come acorss it before.


I was thinking of you when I posted this. Much of what he wrote here has been found as a recurring theme in your more transcendant musings.


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PostPosted: Tue Feb 05, 2013 5:15 pm
 


We do live in the Post-Truth Era. You decide if I'm telling the truth.


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PostPosted: Tue Feb 05, 2013 5:35 pm
 


DanSC wrote:
We do live in the Post-Truth Era. You decide if I'm telling the truth.


That's part of what the guy is saying. Even if you demonstrate and quantify a truth he's saying that someone else will spin it into meaning something else.

In a way, it is a symptom of post-modernism wherein people have been inculcated with the idea that there are no constant truths or concrete absolutes.

Free speech as a human right, for instance, is seen by post-modernists as something conditional and not constant. In other words, if it is best that free speech be restricted, then do it according to the circumstances. Consequently we've yielded the political correctness movement from those post-modernists who define truth as something that doesn't offend anyone who is a member of a group the post-moderninsts care about.

The post-modernists also seem to have an aversion for academic disciplines that are founded in absolutes. History, mathematics, science, English, all are anaethema to the people who think that it is oppressive to have to think that history happened in chronological order and nonsense like that.

Consequently you end up with a population of people who are incapable of logical thought because logic itself dictates absolutes. Thus 'facts' can be whatever you want them to be.

Ignorance becomes strength. Freedom becomes slavery. War becomes peace.


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PostPosted: Tue Feb 05, 2013 7:45 pm
 


Good article and thanks for posting Bartman.


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PostPosted: Tue Feb 05, 2013 7:50 pm
 


What a pack of lies


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PostPosted: Wed Feb 06, 2013 1:28 am
 


Public_Domain wrote:
What a pack of lies


Got that right. The analysis of hyper-partisanship was going OK until it took that wild swerve into the typical "free market always good, government always bad" sewer. Typical of the Randroid bullshit that the clowns at Reason like to spread around every day.


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PostPosted: Wed Feb 06, 2013 5:13 am
 


Question is, was there ever a truth era.


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PostPosted: Wed Feb 06, 2013 7:19 am
 


You can't handle the truth!! It's not so much a lie as a statement suffering from a truth deficit


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PostPosted: Wed Feb 06, 2013 8:20 am
 


The premise of post-truth or post-fact as it is sometimes called is sound and well reported these days.

Ironically, the rest of the OP is a classic example of this as it is an exercise in selective truth telling to peddle the classic neoliberal laissez-faire ideology. For example, the first lesson of Public Policy 101 for students of government is that most of the.time, "there is no one best answer". Second, not all policies can be individualized and privatized. We can't all choose our own personal crime rate, either the streets are safe or theyre not. Lastly, the OP suggests that governments just grew themselves for the hell of it for no articular reason and that crony capitalism emerged in reaction to this, as a means of getting its hands on supposedly idle government cash, which the government was massing for no particular purpose except for.sinister motives of "power" which is just another Milton Friedman school myth.


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PostPosted: Wed Feb 06, 2013 9:46 am
 


desertdude wrote:
Question is, was there ever a truth era.


IN the past, you could appeal to an authority that would be recognized. For centuries in teh western world that was the Church. God was omniscient. God knew everything that you did and everything you thought. The clergy were God's agents on Earth. They became The Truth. With the decline of the Church's influence came sceince and widespread literacy. The press had auhtority for many years--if it was in the paper then it must be true. The world's major dailies adn network news casts were considered objective. You could also appeal to the authority of science. Using the scientific method had an air of finality, especially during the science heyday of the 1950s.

Now the idea of objectivity seems quaint, the idea that something could even be objective, naive.

In my opinion the relativity of truth came about as a natural extension of the relativity of morals. One's confidence in truth is related to one's confidence in one's morals.

Also, we are fire-hosed with data--not information, but data--every day. For 9/11 there a millions of points of datat--photographs, reports, videos, expert opinions, lists, maps, graphs. There is so much datat that you can readily cherry pick a good chunk oif it and use it to support just about any theory you might have.

And finally, the art of communications has evolved. What used to be considered science files (health, the environment) are now considered by sophisticated governments as communications files. The truth doesn't matter; the spin does.


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PostPosted: Wed Feb 06, 2013 10:26 am
 


The internet has enabled the fragmentation of truth. It has made it possible for everyone to not only have an opinion but to disseminate it widely. People feel empowered to believe that their own opinions mean something. Be it a blog, Twitter, Facebook, or other media, people can put their opinions out there and gather a group that thinks the same way. They find their opinions, no matter how outrageous, reinforced by the agreement they can find, never mind that the agreement may be among a small splinter of the public.

When this is combined with the decline of faith in the truth-telling of governments, churches, the news media and other organizations which used to hold considerable clout in the formation of public opinion, there is a stronger belief in the multiplicity of truths, or in the validity of opinions that masquerade as truth.

"Spin" becomes the truth, and the cherry-picking of facts gives it the air of legitimacy.


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PostPosted: Wed Feb 06, 2013 10:37 am
 


Science did it. Caused loss of belief in the church and truth delivered from on high. Then science became the new truth until relativity et al came about. That turned the universe upside down for us, now we realize how little we know for sure. This ethos of question everything seeped into general society. Accelerated by the bullshit of Vietnam and the lies told there, starkly contradicted by people having a front row seat via TV. Greatly reduced trust in govt. Nixon did his share there too. Jacques Derrida certainly didn't help matters.


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PostPosted: Wed Feb 06, 2013 3:27 pm
 


I don't think, wiht respect to science, it had a lot to do with the advent of chaos theory, relativity, Godel's Incompleteness Theorem and Heisenberg's Uncertianty Principle etc. It had more to do with advocacy groups realizing that if they co-opted the role of scientist they could come across as more objective. So then both sides in any given debate wanted to lay claim to the "science." Pretty soon everyone had science on their side--instead of God, I suppose-- and people just tuned out. Science became just another opinion in the mix.


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