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En nou vir iets heeltemal fokken anners.

Posted in journalism,reviews by YTAH on August 14, 2008
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In the last few weeks we’ve done the silly, we’ve done the funny, we’ve even done the obituary. We’ve also updated the site so that the links now show the current headlines. We’ll be trying to keep these more up to date from now on so that visitors can feel free to click away, safe in the knowledge that you won’t be magically transported to a different time and place – the equivalent of waking up and seeing today’s newspaper dated “July 15, 1952”. [This is for the africans site, by the way. Link at the end of the post.]

So in keeping with the atypical, today’s missive will be vaguely more serious ones, since all those cartoons are making our teeth ache already. So let’s hope you all are ready to become informed, because it’s time for our new feature:

Annals of Journalism: Crap-shooting Science

The New Yorker (cover)

I can’t say I care much about science, or technology, but every so often I see a headline that makes me want to read more. One of my favourite news sources, The New Yorker, recently published a story about Big Ideas in science and whether they’re really as rare as we think. The article is about a company called Intellectual Ventures that specializes in interdisciplinary research. Their strategy for improving the world (and making money in the process) is to get a whole bunch of extraordinarily clever people from disparate disciplines together to brainstorm ideas for inventions. Seems that the guy who runs it has decided that Big Ideas can be engineered. This is based on the idea that the most significant new inventions require not so much a completely new insight, but a novel way of combining insights from different disciplines – much in the same way that four people working on a puzzle can work faster and get more done than a single person who only has some of the pieces.

In the article, the writer also suggests that some discoveries may simply become more likely as time passes because they follow (logically or otherwise) from all the other research that preceded it – something which would not strike you as odd if you’ve ever played one of Sid Meier’s Civilization games. It may help to explain why there’s always so much controversy about “who invented what”, à la Thomas Alva Edison vs. Nikola Tesla in The Prestige (2006). The article mentions various examples of may be considered historical precedents for this idea – in particular, the invention of the telephone. And if “Alexander” and “Graham” are the only names that ring a bell when it comes to this nifty little 19th century invention, it would be well worth your while to read the article.

The journalist, Malcolm Gladwell, is a regular contributor to the magazine. He also wrote something a while back about criminal profiling, and its questionable reliability. (The article may as well have been called ‘As Seen on TV’, if you think of all the cop shows and movies who use this “science of guesswork” as a major plot device – Criminal Minds; Law and Order: Criminal Intent; The Silence of the Lambs; Manhunter; Zodiac.) You’ll never look at “the mind of a criminal” the same way again. If you liked those stories, you can check out his profile here: Malcolm Gladwell @ The New Yorker .

Learning to Share

According to Malcolm Gladwell, the history of science is full of ideas that several people had at the same time.

According to Malcolm Gladwell, the history of science is full of ideas that several people had at the same time.

On the subject of sharing and science (see the previous post), an article in the current issue of The New Yorker outlines an unlikely strategy for making money: learning to pool information and resources. According to this article, the secret is to facilitate private ownership with a shared benefit of said ownership. The economists describe this as the problem of commons vs. anticommons: on the one hand, “if a valuable asset (a grazing field, say) is held in common, each individual will try to exploit as much of it as possible”; on the other hand, “If too many people own individual parts of a valuable asset, it’s easy to end up with gridlock, since any one person can simply veto the use of the asset.”

If this whole idea of “sharing” and its benefits sound familiar, you may have heard about game theory, developed by Nobel Prize-winning mathematician John Nash. This theory basically amounts to the realization that “in competitive behaviour, someone always loses.” This, incidentally, is a quote from A Beautiful Mind, the prize-winning biopic of the prize-winning mathematician.

Share and share alike

Ghandi, Civilization 4

So remember children, if you want your children to grow up to be rich and famous philanthropists, think of what that nice Nazi-sympathizing closet homosexual* told us before he went insane:

“If we all go for the blonde and block each other, not a single one of us is going to get her. So then we go for her friends, but they will all give us the cold shoulder because no-one likes to be second choice. But what if none of us goes for the blonde? We won’t get in each other’s way and we won’t insult the other girls. It’s the only way to win. It’s the only way we all get laid.”

(*Totally allegedly, of course.)

[Originally posted on on Thursday,  August 14, 2008.]


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