Link Roundup, 4/3/2017

From The New Yorker: A look at the way the Colorado River is divided up among western states.

From Scientific American: Can the Amazon play a key role in mitigating climate change?

From Governing: Governing delivers another one of those irritating, “Is [insert backwater city] becoming the Silicon Valley of [insert backwater region]” articles. In short, the answer is always no, but the clickbait value is high. Posted as a negative example.

From Catapult: A memoir on the experience of growing up in an extremely religious (perhaps paranoid) family.

From the Daily Beast: I haven’t read Tom Nichols new book, The Death of Expertise, but its on my list. This is an excerpt.

68 Comments

  1. Let’s ‘take it from the top’.

    This discussion began by comparing the certainty of two statements: “Evolution by natural selection occurred on earth.” and, “Human activity is the primary driver of global warming, and if left unchecked, disaster is inevitable.”

    For some reason, the conclusion that the second has more inherent uncertainty than the first was controversial. The parent post was directed toward perceptions of “expertise”, and suggested that due to the robustness of the knowledge base in various fields, not all should be seen as reliable as some others. What followed was a discussion whether or not a.) not only was the parent premise true or not, but b.) whether climate science was really ‘uncertain’ at all.

    Statement 1. is (intentionally) very simple. Statement 2. is not. The words “unchecked”, and “disastrous” are not quantitative. Many comments were directed to the defense of AGW, and the underlying science. Others went farther to effectively suggest a virtual absence of uncertainty within the discipline.

    In fact, hundreds of papers have been written on the topic. van der Sluijs addresses the problem in his paper, “Uncertainty as a monster in the science–policy interface: four coping strategies” htttp://citeseerx.ist.psu.edu/viewdoc/download;jsessionid=EB6254AF26B53F131C21E985198C94EF? Judith Curry’s position is fairly covered in this article from “Nature”: http://www.nature.com/news/2010/101101/full/news.2010.577.html

    WX Wall brought the important concept of ‘p’ – which is really at the heart of the issue. Obviously, some values of ‘p’ are acceptable in some areas, but not in others due to the magnitude of consequences. This is important, but slightly off the bore sight of the discussion. The first statement *by itself* would carry a value of ‘p’ that approaches zero. The second would have a value much higher. (In fact it could be *orders of magnitude higher*, and still not suggest it wise to ignore it!) Does this comparison suggest statement 2 is invalid, or that it should be ignored on that basis? Of course not, as the consequences of it being true are very bad.

    Public discourse on science and public policy is not well served by denial of non-zero ‘p’s within disciplines. The public perception of “expertise” has morphed from expertness within a discipline, to some form of ultimate reliability, without regard to the discipline itself. This was, and remains my point.

    Thanks to Duncan, WX Wall, Fair Economist, tmerritt15 and crogged for their time and participation in this dialog. And also to Mary, (mime) for her valuable insight and contributions.

  2. This thread is a joy to read!

    A bunch of “experts” bickering respectfully with each other, and the rest of us watching on the sidelines and injecting the occasional intelligent remark, with even some puns thrown in.

    Expertise is very much alive, and so are intelligence and wit.

  3. Hi Fifty
    You are STILL confusing actual MEASURED CHANGE with PREDICTED CHANGE

    We have MEASURED the rise in temperature – and we PREDICT that it will go higher

    The first part is absolutely rock solid!
    – measurement was my game for a couple of decades

    The second part I would have said is rock solid that its going UP – there is some room for debate about how much

    BUT – IF – It does NOT get ANY hotter – zero further increase in temperature – we are STILL in for a lot of sea level rise as the heat gets deeper into the oceans and the ice melts

    So that is the absolute minimum – where the temperature increase STOPS despite the increasing levels of CO2

    And STILL we are heading for a disaster – how big? – depends on how long it takes the earth to move into it’s new equilibrium position

    Now the actual situation is worse – the PREDICTIONs so far have been amazingly accurate – so there is no good reason to believe that the temperature will level off
    (and a large number of reasons to believe that the rate of rise will increase)

    Again – that is not necessary to the original statement
    And the “Predictions” are not as cast iron as the measurements
    (just rock solid not cast iron)

    As far as Darwin is concerned – you are denigrating the man – he did not produce some empty phrase
    He did an ocean of work supporting his specific theory of what was happening
    AND
    As can be expected after so long and so many people working on it his initial work it has been transformed beyond recognition
    As you said with Newton – we could not have things like GPS using Newtonian Mechanics
    We would also not have a lot of the current genetic engineering and rectification using “Darwinian Evolution”

  4. This article brightened my day when I read it. I really needed a positive story.

    It’s about a community that’s “all in” for educating their kids. I never understood why school facilities are not used more than they are, for child care in off hours and during summer break. Maybe things are different now than when I was young. Or maybe I’m missing something. It would require extra spending but it seems like it would be an effective way to provide tremendous value to the community.

    ***This individual attention has paid off, as Union has defied the demographic odds. In 2016, the district had a high school graduation rate of 89 percent — 15 percentage points more than in 2007, when the community was wealthier, and 7 percentage points higher than the national average.

    The school district also realized, as Ms. Burden put it, that “focusing entirely on academics wasn’t enough, especially for poor kids.” Beginning in 2004, Union started revamping its schools into what are generally known as community schools. These schools open early, so parents can drop off their kids on their way to work, and stay open late and during summers. They offer students the cornucopia of activities — art, music, science, sports, tutoring — that middle-class families routinely provide. They operate as neighborhood hubs, providing families with access to a health care clinic in the school or nearby; connecting parents to job-training opportunities; delivering clothing, food, furniture and bikes; and enabling teenage mothers to graduate by offering day care for their infants.***

    https://www.nytimes.com/2017/04/01/opinion/sunday/who-needs-charters-when-you-have-public-schools-like-these.html

    1. Absolutely where public education needs to go. Years ago (90s) when I was actively involved in public education, a very brave, creative lady proposed that instead of closing our public school libraries during the summer (as they always had been), that we should open them up as a block of summertime enrichment, that encompassed reading, the arts, atypical short courses – all for the joy of learning and to keep kids who needed year round education in the loop. It went nowhere. Some things are hard to change….Glad this school broke the mold!

  5. Loved the article on the CO River. Water is reputed to be the future most scarce resource in the world. Who knows, though, what “man’s inventive mind” will conceive to ensure supplies. In many places, water has been a force for good and bad. The power of water from its volume and force have been devastating in natural disasters the world over. We’ve harnessed water and bent it to our needs but the old-timers frequently observe – water will always seek its own way, despite dams, locks, levees, canals. There are farmers in CA’s agricultural valley that are changing the crops they’ve planted for decades due to water limitations (and, now, lack of skilled workers). Gone will be the CA pistachios and avocados and other crops that are water guzzlers. Very important work is going on in undeveloped areas of the world to bring potable water to those living there. Great story!

    1. Pistachios are a desert tree and already about as much of a non-guzzler as you’ll find in terms of value per gallon. Almonds got a lot of bad press because they collectively use a lot of water – but that’s because there are *so* many almond trees there – 82% of the ENTIRE world production. It’s natively a Mediterranean climate tree, which is to say appropriate for CA, and also has high value per gallon. The water-wasters are crops like alfalfa, which generate relatively little value for the water they consume. Avocados are in-between.

      This is not to say water usage can’t be improved for the nut trees, because it can. But crops like pistachios and almonds are a good fit for CA.

  6. On Expertise: “Experts”, those whom by education or experience, should be rightly trusted more than dilettantes. Unfortunately, fields of expertise vary greatly in their level of reliability. This is a source of substantial confusion.

    For example the statement, “Evolution by natural selection occurred on earth.”, carries with it a level of certainty. So does the statement, “Human activity is the primary driver of global warming, and if left unchecked, disaster is inevitable.” Both these statements come with evidence to support them. But is there an equivalence in the reliability of the evidence? Anyone who thinks so should consider turning in their credentials as an expert.

    How about, “Quantum Mechanics describes the behavior of matter and energy.”, and, “The consumption of saturate fats causes adverse health outcomes in humans.” Again, these two statements have evidence associated with them, but the reliability of that evidence is not even in the same ballpark.

    The reliability of expertise must be considered in light of the quality of available knowledge, and the robustness of the underlying models. To what extent are the models predictive? The social sciences are excellent examples of fields where not only are the models but weakly predictive, (at best in many cases), but are replete with ‘experts’ professing a certainty of knowledge in their fields on par with the certainty of the existence of the Higgs boson. This is patently absurd.

    The notion that from the standpoint of epistemology, all ‘experts’, without regard area, merit the same consideration regarding the reliability of their pronouncements, is very, very foolish.

    It strikes me that the unfortunate backlash against “expertise” could well be the result of the experts themselves overestimating the basic quality of knowledge in their fields.

    “Doctor, heal thyself.”

    1. “For example the statement, “Evolution by natural selection occurred on earth.”, carries with it a level of certainty. So does the statement, “Human activity is the primary driver of global warming, and if left unchecked, disaster is inevitable.” Both these statements come with evidence to support them. But is there an equivalence in the reliability of the evidence? Anyone who thinks so should consider turning in their credentials as an expert.”

      Now as an engineer with more than a little knowledge of both fields I would have said that the evidence for both statements was massively overwhelming and that one lot of massively overwhelming evidence IS equivalent to the other lot of overwhelming evidence
      Tell me where do you find a lack of equivalence?

      Your second example I would agree – there is a YUGE – Massive disparity between almost certainty and bloody close to no evidence at all

      1. Sorry, Duncan – it’s not even close. Modern biological science would not even be possible without Darwin. His theory is so fundamental, so elemental to our understanding of biological systems, that without it, we’d be where physics was before Einstein.

        On the other hand, climate modelling is no where near that level of certainty. The inherent complexity of the system renders it, while not entirely inscrutable, without question prone to far, far more uncertainty. It goes like this: Were Darwin to be somehow disproved, or shown to be not explanatory in a significant sense, biology would be turned on its head. Were AGW shown to be a false concept, due to any number of factors poorly understood at this time, climate science would carry on.

        You’re simply wrong on this one, buddy.

        Chime in here, Fly.

      2. Hi Fifty
        Disagree – even if you totally eliminate the modeling side of climate change we have the effects that have already happened – and are still working their way through
        We have MEASURED – not extrapolated – the increase in temperatures – and that increase is busy melting the ice and working its way into the oceans to expand them!
        The non modeling – the actual measurement side of the Climate change – is rock solid supported by incredible amounts of data

        So we know where we are to a very high level of accuracy

        We also know (amongst other things) that the last time that the CO2 levels were this high the sea was a LOT higher (40m?)

        So saying that
        “Human activity is the primary driver of global warming, and if left unchecked, disaster is inevitable.”

        “Human activity is the primary driver of global warming,
        YEP, measured isotope ratios, calculations, measurements – damn solid!

        and if left unchecked, disaster is inevitable.” –
        The last time that CO2 was this level sea was a lot higher – YEP – measured
        The ice is melting – YEP – measured
        The sea is warming – YEP – measured

        Having the sea level rise by meters would be a “disaster” – YEP can’t argue with that

        You don’t need any complex modeling to see where we are heading

        If you want to work out how much damage that your car is going to take when hilling that lampost then you need some very complex modeling of the impact characteristics
        Just knowing it is going to be seriously damaged does not require and is not dependant on the modeling

        And in the case of Climate change the models are actually doing incredibly well

        I disagree on the Darwin statement
        Darwin is like Newton – he has already been supplanted by much more complete answers ( like Einstein supplanted Newton) and that has NOT turned biology on it’s head any more than Einstein’s work meant that gunnery tables didn’t work anymore

      3. Darwin has been “supplanted”? Really? By what measure?

        If you really believe climate science is at the same level of certainty in its models and forecasts as Darwinian evolutionary theory, you are making my point. No serious climate scientist would make such a statement. All not only allow for uncertainty, but sweat the details of little things like the effects of water vapor, time constants and capacities of carbon sinks and buffers, statistical uncertainties associated with temperature measurement and location, superposition of very long term, but unrelated natural variations, and many others. Do you really believe these are completely understood? Am I to find the statement, “the last time that the CO2 levels were this high the sea was a LOT higher”, convincing to the central point? Listen: I’m not arguing the validity of AGW here. (You did read what I wrote, right?) I said that the uncertainty of disastrous effects due to unchecked human activity is (much) greater than the validity of Darwinian evolutionary theory. No more, and no less.

        You see, this is exactly the problem I was alluding to in my original post. The inability, (or refusal), of the public to discern underlying uncertainty in the various knowledge disciplines, is problematic.

      4. Oh yes – and Darwin did indeed turn biology on its head, to a far greater degree than anything before, since, or on the horizon. Without Einstein, the modern world as we know it would be essentially impossible. We could still hurl cannon balls alright – but precision guidance might be a bit of an issue 😉

      5. Fifty
        You are still confusing – PREDICTION – with MEASUREMENT

        We cannot – PREDICT the climate change with cast iron certainty
        (Certainly not to local area level of precision)
        But we can MEASURE the changes that have already happened with very high precision and accuracy

        So all of the details of water vapor and carbon buffers are irrelevant when we are talking about the measured changes

        And the measured changes add up to a disaster coming – no matter how you skew it if we keep on down this road we are hitting the lamp standard – the modeling will only tell us the amount of the damage

        The CO2 historical measurements are again – measurements – now it is possible that that specific measurement series may be found to have some bad assumptions – but it ties into all of the others

        Darwin did indeed turn biology on it’s head – but anybody at university using classic Darwinist evolutionary theory to answer a question would get a D-
        The science has come a LONG way since then
        Darwin was before;
        Mendelian genetics
        Punctuated Equilibrium
        DNA
        Methylation of DNA
        And long before the work that is currently being done on epigenetics

        The basic Darwinian “theory of random changes and a selection process” Does still stand but the details have been massively changed in the last 100 years – in fact even that “random changes” part is now “random changes along low energy paths” – as some changes are simply much more likely than others

      6. Duncan – Measurement error is extremely important. Climate models are sensitive to initial conditions. Next, water vapor is the most abundant and significant greenhouse gas. It also forms clouds which have their own complex effects. These must be incorporated into the models. I am not referring merely to humidity measurement. Buffers and sinks are also critical to the models themselves. I’m going on the assumption you’ve built models before, and have used them. Please correct me if I am wrong.

      7. On Darwin, you’re talking about mechanisms of genetic change. Of course Chuck didn’t know about DNA. It didn’t matter. The theory was, and remains, that organisms evolve and adapt to environmental pressures by a process of natural selection. *Not a whit* of this has changed since it’s publication in 1859. Nothing.

        Just as here, there are nut bags in Kiwi who say stupid crap like, “It’s just a theory, right. Don’t you know what that means? It might not be true! Scientists say so themselves!” And therefore, “God made us and all the animals, just like the Bible said.”

        No Duncan – the uncertainty of Chuck’s theory is about zero. Evolution happened.

        We cannot predict climate change with “cast iron accuracy” as you correctly say. This is because we do not have a fully descriptive model of the atmosphere. There remain uncertainties.

        There are about zero uncertainties in Darwin’s fundamental model. Of course, the idea of AGW is different than Natural Selection. They are fundamentally different processes. But if you believe that perceived uncertainty in the “Theory” of Evolution is not extended to justify AGW skepticism, by the Kiwi nut bags, and others all over the planet I mentioned above, I’ve got news for you.

      8. Do you need a mathematical model to build a greenhouse? The ‘uncertainty’ you speak of isn’t the science of what happens to an atmosphere which goes from ‘small amounts of carbon dioxide’ to ‘large amounts of carbon dioxide’.

      9. Crogged – The CO2 concentration in the atmosphere is about 400 parts per million. Most would consider that small. Other stuff in the atmosphere, like water vapor, traps more heat than CO2. Water vapor concentration is a function of temperature. Some clouds reflect more radiation back into space than others. The question is a complex one, and yes it does require a complex math model to divine useful results.

      10. Fifty-the last time in 400 thousand years when the CO2 level was 400 ppm is now. I don’t know how/if we can determine levels prior to then-we are going to run this experiment despite our inability to model it.

      11. crogged – This is true. But we’re in an interglacial period where CO2 levels tend to be high – though not this high. The real issue as I see it is the rate of change.

        The larger issue, as you mention, is the ‘grand experiment’. You know well that the carbon output of the developed world has been falling, with no sign of leveling off, for a number of reasons. The future is really what’s going to happen in the developing world – particularly China and India. There has been much talk of China’s reaching peak output last year. But this ignores a.) a stagnating economy, and b.) opacity of figures from Beijing. Should the economies of these players pick up substantially, coal is from a practical standpoint, their only option. And this is bad news.

        So the real problem is not only the climate models, but the economic ones as well. I think I alluded to the fact, (far above), and that ‘science’ has even greater uncertainty.

      12. mime – Yes, divine:

        verb
        verb: divine; 3rd person present: divines; past tense: divined; past participle: divined; gerund or present participle: divining
        discover (something) by guesswork or intuition.
        “his brother usually divined his ulterior motives”
        synonyms: guess, surmise, conjecture, deduce, infer

      13. It’s a shame how many people think knowing Spanish is an impediment to learning English, when in fact it’s a major advantage. It’s like knowing Latin. You learn a lot of the Latin root words of English.

      1. Hah! Perfect response, EJ! They are indeed wide due to everything from measurement inaccuracies, to potential flaws in the models. But there was a Big Bang, wasn’t there? Not much doubt about that. We know we are on a collision course with Andromeda. But we don’t know if WHIMPs exist or not. And the CMB! We know where it came from, but what about that tiny anisotropy? And don’t get me started on that pesky solar neutrino flux.

        Hubris is never a characteristic of good science, is it?

    2. Without getting into the details of mathematical modelling and the meaning of words, and so on, I will say when one gets into the high mountains and sees with one’s own eyes that the glaciers are steadily retreating, it is a pretty convincing argument that the global climate is warming. Likewise when the arctic is warming very rapidly, the glaciers in Antarctica and Greenland are melting, that is also quite convincing. Also in my almost 60 years of living in the Puget Sound area, I’ve clearly noticed a warming of the winters, longer and drier summers, and other phenomena associated with the various models. I became convinced that global warming was real in the late 1970’s and early 1980’s when the retreating of the glaciers in the Cascades became very obvious due to the glacial moraines and historical markers, as mentioned earlier.

      I too am an engineer, but rather than being submerged in the mathematics, I look on the math as a tool towards the understanding of various phenomena. In the case of global warming the mathematical models clearly confirm the observations of my own eyes and experiences, as well as the measurements. To me that is quite convincing.

      1. Not just there. It’s extremely apparently here in Southern California, because it stopped freezing. Historically it froze in the SoCal coastal basin (LA except the valley + Long Beach + Orange County) about once a year (not every year, but on average). The last time, however, was over 20 years ago. People are planting tropical fruit trees now like bananas. And even in Alabama my mother commented they didn’t get winter this year.

      2. Mere mortals can appreciate “hard” science even though we lack the training and education of scientists and other professionals to understand its complexity. Scientists gain understanding through proofs that yield verifiable results and ordinary people grapple with sifting through the preponderance of their findings. Fortunately, the beauty and contradictions of our world are observable by everyone, even though our understanding may be different. It’s special that on some level, every person, regardless of intellect or education can appreciate the miracle of the world we live in even though we are unable to explain “why” it is so. It pleases me that I can be informed by the “hard” work of those who study science while not losing the simple pleasure of observation.

    3. Fifty-

      2 points: First, the question isn’t just how confident you are in your predictions. It’s what level of confidence you require to take action. For example, a common measure of confidence, the so-called ‘p’ value tells you what is the chance that a measured difference was purely random. E.g. in medicine, if people who take a certain medicine live longer than people who take placebo, what is the chance that was purely random variation vs. an actual effect of the medicine? In medicine, we commonly accept only p values less than .05, i.e. less than 5% chance that the results were random.

      On the other hand, in some sciences, they accept a p value of 0.30, i.e. there can be a 30% chance that the results are random. Why the difference? Because bad decisions in medicine can kill people, so we demand a higher level of confidence.

      So… even if for agument’s sake I accept that the evidence for human-induced climate change is less certain than Darwin (will get to that in a minute), that’s not the only question to ask. The 2nd part to that is, what level of confidence do you require to start making the changes needed to avert those changes? And that involves asking what’s the downside of being wrong? If we’re wrong about climate change but have improved energy efficiencies, weaned off fossil fuels, etc. “for nothing”, we will have spent a lot of money, changed several industries, etc., but our way of life would be largely unchanged (and potentially even improved beyond just climate stuff).

      If we’re wrong the other way, i.e. ignoring climate change, and it turns out to be real (per Duncan, it’s already here), the consequences will be much, much worse (the majority of the world’s population lives in coastal areas that will be flooded, triggering massive relocations and displacements, not to mention the incredible, unknown effects to massive ecosystems that can’t adapt to rapid climate changes, etc.).

      Given that decision, the level of certainty I personally require to decide to support environmental measures is very low. Again, medicine is a useful example: while most drugs need a p < 0.05 before being approved, if your drug could potentially save lives in devastating diseases that otherwise have no good treatments and short life expectancies, the FDA will grant so-called "compassionate use" waivers to begin treatment before all the data is collected.

      2) About Darwin… Yes, evolution is rock solid. And natural selection hasn't been challenged. But you bet there are massive debates in evolutionary science about speciation i.e. the process of new species forming (which, after all, is the topic of his magnum opus, 'On the Origin of Species'…). Short summary of one debate: how important is geographic isolation? That is, if you have tons of natural selection pressure but animals can continue to intermingle, you'll never have separate species, because genes will always intermingle. OTOH, if you have animals living in geographic isolation (say, finches in the Galapagos islands), even with very little natural selection pressure, you'll eventually get new species due to random genetic changes that aren't shared and eventually become enough to prevent the animals from mating and producing viable offspring (the definition of species).

      So yes. Entire careers are still built on debating how evolution and natural selection produces species, and what other forces are involved. The topic is far from settled. But that doesn't mean we toss everything about evolution out the window and go back to creationism, which is the equivalent of what climate change deniers wish to do just because there are still uncertainties about *some* of the conclusions that climate change scientists are still investigating.

      1. One other point: you keep talking about evolution as having “happened”, therefore true. While climate change is all about predictions, therefore less confident.

        Evolution has happened and has been observed. New species have been borne from old species. Yes. But give an evolutionary scientist a specific bird species and ask him if that bird will eventually give rise to 2 species, when it will occur, and what those species will look like, and he’ll be stumped. Many scientific sessions and PhDs later, they may still not have an answer. So I guess evolution is still not certain since it can’t make predictions about speciation with absolute certainty?

        Similarly, climate changes have also been observed. So far, almost all measurements and historical data has agreed with the models. But of course, the question is what will happen in the future, and that’s not so certain. However, I’d wager that climate scientists’ predictions about how the Earth’s climate will change in the next 20 years are far more certain than evolutionary scientists’ predictions about how many new species the Earth will have in 20 years.

        So when you compare apples to apples (past observations vs. past observations, and future predictions vs. future predictions) which one actually has higher confidence levels?

  7. I see an overall move away from formal education to self-study, be it from books or online sources, or a combination of both, due to the ever-rising cost of higher education, and the decrease in importance of a degree.

    I’ve even seen it advocated on this blog. I think it was RYAN?

    Please correct me if I’m mistaken about the person, or about my interpretation of what was said. Thanks.

    1. Tutt – Unfortunately, the complexity of many, many fields requires extensive training in a very wide range of superficially unrelated subjects. For example, one may well wish to be an electrical engineer. Well, that person simply cannot begin by studying electrical engineering. Only after years of study in mathematics, physics, and several other fields, (fields that I might add, are not particularly well-suited to self-study by most people), would the actual meat of the discipline even make sense. Furthermore, the acquisition of knowledge is itself a skill, and one taught largely at the university level, (though perhaps not very well), and generally quite poorly at the secondary level. That is I think, the problem with your thesis.

      1. Fifty, I agree, especially with regards to the hard sciences. There are some subjects which I think are well-suited to self-study — foreign language learning, for example.

        The point I was trying to get at is that the move toward self-study, thanks to a blind trust in information gleaned from the internet, is another symptom of a move away from “real” experts.

        As for average citizens always wanting to make a point about subjects they know little or nothing about . . . you know what they say about opinions . . . everybody’s got one, and people just love putting in their two cents’ worth. I don’t think that will ever change. In any case, if we spoke only about matters in which we are expert, we’d be mostly silent, and Americans LOVE to talk.

      2. I’m generally with you, Tutt. But even as they say, “All foreign languages are simple – even the children and the dogs understand them”, this statement belies an important oversimplification. Absent a deeper understanding of human language and its structure, it’s pretty much impossible to become much more than conversational in a language on one’s own. Such a level of ‘expertise’ is really not of much use in, for example, the business world.

        Of course, this is certainly not to say exceptions to the rule do not exist. By the metric of financial success, we needn’t go far down the list of the list of the richest people on earth to find them. On the other hand, fields as disparate as welding, medicine, or even Art History, brook no exceptions. Or the law, or accounting, or most other fields that come to mind. While it is true that internal protectionism from within the fields themselves forces adherence to conventional educational tracks, I think most of the skill and knowledge areas that will be critical to success in our increasingly knowledge-based economy will require formal education, especially if “expert” status is the goal. My essential point here is that I’d not recommend an ‘unconventional’ approach to education to anyone. The odds against success are just too great.

      3. Today you are totally correct. What is interesting is to look back in history at some of the marvelous constructions and inventions that were made with little other than the human mind and ingenuity… My father was unable to complete his college degree in engineering (the depression intruded); however, he worked his entire life in the engineering field. We are very fortunate to have the formal educational venues to pursue degrees in medicine, the legal field, and many other professions that at one time were self-taught or apprenticed.

      4. So happy to hear that.

        I think the issue arises from the rapidly expanding body of knowledge in most fields. The generation before your father’s birth saw the invention of the airplane, the automobile, antibiotics, and I’m not even close to the end of the A’s. The rate of expansion is exponential. This fact has increased the requirement of specialization. ‘Expertise’ in just about any field requires *deep knowledge*. This is way harder to get sans formal education. You cannot really know where to even begin. It’s anything but obvious.

      5. Fifty, with regards to language learning, I wasn’t referring to basic conversational skills, but to the learning of structure, etc. This, I think, can be done on one’s own if one has a innate interest and an innate talent in the subject, and it matters not whether it’s useful, in the business world, or elsewhere.

        I started reading books on English grammar since I was about 10, and learning foreign languages has always come easily to me, not just the conversational part but also the grammar and the pronunciation (beyond just getting my message across). I do it for the sheer joy of it.

      6. My husband taught himself Italian through tapes and a book. Of course it helped that he was genetically pre-disposed to an Italian accent (-; When we travelled in Italy and Sicily, he was able to get along pretty well. He did use a few expressions that he grew up hearing from his dad, but the locals (Sicily) laughed when they heard them…Even in a small village, they didn’t use those terms anymore! It was fun…

      7. With respect to how I go about my self-study of languages … I usually begin by listening to the spoken language on CD or tape constantly until I perfect the pronunciation, as the language permeates my consciousness and I start thinking and dreaming in that language. Then I move on to the grammar, and eventually to vocabulary and conversation.

      8. And then, if I DO take a formal class, I already have a jump start. At that point, my instructor is there more to fill in the blanks of what I have trouble grasping, to give me validation and feedback. I tend to view my language instructors almost as fellow experts.

  8. From the article about the DEATH of EXPERTISE: “This is the opposite of education, which should aim to make people, no matter how smart or accomplished they are, learners for the rest of their lives.”
    *********************
    People have so many different ideas as to the purpose of education, it’s no wonder we differ as to who is considered “educated.”

    Education can mean learning simply for the sake and the pleasure of learning, as noted above — “learners for the rest of their lives.” Or it can be based upon the liberal arts, but still pre-professional. Or it can be purely vocational. It can be “book learning,” versus “common sense learning.” It’s no wonder “common sense” is seen by many as the equivalent of, or superior to, “book learning.”

Leave a Reply