Punditry, Science, and Progress
February 11, 2009, 11:24PM
Our reason is failing us in politics. We constantly rehash stale theories and defend dubious platforms. We have Republicans spouting Republican nonsense just so they can justify being Republican, with seemingly little thought on what they are really saying. We have the same thing going on with the Democrats. This has been the way of things for quite some time now. To many, that justifies continuing the shouting matches. Because that's just the way "it is". It doesn't have to be. If you are a fan of President Obama, you may have heard him mention breaking away from the same old tired arguments.
I'm in the middle of reading The Great Influenza by John Barry, and the book talks considerably about how ancient ideas caused little to no growth in the field of medical science in America until the late 1800's. This is because physicians were taught to observe passively, then use reason and logic to make sense of what they observed. Most early medical schools did not require any previous schooling or even any work with actual patients. You just had to attend a few lectures, test over the content, and you were on your way to a promising career! It was thought that by just applying a little logic and reason that ANYONE could be a doctor. "Bleeding" patients made sense because if someone was flushed, draining some blood made them pale. Logical, right?
Great strides in medicine did not come until people quit strictly observing and started experimenting. Physicians started thinking, "Hey, lets cut up a few cadavers and see what is going on inside! Lets document treatments that work and treatments that don't work, so we don't have to reinvent the wheel every time a patient comes in!" You would have thought that some of these ideas would have caught on during the first 2000 years of medicine. The notions were there, but they were not popular. Because that's just not the way things were done.
I know policy is difficult to experiment with, especially economic policy because of all its odd quirks, not the least of which is consumer confidence. But could we not be more scientific about what works and doesn't work? Perhaps throw out a lot of what we "know" out the window, have both sides sit and actually review the same unbiased statistical information, based on what we've done and studying the results and agree that one way provides much more favorable answers? At least use that as a starting point. Maybe introduce ideas on a smaller scale to see what we can learn? And keep observing through the changing of administrations to note long-term results? Could we see if we can't keep from lying to ourselves when we don't know something, and instead try and get the answer?
I guess the problem here is that what "works" for some doesn't "work" for others . I guess it would be too much to hope for finding solutions that work for the MAJORITY. Instead I think we end up with solutions that work for those who come up with ways to fix the solution. And then they get their fat heads on the 24-hour "news" networks and yell about how their way helps them more.
When i was writing this, I envisioned a large dry erase board in an office at the White House, with things on it such as "Top-down economics-- seemed to increase the wealth of those who were wealthy, while not significantly benefiting those who were not wealthy. Not a good policy for the majority of Americans."
I guess I should have more interesting fantasies