Saturday, September 10, 2011

What’s all this “competence” stuff I’ve been hearing about?


There have been a number of things going on in the world which have been driving a number of people crazy for quite some time. I don’t know, but I think as a public service some noble yet humble volunteer should step forward and spot some basic element in these seemingly unrelated problems and put something out there—as a service to the fellows with whom he shares the planet—which would help to straighten out a large number of troubles people have been having.

It seems to me that nobody of the above description is willing to step forward and risk enduring the criticism by providing this service…so I guess I’ll just have to do it.

The fly in the ointment that I see is in a basic understanding of science. Not, mind you, what it does but just the basic definition of what it is. Science as a field of practice has accomplished a lot of wonderful things in this world at this time and it’s taken a lot of very smart and expert people to get most of them together and make them work.

Now consider this very carefully. In order for a person to look at someone who they conceive to be smart or have expertise in some area, they also have to conceive that either they themselves are not smart or they don’t have that expertise. Don’t they? So when that expertise is something which is required, to a greater or lesser degree for your survival, you tend to take the expert’s word for it don’t you? A doctor is more likely to know if the levels of iron in your blood are too high than you isn’t he? Even more than that he should be able to tell you what they should be and how to keep them in the proper range. That’s what he’s paid for isn’t it? In this world there are so many different technologies we can’t keep up with that we are always surrounded by people who claim expertise in something. After a while I’d suppose that taking the so called educated experts at their word could in some people’s minds become a bit of a habit.

Now let’s look at the definition of “science.” After a brief search I found the following two definitions; 1) a systematically organized body of knowledge about a particular subject,” and 2) the state of knowing: knowledge as distinguished from ignorance or misunderstanding. I also found that the word science comes from a Latin word "sciens" which means “having knowledge.”

It would seem that science means knowing something about something wouldn’t it?

An engineer who builds a bridge should know how much of what grade materials he should use to keep the bridge from crashing into the river shouldn’t he? The designer of the new aircraft should be able to tell you how many pounds of pressure the wings can take before they come off shouldn’t he? The designers of electrical grids should know how much stress the system can take before everything bursts into flame or the grid shuts down. Nuclear engineers should know how much water it takes to keep the reactor cool and what size pipes to use with how many pounds of water pressure to keep the system from melting down.

These guys generally know what they are doing with an almost absolute certainty. Sure, sometimes they get it wrong but most of the time, to the degree that the failures are almost statistically insignificant, they get it right. On the rare occasions when they do get it wrong the results are catastrophic.

I can look in the reloading manual and see on the charts how much gunpowder is needed to load my rifle cartridges. I can measure out the power and put it in the case and with the correct bullet and primer properly installed I can go out to the gun range and hopefully have a nice day of shooting. I can enter the variables into my computer and predict how I have to adjust the scope for the distance I’m shooting. I set up my targets, my shooting bench and my rifle, then put my home loaded cartridges in take aim and pull the trigger. Click, boom, whack! A hole appears on the target at the bull’s-eye. Click, boom, whack! Another hole, very near the first one on the target. Click, boom, whack! Again I’ve hit the target on the bull’s-eye. It could be said that if I continue to do this consistently over a period of time that I know what I’m doing. Right? Why? Because my results are predictable! Because I can accurately predict the outcome it would indicate I’m using a valid scientific methodology.

What would it mean if I pulled the trigger and the gun didn’t go off? Then I pulled the trigger and killed the cat at the farmhouse three miles away? Then I pulled the trigger and the bullet hit my car? After pulling the trigger again the gun exploded? It would mean that I don’t know what the bloody hell I’m doing! It would therefore also mean I wasn’t using a valid scientific technique wouldn’t it? It doesn’t matter what my intention is, the cat is still dead!

Well what if the bridges crash into the river? The wings come off the planes? The electrical grids burst into flame and shut down? Or the reactor melts down? You would say they don’t know what they are doing wouldn’t you? So if the administration says the new stimulus bill will keep the unemployment rate below eight percent and it rises to almost ten percent? And every single time some talking head financial guru says the market is going to rise and it declines five-hundred points “unexpectedly”?

How about somebody twenty years ago saying global warming would have killed all of the fish in the sea by now? What if forty years ago somebody else said there would be an ice age by now? What if somebody said there would be no ozone layer protecting us from the Sun’s radiation by now and we would all be baked, like Cheetos, to a crackly crunch? Is that a valid scientific methodology?

What if psychologist and psychiatrist proclaimed that they could reduce crime and the crime rates went up? What if they said they were educational experts and the literacy rates crashed? What if they said they would cure or beneficially treat insanity and most of their existing patients never fully recovered but more than that the numbers of insane people went through the roof? What if they said they could help with suicides in society and the suicide rates went up? What if they had a theory, which was never proven, that insanity was cause by chemical imbalances in the brain and could be treated by Zoloft, which didn’t help, then Zanex which made the depression worse, then Prozac which made him kill his kids with an axe, then Lexipro which gave the symptoms of Parkinson’s disease, then electro-convulsive therapy which left them in a semi-zombie like state where they couldn’t remember their name, then Lithium, then, then, then, etc., etc., etc., and this continued for forty years in case after case after case. What if the gunman in almost every single one of these horrific mass shootings in recent years had therapeutic levels of the above drugs in their system at the time of the shooting? Would you say the people treating them were effective? Were they being scientific? Would you say they even know what they’re doing?

Sometimes the experts really are experts and sometimes they really aren’t. We as people of the world need to know how to spot the difference. Too many times people who go through our broken educational system have had their heads filled with false and harmful data, yet somehow we, and they, think they are wise without them ever having to actually prove it. Sometimes they are put in high places of authority over us with disastrous results. I think if somebody makes the claim that they can do something they damn well should be able to do it in a reasonable time with very few excuses or mistakes. After our trust is placed in them and we find that trust has been betrayed by their lack of competence I think it’s all together appropriate to forever strip them of any position of power in the public arena and make certain they can never again, without proving themselves, find themselves in a position of power again.

It’s important for people in positions of trust to know what they are doing. The evaluation of them should be based on their results not their intentions. If the results they claim are not accurately the results they get, they shouldn’t have that position regardless of their authority, education or how well they present themselves. Knowing natural law is science. The ability to apply it is competence. All the authority and education on the planet cannot overturn natural law.

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