Tuesday, March 02, 2010

WTF? Mesofacts?

[x Dayton Fishwrap]
The Fact That Doesn't Change In Texas: The SBOE (State Board Of Education) Is Filled Wtih Dumbos!
By Mike Peters

[Mike Peters is a cartoonist who draws the popular comic strip "Mother Goose and Grimm," as well as syndicated editorial cartoons that appear in papers all over the United States. He won the Pulitzer Prize for editorial cartooning in 1981. His home paper is the Dayton Daily News in Dayton, Ohio.

As a joke, he once stood on the building ledge outside the Daily News building for thirty minutes wearing a Superman costume so that he could make an entrance to a meeting through the window in the manner of TV actor George Reeves entering Perry White's office on "The Adventures of Superman."]

Copyright © 2010 Mike Peters

The reason this blogger refers to Republicans as Dumbos is that their mascot is an elephant with big ears and these Republicans and their fellow-travelers are dumber than dirt. (Consider the former Governor of Alaska with her talking points scribbled in the palm of her hand. Brilliant!) It is no small irony that the nonsense that men rode dinosaurs began with V.(incent) T.(rout) Hamilin's 1930s cartoon, "Alley Oop" that still appears in 600 papers in this country. Hamlin was living in Iraan (no misspelling), TX when he started drawing his cave man cartoon. If this is the (fair & balanced) revelation that Dumbo stupidity is an unchanging fact, so be it.

[x Boston Fishwrap]
Warning: Your Reality Is Out Of Date
By Samuel Arbesman

Tag Cloud of the following article

created at TagCrowd.com

When people think of knowledge, they generally think of two sorts of facts: facts that don’t change, like the height of Mount Everest or the capital of the United States, and facts that fluctuate constantly, like the temperature or the stock market close.

But in between there is a third kind: facts that change slowly. These are facts which we tend to view as fixed, but which shift over the course of a lifetime. For example: What is Earth’s population? I remember learning 6 billion, and some of you might even have learned 5 billion. Well, it turns out it’s about 6.8 billion.

Or, imagine you are considering relocating to another city. Not recognizing the slow change in the economic fortunes of various metropolitan areas, you immediately dismiss certain cities. For example, Pittsburgh, a city in the core of the historic Rust Belt of the United States, was for a long time considered to be something of a city to avoid. But recently, its economic fortunes have changed, swapping steel mills for technology, with its job growth ranked sixth in the entire United States.

These slow-changing facts are what I term “mesofacts.” Mesofacts are the facts that change neither too quickly nor too slowly, that lie in this difficult-to-comprehend middle, or meso-, scale. Often, we learn these in school when young and hold onto them, even after they change. For example, if, as a baby boomer, you learned high school chemistry in 1970, and then, as we all are apt to do, did not take care to brush up on your chemistry periodically, you would not realize that there are 12 new elements in the Periodic Table. Over a tenth of the elements have been discovered since you graduated high school! While this might not affect your daily life, it is astonishing and a bit humbling.

For these kinds of facts, the analogy of how to boil a frog is apt: Change the temperature quickly, and the frog jumps out of the pot. But slowly increase the temperature, and the frog doesn’t realize that things are getting warmer, until it’s been boiled. So, too, is it with humans and how we process information. We recognize rapid change, whether it’s as simple as a fast-moving object or living with the knowledge that humans have walked on the moon. But anything short of large-scale rapid change is often ignored. This is the reason we continue to write the wrong year during the first days of January.

Our schools are biased against mesofacts. The arc of our educational system is to be treated as little generalists when children, absorbing bits of knowledge about everything from biology to social studies to geology. But then, as we grow older, we are encouraged to specialize. This might have been useful in decades past, but in our increasingly fast-paced and interdisciplinary world, lacking an even approximate knowledge of our surroundings is unwise.

Updating your mesofacts can change how you think about the world. Do you know the percentage of people in the world who use mobile phones? In 1997, the answer was 4 percent. By 2007, it was nearly 50 percent. The fraction of people who are mobile phone users is the kind of fact you might read in a magazine and quote at a cocktail party. But years later the number you would be quoting would not just be inaccurate, it would be seriously wrong. The difference between a tiny fraction of the world and half the globe is startling, and completely changes our view on global interconnectivity.

Mesofacts can also be fun. Let’s focus for a moment on some mesofacts that can be of vital importance if you’re a child, or parent of a child: those about dinosaurs. Just a few decades ago, dinosaurs were thought to be cold-blooded, slow-witted lizards that walked with their legs splayed out beside them. Now, scientists think that many dinosaurs were warm-blooded and fast-moving creatures. And they even had feathers! Just a few weeks ago we learned about the color patterns of dinosaurs (stripes! with orange tufts!). These facts might not affect how you live your life, but then again, you’re probably not 6 years old. There is another mesofact that is unlikely to affect your daily routine, but might win you a bar bet: the number of planets known outside the solar system. After the first extrasolar planet around an ordinary star made headlines back in 1995, most people stopped paying attention. Well, the number of extrasolar planets is currently over 400. Know this, and the next round won’t be on you.

The fact that the world changes rapidly is exciting, but everyone knows about that. There is much change that is neither fast nor momentous, but no less breathtaking. Ω

[Samuel Arbesman is a postdoctoral fellow in the Department of Health Care Policy at Harvard Medical School. Arbesman has a new website devoted to mesofacts, which can be found here. He graduated from Brandeis Universtiy with a B.A. (Summa Cum Laude with High Honors, Phi Beta Kappa) in Computer Science and Biology and a Ph.D. in Ph.D. in Computational Biology from Cornell University.]

Copyright © 2010 The New York Times Company dba The Boston Globe

Get the Google Reader at no cost from Google. Click on this link to go on a tour of the Google Reader. If you read a lot of blogs, load Reader with your regular sites, then check them all on one page. The Reader's share function lets you publicize your favorite posts.

Copyright © 2010 Sapper's (Fair & Balanced) Rants & Raves

No comments:

Post a Comment

☛ STOP!!! Read the following BEFORE posting a Comment!

Include your e-mail address with your comment or your comment will be deleted by default. Your e-mail address will be DELETED before the comment is posted to this blog. Comments to entries in this blog are moderated by the blogger. Violators of this rule can KMA (Kiss My A-Double-Crooked-Letter) as this blogger's late maternal grandmother would say. No e-mail address (to be verified AND then deleted by the blogger) within the comment, no posting. That is the (fair & balanced) rule for comments to this blog.