Thursday, December 18, 2008

Promoting Science: Demand-Side Reform Engines

I am writing a series on promoting science in the public at large. So far, I have argued:

(1) Essay 1A: The task is not to make science relevant, it is to teach idiots to recognize and respect a relevance that already exists.

(2) Essay 1B: There is no distinction between scientific and non-scientific policy questions. All good policy decisions require evidence-based evaluation of the available options.

(3) Essay 2: Supply-side reform – promoting the supply of useful science – is a waste of time as a method of reform. It’s only use is to fulfill a demand that already exists.

(4) Essay 3: Demand-side reform is what we should be looking at. However, demand-side reform is an in-your-face type of reform that uses condemnation, ridicule, and other forms of treatment to make intelligent methodologies popular and buffoonery unpopular.

(5) Essay 4: Positive Demand-Side Reform. Demand-side reform is not always negative. Praise and reward are as much a part of demand-side reform as criticism, condemnation, ridicule, and punishment.

With respect to demand-side reform, I would like each reader to realize that each of you is a demand engine. You cannot spend a dollar, or utter or post a word in public, that does not send a message to others, and probably alter how they will focus their energies in the future.

When you buy a movie ticket – and when you do not buy a movie ticket – you send a vote to the movie industry regarding the types of movies you want them to produce. They record your vote, and then they plan next year’s slate of movies based on the tickets that they receive.

When a buy a book you tell publishers what types of books to produce next year. When you buy groceries, you tell the world what types of crops to grow and what type of finished products to put them into. When you buy energy, you tell the world what types of energy to produce and in what quantities.

You also have an impact on the world each time you speak in public – or you refrain from speaking (particularly in the presence of children). Words of praise will tend to promote that which you praise in the minds of the listeners. Listeners do not need to consciously adopt your attitudes. They hear a positive evaluation of something and, in the future, they will be disposed to have (though certainly not guaranteed to have) a more positive attitude towards it themselves.

Many people argue that we have an obligation to vote. However, in an election, unless you win a majority of the votes, you are left powerless – with nothing. Increasing the votes that a losing candidate gets by one percent means very little.

However, in the economic and social realm, every vote that you cast matters. If the amount of money being spent on goods and services that respect evidence-based thinking goes up by one percent – this is enough for companies to take notice and to change their behavior, in the hopes of capturing their share of that one percent.

Your voice in the social environment has a real effect. It may be small, but it is real, and better than you will ever get from casting a vote.

So, if you are an advocate of voting on the grounds that each person has an obligation to take part in the political process, then you should be an even stronger advocate of a type of voting where every vote really does count - where the minorities are not without power and influence and, thus, can use all of the support they can get. That is to say, you should be an advocate of economic and social voting against practices that denigrates evidence-based thinking in the eyes of children and promotes this as a genuine value.

1 comment:

Luke said...

Yes, this is great. Praise evidence-based thinking wherever you go, denigrate evidence-free thinking wherever you go...