Tag: Expertise

Radar Wars: a Case Study in Expertise and Influence


In today’s WSJ, David Mamet writes about expertise and influence, pointing out that experts who get important things wrong, sometimes causing great harm to millions of people, often pay no personal price whatsoever. One example he mentions is the pre-WWII secret British debate on air defense technologies and especially the role played by Churchill’s scientific advisor, Professor Frederick Lindemann.

It is an interesting and important story, and is discussed by the scientist/novelist CP Snow in his 1960 book Science and Government…which, he says, was inspired by the following thought:

Quote of the Day: Credibility and the Wolf


“A lot of the fear comes directly from the loss of trust in institutions. The press, WHO, the official authorities are no longer implicitly believed by everyone. This is the cost of deceit. When you finally tell the truth your cred is gone.” – Richard Fernandez

Ask the Expert: Local Government


shutterstock_188321978So my day job is teaching at a state university — some time back I did the “10 things your professor wishes you knew” post — but my interest, the thing I study and teach, is local government. Local governments in the United States are endlessly fascinating, in part because the US is abnormally fragmented compared to the rest of the world.

Perhaps an example helps. New York City Metropolitan Area has a population of 20 million. Moscow Metropolitan Area also has a population of 20 million. Yet Moscow has 19 million people living inside a single government, while New York City has less than half that, the other 11 million be spread across over 200 cities in five states. Here in my home state of Kentucky, fully a quarter of the incorporated cities — about 20% of the population of the state — are in Jefferson County (Louisville Consolidated Government).

Suburbanization, Autonomy, and Power

What Your Wastewater Treatment Specialist Wants You to Know


Wastewater-Treatment-Plant-300x225I’ve seen that there is an unofficial series of sorts on Ricochet, where members write posts explaining what they do in their day jobs. I work for a company that does wastewater treatment (for industries, so my perspective is a little different from your local municipal wastewater treatment plant). This post is my contribution.

The motivation for treating wastewater is to avoid or mitigate negative impacts on the river, lake, ocean, or other area into which it flows. Common negative impacts include filling waterways with debris or sediment, causing fish kills or dead zones by depleting oxygen levels, promoting algae blooms, and spreading pathogens that can harm other people who use that water. In some cases, there may also be concerns related to specific heavy metals or other chemicals. I’ll focus on oxygen depletion, but feel free to ask about other impacts in the comments.

When organic matter (and there is plenty of that in wastewater) gets discharged into the environment, it gets degraded by microorganisms. These decay processes consume oxygen, which dissolves fairly poorly in water. If the amount of organic matter is high enough, the rate of decay can exceed the rate at which more oxygen can dissolve into the water, and the level of oxygen can drop to the point that fish and other things living in the water start to die.

Five Things Your IT Guy Wants You to Know


shutterstock_2581956531. You aren’t an auto-mechanic, either…

… but you know how to drive your car. That’s why we call you “users”: because you use the computer and that doesn’t mean you have to be a computer expert. Some things you should know how to do: find an application that isn’t on your desktop, create a shortcut, know the difference between copying files and moving files, clear jammed paper from a printer. It isn’t our job to teach you to use Excel. If you don’t know how vlookup works, consult Google. We don’t use excel, except once a year to calculate 1.5% of $21.

2. There’s nothing you can break…