Measured Against Reality

Tuesday, April 27, 2010


For some reason immediately upon getting my job offer after graduation I bought a Ford Fusion Hybrid (ok, not immediately, demand on them way exceeds supply so every dealership had a long-ish wait). Why a fresh-out-of-college physicist who hates commuting and doesn't drive a lot outside of that would buy a car whose biggest plus is gas savings (and you'd probably need to drive a ridiculous number of miles for those to actually end up being cash-positive) is a good question, but one for a different post. What I want to talk about is how it has modified my driving behavior.

I am a rather impatient person and I used to be a rather impatient driver. I now drive more slowly (5 MPH above posted limits instead of 10+), accelerate much less quickly, and brake from a further distance (although I always had a pretty large braking distance, driving with people who don't is terrifying). All of these things because of the little meter on my dash that tells me my instantaneous fuel efficiency. The measurement is approximate for sure, but I can tell that when I floor it the number plummets, and when my speed is steady it's nice and high. And because the car keeps track of the numbers over the lifetime, there's an incentive to keep it high. People like to get high numbers, this is a manifestation of that weird drive.

Which brings me to my main point, we should put little doodads that show lifetime fuels use in all cars. That would be the best way to get people to change their driving habits to be more moderate (and hence safer) as well as save more fuel. Although I know I tend to look at the gauge too often, so maybe it'd increase distracted driving.

I'd like to see if cars that have those displays (my coworker's diesel car has one, so it's not just hybrids) tend to get above-average (for their cars) fuel mileage. Could be interesting.

Monday, April 19, 2010


One of the things I've been finding distressing lately is the general contempt Americans hold toward experts. You see this all the time in the media at large, most flagrantly when someone uses the word "elitist" in a derogatory sense. There are particular avenues where it's most pronounced, such as climate change and other controversial topics.

There seems to be this idea that all opinions are created equal. I'm not sure where it comes from, but if I were to hazard a guess it would be the idea that all people are created equal. From this it would follow that all our opinions and thoughts are equal, because we're all equals, right?

That's facile. We're not all equal. That statement is an ideal, not a fact. It should be blatantly obvious that we're not actually created equal. I had a much better chance of success (however defined) than someone born into a poor family. Demographics matter, far more than they should. But that's another topic.

Additionally it's a statement about rights. We are all equal in the eyes of the law (again, we're not actually, but that's another topic). It does not follow that our beliefs and opinions are all equal.

Why does this distress me? Because our national discourse suffers for it. When experts on health care say that our system needs these reforms and uninformed idiots prattle on about death panels it hurts us all. When experts on the financial system say we need to enact these regulations and uninformed idiots say the reforms will create bailouts in perpetuity it hurts us all. When experts on climate change say we need to enact policies to counter it and uninformed idiots prattle on about how warm it was last week it hurts us all. I could go on and on, picking topic after topic where there is widespread agreement among experts that something needs to be done (if not widespread agreement about exactly what) and the uninformed disagree based on nothing, nothing at all.

What really irks me about this, though, is how someone saying what I'm saying is generally viewed. I'm arrogant. I'm elitist. I'm condescending. This is exactly backwards. If you have spent your life studying a topic and someone who learned everything he knows about it from a 15-second segment on the local news comes up to you and starts lecturing you on it, who there is being arrogant? Who is being condescending? Believing you can formulate an opinion equivalent to someone who has spent a lifetime studying an issue, that is the height of arrogance.

But it doesn't matter. Because for some reason Americans think their opinion of health care is the same as John Cohn's, their opinion of financial reform is the same as Tim Geithner's, their opinion on climate change is the same as climate scientists. It is not. Learn some humility and admit that when it comes to topics you know nothing about your opinion means precisely as much as you know: nothing.

Sunday, April 18, 2010


I am going to start posting somewhat regularly again. Less reaction to the bullshit others are posting, more original writing. No real focus, just whatever I feel like. Should be interesting.