Is our politicians learning?


 

From the print edition—part of a series of stories on innovation—an attempt to tie together various threads on the matter of political leadership.

“Can you imagine a doctor saying, ‘Well, I never thought of becoming a doctor before’?” asks Alison Loat, co-founder of Samara, a charitable organization dedicated to the study of Canadian democracy. Indeed, one would probably not entrust their health to a brain surgeon who claimed to have come to the profession quite by accident, made it through a confusing and mysterious nomination process, and shown up for the first day of work feeling mostly unprepared for the surgeries they were expected to perform. And yet, we expect little more of our parliamentarians.

For sure, politics is a pursuit neither easily explained, nor particularly well-regarded. The job of elected office itself is subject to wide interpretation and powerful competing pressures. But if the political process is to be improved upon, it may require dealing with these issues of confusion and ill repute, up to and including how we might build a better politician.


 

Is our politicians learning?

  1. I think Ms Loat has completely lost any sense of perspective if she thinks brain surgeon and MP are remotely similar. 

    Brain surgeons actually have to know something, while Government is controlled by 3-4 major MPs in Cabinet and everyone else is trained sheep. And Samara wants to indoctrinate them even more in how to behave like lemmings. 

    Do we have any reason at all to believe that it is possible to build better politician? Since when do people change so easily? Are half day classes really going to make people more civil or is change going to be entirely superficial?

    Problem is that not enough MPs think for themselves and behave independently. Parliament will improve when they are taught not to believe experts – and stick with some common sense – because they don’t know what they are doing.

    Does Ms Loat have any evidence or data to illustrate that decorum lessons for MPs will correct problems? 

    Steve Pinker: But the newest research is showing that many properties of the brain are genetically organized, and don’t depend on information coming in from the senses.

    Dan Gardner: In the late 1980s, University of California psychologist Philip Tetlock got almost 300 experts such as economists and political scientists to predict the sort of thing that is routinely predicted in the news — inflation rates, economic growth, elections, wars, the fates of nations. In all, Tetlock gathered almost 28,000 predictions. Then he waited until the predictions could be judged.

    As I discuss in my new book, Future Babble, the results of this grand experiment couldn’t have been clearer: The average expert was about as accurate as a dart-throwing chimpanzee. 

    http://www.dangardner.ca/index.php/articles/item/60-clear-confident-and-wrong

    • Parliament will improve when they are taught not to believe experts…

      Another attack on intellectuals and professionals. Sigh.

      Given the source, I can’t say I’m surprised…

      • “Another attack on intellectuals and professionals. Sigh

        Given the source, I can’t say I’m surprised …. ”

        What’s your problem with Dan Gardner?

        As I discuss in my new book, Future Babble, the results of this grand experiment couldn’t have been clearer: The average expert was about as accurate as a dart-throwing chimpanzee.

        And why is the truth considered an attack?

        Do experts give you the sense they know what they are doing, KeithBram, because they certainly don’t to me.

        Why should people keep quiet about how we are paying intellectuals and professionals to talk to pedophiles instead of locking them in jail.

        How many children does someone have to rape before a professional thinks they are a dangerous offender?

        A long term offender pleaded guilty Monday morning to sexually assaulting and kidnapping two young girls in northeast Edmonton in October 2008.

        The crown asked the judge for a dangerous assessment for Gratton, which will determine whether or not Gratton should be listed as a dangerous offender…

        Gratton was convicted of sex crimes against six children in 2002. He was given a 10-year supervision order and a lifetime ban from places where children gather.

        http://www.globaltvedmonton.com/personalities/pleads+guilty+sexually+assaulting+young+girls/2629132/story.html

        • Ah yes, the appeal to common sense. Which gave us such wonders as the earth being the center of the universe, heavier things falling faster than light things, women being unable to handle the vote, black people being inferior, etc.

          On the bright side, since you disdain experts, I trust you don’t go to a doctor for any medical advice..so perhaps we won’t have long to suffer through your comments. Of course, maybe you’re just a hypocrite.

          • Tony believes that if one expert anywhere, in any field, ever makes a mistake….then all experts everywhere, in any field, are wrong….now and forever.

            Which is why Tony gets a plumber to fix his teeth, and a hospital janitor to do his surgery….and he asks a burger flipper for legal advice.

          • And he seems to have a monkey during the quote search. 

          • Thwim, OriginalEmily1

            I think of you two as my own personal Colbert Report. Thanks for entertainment you provide.

            Your delusion is that science and social science are same thing when they aren’t.

            Also, your problem is that you two think everyone is ignorant except for yourselves, but we all know you are fans of making assertions without evidence and that’s not very intellectual at all.

            If you two are such fans of intellectuals, why don’t you ever present some of their work to back up your inane assertions? You might be more believable.

            Social scientists don’t know what they are doing and causing enormous harm.

            I will support any social program that can be shown to be actually working.

            Over many decades, social science has groped toward the goal of applying the experimental method to evaluate its theories for social improvement. Recent developments have made this much more practical, and the experimental revolution is finally reaching social science.

            The most fundamental lesson that emerges from such experimentation to date is that our scientific ignorance of the human condition remains profound. Despite confidently asserted empirical analysis, persuasive rhetoric, and claims to expertise, very few social-program interventions can be shown in controlled experiments to create real improvement in outcomes of interest.

            http://www.city-journal.org/2010/20_3_social-science.html

          • Tony…math is easy, science is easy….in comparison to trying to figure out how 7 billion individuals in the world….divided by geography, religion and culture….think and act.

            So there will be mistakes and misjudgements….just like there continue to be mistakes and misjudgements in all other fields.

            The answer isn’t to quit doing it….the answer is to get better.

          • How many children does someone have to rape before a professional thinks they are a dangerous offender, OriginalEmily1? 

            How many children are you willing to sacrifice with your mantra of “The answer isn’t to quit doing it….the answer is to get better”? 

            Definition of a Marxist: “Someone who loves humanity in groups of one million or more.” Jay Nordlinger

            A long term offender pleaded guilty Monday morning to sexually assaulting and kidnapping two young girls in northeast Edmonton in October 2008.

            The crown asked the judge for a dangerous assessment for Gratton, which will determine whether or not Gratton should be listed as a dangerous offender… 

            Gratton was convicted of sex crimes against six children in 2002. He was given a 10-year supervision order and a lifetime ban from places where children gather.

          • @Tony_Adams:disqus 

             Locking them up doesn’t solve the basic problem…we’ve been locking people up for thousands of years and it hasn’t changed anything.  So we are trying to cure people, and we can’t do that unless we try new things.

            And none of it has anything whatever to do with Marxism.

          • The trouble with common sense, of course, is that it ain’t all that common.

        • Who is Dan Gardner? I was referring to you.

          Thwim has already covered my flippant “common sense” comeback for me (thanks Thwim!), so I’ll just add this:

          Someone who has studied a subject and has empirical data to back up their argument won’t always be right, but will stand a better chance of being right than the person who just goes with their gut.

          Something Clement and the PM don’t seem to get, either…

          • Someone who has studied a subject and has empirical data to back up
            their argument won’t always be right, but will stand a better chance of
            being right than the person who just goes with their gut.

            Sadly, this isnt even true.  You would think it would, but it’s not – trust me, im an expert on experts, and i have experimental data to prove it.

            Joking aside, most experts (and im excluding brain surgeons and plumbers, these are not ‘experts’ in the same sense, despite their expertise) just finagle and cherry-pick data to arrive at ideologically determined conclusions, which are almost always more wrong than a gut feeling.  They are found in the social science and climatology departments of universities.

          • Rubbish.

          • “You would think it would, but it’s not – trust me, im an expert on experts, and i have experimental data to prove it.

            Joking aside, most experts (and im excluding brain surgeons and plumbers, these are not ‘experts’ in the same sense, despite their expertise) just finagle and cherry-pick data …. ”

            hallelujah!!! Someone else understands. 

            Progressives consider themselves to be experts – even tho they have no idea what they are talking about. 

            That’s why progressives state their opinions like they are gospel truth and get confused when you present facts and data they don’t agree with.

          • @Tony_Adams:disqus 

            You’ve never presented ‘facts and data’. In fact you’re never even been on the same topic 2 posts in a row.

    • I read the Dan Gardner link that you provided – thanks!  I’m providing five paragraphs from the Gardner article that immediately follow the paragraphs that you highlighted.

      At this point, the cynic would scoff “what do experts know?” and walk away. But Tetlock dug deeper.

      Some experts actually did worse than average, meaning they would have been better off flipping a coin. But others did better. They still weren’t great. The world really is unpredictable. But they showed genuine, if modest, predictive insight.

      What made the difference? Not whether the expert was left-wing or right-wing, optimist or pessimist, or any similar facto  No, it was the style of thinking that made all the difference.

      Experts who had One Big Idea, who valued analytical simplicity, who came to clear conclusions, and who were most confident — these were the experts who could have been beaten by a chimpanzee. Let’s call them Charles Paynes.

      But experts who gathered information from many sources, who were comfortable with complexity and uncertainty, and were more prepared to admit mistakes and adjust conclusions accordingly — these were the experts worth listening to. They are the Mark Carneys.

      So it seems that Gardner actually does have something good to say about experts, and the information that they can share.

      Gardner is not actually supportive of the cynic who would scoff “what do experts know?” and walk away;  rather he suggests that we pay more attention to the experts who hedge their bets, those who see the wide grey band between the black and white ends of the spectrum and he also suggests that we ignore the experts who seem oh so sure of themselves.

      • Mark Carney might be an expert worth listening to but he still doesn’t know what he is doing. Economists know theories but have no idea how their theories affect practical economics in real world, just like other social sciences don’t understand humans.

        Social sciences I am interested in are evolutionary psychology or biology because they seem to be making progress in understanding why humans behave they way they do.

        Economists I respect understand money = freedom because it gives you power to choose, whereas giving 50% of my income to State keeps me in place. 

        Wisdom of Crowds was wonderful book, if we are going to be ruled by experts, I would rather do it way proposed in book than have one person listen to others than make decisions that affect us all. 

        I don’t have a problem with all experts only the left wing ones who let their politics over ride economics and common sense. 

        And thanks for links to Agenda but I already watch program regularly and have seen Ms Loat. I know what her organization is all about – make Parliament even more bureaucratic than it already is even tho new rules might make pols behave worse because they will look more powerful to their constituents. 

        ——

        Philip Tetlock, a research psychologist at Berkeley, tested the accuracy of 82,361 predictions made by 284 experts including psychologists, economists, political scientists, and area and foreign policy specialists, 96 percent with post-graduate training.

        He found that their prognostications did not beat chance. The increasingly ideological nature of social science will not improve this record.

        According to data from the Center for Responsive Politics, Harvard, donating 4 to 1 in favor of Democrats in 2008, was one of the more politically diverse major American universities. Ninety-two percent of employees at the University of Chicago donated to Democrats. 

        The University of California favored Democrats over Republicans, 90 percent to 10 percent. And William and Mary employees preferred Democrats to the GOP by a margin of 99 percent to 1 percent.

        Neil Gross of Harvard found that 87.6 percent of social scientists voted for Kerry, 6.2 percent for Bush. Gross also found that 25 percent of sociologists characterize themselves as Marxists, likely a higher percentage than members of the Chinese Communist party.

        I would guess that if Lenin were around today he would be teaching sociology and seeking grants to fund the revolution.

        http://www.weeklystandard.com/articles/fat-city_567621.html?page=2

        • Neil Gross of Harvard found that 87.6 percent of social scientists voted for Kerry, 6.2 percent for Bush.

          What is the point that you are making with this factum?

          • Don’t agree with profs who are that ideological, they indoctrinate students, don’t try to teach them anything. Why is science lecturers making comments about Bush in class? Profs have right to their opinion but they should keep it to themselves while on campus. I had a bunch of profs like that here in Canada and it was irritating because you can’t challenge them or else you punished.

            I also think having many intellectuals in social sciences who are hostile to genetics is ridiculous, close minded and causing harm on society.

            Better laws and social policy would occur if social scientists looked at all emerging info and not just selective.

            Pinker: Most intellectuals today have a phobia of any explanation of the mind that invokes genetics.

            Professors’ political views are often expressed subtly in class–one professor in a popular science lecture course told the class this week that his depth demonstration of a “W” shaped-figure wasn’t a political endorsement.

            http://www.thecrimson.com/article/2000/2/17/faculty-donate-election-dollars-pprofessors-political/

          • Hmmmmm, OK then.

            Ummmm, thanks for the discussion.

          • That’s not discussion. You asked question and I answered. 

            A discussion would mean you replying to my answer telling me why you agree/disagree with my opinion without telling me I am moron. 

            Canadian university profs are similar in nature as their American counterparts. 

            Do you have opinion about academia being tilted in one direction politically or doesn’t it matter?

          • It is true that I’m having a tough time following your train of thought – I guessed that you might be “yanking people’s chains” – so I was indeed backing away from that.  Maybe I was too quick, so…

            Neil Gross of Harvard found that 87.6 percent of social scientists voted for Kerry, 6.2 percent for Bush.
            –  I’m not terribly surprised that Kerry got more support than Bush amongst social scientists
            –  I’m also not terribly concerned by that, per se
            –  out of curiosity, I’d be interested to see some breakdowns by other criteria such as age, race, sex, school, department and so on
            –  I would be worried if there was some actual evidence that the voting (or donating) tendencies that you highlighted actually translated into biased marking or something similar
            –  it is that followup evidence that I was asking you for, and the info that you supplied seemed only tangentially related

            Wrt some of your other comments:
            –  I’m disappointed that you felt that you would be punished if you challenged your university profs – that ain’t right
            –  FWIW, I don’t recall ever feeling similar pressure in my U days
            –  I’m also disappointed that research into the role of genetics is not getting more support from social scientists, but I’ll suggest that that doesn’t mean we should dismiss an entire group of scientists without further thought – it just means, as Gardner suggested in his column, that we should evaluate ‘experts’ individually, and pay attention to the thoughtful, nuanced, hedging ones, and ignore the One Big Idea type

          • “…. that you felt that you would be punished if you challenged your university prof”

            I didn’t ‘feel’ like I would be punished, I actually was punished. Second day of class, prof kicked me out of his course for semester because I challenged him about his thoughts on glories of communism. 

            I think liberals and left wing types are stupid and ignorant but I think I can cure them by presenting facts, anecdotes, making arguments. 

            Liberals and left wing types think I, and other right wing, are moron, sexist, racist and don’t argue at all.

            Just make vacuous assertions, say they are following inner logic like they are Spock, and then say you are idjit for disagreeing. 

            I am not at all surprised that you don’t see problem with university  profs trying to impose their ideological agenda on others. 

            “Neil Gross of Harvard found that 87.6 percent of social scientists voted for Kerry, 6.2 percent for Bush. Gross also found that 25 percent of sociologists characterize themselves as Marxists, likely a higher percentage than members of the Chinese Communist party. 

            I fear that a young Ph.D. looking for work today who challenged the increasingly rigid political orthodoxies would have a hard time. But the discipline of sociology is so ideologically homogenous—a herd, as Harold Rosenberg put it, of independent minds—that this problem is rare. Universities cherish diversity in everything except where it counts most: ideas.”

            http://www.weeklystandard.com/articles/fat-city_567621.html?page=1

          • I am not at all surprised that you don’t see problem with university  profs trying to impose their ideological agenda on others.
             
            That’s not quite what I said.  The gist of my comment is that I would indeed be concerned if a professor is adjusting marks upward or downward simply on the basis that the student has a different political leaning than the professor, or if the professor is skewing the way that he/she teaches the cirriculum, or any other such imposition.

            I’m balking at your premise because in and of themselves the facts that you have presented don’t actually show that that is happening.

            I’m not even saying that it isn’t possible, I was just asking you to provide some proof.

          • You want ‘proof’ that profs are not marking fairly?

            Who do you think is going to do that study?

            Are profs really going to say, ‘why yes, I unfairly mark students all the time’? 

            How about reality – liberals like you don’t hide their disdain very well. It is very obvious that you are incapable of having discussion without telling me I am moron but you provide no data or evidence to refute my assertions. 

            I think you are witless because all you care about is your opinion and have no comment about reality. Notice that I am only one providing more info than my opinion. 

            Why don’t you prove that having overwhelming majority of liberal or left wing profs who don’t like diversity of ideas is a good thing for university students.

            I am not interested in your opinion. Please provide data if you respond. 

            Remember the cocky, arrogant kid in nursery school, the one who always thought that he had all the answers and that he could do whatever he wanted, and was always ignoring what the teacher had to say? Chances are this bully grew up to be a conservative.

            In 2003, another Berkeley study, led by John T. Jost, reviewed four decades of research of conservatism and found that conservatives tended to be fear-driven dogmatists, terrified by ambiguity. The study linked Ronald Reagan, Rush Limbaugh, Adolf Hitler and Benito Mussolini. The findings were hardly surprising since they basically recapped the branch of “scholarship” launched by Adorno.

            Perhaps the more revealing psychological insight can be found in the fact that so many liberals think disagreeing with them is a form of psychosis.http://old.nationalreview.com/goldberg/goldberg200603220735.asp

          • –  yes, I’d like to see some evidence.
            –  a think tank might be interested in doing that study
            –  don’t ask the profs directly
            –  sorry you feel disdained, not my intent, nothing to hide, not sure why you feel that way
            –  nothing to refute, yet, but I’ll have a look around to see what I can find
            –  mostly I visit the Macleans blogs to try to overcome my witlessness – it’s why I’m asking you to provide some followup data, so that I can learn
            –  anyhow, I’ll guess that we are done here

            BTW, love your avatar.  :-)

          • London Calling one of my fav albums and cover best ever rock photo.

            You have to remember that I don’t agree with you that I am idjit. I am not trying to prove anything to you. I am making argument. 

            Cons hate justice system because they think it is run by amoral marxists who prefer to talk to criminals instead of putting them in jail. Liberty for criminals is left wing concept.
             
            Right wing believe in genetics and criminals commit crimes and if they are in jail they can’t continue committing crime. 

            Watch the youtube video if you have time, Sowell is interesting man. 

            Try Google – knowledge of world at your fingertips. Takes just a few moments. Would enjoy debate. 

            http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ERj3QeGw9Ok

            “Perhaps the most important is that intellectuals live in a costless world in which there is every incentive to devise other theories that defy common sense. A doctor who believed that the best treatment of appendicitis was green cheese would soon lose his licence to practice; but an intellectual suffers nothing, however absurd his theories.

            In order to get noticed they must say things which have not been said before, or at least say them in a different manner. No one is likely to obtain many plaudits for the rather obvious, indeed self-evident, thought that a street robber cannot commit street robberies while he is in prison; but an intellectual who first demonstrates that the cause of an …

            Thus, while there are no penalties for being foolish, there are severe penalties (at least in career terms) for being obvious. This automatically increases the propensity of intellectuals to espouse extreme or preposterous ideas that would never occur to anyone obliged by circumstances to keep their feet on the ground.

    • Also, wrt Alison Loat, AW has taken a few snippets from Loat’s work to buttress his own thougths, and in the process gives Loat’s words a meaning that I don’t believe is warranted.

      If you are interested, here is a link to an interview that Loat does with Steve Paikin;  it should give you a better idea of what Loat and Samara propose.  I believe that there are two other preceding The Agenda interviews that you could track down. It’s the third tab once you get to the TVO page…

    • And after that half hour of your life, here is an even better episode of The Agenda that features Loat as well as Michael Bliss and a few others.

      • Thank you very much PhilCP. The Agenda is great as it does give the opportunity for a greater elaboration of ideas than most other media allow.  And Paikin’s knowledge in this area is second to none!

        I also thought Aaron did a nice job with this piece. There are lots of facets to the Samara work, and we’re always happy if it helps promote a conversation (even if it does take a slightly circuitous route!).

  2. This is a basic problem with democracy.  It’s a rare person who plans to be a politician from childhood….most of them only think about it partway through life when someone says ‘hey Fred, you’d be good at that, why don’t YOU run?’

    And they get to thinking about it, and the salary and the prestige….and take a crack at it.

    Which means they arrive in Ottawa clueless.

    • Sadly I disagree.  We are currently ruled by the John Bairds, Tony Clements and Stephen Harpers of this country and they have never done anything else in their lives then be politicians.

      • Which is how they manage to lead the good-ol-boy-MPs around by the nose.

        • San Diego Dave Rule 1- Only vote for candidates who are taking a paycut to get into office.  ;)

          • LOL well that would certainly help.

          • And how do you square that with your current hero worship?
            ;-)

          • Um, er…um…..er……ah, well……um……

  3. Do I want an ‘accidental’ brain surgeon? Why not? If she discovered her passion for brain surgery later in life then, well, it’s still a passion no? Was she pressured by her parents to become a brain surgeon from Grade 1 onward? I’d think twice myself. 

    All aside though, the cool thing (conceptually at least) about politics is that we have an opportunity to bring people from disparate walks of life together, for a common purpose. Each man and woman (or child, in this Parliament….) brings their life experience to the table. The end result will be messy, but we are human after all. Put it this way, I would much rather have 10 Ken Drydens or 10 Chris Alexanders or even 10 Bev Odas- people who have real life experience, who have not been cooped up politics their entire lives, than have 10 Stephen Harpers or 10 Art Eggletons or 10 Jean Chretiens or, god forbid the horror, 10 Tony Clements. 

  4. To the contrary, I think the problem is that too many politicians fail to confront their primary duty which is to be a representative of the people deciding on advice provided by available experts rather than presuming to be expert themselves.

    The problem isn’t that they need to learn to be economists, lawyers and environmental scientists; they need to be literate in those things and balance the advice of experts with the best interests of their constituents. Instead of showing up with a fully formed plan to do x, y or z, they need to show up ready to act as a conduit for contemplation of those issues by the citizenry, they need to be able to listen widely including to their constituents, and they need to represent them courageously.