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Much Sense,
Message from
the President
When the events of this 2011-2012
biennium are recounted, intractable
opposition and paralyzing polarities will
fill that discussion. Not healthily diverse
exchanges, but hardened, ideological
redoubts defended in the absence of data
or demonstrable assessments. We will
be told that these crippling divides are the
mark of a faltering society, and we today
contemplate frightening consequences
of prolonged intransigence. Can public
opinion, in a democracy, birth wise
action? Our nation was founded by the
judicious compromises and negotiations
of a few learned men. Social media assure
wide participation in public affairs and
government unprecedented in the human
story. Can that demotic environment
also, today, foster wise determinations?
As is so often the case, Emily
Dickinson expresses well the dilemma
of a divided society and the self-evident
weakness of any extreme position.
Much Madness is divinest Sense---
To a discerning Eye---
Much Sense---the starkest Madness---
To the Majority
In this, as All, prevail---
Assent---and you are sane---
Demur---you’re straightway dangerous---
And handled with a Chain---
Our national landscape is peopled by those who are lamentably
certain they possess divine Sense; starkest Madness belongs to all
who disagree. Wisdom, since classical times known to reside in the
center, walks abroad as bereft as Marley’s ghost.
Nate Silver’s
The Signal and the Noise
offers a welcome
port for hope. In his most startling revelation, Silver describes the
plight of overknowing, of how more information produces greater
sectarianism, of how attempts at objectivity “will always be tainted by
our subjective point of view.” Fiercely held opinions, rooted in what
we tell ourselves is our experience, are the most subject to error:
“…recognizing the amount of confidence someone expresses in a
prediction is not a good indication of its accuracy.” Slow, meticulous
scrutiny of data, stripped insofar as we are able of pre-determined
conclusions, separates distracting noise from the signal forward.