Monday, December 10, 2007

OLPC Critics Show Off Their Knowledge of the Developing World

Chris Dawson quotes him some John Dvorak:

The World Health Organization estimates that one-third of the world is well fed, one-third is underfed, and one-third is starving.

OK, think about that for a second. Two billion people are starving? That would be the equivalent of everyone on the continent of Africa and the country of India starving, right now. I think I would have heard about this. Wikipedia's better sourced "world hunger" page counts up less than 1 billion "undernourished." So Dawson and Dvorak are only off by a factor of four, or, put another way, 3 billion people. They're only off the number of underfed by half the population of the world.

As far as I'm concerned, passing along this data this pretty much disqualifies them from having any authority whatsoever to explain to me the needs of the developing world, because the world they imagine is not the one which exists.

Where, you may ask, did they get this data? From, a project of the Oracle Education Foundation.

So, kudos all around: ZDNet, PC Magazine, Oracle Education Foundation -- you guys rock!

One big chunk of reading I did this year that I haven't commented upon is Kim Stanley Robinson's Forty Signs of Rain, Fifty Degrees Below Zero, Sixty Days and Counting trilogy. I'm not entirely sure I can recommend you read all 1500 pages, but I have found its themes have stuck in my head, so I guess I've found it worth the investment. But anyhow, one interlude in the book I enjoyed was essentially a "read aloud" (you English teachers should know what I mean) tracking what's going on in the scientist/hero's head as he's reading a paper:

Pleasure is a brain mechanism. It's a product of natural selection, so it must help to make us more adaptive. Sexual attraction is an index of likely sexual pleasure.

Frank stopped his reading. Was this true?

The introduction to the book claimed the collected sociobiological papers in it studied female sexual attractiveness exclusively because there were more data about it. Yeah right. Also, female sexual attractiveness was easier to see and describe and quantify, as it had more to do with physical qualities than with abstract attributes such as status or prowess or sense of humor. Yeah, right! What about the fact that the authors of the articles were all male? Would Hrdy agree with any of these justifications? Or would she laugh outright?

Evolutionary psychology studies the adaptations made to solve the information-processing problems our ancestors faced over the last couple million years. The problems? Find food; select habitat; stay safe; choose a mate. Obviously the brain must solve diverse problems in different domains. No general-purpose brain mechanism to solve all problems, just as no general-purpose organ to solve all physiological problems. Food choice very different from mate choice, for instance.

Was this true? Was not consciousness itself precisely the general-purpose brain mechanism this guy claimed did not exist? Maybe it was like blood, circulating among the organs. Or the whole person as a gestalt decision maker. One decision after another.

Anyway, mate choice: or rather, males choosing females. Sexual attraction had something to do with it. (Was this true?) Potential mates vary in mate value. Mate value could be defined as how much the mate increases reproductive success of the male making the choice. (Was this true?) Reproductive success potential can be determined by a number of variables. Information about some of these variables was available in specific observable characteristics of female bodies. Men were therefore alwasy watching very closely. (This was true.) ...

This is pretty much how I read, and it is the way kids should be taught. It is a habit of mind. It is frickin' information literacy or whatever you want to call it.

1 comment:

Stephen Downes said...

It may be 1500 pages, but it's a pretty good read. Robinson posts some touchingly naive thoughts about the nature of science, especially in the first volume, but the extended discussion about the nature of reason and of thinking is well worth considering.