The Internet Makes You Smart

I read a good article in Scientfic American the other night. The point of the article was that social learning among great apes (orangutans in the article) was critical to learing higher level skills. And that without social interaction, these skills were not learned. The key hypothesis in the article is

My own explanation, which is not incompatible with these other forces, puts the emphasis on social learning. In humans, intelligence develops over time. A child learns primarily from the guidance of patient adults. Without strong social–that is, cultural–inputs, even a potential wunderkind will end up a bungling bumpkin as an adult.

The core learning method is interaction with others. The area they studied had a high number of orangutans, causing more social interaction than is normal among these apes. The apes they studied used tools much more than other apes.

One of our first finds in this unlikely setting astonished us: the Suaq orangutans created and wielded a variety of tools. Although captive red apes are avid tool users, the most strik­ing feature of tool use among the wild orangutans observed until then was its absence.

The increased use of tools does not represent a higher intelligence among this group of apes.

We doubt that the animals at Suaq are intrinsically smarter: the observation that most captive members of this species can learn to use tools suggests that the basic brain capacity to do so is present.

In looking at this behaviour, they looked at a number of reasons why it would occur in this group. In an well presented analysis (you need to read the article), they show that the reason is clearly cultural learning. The orangutans learn from interaction with other orangutans. Social interaction increases intelligence.

So I draw the conclusion that the internet increases human intelligence. Why?

  • The internet is primarly a means of interaction between people
  • It enables interaction without regard to geographic separation
  • Communities develop that allow people with similar interests to share their skills
  • My own experience in astrophotography is that my skills are better because of what I have learned from others in internet newsgroups

I wrote about the benefit of newsgroups in an earlier post. This Scientific American article gives a scientific basis to the benefit for all of us of collaboration enabled by the internet. So surfing and chatting and blogging and newsgrouping makes you smarter! Almost an invitiation to do this at work.

Global Warming Alarmism — The Anti-Science

There is an excellent op-ed piece in the Wall Street Journal today, and it is available free at OpinionJournal. In extraordinarily clear terms Richard Lindzen puts forward the case that the hysteria not only leads to exaggerated claims, it leads to suppression of good science.

The answer has much to do with misunderstanding the science of climate, plus a willingness to debase climate science into a triangle of alarmism. Ambiguous scientific statements about climate are hyped by those with a vested interest in alarm, thus raising the political stakes for policy makers who provide funds for more science research to feed more alarm to increase the political stakes. After all, who puts money into science–whether for AIDS, or space, or climate–where there is nothing really alarming? Indeed, the success of climate alarmism can be counted in the increased federal spending on climate research from a few hundred million dollars pre-1990 to $1.7 billion today. It can also be seen in heightened spending on solar, wind, hydrogen, ethanol and clean coal technologies, as well as on other energy-investment decisions.

So we need alarmism for more money. That is an old political story. And where the money goes, goes the power, and where the power goes, comes corruption.

It isn’t just that the alarmists are trumpeting model results that we know must be wrong. It is that they are trumpeting catastrophes that couldn’t happen even if the models were right as justifying costly policies to try to prevent global warming.

If the models are correct, global warming reduces the temperature differences between the poles and the equator. When you have less difference in temperature, you have less excitation of extratropical storms, not more. And, in fact, model runs support this conclusion.

Not to mention double standards.

So how is it that we don’t have more scientists speaking up about this junk science? It’s my belief that many scientists have been cowed not merely by money but by fear. An example: Earlier this year, Texas Rep. Joe Barton issued letters to paleoclimatologist Michael Mann and some of his co-authors seeking the details behind a taxpayer-funded analysis that claimed the 1990s were likely the warmest decade and 1998 the warmest year in the last millennium. Mr. Barton’s concern was based on the fact that the IPCC had singled out Mr. Mann’s work as a means to encourage policy makers to take action. And they did so before his work could be replicated and tested–a task made difficult because Mr. Mann, a key IPCC author, had refused to release the details for analysis. The scientific community’s defense of Mr. Mann was, nonetheless, immediate and harsh. The president of the National Academy of Sciences–as well as the American Meteorological Society and the American Geophysical Union–formally protested, saying that Rep. Barton’s singling out of a scientist’s work smacked of intimidation.

All of which starkly contrasts to the silence of the scientific community when anti-alarmists were in the crosshairs of then-Sen. Al Gore. In 1992, he ran two congressional hearings during which he tried to bully dissenting scientists, including myself, into changing our views and supporting his climate alarmism. Nor did the scientific community complain when Mr. Gore, as vice president, tried to enlist Ted Koppel in a witch hunt to discredit anti-alarmist scientists–a request that Mr. Koppel deemed publicly inappropriate. And they were mum when subsequent articles and books by Ross Gelbspan libelously labeled scientists who differed with Mr. Gore as stooges of the fossil-fuel industry.

Read the whole thing. We need to get back to an open discussion on a scientific basis.