Jonathan Schwarz, Philosopher of Science

In his New Year’s Resolutions, Jonathan Schwarz vowed to “accentuate the positive”:

At all times in history, there have been zillions of people doing wonderful things with little recognition. 99% of the attention goes to various monsters. Even when the attention is extremely negative (i.e., people like us yowling about Dick Cheney or Thomas Friedman) it suggests the monsters are the only ones doing anything important, and the rest of us have nothing better to do than talk about them.

This is empirically wrong. And it saps our capability for independent thought, because it orients us toward reacting to the powerful, rather than acting ourselves.

This is especially pernicious in a period when technology is opening up ways to build new and better institutions. While I understand the visceral appeal of dumping a bucket of pig excrement on Fred Hiatt, this takes time away from what will have a longer-term impact: nurturing our own fledgling efforts.

This is similar to what I wrote — in the context of a NY Times review of a book about “pseudoscience” — about skeptics being a dime a dozen and what’s really lacking is sophisticated appreciation.