I wonder if a country as a whole can have intelligence. And if so, can that intelligence be increased?

I'm not talking about average test scores in schools, or average IQ levels. Those things are important, but they are only part of the picture. I'm talking about how effectively a nation as a whole can make decisions and navigate its position in the world. For example, China has a political system that seems to produce intelligent decisions. You might criticize China's leadership for being heartless and brutal, but that's a separate discussion. If you consider how effectively they pursue their country's interests, their national intelligence seems quite high.

The United States, on the other hand, produces laws and foreign policy that don't always seem to be the result of intelligence or even good intentions. Our actions are a weird stew of religion, politics and randomness. A sentence you never hear in America is "I wonder what the smart people think we should do."

I was thinking about National Intelligence (NQ) in relation to the debate on health care. It seems that most American voters have a strong opinion on the topic while perhaps 1% of the public fully understand the issue. So whose job is it to educate voters?

It certainly isn't the government's job to educate voters. Our system is designed to make candidates compete for votes, and the most effective way to compete is by appealing to emotion and ignorance. The last thing a politician wants is to be labeled professorial. That's the same as boring.

It's not the job of news organizations to educate voters either. The point of the news is to inform citizens of what is new and noteworthy. It wouldn't be practical for the press to do a complete history and context for every news item.

In our system, citizens are expected to self-educate. That probably made sense when issues were simpler. But in today's world, that would be like expecting people to become doctors and lawyers just by doing some reading in their free time. It's unrealistic.

Our only real hope is the Internet. Recently I stumbled across a site -- http://Diffen.com -- that allows users to create their own comparisons of any two things. It's generally used for simple comparisons such as the differences between two models of cell phones. But I was struck by the power of putting information in a handy grid so you can compare things line by line. It's a great way to simplify complicated issues.

Diffen.com probably isn't the answer for educating voters, but it makes me optimistic that a solution is possible. The problem, as I see it, is that there isn't any profit in educating the public, so private industry is unlikely to wade in. That leaves us with the government, and the government isn't equipped to educate voters because we expect leaders to be opinionated, not objective. It's never a good idea to trust the cat to guard the canary.

So I put the question to you, my brilliant readers. Suppose you start with a website funded by private donations from a variety of citizens, with a mandate to operate independently, and your task is to find a way to populate the site with unbiased and useful information on public policy. What system could you devise to guarantee that the information is unbiased and, importantly, it appears that way to all observers?

I will seed this discussion by suggesting that the Diffen.com model of a customizable, side-by-side comparison is a good start for most topics. But you also need a way to rank the importance of each dimension of the discussion. And you need an easy way to view dissenting opinions on each "fact" in the matrix.

The genius of capitalism and democracy is that both systems embrace the destructive forces of competition and self-interest and channel them in a positive direction. Something similar needs to be done with information. What we need is a Founding Father or Mother who can find a way for arguments and information to compete in a way that kills the weak ideas and leaves only the strong.

Any ideas?

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+6 Rank Up Rank Down
Jul 16, 2012
I wanted to make Scott Adams readers aware of another group of folks who are discussing how this tool should work that will:
"simplify the legwork involved in participating intelligently in politics. For example, instead of having to do separate research on each person running for office, have a simple way to compare them on points that matter to me. Instead of having to watch all legislation that's coming up, have the site notify me that something I care about is happening soon, allow me to auto-generate a form letter to my rep, or send an email just by clicking a button. Instead of having to research who gives money to what campaigns, have that info aggregated in one place. Let me see what my rep stands for, not based on campaign promises but based on his/her voting record. And so on.

Americans, on average, are dumb and lazy. But if you make it convenient enough, people will participate. Finding the people you knew in high school used to be a pain in the ass, Facebook made it easy. Let's do the same thing for managing our representation."

how it started:


I think this problem is big enough that all Americans should want to solve it; look forward to Dilbert folks adding to the solution!
0 Rank Up Rank Down
Jul 6, 2012
Yes a country can have a national intelligence, or a collective IQ if you like.

We have a lot of New Zealanders migrating to Australia, which lowers the collective IQ of both countries.
+1 Rank Up Rank Down
Jul 4, 2012
[It's the job of news organizations to mould the public mindset and perception into a particular, useful shape.]

Um... no, it's not.

Seriously... is it any surprise why we're in the position we're in when THIS is the view that so many people have about journalism.

People don't want to think. They just want to be told what to think.

+1 Rank Up Rank Down
Jul 4, 2012
Update (just read an article on Brazil).

Maybe Brazil is a better example for "national Intelligence" or "good governance" as it is called by the IMF then China.
In 20 years time Brazil has managed to eliminate a lot of crime and poverty and become a top 10 economic power, out of a situation economic crisis and extreme inflation. This was mainly under a social-democratic president and the last few years under a socialist president.
-3 Rank Up Rank Down
Jul 4, 2012
> "It's not the job of news organizations to educate voters either. The point of the news is to inform citizens of what is new and noteworthy"

excuse me?

It's the job of news organizations to mould the public mindset and perception into a particular, useful shape.
Jul 4, 2012
The track record of authoritarian systems over the past few millennia suggests that impressive short-term performance is usually <a href="http://www.brookings.edu/research/articles/2008/12/17-hedge-fund-young">"fake alpha"</a>; it's almost always only a matter of time before the goals of the authority diverge too much from the national interest. I can't entirely rule out the possibility that this time it's different and something like the Singapore model will dominate the 22nd century, but I think (and hope) that more representative systems will win out, at least in the West.

Incidentally, goal divergence is the reason why Americans are correct to be wary of "eggheads". An intelligent and competent political leader who does NOT represent your interests is often of negative value to you. There are some who claim that the ineffectiveness of modern American governance is simply a matter of the people getting what they want, good and hard; but I'm certain this is not the whole story, since there are several crucial destructive policies that have been implemented and continue to be defended against the will of the American majority. (Again, the "good" news is that if China doesn't change its system of government, it's pretty much doomed to being captured by its own parasitic elites.)
Jul 4, 2012
>In our system, citizens are expected to self-educate.

Why do people need to become doctors or lawyers in their free time? I know - it was an analogy, but becoming informed on the issues of the day is no where near as rigorous as 4 years of medical school or 3 years of law school.

>A sentence you never hear in America is "I wonder what the smart people think we should do."

There's a good reason for this - most folks don't want the "smartest" people making the decisions. This is often because book-smart people (Harvard faculty types) often have little practical knowledge on most issues and little leadership experience.

>Our only real hope is the Internet.

Disagree - I'd argue the Internet is likely our downfall. The Internet encourages sloppy thinking, by reading bits and pieces of random bloggers' brain droppings.
0 Rank Up Rank Down
Jul 3, 2012
I'll guess, yes. But we won't. A little more on point: http://www.cnn.com/2012/07/02/us/american-exceptionalism-other-countries-lessons/index.html
0 Rank Up Rank Down
Jul 3, 2012
DUCK! Don't make any eye contact, and very slowly back away.
+2 Rank Up Rank Down
Jul 3, 2012
- [Isn't this the Wikipedia model? I just donated $20 so they wouldn't require corporate sponsorship and could remain free from bias.]

It's cute that some people think Wikipedia is free from bias. Anyone who's been involved in edits on a controversial topic (and hell, even some non-controversial topics) knows that there is bias on Wiki.

-1 Rank Up Rank Down
Jul 3, 2012
- [What we need is... a way for arguments and information to compete in a way that kills the weak ideas and leaves only the strong.]

We already have this. It's called "history".

And there's nothing more "complex" about today's issues. You constantly appeal to that fallacy when trying to present your ideas. Men are still the same. They still react in the same ways. Making the same mistakes will still produce the same failures, and so on.

+4 Rank Up Rank Down
Jul 3, 2012
[You might criticize China's leadership for being heartless and brutal, but that's a separate discussion.]

IMHO, that's where you are wrong (that being a separate discussion). The effectiveness and the brutality of China are tied together. There is no way to pursue your interests so effectively as China is doing, without sacrificing one or two goals along the way, in this case environment and human rights.

The great weakness of democracy is that you must allways compromise between different interests. Neglect a few of those interests, and you are way faster and more effective. There are several countries led by dictators that have shown this in the past.
Jul 3, 2012
I checked out Diffen. I decided to look up the difference between cats and dogs. The site informed me that they make different sounds. I guess that's everything I need to know in order to make a choice between adopting a cat and adopting a dog...

I wonder if a politics-oriented solution would be as informative and useful.
+1 Rank Up Rank Down
Jul 3, 2012
Just had a 2s look at diffen. Looks good.
From what I understand, your goal is to create something "objective" (whatever that means) out of the commercials of two competing vendors (trying to sell, for instance, health care to voters).

So, you ask each vendor separately for their pitch and take notes of their points. Then you have two point lists, which will not overlap much (vendors have no interest in comparisons and purposefully design their pitches that way). But you can compile a list of all points, with free slots. Then you ask the vendors to fill in the free slots (i.e. where the competitor has a strong point).
There you are. The problem is that someone has to do it. I fear that requires a human.

As for weighting, I don't think you can do that for everybody. Normally, each customer decides on the importance of each feature for him. All you can do is make it easy to assign weights or priorities.
Jul 3, 2012
The Economist magazine created a site with debates on policy issues.


They set it up with professionals representing each side and a professional moderator, plus an area off to the side that incorporates user comments. Users "vote" to determine the winning side. It sounds like the perfect set up, but unfortunately it gets way too long-winded to hold my interest. Maybe if somebody could design a dumbed-down USA Today type version, it could attract a broader audience.

+1 Rank Up Rank Down
Jul 3, 2012
I agree witht might7sd...who will determine "the facts". I think the diffen model is fine, the challenge is populating it with truth.
However, Scott...you do get points for thinking up the best unexecutable idea of the day. Ahhhhh....now I see where all of those great strips originate....I was going to take credit for the "best unexecuteable idea of the day", but I proabably got it from you.
-5 Rank Up Rank Down
Jul 3, 2012
How to get information? Well, for a start...half the population should stop watching Fox News.

Why are you making this more complicated than it really is? Republicans are retards. There's the information.
Jul 3, 2012
"What system could you devise to guarantee that the information is unbiased and, importantly, it appears that way to all observers?"

No system could fulfil this criterion, even in principle, because many (most?) observers will have a vested interest in deriding the site as biased because it disagrees with them - EVEN IF IT IS PROVABLY UNBIASED. And those people are better than the smart people at getting their message out there, out of proportion to their numbers and actual influence.

Conservapedia exists, and you've heard of it. QED.
Jul 3, 2012
The assumption in this post is that the idea/decision that more people like and approve of will be the right idea/decision.

Big Assumption!
Jul 3, 2012

There is only one flaw in your idea: unbiased (...) information on public policy

There is no such thing. Really. Every information is biaised by definition. Every expression of information is necessarily viewed through a prism, from a specific point of view.
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